County will cut hospital’s funding

Published 7:16 pm Friday, June 22, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners arrived at a consensus in Thursday’s work session, deciding to cut approximately $250,000 from Memorial Hospital Authority’s funding in the upcoming fiscal year 2012-13 budget.

The hospital cut is the largest among other “health, welfare and recreation” cuts the board is making in this year’s budget. Those cuts will amount to $479,462, allowing the county to move closer to balancing its budget.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the county was facing a projected deficit of $1.5 million in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1 and continues through June 30, 2013.

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Under the county’s proposed cut, the 0.3 mills of property tax that had been earmarked for the Memorial Hospital Authority will instead be shifted back into the county’s general fund.

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.

The other proposed cuts are as follows — Last year’s funding total is listed first, with the proposed funding total in the 2012-13 fiscal year listed in parentheses: Health Department, $197,069 ($150,000); Mental Health, $15,635 ($0); CASA, $6,000 ($0); BAIN, $5,000 ($0); L.I.F.E. $35,000 ($10,000); DFACS, $5,000 ($ 0); River Town Days, $3,000 ($0); City of Bainbridge Recreation, $60,000 ($0); Chamber bass tournament promotion, $12,000 ($9,000); Bikefest, $5,000 ($3,000); group insurance for some part-time employees, $24,308 ($0); Stepping Stone, $30,000 ($0); Decatur County Family Connection $3,450 ($0). The county agreed to keep the current $40,000 funding to the Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society.

At Thursday’s work session, Hospital CEO Billy Walker told the board that the approximately $250,000 in millage is used to pay for indigent health care — health services to patients who either have no insurance or no feasible way of paying. He said that last year, the hospital paid for approximately $8 million in indigent health care.

“We’re expected to accept anybody who walks in our doors, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.

Walker noted that the hospital has made a turnaround recently, including recording a $645,000 profit from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012. However, he noted that the hospital has had to eliminate 25 positions and cut approximately $1.3 million in non-salary expenditures in order to improve their situation.

“If you guys decide to take this [funding] away from the hospital, with that decision, you’re saying two things,” he said, in closing his comments. “One, that you don’t care about the health and welfare of the uninsured citizens of this county. And two, that to be successful and to have a profit is wrong, and you’re going to be penalized when you do.”

Commissioner Oliver Sellers had a brash response to Walker’s final comments.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve, with the money that you’ve accepted [in addition to] the money you were already making,” said Sellers, alluding to the fact that the Authority recently voted to raise Walker’s salary by $35,000. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Ted Snell, a Decatur County citizen, asked for an opportunity to respond to Sellers’ comment.

“I volunteer at the hospital, and I’m very proud of it,” he said. “It’s come a long way in the seven years we’ve lived here. And I credit it to the board, and I credit it to Mr. Walker. And I’ve run big companies and had many people that were vice presidents that received far more salary than Mr. Walker has. I’m sorry, Mr. Sellers, that you feel that type of raise was not appropriate; I say it is.”

One by one, the commissioners agreed that the cut needed to be made.

“We all agree that it’s unfortunate, but we have already cut [in our general fund budget] everywhere we can,” Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry said.

Commissioner Russell Smith noted that the county, earlier that day, had signed a $3 million Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) loan. A TAN loan is a low-interest (usually 2- to 3-percent) loan used by municipalities to meet immediate financial needs. It uses expected future property tax revenues as collateral, and must be repaid in full within one year.

He pointed out that the county’s financial situation is dire, which is why he agreed with the decision to cut the hospital funding.

“With regret, I support the recommendation,” Smith said.

“I don’t like it, but we don’t have a lot of choices,” Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely added.

After the meeting, Walker said that the hospital will likely have to reassess its patient admission policies, and may be forced to occasionally “turn away” indigent patients with non-emergency needs.

“We are required by state law to treat all emergency cases,” he said. “But we may have to make some tough decisions to turn away those who have non-emergency situations and are indigent.”

There will be a public hearing for viewing and discussion of the proposed budget, Friday, June 29, at 10 a.m., at the county administration building on West Broughton Street. The plan is for the county to then call a meeting Friday, July 6, at 10 a.m., to approve the budget.

The county is legally required to approve its fiscal year budget by July 1. Because the county will miss that deadline, it will instead discuss a “spending resolution” at Tuesday’s regular board meeting at 7 p.m. A spending resolution allows a governmental body to temporary continue operating by using the same funding levels from the 2011-12 fiscal year.