Hospital district chair supports tax petition
The Rockdale Hospital District (RHD) appears ready to surrender the half-cent sales tax it has collected for the past 16 years in favor of boosting the local economy.
Now the question is how to do it.
Hospital directors will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Richards Memorial Hospital lunchroom and the sales tax issue is sure to come up, according to Dr. John M. Weed III, hospital board president.
A city-backed petition asking the hospital district to place the sales tax surrender before voters May 8 now has 139 signatures, according to City Manager Kelvin Knauf.
“We have already verified 129 signatures,” Knauf said.
That’s far more than the 81 required to trigger the election.
Dr. Weed said he supports the petition effort. “We’re at the point now where what’s best for the overall economy of the Rockdale area is also what’s best for the hospital,” he said.
In past years the RHD had been reluctant to give up the sales tax, citing a need for continued revenue to deal with mandated indigent care responsibilities.
A delegation of officials appe a red before t he hospital board in September, 2007, requesting the RHD surrender the half-cent tax.
Earlier in the year the board had abolished the hospital district property tax.
In November of that year the RHD board answered, saying the district was not yet ready to give up that source of revenue.
What has changed?
Plent y. Blackhawk Healthcare now operates the hospital, and other health care facilities, and has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into what was once a financially troubled institution.
Blackhawk is in the process of purchasing the hospital building and will build a new, expanded facility on the location.
Last year the state advised the RHD it could no longer collect sales tax in a portion of Rockdale which had been annexed since 2002 but had never been taken into the hospital district.
That revenue will go to the newly-created Rockdale Municipal Development District, beginning next month.
As it stands the remainder of the half-cent sales tax generates approximately $150,000 per month.
Now the hospital district board has to explore uncharted waters.
“As you might expect there’s just not much legal precedent for a jurisdiction completely abandoning a tax,” Dr. Weed said.
“There’s also the question of how do we designate where the money goes,” he said.
“We want the money to go for economic development, to the city or an entity like the Municipal Development District,” Dr. Weed said. “We’ve got to figure out how to do that.”
The Rockdale Hospital District was created on March 15, 1994, in an election called by the county commissioners court.
While that enabling vote granted district directors the authority to institute a property tax, backers of the proposal said their main focus was in obtaining sales tax funding to keep the hospital operating.
On May 7 of that year hospital district voters instituted the halfcent sales tax.
At the same election, the firstever hospital district board was elected.
Six years later district voters okayed raising the district’s property tax ceiling to 50 cents.
A 48-cent property tax was initially levied. It was cut in subsequent years then abolished two years ago.