Commission supports tax increase for construction of new hospital

Published 7:51 pm Monday, April 22, 2013

The Chilton County Commission voted in favor of a plan presented Monday by the county’s Hospital Board to finance the construction of a new hospital.

The board’s request signifies a shift in officials’ focus away from re-opening Chilton Medical Center, which has been closed to patients since October 2012, leaving Chilton County without a hospital.

Board member Allen Payton said the final straw was the projected cost of upgrades, about $1 million, needed to bring the CMC facility into fire code compliance.

“It’s a never-ending battle with attorney’s fees and all the things that keep coming up,” Payton said. “We weren’t going to have enough money. We decided, if we’re going to have to find a funding source, we’d just go ahead and look at building a new hospital.”

The hospital board, a body appointed by the commission that has no funding source other than money left over from the original sale of CMC, had been willing to foot the bill for expenses related to re-opening the hospital—and to purchase the facility if an analysis determined it was financially viable. Payton said those expenses became too much.

The board has already paid out more than $300,000 in attorney’s fees, Payton said, and IRS recently tied a lien to the property in an effort to recoup payroll taxes unpaid by the hospital’s former operators.

So, hospital board officials requested the commission’s help with bringing up a 5 mill ad valorem tax increase for a vote by Chilton County residents. Commission members, at a regular meeting Monday, approved the measure, which now would have to pass the state Legislature before appearing on a ballot as a referendum.

State Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Kurt Wallace have had conversations with hospital board members about getting the local tax increase passed through the state Legislature.

“We want to do whatever we can to help,” Ward said. “Chilton County cannot go long-term without having a health care facility.”

Ward and Wallace said, while they support in general the idea of building a new hospital in Chilton County, they would need to know more specifics before taking action and indicated they would want any tax increase to expire once construction was complete.

“I’m not for an open-ended tax,” Wallace said. “We would want a set number of years put on it. If you want a car bad enough, you’ll go finance it, but you don’t want to finance it indefinitely.”

The local tax increase could be introduced in the Legislature during its 2014 session. The earliest it could be included on a ballot in Chilton County would be June 2014, unless a costly special election was called for the referendum.

Based on Fiscal Year 2012 numbers, a 5-mill ad valorem tax increase dedicated to funding construction of a new hospital would bring in about $2 million per year, according to officials with the county tax assessor’s and tax collector’s offices.

An owner of a home in Chilton County appraised at $100,000, for example, would pay an additional $50 per year if a 5-mill ad valorem tax increase was passed. An owner of a $25,000 vehicle would pay an additional $18.75 per year in tag fees.

Payton said hospital board officials estimated the county would need $20 million for construction of a new hospital, including the purchase of land for the facility.

St. Vincent’s Health System, which is headquartered in Birmingham, plans to partner with local officials during the process of planning and constructing a new hospital, Payton said, and operate the facility once opened.

“They’ll build a model for a hospital that will be sustainable here,” he said. “They’re going to be holding hands with us.”

St. Vincent’s spokeswoman Liz Moore issued a statement about her company’s involvement:

“We have had discussions with the Chilton County Hospital Board about the hospital and what an appropriate model of care might be in the future. Neither [St. Vincent’s Health System] or the board have determined what role we might play, but we continue to be open to discussions and to supporting the board’s decision making process. It is exciting to engage with so many leaders committed to the health and growth of their county.”