Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Hospital tax leading despite opposition

Heimlich alleged cash mismanaged

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

A levy for the Drake Center Inc. appeared headed toward passage Tuesday night despite a contentious campaign.

The $80 million, five-year levy was up 53 percent to 47 percent, with 63 percent of the county's 1,013 precincts reporting. About $68 million of the levy money was expected to go to Drake, with the rest going to county drug treatment-related programs.

"If something happened to a family member, we're lucky to have a place like that to take care of them," Julie Brabender, 30, of Norwood said after voting from the levy.

Joseph Steger, chairman of Drake's board of trustees, had said the hospital might either have to close or cut services if the levy failed. The current levy expires in December, although the hospital has about $35 million in its reserve fund.

Drake has come under fire in recent months from Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich and others who felt the hospital wasn't managing its money properly.

The levy results seemed to vindicate the hospital leadership.

"I'm just feeling grateful that the voters of Hamilton County appreciate the good work we do at Drake," CEO Roberta Bradford said Tuesday night.

An independent consultant hired by the county concluded that Drake spends too much money on its staff and that other health care facilities could provide the same services at no cost to taxpayers - both charges disputed by Drake.

"It's a wonderful place, but I just couldn't support it," said voter Roxanne Wagner, 33, of Price Hill, who broke from past practice to vote against Drake. "I'm not sure they're spending their money as wisely as they can."

Drake had asked for a 39 percent increase in its funding, but instead the proposed levy the county commissioners agreed to put on Tuesday's ballot will cut funding by almost a third.

"We're very much looking at our costs and how we can make up that deficit," Bradford said.

New questions about Drake's spending have arisen in the past two weeks.

The county prosecutor's office is investigating whether it was illegal for Drake to use $204,000 from its reserve fund to pay for its last levy campaign and guarantee a loan of up to $500,000 for this campaign.

Levy money may not be used for campaigning, and County Administrator David Krings said Drake's reserve fund is a mix of levy and non-levy money.

Drake officials disagreed.

The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $25 a year, up from about $24 a year.


Drake levy

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