County considers cutting hospital funding

Published 1:55 pm Friday, June 15, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners recently discussed possibly cutting funding to the Memorial Hospital Authority as a way to balance the county’s upcoming budget, but no official decision has been made, and there were commissioners both for and against the proposal.

Wednesday afternoon, the board met for a budget workshop to discuss the county’s major funding problem. Under the current projection, Decatur County is facing a deficit of up to $1.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year 2012-13. The county is required, by law, to have its budget finalized and balanced by June 30, although time extensions are available.

Wednesday, Interim County Administrator Gary Breedlove suggested a series of funding cuts that would allow the county to cut that projected deficit by about $500,000. The most major of those suggested cuts would be to move the 0.3 mills earmarked for the Hospital Authority and put it instead in the county’s general fund —effectively shifting about $250,000.

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In 2011, the board agreed to increase its millage rate from 8.56 mills to 9.91 mills. The breakdown was: 9.36 mills to Decatur County, 0.3 mills to the Hospital Authority and 0.25 mills to the Industrial Development Authority. Under the proposed adjustment, the county’s overall rate would stay at 9.91 mills, but the breakdown would be: 9.66 mills to the county, 0.25 mills to the IDA and no mills to the Hospital Authority.

Breedlove pointed out that the hospital is in a more financially solvent state than the county right now, and that the Hospital Authority still receives $564,000 in SPLOST funding each year.

Several commissioners also noted that Hospital CEO Billy Walker Jr. recently received a $35,000 raise and that the hospital reported a $645,000 profit from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012.

“If the hospital has enough money to do that, we need to take the money [the county’s millage] back,” Commissioner Oliver Sellers said, referring to Walker’s raise.

However, not all commissioners agreed that the hospital’s funding should be cut.

“I just don’t think we can balance our budget by using money that we have promised to the hospital,” said Commissioner Russell Smith.

Some of the additional proposed cuts include the elimination of various contributions the county has typically made to “health and welfare” organizations. Those possible cuts include eliminating $60,000 to the City of Bainbridge Recreation, $40,000 to the Humane Society, $30,000 to Stepping Stone, $24,308 in group insurance, $15,635 in mental health contributions, $6,000 to CASA, $5,000 to Bikefest, $5,000 to BAIN, $5,000 to the Department of Family and Children Services, $3,450 to Decatur County Family Connection, and $3,000 to River Town Days. Also proposed would be cutting the county’s contribution to Chamber of Commerce bass tournaments from $12,000 to $6,000; and cutting its contribution to the Decatur County Health Department from $197,069 to $150,000.

Breedlove said that the budget is still a work-in-progress, and none of the proposals made Wednesday may necessarily end up in the final budget. He also noted that it is possible some funding cuts could be re-instated in the middle of the fiscal year, if the economy improves.

“Everyone on this list has been notified that we might be looking at these cuts,” he said. “I’ve told them it could be as bad as zero-ing them out … I said we hope this is temporary and maybe we can make re-adjustments at the midpoint of the fiscal year.”

Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely asked CPA Perry Henry, who is assisting the county with its budget process, what would happen to the county’s budget situation if revenues (primarily state and property taxes) came in higher than projected.

“I’d just like to see what would happen if we upped our projected revenues by $200,000,” Mosely said.

Henry said he would work on developing several budget drafts based on different revenue projections. The commissioners agreed to hold another budget workshop on Thursday, June 21, at 5 p.m.