By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
The Knox County Fiscal Court wants to form a taxing district to support the Knox County Hospital. But first they will have to hold a public hearing to see if there is approval or opposition to the plan.
That public hearing will take place at 11:30 a.m. Friday in the Fiscal Courtroom of the Knox County Courthouse in Barbourville.
Those who would like to speak to the court on the subject may do so, but they will need to notify the Fiscal Court Clerk no later than today (Wednesday) by phone or in writing.
Knox County Judge-Executive J. M. Hall said the reaction he has heard on the hospital tax district has been positive for the most part.
“A couple of folks have called and asked if we were going to add $50 to their tax bill. I told them no. There will be no new taxes. A lot of what I’ve been told has been from people who’ve used our hospital over the years, and that it’s saved a lot of lives. They’ve said to me, ‘If it wasn’t for the hospital in Barbourville, they wouldn’t be alive today.’ They have said to me that if we had to create something to help our hospital, do it,” he pointed out.
Hall added once Friday’s public hearing is completed, a special meeting of the fiscal court will be called at 11:30 a.m. Monday for the first reading of the hospital tax district ordinance. If the first reading is approved, the ordinance’s second reading will take place during the court’s regular session at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
If the second reading is approved, it becomes law upon legal publication.
One who will be speaking at the public hearing is Darryl Baker, a taxpayer who says he is very angry about the plan.
“The hospital has gone into debt every year for at least 10 years, and now they’re going to pass this tax that will keep the hospital open and keep people employed. My view is I live in the western end of the county. We don’t use Knox County Hospital. And to pass a tax that make a taxpayer have to pay for somebody to be employed? I figured it out, and it’s gonna cost me about $1,400 a year. Truseal closed last year. Thank goodness they didn’t try to do that,” Baker said.
He added, “We’re saving a private business and turning it into a taxpayer-funded business. They’re calling it ‘tax-neutral,’ but I guarantee they’ll have to fund money back into the ambulance service.”
The court approved the resolution on May 22. The taxing district would cover all of Knox County, with the proposal set up after agreements were reached with the court, the Knox County Board of Health and the Knox County Public Library last month.
The plan would shift some tax money from the library and health department’s taxing districts, as well as all of the tax money from the county’s Ambulance Tax to form a newly-created Hospital Tax. It would abolish the .04 percent ambulance tax, shifting it to the new hospital tax, while getting one-and-a-half percent each from the library and health department tax to make the total .07 percent.
In May, Hall said the current library tax rate is .058 cents per $100, which would be reduced to one-and-a-half percent, reducing the library’s tax to .043 cents per $100. The health department’s current tax rate is .040 cents per $100, with the new rate being .025 cents per $100.
The health department’s director, Susan Liford, said in May the percent of money going to the hospital was estimated at $300,000-$400,000 a year, and that the two-year agreement would begin in January. Both Liford and Hall added the arrangement meant no tax increase to county residents.
According to Hall, the plan would keep the hospital open and get it back on the road to recovery. The agreement would be evaluated at the end of the two-year period, at which time the hospital would know if it is sustainable.
The hospital is owned by the fiscal court, which took over the facility from Pacer Management of Kentucky, Pacer Health Management Corporation of Kentucky and Cumberland-Pacer on July 16 of last year. The change in ownership came after the former owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 27, 2012. When the fiscal court took over, they signed a contract with Alliant Management Corporation of Louisville to operate and manage the hospital.
Ray Canady is the hospital’s current CEO.
Hall said in May the plan would allow the county to borrow USDA money at an interest rate of 2.3%-2.5%, noting it would “allow us to get our hospital running in the black, apply for grants and purchase new equipment and become profitable.”
He added after the two-year agreement, Hall hoped the hospital, which employs nearly 300 people, would have a hospital group such as Baptist Health Kentucky, KentuckyOne Health (which owns Saint Joseph London) or Appalachian Regional Healthcare buy the Barbourville facility.