Chairman shares concern about hospital tax election

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, October 25, 2017

By David Covey

Orange County voters have an important decision to make at the polls on Dec. 19, 2017.

We will be voting on whether to create a new local taxing authority in the form of an Orange County Hospital District to help provide care for the indigent, supposedly.

At first glance, this proposition is appealing. With a second and deeper look, however, the proposed district is a costly endeavor of questionable value. Adding a new district would create another layer of government bureaucracy and a new property tax without assuring taxpayers it will actually provide quality patient care. All this at a time when Orange County property owners are staggering from the devastating effects of hurricane Harvey.

The new proposed taxing jurisdiction, called a healthcare district, would be on top of other taxing jurisdictions and would be located in Orange County. The proposed healthcare district would fund its expenditures by imposing a property tax that may not exceed $0.18 on each $100 valuation of all taxable property in the Hospital District. It is notable that senior citizens, on fixed incomes, are not exempt from this new property tax. An estimated $180 in annual property taxes on a $100,000 home.

I have four primary concerns that I will briefly bring to Orange County voter’s attention. First, the lack of transparency. In being asked to create this taxing district, voters are not given any assurances who will be appointed on the board, where the hospital will be located, what the new property tax rate will be. The process is backwards because only future board members can answer these questions, however, we must vote before we know who are the members. At a past townhall someone said, this is the Pelosi approach of “pass it now, read it later”. Approximately 146 certified signatures on a petition triggered this county wide election which will cost around $40,000.

The second concern is the trend of an additional layer of property tax. As a constitutional conservative, and Chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, my goal is to get away from property taxes not add new property taxes. This position is consistent with plank 175 of the Republican Party Platform.

Thirdly, Orange County is blessed with many strategic economic advantages like ports, pipelines, refineries, and Interstate 10. Orange County should be developing strategies to capitalize on these natural economic catalysts instead of voting on a new property tax that will drive away new employers, businesses, and homeowners.

Finally, this new tax service would cost every property owner in the county money but would only service a small minority of the citizens due to the size of the hospital and the geographic location. There will likely be between 15 and 25 beds. In the event of a major catastrophe, 15 beds will not come close to servicing the needs of Orange County. Beyond that, a quick look at hospital districts from around the state reveal that most of these 15 or so beds will stay full of indigent patients and there will be no capacity to service Orange County in the event of a major accident on I-10 or a plant explosion. Geographically, most Vidor homeowners I have spoken with will go to Beaumont before heading back to an Orange hospital, likewise, Bridge City will head toward Mid-County. In other words, everyone is being taxed for benefits that very few will receive.

Homeowners are already overburdened with property taxes. There’s rightfully little voter appetite for adding yet another taxing authority with an associated bureaucracy and increase in taxes. Instead of hiding this election in the middle of the holidays, let’s have an honest and transparent discussion of how to take care of the poor with the current budget instead of holding a rare December election six days before Christmas Day.

David Covey is the Orange County Republican Chair