LANCASTER — On Friday, Garrard Fiscal Court once again rejected a modest tax increase to help better fund the county’s health department.
Marcia Hodge, director of the health department, pleaded with magistrates for the second time this week to increase the tax rate by .25 of a cent. She pointed out that a health tax increase had not been imposed since 1997, though neighboring counties such as Boyle and Jessamine have increased its health tax rates several times.
Since 1997, the health tax has been 4 cents for every $100 of property valuation. Under Hodge’s proposal, citizens would have paid 4.25 cents for every $100 of property valuation. The average Garrard property owner would have spent about an extra $2.08 per annual tax bill.
Magistrates Joe Leavell and Fred Simpson expressed strong opposition to any tax increases.
“My feeling right now is that I don’t care what taxing district comes up here, I think it’s got to stop,” Leavell said.”I think we are turning into, and this is a strong word, but socialism. That’s the way I feel. We are taxed to death.”
Hodge said she understood the magistrates’ concerns but the county health department is providing a bare minimum of services with fewer staff members than ever before. Currently, the health department has 11 full-time and three part-time employees. Eleven years ago, the department had 18 full-time and four part-time employees.
Hodge said the health board’s tax increase request was “not entered into lightly” and that it was essential to avoid layoffs and compromising available health care for the uninsured.
“This year, we treated six women without insurance who had breast cancer,” Hodge said. “Without the health department, they would be dead today.”
Simpson asked why the state and federal government has gotten into a habit of cutting funds to required programs such as health departments and then looks to municipal governments to make up the difference.
“That’s how they balance their budget,” Garrard Judge-Executive John Wilson said.
None of the five magistrates present made a motion to accept Hodge’s proposal, so it died for lack of a motion. Wilson then informed Fiscal Court that it needed to immediately set a tax rate because bills needed to go out by the end of Friday’s business day.
Leavell made a motion to leave the health tax at 4 cents for every $100 of property valuation; Magistrate Ronnie Lane seconded the motion. Fiscal Court voted 5-0 in favor of maintaining the current health tax rate.
For fiscal year 2012-13, the health department expects to receive about $338,750 of county funds. If the tax rate had been increased, the health department would have received an estimated $359,922 for its annual operations.