"If things keep going the way they are, I don't know what we're going to do," said County Commissioner James Kitten, floored by massive budget shortfalls projected by the Lubbock County Hospital District.
"There were substantial cuts in the state medicaid program," said UMC President James Courtney. At the core, an $8.9 million loss in state funding for uninsured patients. Last year the hospital district spent $35 million treating people who couldn't pay. This year that figure is $39 million. In 2004 it's projected to be $43 million.
"This difficult situation with the state cutbacks will be with us for a few years," said UMC CEO David Allison. While UMC projects significant revenue increases once new floors accept patients in 2004, that won't make up the shortfall. A partial solution? A property tax increase of 7.99%, raising nearly $800,000. But even that is like stopping a hemorrhage with a band-aid.
"The taxes won't...?," asked Commissioner Flores. "They wont's cover the cuts, not even close," answered Allison. If that's the case, why not ask for more than a 7.99% increase? "If it goes to 8% it has to go out to a public vote and we didn't think that was appropriate," said Allison.
Politics - by shooting for 7.99% the district can raise nearly a million dollars while avoiding the nasty business of asking the public to raise their own taxes. Instead, leaving the decision to county commissioners. "I hate taxes as bad as anybody, but we have to try and keep up," said Kitten.
More than politics, officials are confident that they can get by with the 7.99% increase, although they do anticipate asking for a similar increase next year. A public hearing on the matter is set for September 8th.