An on­go­ing saga of tax­payer sup­port for a lo­cal hospi­tal

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Mike O’Neal

Ed­i­tor’s note: Walker County tax­pay­ers are be­ing asked to pay as much as a 7 mill lump sum, due this year, to Erlanger Health Sys­tems to sat­isfy a court-or­dered set­tle­ment. This ar­ti­cle, pub­lished Nov. 8, 2014, de­tails Walker County’s use of tax rev­enue to sup­port first Tri-County and then Hutch­e­son hospi­tal over nearly six decades. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, the Hospi­tal Au­thor­ity of Walker, Dade and Ca­toosa Coun­ties was in­volved in a law­suit with Erlanger Health Sys­tem con­cern­ing re­pay­ment of loan guar­an­tees made when Erlanger agreed to man­age the hospi­tal in Fort Oglethorpe.

Due to com­puter prob­lems, Hutch­e­son hospi­tal’s fi­nan­cial re­port for Septem­ber (2014) was unavail­able for pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing the monthly board meet­ing. And since the hospi­tal’s fis­cal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, those fig­ures are needed to pre­pare the an­nual re­port. As soon as those Septem­ber and an­nual fi­nan­cial re­ports are adopted, the Mes­sen­ger will im­me­di­ately post them online and put them in the fol­low­ing week’s print edi­tion. In the mean­time, here are some fi­nan­cial fig­ures deal­ing with the hospi­tal’s early years — and num­bers don’t lie.

Claims that tax rev­enue col­lected in Walker County today is be­ing used to fi­nan­cially prop up Hutch­e­son Med­i­cal Cen­ter, though good for gos­sips and politi­cians try­ing to make hay, is fic­tion.

What is true is that lo­cal gov­ern­ments pro­vided tremen­dous di­rect mon­e­tary sup­port of the hospi­tal dur­ing the last cen­tury, though not in the past decade and cer­tainly not since a rad­i­cal makeover of the hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion that oc­curred in the spring of 2011.

Hutch­e­son was founded as Tri-County Hospi­tal in the early 1950s as a joint ven­ture be­tween Ca­toosa, Dade and Walker coun­ties. Records show that in 1955 more than 10 per­cent of the county’s gen­eral fund bud­get was ear­marked for the hospi­tal.

The tax levy for 1955 shows the school sys­tem col­lected 15 mills for coun­ty­wide main­te­nance and 6 mills for bonds. The Lakeview and LaFayette school dis­tricts each col­lected an ad­di­tional 4 mills. All other county gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions re­quired a levy of 25 mills.

Those 25 mills funded a to­tal op­er­at­ing bud­get of $264,005. Equal amounts of $28, 247 — 3 mills — each were ear­marked for “ex­penses of court, sher­iff, coroner, main­te­nance and sup­port of pris­on­ers,” ex­penses of ad­min­is­tra­tion of gov­ern­ment, for pub­lic wel­fare and for Tri-County Hospi­tal.

Sim­i­lar fig­ures are found in the 1956 bud­get: Tri-County Hospi­tal was al­lo­cated 4 mills of tax rev­enue, $39,761, which was the same amount ear­marked for the road depart­ment.

That the hospi­tal re­lied on tax­payer sup­port is ev­i­denced again and again in the county digest for bud­gets for the first decade of Tri-County’s ex­is­tence.

1957’s to­tal bud­get of $326,616 shows the hospi­tal was al­lo­cated $30,583 — 9.36 per­cent — of prop­erty taxes raised that year for county gov­ern­ment.

There was some vari­a­tion from year to year: 3 mills went to the hospi­tal in 1958, that amount in­creased to 4 mills an­nu­ally from 1959 through 1962 then de­clined to 2 mills for 1963 and 1964.

Three mills of prop­erty tax rev­enue in 1965 and 1966 that were ded­i­cated to TriCounty fell to 1.75 mills on the 1967 tax levy.

That 1967 al­lo­ca­tion of $70,244 to TriCounty Hospi­tal was about 15 per­cent of the county’s over­all bud­get of $441,536 for op­er­at­ing ex­penses.

Through 1969 the hospi­tal re­ceived 1.75 mills an­nu­ally of county prop­erty taxes.

Re­ports from 1970s show a high of 1.5 mills (in 1972) and a low of 0.88 mills (1977 and 1978) with a five-year stretch of 1 mill be­ing ded­i­cated to the hospi­tal — all dur­ing a decade where the county’s an­nual mill­age rate was be­tween 8.5 and 11.5 mills. Dur­ing that same time, the school’s mill­age, col­lected in ad­di­tion to the county gov­ern­ment bud­get, var­ied from 13.75 to 23.25 mills an­nu­ally.

In 1980 the county ear­marked 0.898 mills to pro­vid­ing in­di­gent care and an ad­di­tional 1.101 mills to con­tract am­bu­lance ser­vice from Hutch­e­son hospi­tal.

Walker County’s 2016 prop­erty tax rate was 24.469 mills for its un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas. Of that amount, 7.838 mills was col­lected for the county’s gen­eral fund while more than dou­ble that amount — 16.631 mills — is col­lected to run Walker’s school...

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