Petition launched to dissolve Somervell County Hospital District

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

By Kathryn Jones


Hospital districts can turn into one of most contentious taxpayer issues. That certainly is the case in Somervell County, where a petition to dissolve a new hospital district has been launched only weeks after voters approved its formation — by a mere two votes.

Paul Harper, a blogger for Somervell County Salon and vocal critic of Glen Rose Medical Center and the formation of a hospital district to support its operation, last week started a petition to dissolve the Somervell County Hospital District that voters approved on May 11.

The petition can be viewed on the website here: Somervell County Salon

Harper said in a posting on Somervell County Salon that many voters stayed home on Election Day “because they thought it (the hospital district) was going to fail.

“Let’s not let the 13 percent (of the county’s registered voters) that created the district force this tax on 100 percent of us,” Harper added.

The district passed by a vote of 740 to 738 in an emotional election that split the county and sparked tensions between neighbors and even friends. Somervell County has 5,581 registered voters, meaning a little over 13 percent of the registered voters cast ballots in favor of the district.

The projected beginning tax rate for the district is 12 cents per $100 of appraised property value, with a cap of 17.5 percent.

Harper asked those signing the dissolution petition to mail it to his address posted on the site.

“This will turn all assets and debts (of the hospital district) back over to Somervell County,” Harper wrote. “People will lie and say we are trying to close the hospital. We are NOT doing that…we are just turning control back over to the elected County Commissioners.”

The Texas Health and Safety Code includes a section on hospital districts approved by voters, how to dissolve them and what happens after dissolution. Read it here: Texas Health & Safety Code

Larry Shaw, former chairman of the Somervell County Hospital Authority Board and a member of the temporary board that will oversee the hospital district until a permanent board can be elected, reacted to the petition this way: “There’s winners and losers in every race and different people respond the way that they choose to. We’re going to move on and see what happens.”

The Texas Health and Safety Code does not cite specific reasons why a hospital district may be dissolved. Section 286.102 says that the board “shall order an election if the board receives a petition requesting an election that is signed by a number of residents of the district equal to or at least 15 percent of the registered voters in the district.”

Fifteen percent of county’s registered voters would be 837 voters.The same section of the code states that an election to dissolve shall be held not later than the 60th day after the date the election is ordered.

Section 286.104 of the code lays out the administration of property, debts and assets after a hospital district is dissolved.

Before and after the May 11 hospital district election, Harper raised questions on their website about using Somervell County taxpayer money to provide services at Pecan Plantation, where Glen Rose Medical Center operates a clinic. Pecan Plantation, a gated, affluent community with several golf courses, a country club and an airstrip for private planes, is in Hood County, which has its own hospital district.

GRMC administrators have said that patients in Hood County account for more than 50 percent of patient revenues at GRMC.

“Over half our business comes from Pecan Plantation,” said Ray Reynolds, GRMC chief executive officer, in an interview before the election. “It’s a very nice patient mix and also a very nice insurance mix.”

But the Salon site asked where in the definition of the Somervell County Hospital District it states that “it’s okay to spend outside the district?”

Complicating the answer to that question is the Texas Health and Safety Code itself, which addresses hospital districts in two different sections – 282 and 286. Section 282 is designed to cover hospital districts in counties of 75,000 or less, which would apply to Somervell County.

Section 282.050 of the Texas Health and Safety Code states that “the district may furnish hospital services to a person who does not reside in the district at a reasonable and fair rate the board considers proper, but the district shall give priority to a district resident in the provision of hospital services.”

However, Section 286 pertains to hospital districts created by voter approval, which also would apply to Somervell County. It states that if the territory in one or more districts overlaps, “the commissioners court of the county in which the most recently created district is located by order shall exclude the overlapping territory from that district.”

Hood County’s hospital district defines its boundaries as the same as the county’s boundaries. However, the hospital there, Lake Granbury Medical Center, is owned by a for-profit corporation and is not supported financially by the county government.

“Rich people who live in gated community Pecan Plantation reside in Hood County, which has its own hospital district,” the moniker “Salon”  posted on Somervell County Salon on May 16. “Pecan Plantation residents do not pay any tax in the Hood County hospital district.”

Nor can they petition to try to join Somervell County’s hospital district.

“Essentially, then, Somervell County taxpayers are paying for services that Pecan Plantation (and maybe DeCordova) residents are not being taxed for, and are thus benefitting from us,”  Salon wrote.

Hospital district supporters, however, have said that because the Pecan Plantation clinic contributes so much in revenues to GRMC, people who use the clinic are in essence “subsidizing” the Glen Rose hospital. They also have claimed the initial tax rate for the hospital district likely would be higher without those Pecan Plantation patients, many of whom have insurance and a track record of paying their medical bills.

Dissolving an active hospital district is not a common event in Texas, although elections have been held after enough qualified voters signed petitions to force the issue to another vote.

One of the most recent elections to dissolve a hospital district took place in Kimble County in 2010. The Central Texas county held an election to dissolve the hospital district in May of that year, but voters rejected the measure. The tally was 558 against and 518 for in an election that, according to the local newspaper, The Junction Eagle, “raised community tensions and strained relations between friends and neighbors.”

That election was forced by a petition of 75 qualified voters. The cost to the county of holding the election was not disclosed.

A reader of Somervell County Salon, identified only as “human being,” posted that it was “reassuring” that the option of dissolving a hospital district has been written into the Texas statute “so that a county, if dissatisfied with their hospital district’s performance, can dissolve it.”

“However, I also think that a petition to dissolve a hospital district right after it was voted in, albeit by only two votes, but before it has had a chance to consolidate, is a disturbing possibility that is, fortunately, not available to dissatisfied voters in other elections,” the reader continued. “After all, just what does a person’s vote really mean if it can be overturned by those who don’t agree with the outcome of the election?”

8 Responses to Petition launched to dissolve Somervell County Hospital District

  1. Paul Harper Reply

    June 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I went back and looked at the records and I was wrong. Cathy Hankins did not herself contribute to the pac according to the records, I had it confused with another outspoken couple so my apologies to Cathy! I can admit when I am incorrect and have no issues doing so, thank you for pointing out my mistake!

    Paul Harper

  2. Cathy Hankins Reply

    May 31, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    I just noticed that Paul Harper removed his comment attacking me that I quoted above from the Glen Rose Reporter site but it is posted here! False accusations are not that easily erased.

    • Kathryn Reply

      May 31, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Interesting that he accused you of being a PAC contributor when it was your husband, and yet his wife — I mean “salon” — posted a rant on their website yesterday trashing me for lumping her together with her husband and his petition drive. Ironic, isn’t it?

  3. Cathy Hankins Reply

    May 31, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Paul Harper posted this comment on the Glen Rose Reporter site but failed to post it here so I am posting his comment here along with my response in order for everyone to know the truth and not half-truths concerning my stand on the matter:

    Paul Harper · Microsoft

    “Cathy Hankins failed to disclose that they contributed to the pro-district pac. Don’t let Cathy Hankins use scare tactics, sign the petition and eliminate the new property tax!!”
    14 hours ago

    Cathy Hankins · Kilgore College

    “Paul Harper….Once again you spew your inaccurate facts. I did not disclose a contribution to the pro-district PAC because ‘THEY’ did not contribute. Why can’t you seem to tell the truth? The public records clearly show that my husband Ronald Hankins contributed. My name was not mentioned anywhere. Get your stories straight. And as far as ‘scare tactics’, that is a term that you and the Anti-tax Brigade seem to use a great deal to describe any facts that you do not agree with. It is my opinion that you are trying to use ‘bullying’ and ‘falsehoods’ to sway people to believe your babble. Why don’t you just stick to the facts?”

  4. Paul Harper Reply

    May 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I don’t take your verbal attacks personally Cathy Hankins, sticks and stones! You can attack me and the people that sign the petition all you like, it won’t stop us from pursuing our goal to eliminate the new property tax!

    Quit trying to scare people…like with your ‘definitely be a large increase in county taxes’ which has no fact to it. The County Commissioners have NOT said they will increase taxes but they did say they would keep the hospital open but probably with reduced services. They declined to raise taxes last year but you somehow think they will ‘definitely’ do it now, give us all a break with the scare tactics.

    It is not the County Commissioners fault that the hospital is in dire straights like you are trying to imply, it is those that manage the hospital…that’s actually who should be blamed. If Pecan Plantation is so profitable why can’t the hospital finance themselves? Because the hospital leaders want something they cannot afford but are willing to stick the taxpayers with the difference instead of cutting back to what is financially doable with the income they have like most people have to do with their own budgets.

    Don’t let Cathy Hankins or others scare you, sign the petition and let’s eliminate the new property tax! Let’s put some responsible elected folks like the County Commissioners in charge of the hospital instead of an appointed board!

  5. Cathy Hankins Reply

    May 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I am constantly baffled why anyone listens to anything the Harpers have to say. Just a few years ago, Paul Harper ran for local office and was SOUNDLY defeated to the point of embarrassment because no one shared his political beliefs. If there is anyone who is totally against anything good for this community, it is Paul. Now he attacks the Hospital District which was voted in by our Democratic voting system just proving once again that he is a sore loser and unfortunately, he has a few people who are willing to follow him including possibly one or two of our county leaders. What happened to the “majority has spoken?” I pay taxes for many services (ie. schools) that I do not personally use because that is what “responsible” community members do. I appreciate our hospital and the excellent staff who work there and will gladly pay our taxes to see it continue. I think it is time for the decenters to “man-up” and realize that they lost. Paul Harper is very vocal and loves to accuse the hospital of lack of administration. He wants the county commissioners to regain control of the hospital when in fact, it was the commissioners who declined to raise taxes just a little year after year in order to cover the operating cost of the hospital leading it to be in such financial straits. If they force the issue and the District is dissolved, then there will definitely be a large increase in county taxes because they cannot afford to operate as in the past. Do not listen to the disgruntled losers. Look at all the facts.

  6. Cheryl Norton Reply

    May 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Nicely said…and although the Pecan Plantation issue may have some valid content…in the end they do pay their bills and do not qualify for “indigent care” in Somervell County. Tit for tat I say…there are many in this county that do not have children in school…should they pay school tax…of course. There are some who never travel particular roads…should they not support the taxes we pay for the upkeep. Here I go again…jus’ sayin’

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