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Houston County Courier - Local News

Copyright 2017 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

HCHD Votes To Keep Current Tax Rate

 

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
reporter@hccourier.com

For now, Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) taxpayers will pay property taxes at the same rate they paid to the district last year. Eight of the nine members of the district's board of directors present at a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, unanimously voted to continue levying the maximum rate allowed by their bylaws. The ninth member of the board, Place 3 Director Tommy Driskell, was absent. Offering the motion to adopt the rate for this year was Place 9 Director Carol Story Dawson. It was seconded by Place 6 Director Jim Dowell, and also included approval of this year's district property tax roll. The approved rate is 15 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation and it is the amount the directors have levied the past two years and the amount they proposed for this year at their last regular meeting Aug. 22. However, 107 registered voters last month signed a petition to lift the 15 cents cap on the HCHD tax. And in response, the directors voted at an Aug. 21 public hearing to hold a tax-related election. The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7, and is not to raise the tax, but to give the district the ability to raise it in the future if the directors determine they need to and that it is prudent, according to Board President Deborah Blackwell. Concerning the board's action at the Tuesday, Sept. 5, meeting to re-adopt the 15 cents rate, Blackwell said, "At the last meeting (Aug. 22), we stated our intent of setting the tax rate at 15 cents per $100 valuation. And so, tonight we just have to just go ahead and formally do that." In other business, the directors unanimously voted passage of motions approving medical office lease and community benefit agreements reached between HCHD and CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic. The successful motion to approve the lease agreement was made by Board Secretary Barbara Crowson, who holds Place 1 on the board, and seconded by Place 5 Director Robert Grier. Presenting the motion that carried approving the CHRISTUS benefit agreement was Grier. That motion was seconded by Dr. John Stovall, board vice president and Place 4 director. Highlighting some of the terms of the lease agreement, Blackwell said, it is for 36 months and covers the approximately 12,500-square-feet second floor of HCHD's medical office building. CHRISTUS may renew the lease three times for 36 months each time, provided that CHRISTUS gives at least 180-days' notice of its request to renew toward the expiration of a current lease term. Blackwell said rent is set at $10 per square foot, amounting to approximately $131,340 a year – $10,945 per month. Concerning additional rent, she said lessee CHRISTUS will pay its prorata share of operating expenses. In addition, the lease agreement addresses HCHD's rental of other space in the building to additional tenants, responsibility for maintenance and repair of the facility, insurance matters, and contains a provision giving CHRISTUS the right of first refusal should HCHD receive a third party's offer to purchase the lease premises or hospital facility. "If another entity would come in and make an offer to us, we would present that to CHRISTUS and they would have the ability to either match the offer or allow us to go on to somebody else," Blackwell said. "But, we're still at the point where we're talking to other entities." According to a memorandum to the directors from Robert Spurck, of Reed, Claymon, Meeker & Hargett law firm in Austin, the purpose of the community benefit agreement is "(t)o ensure that the (CHRISTUS Trinity) clinic is open during normal business hours and that Christus makes available medical services to all patients of the clinic seeking such treatment, regardless of such patients' ability to pay. "Without the Community Benefit Agreement, Christus would not enter into the lease or explore reopening the hospital and ED (Emergency Department)." Blackwell noted the term of this agreement is one year and it automatically renews for successive oneyear periods. The district can terminate the agreement without cause upon 90-days' written notice. "In the event that it is terminated, CHRISTUS will have the right to terminate the lease," Blackwell said. She added, a support fee cap is up to $400,000 in the first contract year, $250,000 the second year, $250,000 the third year and $300,000 for any single year thereafter. And the way that's calculated, is for each calendar month during a contract year, if the total amount of expenses for the clinic exceeds the total amount of net operating revenue for the clinic for that month, the district shall pay CHRISTUS the amount by which expenses exceed net operating revenue for such month, subject to the support fee cap. "It is calculated on a calendar quarter basis," Blackwell explained, adding, "however, the first payment is not due until January." In the case HCHD doesn't have available revenue to pay the support fees when due, then the shortfall in support fees shall accrue as a receivable for CHRISTUS and will be paid when the district does have available revenue. She said CHRISTUS will provide HCHD with documentation of all income and expenses, and district representatives have the right to audit their books. In response to a comment by Crowson, Blackwell said, "They will provide us (with documentation) monthly. During the first contract year, HCHD will make support fee payments in January, April, July and September." Stovall added, "I just want to be sure that the public is aware that this is what some of the tax money is going toward, and to ensure that the people – whether they can pay or not – will be able to be treated at the clinic. That's to protect, as it says, community benefit." Essentially, the community benefit agreement provides that HCHD pay a certain amount of money to CHRISTUS to help it come in with its clinic, support it when it has expenses amounting to more than revenues and help cover the cost of treating indigent patients.

 

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