Saturday, October 23, 2004

'99 Drake levy push in question



By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

Drake Center Inc., already under fire for what critics call excessive spending, used $204,000 from hospital coffers to pass its last levy in 1999, according to campaign finance reports obtained through an Enquirer public records request.

After learning of the payment, Hamilton County Administrator David Krings shot off an e-mail Friday evening to Drake CEO Roberta Bradford saying he expects the county to launch an investigation Monday into whether taxpayer money went toward the campaign.

Commissioner Phil Heimlich, already fighting Drake's current levy request, said it's illegal to use taxpayers' money to campaign for more taxpayer money.

"These funds were supposed to help people get well, not to pay for campaign ads," said Heimlich, who has previously objected to salaries and other spending at Drake. "This shows Drake is playing fast and loose with other people's money - namely the taxpayers'."

About 20 percent of Drake's money comes from the levy, and the rest from insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. The long-term, acute-care hospital is seeking to pass a new levy that would likely net about $68 million over the next five years.

The hospital has guaranteed the $500,000 line of credit its levy committee took out for the current campaign, according to new campaign reports filed Thursday. Tax money won't be used to repay that loan, spokeswoman Kathy Graham said.

"It's not levy money because we don't have any levy money - we've already used up all of our levy money," she said. "We're paying our bills with reserves."

However, even Commissioner Todd Portune - a Drake supporter and a former patient - questioned Drake's campaign fund-raising tactics Friday.

"This is certainly an error in judgment on the part of whoever is running their campaign," he said. "I believe the leadership at Drake needs to take steps to correct the situation and ensure that no public money is put at risk in any form or fashion."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com




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