Special Report: Hospital District Election — Supporters, foes launch marketing campaigns

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

This is the first in a series of upcoming reports about the proposed Somervell County Hospital District.

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

Supporters and opponents of a proposed hospital district are launching aggressive marketing campaigns to sway voters before the May 11 election.

Leaders of the political action committee that obtained enough signatures on a petition to force the county to call the election have been busy speaking at civic organizations. Read the petition and see who signed it: 2013 Hospital District Petition

They also plan a mass mailing of a four-page brochure this month to every registered Somervell County registered voter, and a phone bank of volunteers will be calling taxpayers.

The political action committee also has set up a Facebook page, Glen Rose Hospital District PAC.

Meanwhile, some opponents of the district – who call themselves the Somervell County Anti Tax Brigade – are taking out weekly advertisements in a local newspaper to make their points about why taxpayers should not support the district.

James Burkhart, co-chair of the Somervell County Hospital District Political Action Committee, late last month spoke at the Glen Rose Lions Club and Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce luncheons and urged their members to vote for the district.

Burkhart noted that the Glen Rose Medical Center is worth $25 million of economic impact to Somervell County in terms of jobs and purchasing power.

“The hospital is also very important to retired people,” Burkhart said. “When a retired couple moves here, they’re equal to three full-time jobs. So if we move 30 families in here that are retired, that’s 90 jobs. That’s 90 taxpayers. That’s 90 people that 99 percent of them will have good insurance that will go to our hospital.”

Burkhart also showed the audience of 45 business people a four-page information brochure that the PAC will mail to 5,555 registered voters in the next several weeks. The Current has scanned it and you can read it here: Hospital District Brochure Hospital District Brochure p.2 Hospital District Brochure pg. 3 Hospital District Brochure p. 4

Burkhart explained what would happen if voters approved the formation of a hospital district.

“The hospital district, the day after it passes, if it passes, all of the property of the county hospital will go to the district – all of the money, all of the debt that the county is paying, all of that will pass to the hospital district,” Burkhart said.

A temporary board would oversee the district until a permanent elected board takes over. The temporary directors proposed by the PAC are former County Judge Walter Maynard, Dr. Karen Burroughs, current County Hospital Board Chairman Larry Shaw, Kenneth Ramsey and current board members Bob Lancaster, Angie Robertson and Gary Whittle.

In the November general election, seven permanent directors will be elected at large. The four directors receiving the most votes will serve for two years and the other three will serve one year.

The board members “will be responsible to you, the citizens,” Burkhart said. “The way it is now is the board is responsible to the county commissioners and the county commissioners then are responsible to you. There will be open board meetings and there will be financial information that will be available to you.”

Board members will turn over every two years, he added.

Burkhart said that having a local hospital goes beyond convenience. Proximity to a hospital can mean the difference between life and death in emergency situations, he added.

“A hospital is sort of a like a life investment,” Burkhart said. “You don’t think of it that way until you have two heart attacks like I did. If you don’t get immediate help when you have a heart attack, you can die. If you have a stroke, the longer it takes you to get to a doctor to start treating you, the more damage you receive from that stroke.

“Children hurt, hit by cars, hurt at athletic fields or whatever, it is important to get these things taken care of quickly, not 30 minutes later,” he continued. “So the hospital being in Glen Rose pays a huge part in the health of the citizens. “

The county budget commits roughly seven cents of its tax rate to the hospital, Burkhart noted.

He said it looks like the starting tax rate for the hospital district would be 12 cents, or a nickel more. The cap rate is 17.5 cents, meaning that’s as high as the rate can go without a countywide vote. The rate can go up only 8 percent a year, which is roughly a penny per $100 of valuation, Burkhart said.

“All taxing entities have cap rates,” Burkhart said. “That doesn’t mean you ever get to it.”

Burkhart called the nicket difference between what the county is currently spending and the starting tax rate for a hospital district an “insignificant” amount.

“For every $100,000 house, that’s $50 a year more,” he said. “That’s like four Simple Simon pizzas. It’s nothing. For $200,000 of taxable value, it would be $100.”

“I don’t mind paying the increase,” added Burkhart, who is the developer of the Tuscan Village housing division. “I look at that tax as an investment in the community. I look at it as a business investment because without the hospital it is going to greatly hurt me personally, my business. And I think it will hurt your business.”

He gave the example of a man who owned lakeside property on Lake Granbury. Now he lives in Tuscan Village because after he had a heart attack, he decided he lived too far away from a hospital. He and his wife wanted to drive down the hill to a hospital or be minutes away by ambulance, Burkhart said.

The county currently spends $835,000 a year on indigent care. By law the county has to commit a percentage of the county budget to indigent care. Debt service totals $935,000.

The county has given about $400,000 to the hospital, for a total of $2.17 million, Burkhart said.

If the hospital district passes, the district will take over indigent care.

If it doesn’t and the county pursues another option, such as leasing the hospital, the indigent care fund and debt service remains with the county, a financial burden especially with the expected decrease in the valuation of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, Burkhart said.

Broadening the tax base beyond the plant and tourism is important to the county’s future, Burkhart noted.

“You cannot live and survive forever and grow on nothing but tourism,” he said. “It’s great. You need it, but it’s not 24/7. And there are a lot of business people in here that the tourists don’t give them a dime of business. They’re not in the food business, they’re not in the hotel business or in the type of things that tourists spend their money on.”

Businesses “need people every day here, living here, paying taxes here, doing business here, sending their kids to our schools, making our schools grow, making our county grow and making our tax base grow.”

Burkhart added he hoped the business people attending the chamber luncheon “realize the importance of having a local hospital, under local control.

“And I’m not saying the county commissioners have not done a good job,” Burkhart said. “They are locked in with a lot of problems. They have to look at the Expo Center, the golf courses, the hospital. They have to look at all these entities that need money, because none of them make any money. They all lose money.

“They have to make decisions and I don’t want to see our hospital put any longer in the position of just getting by on barebones funds.,” Burkhart continued. “There are days that … they can’t pay their bills because they don’t have the money.  They can’t mail them out. They have to wait until they get funding from the county. That is no way to run your business. And that hospital is a business. “

Sometimes the hospital business is similar to people coming to a restaurant, eating and walking the check, he added. But when sick people come to the emergency room for treatment, the hospital cannot turn them away based on their ability to pay, he said.

Every week since mid-March the Somervell County Anti Tax Brigade has been running a local newspaper ad. The brigade, which is not a PAC and cannot solicit donations, describes itself as a “local, loose-knit group that cares.” It listed a phone number, 254-396-0956, for more information.

When the Current called the number and asked about the identities of the people involved in the group, a brigade member said the individuals in the group prefer to remain anonymous. The ads are being paid for by individual members of the group. The name of the treasurer listed on the ads is Wayne Widner.

“Are You Sick of the Hospital Ups and Downs?” the headline on the brigade’s first advertisement read. It went on to say that “we are sick of the under-managed, bankrupt, outdated hospital.”

The ad included 10 points of changes that the Anti Tax Brigade favors. They include bringing in new management, auditing every department, changing the “permanent” board, creating a budget, completing and implementing requirements to maximize reimbursements, not leasing the nursing home and being more transparent.

It also called for a stop to “scare tactics” about losing the hospital if the district does not win voter approval and contended that the emergency room has “the lowest grade an E.R. can hold.” The ads did not provide any support from other sources to back up its claims.

Shaw, the Hospital Authority Board’s chairman, said the ad contained “inaccuracies.”

Board members are not permanent, he pointed out in a letter to the editor published in the Current. The district would require board members to be elected, he said.

He added that annual audits already are conducted and budgets submitted each year.

The board has made budget cuts, he pointed out, including contract out the operation of the nursing home. The new management team has made “positive improvements,” including the use of electronic medical records.

The main issue, Shaw said, is whether taxpayers are willing to pay to keep the hospital. More than half of Texas’ 254 counties operate their hospitals through a hospital district, he said.

“If you wish to oppose the Somervell County hospital district, fine, but publishing uninformed, incorrect data is getting into the mud,” Shaw said.

On March 28, the Anti Tax Brigade ran another ad with the headline “Are You Getting Sicker of the Hospital Mess? We Sure Are!”

It went on to “clear up some misinformation.”

The group “does not want to close the hospital,” it said, but does want “the checks and balances system that we have now.”

It also wants to see “an open forum for discussion with the county board” and taxpayers.

The group also takes the opposite view of the hospital district PAC, saying that taxpayers will lose any control they currently have if a hospital district passes.

In its ad on April 4, the group compared a hospital district that voters approved in Hamilton County with the one proposed for Somervell County. The two counties have about the same populations, but Somervell County’s tax base is in the billions because of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, it noted.

According to the ad, Hamilton County’s hospital tax rate is 15.85 cents per $100 of valuation. The proposed tax cap rate for Somervell County is 17.5 cents per $100 of valuation. Taxes in Hamilton County for the hospital are $597,003, compared with $6.3 million if the hospital district in Somervell County passes (that’s based on the cap rate; the hospital district PAC contends that the initial rate will be 12 cents per $100 of valuation). The ad noted that the Hamilton hospital has 42 beds, compared with 16 beds in Glen Rose.

“By comparison, the Glen Rose hospital tax would be over ten times as much,” the brigade’s ad read.

Early voting begins April 29. Voting for the hospital district will take place in the County Annex.

Next in the series: The long history of Glen Rose Medical Center and how it has evolved. 

 

 

6 Responses to Special Report: Hospital District Election — Supporters, foes launch marketing campaigns

  1. Ann Best Reply

    April 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Glen Rose Current – There are many claims that GRMC is being managed by unprofessional and uneducated staff members. How about an article comparing the educational background and experience of the executive team at GRMC to the educational background and experience of our county officials. I think that people would be surprised at where the lack of professionalism and education truly exists.

  2. jim willis Reply

    April 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    please vote no to tax district .talk to your commissioners.you elected them,trust them. the average tax hike will be around $250 not $50 and to a senior or family on limited income either is not a small amount.It could be the difference between food and medicine. the hospital will not close ask your comm. We only meed professional management .check on the people who are pushing this,they all halve a financial interest in the election. all 7 of these people have interest in real estate sales,house building,medical investments,or retirement funds,all personal they are spending $$$$$$ on this check out all facts for yourself PLEASE thanks

  3. Dan Foster Reply

    April 12, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I believe the “opposition” to the hospital district have their point of view buried far into the sand along with their heads. How will the “taxpayers will lose any control they currently have if a hospital district passes.” That is so inaccurate it’s laughable at best. Currently they have no control of who is appointed to the board of directors at GRMC. If the tax payers vote “yes” for the district it puts more control into the people hands! First, the people would have the ability to vote on who is on the hospital board. Second, in having a vote on who is on the hospital board, you then have a direct influence on how the hospital is run by your choice of ELECTED board members. In all seriousness……what planet are these Anti-Tax brigade folks beaming down to Glen Rose from???…..”where?” is the question indeed! Interesting how THE TREASURER OF THE ANTI-TAX BRIGADE IS NOT EVEN A SOMERVELL COUNTY RESIDENT. I’m not a huge fan of paying more taxes but I refuse to vote against the hospital district when the “anti-tax PARADE” shows they have no credibility whatsoever and they distort facts *lying*. I will be voting “yes” for a hospital district.

  4. Susan Bussey Reply

    April 9, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    I believe I am like others, in that I don’t know which way to vote right now. But I do want to hear from both supporters and foes! I signed for the right to vote, and now I have the responsibility to learn all I can so when I do vote, I will be responsible and vote for the best of all concerned. I want to be an informed voter. Please do not vote just because your best friend or family member votes a certain way… be informed… read… listen… consider for yourself. Then by all means VOTE and encourage others to VOTE!

  5. Suzanne Gentling Reply

    April 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    This election is a complex issue and a risky one, I admit. However, I have decided to vote FOR the formation of a hospital district, again, because I think it’s the best thing to do and is worth the risk.

  6. Darrell Best Reply

    April 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Vote Yes for your hospital. I know the opposition has a ten point plan, but do you really think all the hospital needs is new management and a budget? Management just changed, and the hospital budgets each year, including multiple audits and efficiency exams. What the hospital needs is to be put on firm financial footing, something the county has not been able to provide. What’s the alternative? The only alternative is to vote YES for your hospital district.

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