As the April election draws near, efforts are ramping up to raise awareness about one item on the ballot that could possibly affect every person in Bates county both from a safety and financial perspective- a proposed tax to help continue ambulance service in the county.
In a video interview that can be seen on YouTube and the Mid America Live Facebook page, Bates County Memorial Hospital CEO Greg Weaver was joined by ambulance supervisor Russ Whisenand to give their perspective on the issue. “In planning finances for the hospital” said Weaver in opening remarks “we do projections that are based on historic values. We went back to 2018, looking at the ambulance service to see if it was profitable. We found that it loses over $500,000 annually, in fact one year was close to $900,000.” He went on to say that loss has been carried by the hospital, but at this point is becoming unsustainable and the most viable option at this juncture is a tax subsidy.
Weaver said their projections show that in 5 years or so the loss on operation of the ambulance service is estimated to reach 1.2 million dollars, a number confirmed by several CPA’s which spawned the question how do we solve this? Consultants have been hired who specialize in this issue. “It never has been profitable, so it’s not sellable or marketable” he said, indicating no one else would be interested in taking it over- leaving the hospital holding the bag, so to speak.
In their research they did find that most all ambulance services in Missouri are tax funded leaving the question why isn’t Bates county?
That being said, the hospital can only bill for 20 or 30 cents on the dollar plus the fact that Medicare and Medicaid haven’t kept up with the rising costs associated with it and private insurance in many cases only pays about 60% of the bill. The only case where the entire amount can be billed is if it is a ‘self pay’ situation and Weaver was quick to point out that the hospital is willing to negotiate the amount and allow payments as necessary.
The trade off in absorbing losses due to the ambulance service? “It has to come from other places. The building is aging and say, if we need a new roof for example that has to be worked into the equation somehow.” There are many other variables he said complicate matters as BCMH operates as a non-profit organization.
“Nobody likes a tax” said Weaver “We’ve looked at every option. We got shot down on a sales tax, but we did find out we can propose a property tax. It’s not always what’s best for just me but really what is best for the community overall”.
In their research, the hospital found that the state will allow up to one dollar, but is only asking 50 cents per 100 dollars of assessed valuation as the goal is to just cover the deficit which is projected to be around 1.2 million in 4 to 5 years. Also taken into consideration was the fact that communities in Bates county are growing and with new businesses as well, the tax amount should be covered accordingly.
The ultimate question came mid interview when Weaver was asked what if this doesn’t pass? “That’s a good question” he said “We can’t keep sustaining the loss. We want to keep a hospital in Bates County for a long time and never want to jeopardize that. There’s no business, non profit or not, that can stay in operation with a product line that is not profitable, they usually get rid of it.”
It was made clear that time is not on our side as the next election would not be until 2024, making the April ballot ever important adding another year or so of loss. The most likely first victim of cuts would be county wide 911 service and it was noted that BCMH is one of the very few hospitals in the state that operate this service- all others are done by an ambulance district.
Non passage of the tax could also mean that it becomes just a Butler ambulance service; but even that would need to be funded by another tax source, say at city tax or otherwise. And of course, non passage could also include putting together an official ambulance district as noted below.
Key takeaways from the interview include:
• The 50 cents tax will be on real estate and personal property. Early discussions about the tax included real estate only, however state law says it must be on both. Weaver acknowledged with apology that originally only real estate was stated.
• The only other option is to develop a truly tax funded ambulance district which would require building it ‘from the ground up’. The hospital already has the infrastructure in place to support the ambulance service and at this point it would be more economically feasible to made adjustments to what we have as opposed to starting over.
• To calculate tax: Divide the assessed value of your added real estate and personal property tax by 100 and multiply by .50 Example: $25,000 total assessed value of real estate and personal property would cost $125 per year.
• A political action committee has been formed to promote the tax on behalf of the hospital, as it being a non profit is not allowed to actively campaign for it. Expect to hear from the PAC in coming days. Note the PAC has the option to hold a special election for this matter, however there is a cost involved could be as much as $15,000 or more, making it nearly cost prohibitive as this point.
“It’s rare that a county hospital doesn’t have a maintenance tax anyway” concluded Weaver “We’ve made it this far, but the economy dictates changes are needed. And that’s where we’re at.”
Ambulance supervisor Russ Whisenand added that this problem isn’t specific to BCMH and referred a similar situation with the city of Drexel and others, leaving many in the region scrambling for answers as well.
Regarding the Bates county tax question April 4, anyone with specific questions for the hospital may leave a message at 660-200-7046 and a call is promised to be returned; you may also mail a letter to PO box 370, Butler Mo 64730; email firstname.lastname@example.org as well as find additional answers at www.bcmhospital.com
The videocast with Greg Weaver can be seen here https://youtu.be/QK5DeF8NOA0