By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors approved a measure on Thursday, Feb. 15 “… to order an election to authorize the increase of the maximum tax rate of the District to the tax rate stated in the petition.”

The petition referred to above was discussed in an HCHD meeting held on Feb. 5. In that meeting, Board President Deborah Blackwell informed those in attendance a petition with a 128 signatures had been received.

The petition stated: “We, the undersigned of the HCHD, are requesting an election under Texas Health and Safety Code 285.231 to authorize an increase of the maximum tax rate of the HCHD from 15 cents up to 35 cents.”

Prior to the approval of the agenda item, Blackwell read from a prepared statement.

After providing a thumbnail sketch of her 25 plus years on the HCHD board, Blackwell said, “During those 25 years, the hospital district has operated the hospital on their own, utilized the professional services of a management company and leased the hospital to both ETMC and Timberlands Healthcare.

“The main goal was to have a hospital,” she continued.  “We have heard from the community that they want – at a minimum – an emergency department, along with other services like a laboratory, imaging and physical rehab.”

Blackwell said when the hospital was closed last June “… the community was in jeopardy of losing all health care services. The HCHD did not have the financial resources to continue to operate the hospital.”

She reported the board worked diligently to find an organization to restore some of those services and had discussions with Christus/Trinity Mother Frances out of Tyler, CHI/St. Luke’s out of Lufkin and Crockett Medical Center, LLC out of Austin.

“The partners with Crockett Medical Center, LLC, Dr. Subir Chhakira and Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland, gave us hope of reopening the hospital with an emergency department and other ancillary services,” Blackwell said.

“Things are moving forward,” she added. “The hospital license has been reinstated. A lease for the main hospital building has been negotiated and signed. We are currently negotiating the other documents to include the operations agreement and indigent care agreement. Crockett Medical Center is anticipating starting to see patients sometime in the spring.”

Blackwell explained the purpose of Feb. 15 meeting was to order an election to raise the maximum tax rate from $0.15 to $0.35.

“We previously asked the tax payers to vote to ‘uncap’ the $0.15 tax rate, which would have allowed the district to tax at not more than the state mandated rate of $0.75. The proposition failed by five votes,” she said.

Blackwell explained many taxpayers thought the tax rate was going to be raised to $0.75, but stressed the board would only consider raising the tax rate to a level that other hospital districts assess, somewhere between $0.19 and $0.29.

“The district only has the ability to raise taxes by eight percent each year, without being subject to a rollback election,” Blackwell said. “The eight percent increase equates to an increase of $.012. This means that if someone owns a $100,000 home, they would pay $12 more per year.”

As she continued, Blackwell provided a breakdown of how HCHD tax dollars are spent. According to the HCHD board president:

  • Tax district revenue is $1,500,000
  • Rental income is $42,000
  • Debt service to ETMC is $200,000 this year
  • Debt service to Prosperity Bank is $440,000
  • Ambulance subsidy is $245,000
  • Support payment to Christus/Crockett Medical Center is $400,000

“This leaves about $250,000 to cover accounting, audit, legal, tax district expenses and operational expenses. Then, there is the residual liabilities that Timberlands left us with that are still unknown. We plan to address the debt service immediately by investigating alternate financing options. I feel that the compelling reason to raise the maximum tax rate is that we want the ability in the future to assure that this hospital never closes like it did last June,” Blackwell concluded.

After several minutes of discussion, the HCHD board unanimously approved to order the election on Saturday, May 5.

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.