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Breaking down the Hospital District vote

By Bobby Tingle

 

Residents in Bridge City, Vidor and Orangefield rejected the hospital district proposal.

Fifty-five percent of the votes cast county wide in this election came from these communities. Collectively they cast 4,146 votes, 298 For and 3,848 Against or ninety-three percent Against.

I doubt anyone is surprised by the reality of residents in these communities voting against the proposal. It is assumed residents of these communities feel their hospital needs are served by hospitals available in Port Arthur and Beaumont.

The turnout was high as well in Orange, West Orange, Pinehurst, Little Cypress and Mauriceville. A total of 3,449 residents cast ballots in these communities. They also rejected the proposal at a rate of seventy-two percent Against with 955 For and 2,494 Against.

A little more than three quarters of the For votes came from the greater Orange area.

What do the numbers tell us?

Voters have strong feelings about the hospital district proposal. What else would compel a voter turnout at such high levels?

Normally, voters only turnout at this level for a presidential election.

Let’s breakdown what voters rejected. Ultimately there were three components.

  • Establishing a hospital district
  • Establishing the boundaries of the district
  • Establishing a limit on the tax levy the district board is authorized to levy 18 percent per $100 valuation of all taxable property in the district.

The petition calling for this election defined two of the three components, the boundaries of the district and the tax rate.

The boundaries of the district could have included multiple counties or any part of any county. State law does not place strict limits on how the boundaries are defined. State law does impose a ‘strict’ limit on the maximum tax rate, 75 cents per one hundred dollar valuation of taxable property.

Two public town hall meetings were held prior to the election for local residents to ask questions and state opinions. It is my sense those attending agreed wholeheartedly Orange County needs a hospital. It is also my sense those attending do not want an increase in their taxes.

Frankly, I am highly sympathetic.

An aversion to voting for a tax increase, I am sure, contributed heavily to the huge voter turnout and the overwhelming rejection. I do not believe county residents are opposed to establishing a hospital in Orange. But ultimately their desire for a hospital did not overwhelm their aversion to voting for an increase in their taxes.

But there were votes cast in favor of the proposal. This small contingent of voters accepted an underlying premise in this whole episode.

If we don’t establish a hospital district we will not get a hospital.

Community leaders have reported in a variety of forums about their efforts to attract a private hospital to fill our void. A common chorus emerged among those they talked to. Until a hospital district is in place we will not consider establishing a hospital in Orange County.

The next step is pretty clear from my view. We need to re-write the proposal.

The boundaries should be Orange County Commissioner precincts one and two. The tax rate upper limit should be zero.

What will that do?

By redefining the boundaries to the two precincts that contributed the most For votes in the initial election, we focus on the area in Orange County most interested in a hospital.

By setting the upper tax limit levy to zero we eliminate the objection of voting for a tax increase.

Based on the numbers and on the chatter I am convinced the tax rate was the reason the proposal failed. With more than a zero authorized tax rate, any future proposal is likely to be doomed as well.

We need a hospital in Orange County. Unless something changes, we will be forced to establish a hospital district to attract one.

Private investors may be attracted by the benefits of a hospital district without the benefit of local taxpayer dollars.

We should give the voters a chance to approve a hospital district in greater Orange area with a zero tax rate.

Bobby Tingle is publisher of The Orange Leader. You can reach him at bobby.tingle@orangeleader.com.