Increased hospital tax, veteran homestead exemption in voters' hands
Owner of $200,000 home would pay an additional $7 if hospital measures pass
Parishioners heading to the polls on Saturday will decide whether or not to approve an increase in taxes for St. Charles Parish Hospital and if disabled veterans can double their homestead exemptions.
The hospital is asking voters to approve a higher amount of property tax and to authorize the issuance of $3 million in bonds for capital improvements. The tax rate would be raised from 2.48 to 2.97 mills.
The owner of a $200,000 home would pay a total of $37.12 for operating taxes and $33 for the bonds if the propositions are passed. That is increased from the current rates of $31.62 and $30.75 on a $200,000 home.
Fred Martinez, CEO of the hospital, said that the increased tax collection is needed due to cuts from the new national healthcare plan and the high cost of free care, such as treating uninsured patients who visit the emergency room. The increase would be valid for the next 10 years.
"We're classified as a little hospital and as a result in Louisiana we get uncompensated care, or free care, payments to help us provide the care we do. This year, with the Obama healthcare plan beginning to phase in…they begin to reduce those payments," Martinez said. "This year, we lost $2 million in that payment.
"We're asking for a slight increase to help us deal with that."
Martinez said that money the hospital used to receive for providing free ambulance services was totally eliminated out of state and national programs. Because of this, he said St. Charles Hospital lost about $250,000 of annual funding.
Martinez said that under national laws, it is impossible for the hospital to deny the free care it gives to uninsured patients.
"By federal law, we can't turn anybody down. So when people come to the emergency room, we have to provide care within the abilities of the hospital," Martinez said.
He added that sometimes regular physicians care for patients who do not have insurance.
"In some cases, we have to write off the entire amount,” he said.
The $3 million in bonds that residents will vote on will be used for capital improvements if passed, Martinez said.
"The $3 million is going to be used for buying new equipment at the hospital, like new surgical tables and ambulances," he said.
Martinez said that he hopes the community will support the hospital by approving the two propositions, allowing the hospital to continue to provide support to the community.
"Every time we've asked the community to help us out, I feel like we've given a lot of value back to the community…in terms of facilities, new services and new positions we've been able to recruit for," Martinez said. "So when people come to our hospital, they know they've got good technology backing up the healthcare…and we give them good access by making sure we're available regardless of what type of insurance you carry."
Also on the ballot will be a new homestead exemption for certain disabled veterans in the parish. On Nov. 2 of last year, the state passed a constitutional amendment that allows local governments to hold an election to consider increasing homestead exemptions for veterans that have a completely service-related disability. Parish President V.J. St. Pierre proposed a measure that would allow the 66 parish veterans that meet the criteria to double those exemptions to $150,000.
Parish officials are unclear how much money the parish would lose out on in tax revenue if the measure is passed by voters. St. Pierre said that they don't know the names of the 66 veterans who would meet the criteria and don't know the price of their homes.
Renewal of a millage for mosquito control will also be voted on during Saturday's election. The current tax rate of 1.10 mills will not be raised, but the parish is asking that the public renew that rate so that the study, abatement, control and eradication of mosquitoes can continue for another 10 years.
For a full list of voting locations, visit www.stcharlesgov.net and click on the Registrar of Voters tab.
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