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Health district officials may seek 8 percent increase in 2012 tax rate

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Officials from Travis County Central Health may seek an 8 percent increase over this year’s effective tax rate for fiscal year 2012. The tax hike would cover the costs of significant expansion for the county’s health care provider.


If approved by the Travis County Commissioners’ Court, the district’s tax would jump from 7.19 cents to 7.97 cents for every $100 of valuation. That figure includes 0.15 cents for the debt service on bonds. Eight percent is the State of Texas’ rollback rate.


The Travis County Commissioners Court will not take action on Central Health’s budget until September. However, Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez raised questions about the optimism of the organization’s growth projections and how much funding it would lose to county homestead and 65-and-over tax exemptions.


Central Health’s Chief Service Delivery Officer Larry Wallace told the court that his group would serve 42,688 more patients by the end of fiscal year 2016. He added that this growth would go along with the construction or renovation of five clinic facilities.


Davis wondered if cuts at the federal level might impact Central Health’s plans. He also worried that the organization was a bit optimistic with its plans. “I understand your aggressiveness and what you’re trying to do to come up with some kind of finalized projection,” he said. “But I’m going to have to put a question mark next to it in my mind, until we see what type of impact (federal cuts) will have on all local governments who receive trickle down money.”


Central Health’s Chief Financial Officer John Stephens told Davis that he had not included any potential cuts from the federal Medicaid program in his projections. That issue, of course, continues to be one of those at the center of the budget debate between U.S. House Republicans and President Barack Obama.


In what may amount to a preview of a debate-to-come, Gomez wondered about the amount of money that Central Health would lose to county tax exemptions. “Just out of curiosity how much money do y’all have to give up (for) the homestead exemption and the 65-and-over (exemption)?” she asked.


Stephens told the court that he didn’t have those figures. “I haven’t calculated that number,” he said, “but I can find that and I’ll get it to you.”


Travis County offers its residents a host of tax exemptions. These include a 20 percent homestead exemption and a $65,000 deduction from the value of property for residents who are 65-and-over or disabled. The county had considered a change to this policy, but voted to continue with its current rules for at least another year (See In Fact Daily, July 12, 2011).


Central Health staff will hold a series of public hearings to discuss their budget between now and the date that the court moves to adopt their outline for FY2012. That action could come as early as Sept. 20.


Central Health President and CEO Patricia Young Brown told the court that the budget is still not completely developed. “Our board is still considering some fairly significant policy decisions around setting the tax rate, the use of reserves, we’re still tinkering with our expense line items,” she said. “So it’s still very much a work in progress.”


Young told the court that she hopes to give them a preliminary budget on Aug. 17.

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