Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

Lake Shore Hosp Auth: Public Slammed - 55.9% Proposed Tax Increase, Employees get 5% Raise

Tomorrow: Berry gets 5%; Board bans photos

Resident Barbara McInturff wanted to know why the Hosp Auth was the only agency in the County raising its taxes.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Governor appointed Lakeshore Hospital Authority Board did not disappoint last night when they approved a 55.9% tax increase; gave Hosp Auth Manager Berry a 5% pay raise; banned photos when they are in session; misrepresented the terms of the indigent care lease provisions negotiated between the Authority and HMA/Shands; and didn't say a word when Manager Berry spoke to HMA/Shands CEO Rhonda Sherrod like she was a three year old in a demeaning and condescending way.


The Tax Increase: driven by fear mongering

Richard Powell wanted the Board to raise taxes.

This year the Lakeshore Hospital Authority budget was presented by the Authority's accountant - external auditor - financial advisor (all one person), Richard Powell. The LSHA Board does not believe in arm's length transactions. They have been operating in this way for years.

In one respect, it was a good thing that Mr. Powell presented the budget as Manager Berry, a political operative, private detective, and past Republican Chieftain, has in the past been challenged when presenting Authority numbers. Board members to decide on 50% tax hike: Lakeshore Hosp Auth budget workshop a sham

By Florida Statute, the Lakeshore Hospital Authority is authorized to levy a tax of up to 3 mills. The actual rate is up to the Authority.

Board Chairman Wasseem Khan wanted to hike the tax rate.

Fear mongering by Board Chairman Waseem Khan regarding the proposed takeover of HMA, the folks that lease the hospital from the Authority, had Chairman Khan suggesting a tax rate of 1.5 mills, rather than the present rate of .962 mills because of what he called "uncertainty." He said, "We can always give money back to the taxpayers, but we can't get it back from them if we have to."

The Lakeshore Hospital Authority doesn't give tax refunds.

Hosp Auth Manager Berry wanted to ratchet up the rates

Manager Berry recommended staying with the 1.5 mill proposed tax rate. "I know the economy is not what it oughta be, with this transition that's goin on, none of us know what's gonna happen."

Manager Berry, after peeking through some papers, said the Authority had $7 million in the bank.

Mr. Berry was referencing the proposed HMA sale.

Richard Powell told the Board, "The obligation that the Board has is basically have a levy of 1.5 mills in order to be in compliance with the lease agreement."

Mr. Powell continued, "It's a provision you may provide equivalent reserves to make up the total 1.5 mills."

The lease agreement states the following:

 FUNDING. Lessor agrees to make an annual Indigent Care Deposit into the Indigent Care Funds which annual aggregate amount will be equal to the revenue that would be generated by an assessment of 1.5 mills of ad valorem taxes in Columbia County, Florida.

Nowhere does it say the Authority must levy any taxes. The Observer has been unable to locate Mr. Powell's claims about "equivalent reserves" anywhere.

Manager Berry then announced that he is "dealin with a national company wantin us to build a 10,000 sq ft building for them to lease from us." It appeared that he wanted to use the reserves in the Authority to finance the construction.

Board member Marc Vann asked Mr. Berry, "So what does this have to do with this?"

Manager Jack Berry wanted a tax hike. He was about to get a raise.

Mr. Vann pointed out the Authority would probably borrow the money to build the building. "I don't think we would dig into our cash to pay for a million-dollar building."

No one on the Board asked why the unnamed company would not just buy the property from the stash of property owned by the Authority and build their own building, rather than have Columbia County taxpayers finance this deal.

Board member Lori Chancy said, "I think we need to back ourselves up." She was in favor of the 1.5 rate.

A Resident Speaks Out

Barbara McInturff told the Board that no other taxing authority in Columbia County raised their rates this year. "You are the only one proposing an increase. I have a right to know why when nobody else does," she said.

Manager Berry explained, "The contract we have with HMA/Lakeshore requires us to budget 1.5 mills of tax levy for the indigent care... What the Board is proposing to do now is to not pull anymore funds out of reserves and only charge the 1.5 mills that we are obligated to by contract."

As stated previously, the contract does not require the Authority to levy any tax.

Governor appointed Board members (left to right) Murphy, Douglas, and Chancy voted to hike the taxes. This was Mr. Murphy's first vote. All three are Republicans.

Board member Douglas explained the .962 mill previous tax rate to Ms. McInturff, "We were giving you guys a break."

Ms. McInturff replied, "You're not giving us a break, you are giving you all a break."

Ms. McInturff told the Board, "The thing is the economy hasn't improved... There is always a way to streamline."

This year's budget includes an across the board pay increase of 5% for Authority employees.

New board member and Berry devotee, Tim Murphy, said he thought the Hospital Authority was set up in a way which mirrored the County. This year the County has factored in no raises for its employees.

Manager Berry, after peeking through some papers, said the Authority had $7 million in the bank.

The Authority Board passed the 1.5 mill tax rate unanimously. They can lower it at the next hearing in 10 days.

If they don't, the tax increase will be 55.9%.

Tomorrow: The Berry raise and no more photos

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