Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Reduced Drake levy on ballot

Commission cuts $19M from hospital's request

By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

The Drake Center will receive fewer Hamilton County tax dollars over the next five years even if voters approve an $80 million levy for the long-term, acute-care hospital on the Nov. 2 ballot.

After a contentious debate Monday, the Hamilton County commissioners voted 2-1 to place the tax request on the ballot.

Drake had asked commissioners to authorize a $99 million tax levy question. A county tax levy review committee had previously reduced the request to $94 million.

Passage of the $80 million levy would result in almost no tax increase for property owners. The annual taxes for a $100,000 home would rise from $24.13 to $24.74 a year.

But approval of the levy would cut Drake's tax revenue by $15.1 million over the next five years.

"Clearly, with the reduction in funding, we'll have to make some changes," said Kathy Graham, Drake spokeswoman. "It's too early to say what those changes will be. We'll continue to do our best to provide efficient, high-quality care."

Drake, located in Hartwell, provides long-term, acute-care services and advanced rehabilitation programs. It serves about 6,800 patients a year, most of them outpatient and from Hamilton County.

The tax levy provides 20 percent of Drake's budget.

The Drake levy was one of two issues commissioners approved for the November election ballot.

Commissioners also voted 2-1 to place a $338 million levy for five years on the ballot for the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

That total is $41 million less than the agency requested but still a $75.4 million increase over five years.

The mental retardation levy will raise the annual taxes for a $100,000 home from $75.70 to $106.60.

Commissioners John Dowlin and Todd Portune voted to put both levies on the ballot, while Commissioner Phil Heimlich voted against them.

Heimlich said he supports the programs of the mental retardation agency but opposed the levy to keep the pledge the commissioners made last December to hold county spending at or below the rate of inflation.

Commissioners argued mostly about the Drake Center question.

Heimlich says Drake wastes money and operates inefficiently. He doesn't think Drake should receive any county tax money.

"It's a reckless and irresponsible decision to tell Drake they're going to get nothing," Portune told Heimlich.

"What I think is really irresponsible," Heimlich responded, "is the way we have allowed spending and taxes to go up in this county in the last 10 years."

The Drake tax levy includes $12 million for the county drug court and other non-Drake programs.

Heimlich and Portune accused each other of twisting financial figures and rates of inflation to suit their purposes.

Portune used a rate of inflation of 2.9 percent, while Heimlich said it's 2.1 percent.

A 2.9 percent rate of inflation would allow up to a $149.7 million increase in all Hamilton County's special levies over the next five years. A 2.1 percent rate of inflation would permit an increase of $83.2 million.

Two Hamilton County levies

Levies for the Drake Center and the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD) would replace existing ones. Unlike the levies they're replacing, these would be based on current property values.

The Drake Center levy would:

Generate $80 million over the next five years, a $15.1 million tax revenue reduction for Drake.

Raise the annual taxes for a $100,000 home from $24.13 to $24.74.

The MRDD levy would:

Generate $338 million over the next five years, a $75.4 million tax revenue increase.

Raise the annual taxes for a $100,000 home from $75.70 to $106.60.


E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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