| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
The West Volusia Hospital Authority unanimously approved a 14.4% decrease in its final tax rate, but the board members still did not finalize a hospital contract.
The WVHA, during a teleconference meeting Thursday night, voted to adopt the final tax rate of $1.50 per $1,000 taxable dollars, which is a 14.4% decrease from the rolled-back tax rate of $1.75.
Now, instead of collecting just under $20 million, the WVHA will bring in a total of $16.4 million.
The authority’s operating budget for fiscal year 2021 will be $18.4 million because members are taking $2 million out of reserves to fund one-time expenses associated with opening WVHA-owned health clinics — and for the possibility of extra expenses associated with COVID-19.
“We want to be proactive and have money in the budget in case more people apply for the health card for services,” authority member Dolores Guzman said. “If we don’t have to use it, it can stay there and at the end of the year, it can be moved back into reserves.”
But some West Volusia residents, like Barbara Chapman, weren’t keen on the idea of taking the money out of reserves. Instead, she thinks the WVHA should keep the rolled-back rate in order to cover those expenses.
“I was concerned when I saw you were taking money from the reserves when you had already saved so much money,” Chapman said. “If it was such a great need, then why is the millage rate lower? We need to make sure that the millage rate isn’t deficient of the community’s needs.”
Another resident, Tanner Andrews echoed Chapman’s concerns, stating he didn’t want to end up back in 2017 when the WVHA raised its tax rate by 49%, causing an uproar among taxpayers.
“If we make a habit of funding operations from reserves, we’re going to find ourselves back in 2017,” Andrews said. “It brings back chills and feelings we’d all hoped were long forgotten.”
While the WVHA approved agreements with all of the other agencies it provides funding to during its regular meeting Thursday, it is still working on a final contract with Halifax Health.
Most commissioners are in favor of working out a deal with Halifax Health-UF Health Medical Center of Deltona, which opened in February, to provide hospital services to cardholders.
Nothing has been been finalized, WVHA secretary Eileen Long said in an email following the meeting.
“They are in negotiations,” Long wrote.
[READ MORE: WVHA seeks hospital contract for first time in 20 years with Halifax Health in Deltona]
Not all members of the authority want to enter into a contract with a hospital provider for their health-card holders.
Commissioner John Hill is against providing the funding because both Halifax Health and AdventHealth hospitals are not-for-profit hospitals and are therefore required by law to provide emergency hospital services to the indigent.
“My intent from the get-go was to not fund the hospitals,” Hill said. “They are given hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxes a year. I don’t understand why the taxpayers are being taxed twice.”
But Commissioner Judy Craig said that without WVHA funding, cardholders may still be responsible for care that goes beyond an emergency.
For example, according to Craig, if someone who has a heart attack, the services would be free from the hospital up until they are stabilized. Then the remainder of their hospital stay can be charged.
“Right now with COVID-19 — I’m sorry; I’m not heartless,” Craig said. “I know patients who went to the hospital, didn’t have insurance, went home and died. The dollars here are minuscule compared to the life of our patients.”
And during the regular meeting, commissioners unanimously decided to move $500,000 from the $3 million allocated for hospitals to a line-item for their new miCare Clinic, which is opening in DeLand next week.
“The hospitals don’t look like they are going to utilize all of their funding,” said WVHA attorney Theodore Small. “It’s to start initial funding of the clinic.”