Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Panel backs cut in levy request

Proposal would raise $256M for indigent care

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An advisory group recommended Monday that Hamilton County voters consider a tax increase in November significantly smaller than two hospitals said they needed to provide health care for poor people.

        A slim majority of the Hamilton County Tax Levy Advisory Committee also asked county commissioners to consider allowing other health-care providers besides University and Chil dren's hospitals to share in the public dollars for providing care for the indigent.

        The tax levy review committee, an advisory group, asked commissioners to approve a levy on the November ballot that would raise $256 million over five years. That is less than the $292 million University and Children's officials sought earlier in the year, and about $7 million less than the county administration recently recommended.

        Still, if placed on the ballot by county commissioners and approved by voters this fall, it would be a substantial increase over the $210

        million the hospital levy passed five years ago generated.

        The advisory committee will not have the last word — Hamilton County Administrator David Krings is expected to give commissioners his own recommendation Monday and commissioners may act on the levy request as soon as the Aug. 1 meeting.

        The nine-member tax review committee voted 8-1 in favor of the $256 million figure, but split 5-4 on a separate vote on the idea of expanding the funding to other hospitals.

        “This is not good,” said Al Tuchfarber, a spokesman for University Hospital. “It just undermines a system that is working well.”

        County Commissioner Todd Portune, who sat through much of the tax levy review panel's two-hour meeting Monday, called the recommendation “clear as mud.”

        “I want to take a little closer look at the numbers before I make up my mind about this,” Mr. Portune said.

        “We don't want to do anything that is going to hurt University and Children's hospitals. If there is some way to expand this without doing that, maybe it is worth a look.”

        Under the plan recommended by the committee Monday, $46 million of the tax revenue would go to the county to pay for medi cal services it provides to the indigent, while $210 million would go to the hospitals.

        It is not yet known how much it would cost homeowners because the millage amounts are still to be calculated.

        Earlier this year, commissioners declined to place a $292 million tax levy on the May primary ballot. Since then, county administrators recommended a tax levy of about $263 million and recommended against expanding the program to other hospitals.

        The proposed levy has been the subject of scrutiny since a doctor and former member of the committee said the hospitals take in more money than they spend on indigent care. The hospitals say they lose money providing the care.

        Monday, the tax review committee said it rejected the idea that hospitals are making money from indigent care.

        “We've got to make it clear that University and Children's aren't making money,” said committee member Dale Van Vyven, a former state representative. “If that notion gets out there, you can kiss this levy goodbye.”

        The levy was first passed by Hamilton County voters in 1966. Proceeds go to University Hospital and Children's Hospital Medical Center, with some of the money going to other things such as inmate health care at the jail.


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