Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Two county levies on fall ballot

Hospital amount still undecided

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Commissioners decided Monday to place two special levies on ballots this fall — one that would provide services to abused or neglected children, the other to pay medical bills for the poor.

        The Children's Services levy sailed through with little discussion. If approved by voters, it will generate more than $40 million during each of the next five years and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $64 per year.

        The health and hospitalization levy, which provides care to the indigent, took more time to decide. And one big question re mains: How much should the levy be?

        University and Children's hospitals would like to see the levy generate $264 million over the next five years. The county's Tax Levy Review Committee has recommended $256 million over the same period.

        A small portion of the levy goes for other things, such as tuberculosis control, inmate health care, and alcohol/drug addiction services. The amount dedicated to those services will stay at about $7 million, regardless of which levy amount commissioners decide upon.

        County commissioners will decide the levy amount Wednesday.

        Whatever the amount, it will not be shared with other hospitals in the county. As in previous years, 80 percent of the levy revenue will go to University Hospital, with the rest being funneled to Children's Hospital.

        It's been a long struggle for the health and hospitalization levy to reach this point. Hospital officials wanted the issue on the May ballot, but commissioners balked after the Tax Levy Review Committee did an abbreviated evaluation of the tax.

        About the same time, Dr. Kevin Martin, a vascular surgeon and former member of the levy review committee, alleged that the hospitals were turning a profit off the indigent care they provide. After an audit of both hospitals, the levy review committee found that not to be the case.

        Either proposed amount will represent more than a 20 percent increase over the past five-year period. The levy currently costs the owner of a $100,000 home $50 per year. If approved by voters, the levy will either cost $67.12 or $70.05 annually.

        Al Tuchfarber, University Hospital's point man for the levy, said the hospital already loses money providing indigent care and needs every penny it can get. The increase will only cover inflation, he said.

        “University Hospital is just barely breaking even, so every dollar lost on the revenue side is a real loss,” he said.

        Commissioner Tom Neyer would like to see the levy at the larger amount. Commissioners Todd Portune and John Dowlin are undecided.


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