Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Heimlich says no to Drake tax

But two other commissioners support putting new levy on ballot

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

A Hamilton County commissioner said Monday that he won't support a tax levy of any size for the Drake Center.

"This is one of the worst examples of excessive spending and lack of accountability that I have ever seen," Phil Heimlich said in announcing his position.

Heimlich's opposition won't stop a tax vote. The other two commissioners support a levy, although they have not decided the size of the tax request.

The long-term acute-care hospital in Hartwell has requested a five-year levy that would raise $99 million, a 39 percent increase over its expiring levy. The levy subsidizes about 20 percent of Drake's budget.

Heimlich and some others, however, have said no other county supports such a hospital with a tax levy, and they have raised questions about Drake's per-patient costs.

Drake officials fired back at Heimlich.

"He continues to make exaggerations and inaccuracies about Drake," spokeswoman Kathy Graham said. For instance, while Heimlich said the hospital has nine marketing employees, Drake says it has five.

Commissioner Todd Portune, who has undergone treatment at Drake, supports a request on the Nov. 2 ballot.

"It provides a very valuable service in the county that would be difficult if not impossible to replace,'' he said. "To eliminate Drake would throw the health-care community into turmoil."

Commissioner John Dowlin likewise voiced support, saying Drake's high-quality care ultimately lowers health-care costs.

Still, it is rare that a request to put an existing levy on the ballot would not get unanimous approval from commissioners. Heimlich's opposition could hurt the levy's chances with voters, said political analyst Gene Beaupre, a professor at Xavier University.

"If I thought Phil will go silently into the night, that's one thing," Beaupre said. "But I suspect he'll be active. I think this levy is going to have a very tough time."

The commissioners have until Aug. 19 to decide whether levies may go on the county ballot. The Hamilton County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities agency is also seeking a levy, which commissioners have indicated they will support.


E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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