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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lakeshore Hospital Authority News

Board members to decide on 50% tax hike
Lakeshore Hosp Auth budget workshop a sham


Lakeshore Hospital  Authority Manager, "Jack" Jackson P. Berry reads the budget.

Link: An index of LSHA articles is available here.

Neither the Governor appointed Lakeshore Hospital Authority Board, nor its unqualified and overpaid Authority Manager, “Jack” Jackson P. Berry, disappointed Monday evening during their yearly meaningless budget workshop. As in prior years, there were no yearly budget comparisons, power points or charts showing revenues and expenditures over time. The Board and Mr. Berry clearly felt that his monotone reading of the budget was good enough for them and the working families of Columbia County. Of course, no one on the Board asked any questions and the only discussion was about raising taxes.

As a result of the secret lease negotiations of 2010, the not-for-profit Shands at Lakeshore, which was losing over 1.4 million dollars a year was taken over by Hospital Management Associates (HMA), a for-profit hospital chain, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

According to the lease, HMA is responsible for all the maintenance and renovations at the hospital.  The Lakeshore Hospital Authority acts only in an advisory capacity and is not obligated in any way to contribute money to HMA for maintenance and renovation.

Recently, the Hospital Authority committed over $2 million of its cash reserves, to renovate the hospital. That money could have been given back to the taxpayers to lower taxes. The Board unanimously chose not to do that.

Monday night, the Lakeshore Hospital Authority’s inside accountant and outside auditor, Richard Powell, recommended that the Authority increase taxes to build up the Authority’s reserves.

Authority Manager Berry told the Board that if they left the tax rate at last year’s rate (.962 mils), it would be “the absolute last year” that the Authority could dip into its reserves to come up with the almost $3,500,000 that was obligated to HMA. Mr. Berry said, “We will be used up all the reserves that we have -- for that.”

That is questionable, as the Hospital Authority is sitting on a cash hoard of over $6,000,000, which would have been over $8,000,000 had they chosen not to give $2,000,000 away to HMA, because they felt like it.

Link: The 2012 LSHA budget as presented on August 8, 2012. Is this transparent and accountable?

$3,000,000 missing

While it appears that the Authority has not yet paid a dime of the $2,000,000 to HMA, $3,000,000 has completely disappeared from the Capitol Improvement Fund without any notes or footnotes explaining where the $3,000,000 went.

Board member Lory Chancy thought taxes should go up in case the hospital was faced with a disaster. She asked, “How would we cover it?”

Ms. Chancy also mentioned that the Authority “had to come up with 1.5 mils next year.” Somehow Ms. Chancy thought that splitting the difference would be fair to the hard-pressed working families of Columbia County. She said, “It’s a little step at a time.”

Then Hospital Authority Manager Berry demonstrated why he could be working in Washington. He said, “Well it won’t be a tax increase. It will be going back to what it should be.”

Ms. Chancy responded, “Well yaah.”

Mr. Berry then claimed that the Hospital Authority had $7,000,000 in uncommitted reserves. The budget actually shows that number to be $6,494,439, which is a half a million dollar discrepancy.

1.5 mils for the next 30 years

1.5 mils was a tax levied against the working families of Columbia County to contribute toward indigent care for its less fortunate residents.  This tax rate, which is one of the highest in the state for hospital authorities, was mandated in the lease between the Authority and Shands. This tax has brought in about 3.5 million dollars a year over the past few years.

Last summer, in negotiations kept from the public, Jack Berry negotiated a new lease between the Authority and HMA. The Authority could have sold the hospital, but didn’t. The Authority was under no obligation to stick with the 1.5 mil requirement of the lease, but did with a modification obligating the Authority “to the equivalent” of 1.5 mils to HMA. The Authority could have negotiated a lower rate or pegged a rate to the CPI or some other indicator, like unemployment, but they did nothing but bind Columbia County taxpayers with the responsibility of forking over the equivalent of 1.5 mils to HMA for the next 30 years.

Ms. Chancy said, “I’m looking at the individuals that are going to have to take this out of their pocket.”

There was some conversation among the Authority members and Richard Powell and Mr. Berry.

Then Mr. Berry told the Board, “We gotta collect 1.5 mils. This is strictly a Board decision if we wanna fund part of the 1.5 mils.”

Epilogue

Nowhere in any documents presented by Authority Manager Berry, or the accountant\outside auditor Richard Powell, did it show that the Authority Manager’s increase in salary amounted to 55%.

No one asked why the expenditure for public education increased 25% and nowhere did show how the previous year's money was spent.

Of course, no one explained why the Authority just didn’t sell the hospital when it had the chance.

The Lakeshore Hospital Authority clearly does not have a leg up on Washington, as the Authority continues to use public funds to enhance the operation of a private hospital corporation, HMA, to compete against Lake City’s other private hospital, the Lake City Medical Center, who is paying taxes to enhance the competition against itself.

One can always count on Columbia County to come up with a mess like this.

With a real unemployment rate of approximately 18%, it will be interesting to see if the Hospital Authority’s good ol’ boys raise taxes on the working families of Columbia County.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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