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Voters will decide hospital sales tax question beginning next week

Registered voters in Republic County will begin to receive mail ballots next week to vote on a question on whether to extend a one-cent sales tax to benefit Republic County Hospital. Ballots will be mailed April 20, and are due back to the Republic County Clerk’s office by Tuesday, May 10 at noon. Election Clerk Beth Ball said if voters don’t receive ballots by Monday, April 25, they should contact the clerk’s office.

Ball said there are 3,647 registered voters in the county, but 3422 are active voters–”these people will automatically be mailed a ballot on April 20,” she said.

“But 225 are inactive voters –these people are inactive for various reasons and will not automatically get a ballot,” she said.

“If they want one, they will have to come in and fix whatever is causing them to be classed as inactive.

“Usually, it is because we have an incorrect address on them.”

Voters will be asked to place their marked ballot inside a sealed envelope and sign on the outside of the envelope. The clerk’s office will verify the signature on each envelope, and then separate the ballot from the envelope for counting.

By chance, the mail ballots are being sent just 10 days after the price of first class stamps dropped by two cents, to 47 cents.

`The board feels a sales tax helps more equally share the tax funding for the hospital between those who own property and those who do not, as well as what we collect from travelers and visitors to the county.’ –Blaine Miller Hospital administrator

Ease property tax levy

The hospital is asking citizens for permission to repurpose a one-cent sales tax that has been collected in Republic County for 15 years. The current sales tax is used to pay off bonds that financed the renovation of the hospital in 2002. Once enough is collected to retire those bonds, the hospital board would like o continue the sales tax to help fund hospital operations.

“The board feels a sales tax helps more equally share the tax funding for the hospital between those who own property and those who do not, as well as what we collect from travelers and visitors to the county,” says Republic County Hospital administrator Blaine Miller.

A one-cent sales tax in Republic County currently generates about $500,000 per year. Two years ago voters approved raising the property tax mill levy to support the hospital to 12 mills for three years only– 2015, 2016 and 2017. At that time, the board said the mill levy increase was a stop-gap measure until the funding could be switched to the sales tax.

By law, the property tax levy for the hospital can be no more than six mills unless approved by voters.

In 2016, the hospital only asked for 10 mills of the levy because of the increase in valuation in Republic County last year. One mill in Republic County generates $63,000 in property tax revenues.

Miller noted that the hospital generates gross revenues in excess of $12 million per year, and the tax funding accounts for only about five percent of the hospital’s funding. Republic County Hospital is largely dependent on Medicare reimbursements- -more than 75 percent of patients are Medicareeligible.

“Medicare reimburses us 99 percent of our cost to provide care to patients, which means we are paid less than what it costs us to provide that care for more than 75 percent of our patients,” Miller said. Miller noted that less than five percent of patients who receive care at the hospital have no insurance at all.