Tax or fee?

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to fight or lit­i­gate with Erlanger. I feel like it’s been proven in court that Walker County ci­ti­zens owe the money. The fed­eral courts made that clear mul­ti­ple times,”

Whit­field said his of­fer to pay Erlanger $625,000 ev­ery 90 days for three years —a to­tal of $7.5 mil­lion — was re­jected within an hour of its be­ing made. In­stead, he said Erlanger de­mands min­i­mum pay­ments of $1 mil­lion ev­ery 90 days for 27 months.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the county’s of­fer and the hospi­tal’s de­mand is about $1.5 mil­lion.

“We have tried to con­tinue to have di­a­logue, but no in­di­ca­tions that we are get­ting any­where,” Whit­field said. “So, I guess they have a de­sire to go back to court.”

To re­duce the amount owed in le­gal fees, Whit­field said the county is will­ing to take its chances be­fore a jury.

Once the dis­pute about at­tor­ney fees is set­tled, the com­mis­sioner said Erlanger has promised to pur­sue en­force­ment of the $8.7 mil­lion sum­mary judg­ment.

Whit­field said this would mean up to an ad­di­tional 7 mill tax rate in­crease im­posed on the prop­erty own­ers of Walker County.

Rather than call this a tax in­crease, some­thing which would re­quire re­do­ing the bud­get and hold­ing a fresh round of tax and bud­get hear­ings, Whit­field has pro­posed as­sess­ing a fee, the Pub­lic Health Fa­cil­i­ties and Ser­vices Dis­trict, rather than a tax.

While the names dif­fer, the amount due Erlanger is lit­tle changed. And now the ar­gu­ment has shifted to terms.

Walker County Tax Com­mis­sioner Carolyn Walker re­ports that each mill levied coun­ty­wide is ex­pected to

gen­er­ate $1,225,812. That would mean 7 mills, col­lected at one time, would bring in slightly more than $8.58 mil­lion.

Rather than hit tax­pay­ers’ pock­et­books with a one-time charge, Whit­field has asked that re­pay­ment be spread over than a year. Do­ing so would al­low the 7 per­cent be­ing bro­ken into smaller in­cre­ments and have the debt paid off within three years rather than one.

“We are hope­ful we can work out some type of pay­ment sched­ule and/ or show the courts that we’re in good faith try­ing to move for­ward and send­ing them money start­ing at the first of the year once the tax rev­enue comes in and hope­fully they will back off of that and see that we are go­ing to pay it, so they don’t raise your taxes by 7 mills next year,” Whit­field said.

A res­i­dent at­tend­ing the Sept. 14 meet­ing then asked what a 7 mills in­crease would mean to a three bed­room house priced at $100,000, to which Whit­field said around $266 more on a $100,000 clear mar­ket— as­set—value.

“It would def­i­nitely put a hard­ship on our ci­ti­zens—over­all—be­cause it would al­most be dou­bling the prop­erty taxes that are be­ing charged from the county,” Whit­field said.

One in­di­vid­ual at­tend­ing the com­mis­sioner’s meet­ing asked if for­mer Com­mis­sioner Heiskell— given her role in the Hutch­e­son Med­i­cal Cen­ter/Erlanger Hospi­tal sit­u­a­tion—cur­rently has a job within the county, to which Whit­field said, “no.”

As the room be­came quiet, Whit­field said this is a quiet group, to which one cit­i­zen jok­ingly replied, “Be­cause, you are get­ting into our pock­ets.” Whit­field re­sponded by say­ing, “The pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion got into your pocket, I didn’t.”

As­sis­tant ed­i­tor Mike O’Neal con­trib­uted to this story.

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