County to con­sider more money for in­di­gent care

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

A to­tal of seven people showed up for Wed­nes­day’s New­ton County budget hear­ing and no­body said a word, even though property taxes are set to rise by 5 per­cent and might go even higher.

The New­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter has re­quested more money from the county for health­care for the unin­sured, said Board of Com­mis­sion­ers Chair­man Keith El­lis.

The pro­posed county-to-hospi­tal budget calls for an in­crease of $160,000 over last year, Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schultz said. Last year’s hospi­tal budget was $2,218,999. This year, hospi­tal of­fi­cials would like $2,370,860.

As pre­sented Wed­nes­day, the county’s new budget calls for an in­crease in col­lected property taxes from $21,339.381 to $22,177,429, re­quir­ing a tax in­crease of 4.99 per­cent. That would trans­late to $19.24 more for a house val­ued at $100,000.

The mill­age rate would climb to 11.225, an in­crease of .534.

“This is in most cit­i­zens’ minds the most im­por­tant is­sue we face each year,” El­lis said. “We will con­tinue to look for ways to make sure we’re spend­ing con­stituents’ money in the best pos­si­ble way.”

Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas said he met with

hospi­tal of­fi­cials who told him they needed more money from the county for in­di­gent care, but rec­om­mended the com­mis­sion in­vite hospi­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the fi­nal budget hear­ing on July 17 to lay out their needs in de­tail.

“They need to ex­plain what we’re up against be­fore we take any ac­tion,” he said. The coun­cil agreed.

Hospi­tal spokes­woman Becky Need­ham said “most of (the in­di­gent) pa­tients are from New­ton County.”

El­lis said state law al­lows com­mis­sion­ers to lower tax rates af­ter they are of­fi­cially “ad­ver­tised” to the pub­lic, but not in­crease them. If the hospi­tal is given more money, that bit would start over, com­plete with three hear­ings.

“The hospi­tal is one of the crown jewels of this county,” Dou­glas said. “We just have to do this right. We don’t want to mess this up.”

El­lis said the hospi­tal’s need for more money is ob­vi­ous: “What the prob­lem is (is) that we have an ex­tremely high pro­por­tion of people we re­fer to as in­di­gent, and we have a strong num­ber of people who come from other coun­ties to New­ton (Med­i­cal Cen­ter) who can’t pay.”

The county has helped the hospi­tal with such care for “many, many, many years,” El­lis said, but a steadily de­clin­ing an­nual county “digest” – or budget – com­bined with in­creas­ing num­bers of unin­sured and ris­ing costs of care has left the hospi­tal in need.

The hospi­tal’s mill­age – 1.2 – is main­tained sep­a­rate from the county’s gen­eral mill­age of 11.225. “Ev­ery­body asked for more” in the budget process, but depart­ment heads fall un­der the over­all budget and in­creas­ing or de­creas­ing their take was ac­com­plished dur­ing the plan­ning process. The hospi­tal’s stand-alone mill­age makes things more com­pli­cated.

The fi­nal budget hear­ing is set for 6:30 p.m. July 17 at the New­ton County His­toric Court­house. The Board of Com­mis­sion­ers will meet in reg­u­lar ses­sion at 7 p.m. July 15, and the meet­ings in­clude a pub­lic com­ment ses­sion.

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