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Petitions For HCHD Rollback Tax Election Require ‘Almost’ 919 Valid Signatures

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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A number of residents living within the Houston County Hospital District are asking how to start a petition for a rollback tax election.

Houston County Tax Assessor/Collector Danette Millican advised that persons should not start collecting signatures until after the HCHD Board of Directors formally adopts the tax rate.

The board held a public hearing on the proposed tax rate 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2 of $.15 per $100 valuation.

It will hold another public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The required number of signatures on a petition in the HCHD calling for a rollback election is "almost 919", explained Millican.

(The Houston County Courier on Sunday, Aug. 30 should have reported this number, not 200.)

This figure is based on 10% of the registered voters living within the Houston County Hospital District boundaries. Millican stated there are 9,182 current voters living within the HCHD, and 10% of them would be 918.2.

Petitioners will have 90 days from date of adoption of the tax rate to collect the required number of qualified signatures.

The Texas State Comptroller's website and Millican have sample petitions.

The Texas State Comptroller's website (http://comptroller.texas.gov/taxinfo/proptax/) contains the following information regarding Rollback Tax Election petitions:

If a taxing unit adopts a tax rate that exceeds the rollback tax rate, voters in the taxing unit may petition for an election on the tax increase. A successful election limits the taxing unit's current tax rate to the rollback tax rate.

The rollback process starts after the taxing unit formally adopts the tax rate. If the adopted tax rate exceeds the rollback tax rate, voters may start the petition drive.

A petition must meet specific requirements. It must state that it is intended to require an election to reduce the tax rate for the current year.

If the tax rate adopted by a taxing unit imposes taxes for M&O of less than $5 million (Millican said HCHD's taxes for M&O are under $5 million), the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in that taxing unit are required on a petition. (There are 9,182 registered voters in the HCHD. 10% = 918.2 signatures)
Signatures collected by a paid person are valid.

Voters must submit the petition to the taxing unit's governing body within 90 days of the tax rate adoption.
The rollback petition provided on the Comptroller's website is an example for information purposes only.
The Tax Code does not specify the wording required for a rollback petition, nor does it state the form that the petition must take.

Taxpayers must include several items of information on a rollback petition to assist the governing body in determining validity: date of signature, printed name of voter, birth date and home address.
To be valid, a voter's signature is not required to appear exactly as the voter's name appears on the most recent official voter registration list.

If the taxing unit's governing body is unable to verify a particular voter's signature, it will look to the petition for some reasonable means to verify, such as home address.

Signatures collected more than 180 days before the petition is presented are not valid.

The State Comptroller's website advises that persons who are considering circulation of a rollback petition or a governing body that is considering the validity of a rollback petition should consult legal counsel for guidance.

The State Comptroller's website also addresses determination of a petition's validity, holding an election (if necessary) and acting on election results.

A simple majority is necessary for pasing the rollback election. If the rollback election passes, a taxing unit must reduce it tax rate for the current year to the rollback tax rate.

The responsibility of preparing and mailing new tax bills, if the election passes, falls to the County Tax Assessor-Collector.

For more information, visit http://comptroller.texas.gov/taxinfo/proptax/ and search "Rollback Elections".

Medical Center Continues To Add Staff

By Teresa Holloway
Courier Reporter
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During the regular meeting of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors on Tuesday, Aug. 25, new medical staff appointments for Houston County Medical Center were announced, along with other updates pertaining to the hospital and Air Evac.

Chief of Staff for Houston County Medical Center, Dr. Ravi Konidala, recapped the medical staff appointments to the expanding hospital cadre. The board approved all incoming staff in the August 18 meeting.

Staff appointment approvals included Dr. James Campbell, Consulting for Radiology; Dr. Pulin Patel, Kenneth Close, Benjamin Hyman and Mir Z. Alikhan, all in radiology.

CEO Gary Kendrick addressed the board with a status report. He outlined ongoing actions and was pleased to report the addition of two Physicians Assistants (PA) to the corps.

"Everyone knows that when ETMC left, a number of providers left with them. For example, in our rural health clinic, first time patients may be waiting until October for appointments," he began.

"In the last two or three weeks we have hired two Physician's Assistants. PA Whitney Hamilton will be full time starting Sept. 21. She will be seeing new patients and her regular patients from Trinity here at HCMC," he said.

"PA Lee Bonner will be coming on part-time for the clinic. Initially he will be on duty two or three days per week," Kendrick continued.

"I have talked to Dr. Josh Lucas. He has an interest in coming to Crockett possibly next summer, when he has completed his residency.... We will give him at least a letter of intent to show him we are interested in his coming here," he said.

"As you know, Air Evac was here a couple of meetings ago. We are working on the ground lease, for the hangars, quarters and office, and we are looking at a short term lease using vacant patient rooms in the OB area for sleep quarters," Kendrick added.
HCHD Board President Larry Christopher replied, "Gary, the rooms that we are refurbishing will ultimately be used for students and residents later, correct?"

"That's exactly right," replied Kendrick. "Basically what we are doing is repainting the rooms, patching holes and placing carpet. The old nursery will be used as a meeting room, and later the area will be quarters for on-site residency students."

The board additionally heard that Emergency Department usage and Admissions are higher than anticipated, according to Chief Financial Officer Richard Wallace.

The patients that do not stay are looking for medical services not yet available at HCMC, Wallace said.

In other business, Dick Murchison reported on the hospital district's monthly and year-to-date finances.

As of July 30, he stated, the Houston County Hospital District's assets totaled $13,413,932.86, including $86,061.08 cash operating funds (checking account) located at First Community Bank and a Money Market account with $440,965.08.
Also at First Community Bank, the district has a certificate of deposit (CD) valued at $1,047,136.97.

The district's total assets equal $13,413,932.86. This figure includes taxes receivable and fixed assets such as the building at 1050 East Loop 304.

The district's current liabilities, according to Murchison, total $4,202,427.27.This includes the $4,141,546.90 long-term note owed to ETMC.

As of July 30, the sum of the hospital district's total liabilities and equity was $13,413,932.86.

The check detail for July shows several large transfers to the Houston County Medical Center for operating expenses.
The transfers included the following: $300,000, July 1; $400,000, July 13; $200,000, July 16; $200,000, July 23; $250,000, July 30.

On July 21, the district paid the County of Houston (Houston County) $15,312.50 for ambulance service.

Legal and Professional fees for the month of July totaled $800. Residential housing expenses were $518.65.

The board also heard public comments. Among those speaking was Houston County Judge Erin Ford who made an unofficial appearance to praise the board.

He began by saying, "Tonight I come before you as a citizen of the county. In June, ETMC finalized the separation. At that time, the hospital wasn't in a safe place. The future of the hospital looked uncertain."

"The work that you all have done since June has been phenomenal. I am amazed that you've not only transitioned the infrastructure with the assistance of CHC, but you've actually started hiring other providers for our county," he continued.
"My background is in Detail Asset Management, so when we get into minutiae of details, cash flow and objections.... I just want to tell you that I appreciate so much what you have done as a citizen of the county. The important thing for us is to have a hospital. We must have the ability to bring our families here for treatment," Ford said.

"You guys are doing a great job with this facility," he concluded.

Commercial Trash Questions Raised

By Teresa Holloway
Courier Reporter
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Three residents addressed the Crockett City Council during the "Public Comments" portion of the meeting Monday, Aug. 24.

John Jenkins, a Crockett business owner, addressed several concerns, notably commercial trash rates for business owners when Progressive Waste Solution takes over collection.

Regarding commercial trash, Mayor Robert Meadows said, "Rates will not change," Meadows said.

"If you choose to add your cardboard to your trash stream in your dumpster, it will increase by $114," he added.

"You can continue to keep it outside. Progressive will pick it up once per week for $35 extra per month," Meadows said.

"Here's the issue, though. The city as a whole has been undercharging commercial rates for years. The residential rates have been keeping it propped up. The maximum it will increase next year will be four percent, and only if the Consumer Pricing Index allows for that increase," he explained.

The only price variation comes in if you decide to add your cardboard to the trash stream or continue to bundle it, Meadows recapped.

Jenkins raised questions about the planned rewriting of the city charter. He asked which charter the council plans to rewrite, the April 1964 version or the 1997 version.

Meadows responded the most recent version is the one they will use.

"It will be brought up to date and brought up to all the legal aspects. There are some things in there that are outdated and no longer apply by federal guidelines. All of it will be cleaned up and updated. Everything going forward will be aligned with federal guidelines in the entire charter," Meadows said. "That will be done periodically after that, according to our expert," he added.
"We are hoping to get our city on a regularly scheduled revision, so we are not bringing back a dinosaur every time," he continued.

"Each of the council members will ask two members of their precincts to be on the committee. The mayor chooses three. That's not my choice. That's the guidelines from which the whole process takes place," Meadows explained.

"The committee solicits feedback from the public and brings back recommendations from which the professional charter reviser works with them. No recommendations are accepted outside federal guidelines," he added.

Meadows continued, "After the committee brings recommendations, and the revisions are complete, it will go before the people for a vote."

Lilly Caster, who identified herself as an apartment manager, expressed displeasure with the council's recent choice of Progressive Waste Solutions over ProStar Waste.

With regards to the council's choice not to include yard waste pick-up, Caster verbalized concern for residents that don't have a pickup truck to use for hauling off their yard waste.

Caster questioned the capital outlay items recently approved by the budget, including foaming the roof of the city maintenance barn and purchasing an SUV for the police department. She also complained about a water leak on Easy and Grace Streets.
"One thing about the foam roof," Meadows said. "Those people don't get to leave (the maintenance barn)," he said.

"They do have fans out there, but it makes very little difference. It's a tough place to work. Those sweet spots in the spring and fall, they look forward to that. When it's summertime, it's an oven. When it's cold, it's really cold!" Meadows emphasized.
"There may have been some misinformation about that. Those guys don't get to travel around. The maintenance barn is where they work," he added.

Billy Groves, who lost his bid for mayor in the May election, commended the city council for tackling the city's financial challenges. He also commended Crockett Public Library Director James Sutton for filming council meetings and posting them on YouTube. Groves additionally made a plea for more transparency from the council.

During the public hearing for the proposed 2015 tax rate, Caster said, "We are in trouble. We are going to have to do something to pay for it."

"We have to do what we have to do," she said.

Follow The (Tax) Money

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief
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The Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) is asking for a 12-cent tax hike for Fiscal Year 2016, raising the current rate of three cents per $100 valuation to 15 cents per $100 valuation. The proposed tax rate, five times the current rate, qualifies for a rollback election for approval, if a taxpayer(s) circulates a petition and collects 200 signatures calling for an election.

Otherwise, the tax rate will stand with only the board's vote.

Some taxpayers say they want the hospital here to succeed and admit the community needs the hospital, but they don't want to approve the proposed tax rate without a rollback election unless they feel comfortable with how their tax dollars will be spent.

The difference between last year and this year is that, on June 1, the HCHD took ownership of the new Houston County Medical Center and the adjacent Houston County Medical Clinic, and operation of both. The HCHD board also committed to providing most of the subsidy required to retain the services of Life Guard Emergency Medical Services when ETMC EMS pulled out of Houston County on March 1.

The Fiscal Year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015 – Sept. 30, 2016) budget summary approved by the HCHD board categorizes income and expenses as hospital, non-hospital and consolidated.

With regards to projected revenue generated by the hospital itself, the FY 2016 Budget Income Summary anticipates gross patient revenue will total $67,096,058, with $23,781,894 coming from inpatient revenue and $43,314,164 coming from outpatient revenue.

The budget categorizes the following hospital revenue deductions: Medicare Contractual, $26,766,690; Medicaid Contractual, $6,560,406; Prior Year Medicare Cost Report Adjusted, $6,483; Managed Care Discounts, $12,262,147; Charity and Indigent Discounts, $3,486,848; and Other Discounts, $3,787,995.

After subtracting the total of hospital revenue deductions ($52,870,569) from the total gross patient revenue ($67,096,058), the total net patient revenue amounts to $14,225,489.

After subtracting $1,864,951 from that figure, the total net revenue less bad debts equals $12,360,538. With the addition of $125,304 for unspecified other revenue, the net operating revenue of the hospital is expected to be $12,485,842.
Operating expenses for the hospital includes: Salaries, $5,116,133; Employee Benefits, $1,320,881; Contract Labor, $295,688; Professional Fees, $1,322,776; Supplies, $1,601,304; Purchased Services, $2,582,052; Insurance, $129,420; Utilities, $518,156; Depreciation & Amortization, $433,812; Interest, $19,222; and Other, $389,552. Operating expenses for the hospital total $13,728,996.

The operating margin for the hospital is shown as ($1,243,154); non-operating income is $43,664; and the net margin for the hospital is ($1,199,490).

Non-hospital expenses include $194,443 for Purchased Services (Appraisal and Ambulance); $9,996 for Insurance (Malpractice Insurance); and $216,997 for "Other" (Physician Guarantee). The total given for non-hospital operating expenses is $421,436; operating margin, ($421,436) and non-operating income is $1,564,620 (Tax Revenue: appraised value of $1,097,976,750, tax rate of $0.15 per $100 and collection rate of 95%). The non-hospital net margin is $1,143,184.

Consolidated total operating expenses (Hospital + Non-hospital) are $13,150,432; consolidated operating margin is ($1,664,590); consolidated non-operating income is $1,608,284. The consolidated net margin in this budget is ($56,306).
The Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors will hold a Public Hearing on the proposed tax rate Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 5:30 in the Houston County Medical Center Cafeteria.

CISD Thrilled About Economic Impact Of ETC Pipeline Project

By Teresa Holloway
Courier Reporter
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Crockett ISD trustees on Monday, Aug. 24, approved a Chapter 313 appraised value limitation agreement with ETC Texas Pipeline, Limited. ETC Pipeline is one of the largest midstream providers in the nationand operates approximately 33,000 miles of natural gas pipeline.

"The Chapter 313 is really a tax abatement that is granted by a school district on the Maintenance and Operation Tax side of the budget," CISD Supertintendent Terry Myers said during a Courier interview Thursday, Aug. 27.

"It is a tool used by the state to bring business into Texas. A school district is usually the largest taxing industry in a county. Usually, school districts account for 50 percent or more of the taxes that come through the county," he explained. "So when a school district grants a tax abatement, it is a significant abatement to a company that is coming in."

"In this particular case, we are looking at a 10-year abatement for ETC, which should save them almost $3 million in nothing but taxes," he said.

"This is a $105 million dollar project, but remember, that tax abatement only occurs on the M & O (Maintenance and Operations) side of the budget, lowering their M & O taxable value to $20 million. The Interest and Sinking (I&S) taxes will still be assessed on the full amount," he added.

The $105 million dollar project is expected to bring in much needed job opportunities and additional tax revenue.

"What this may do – what we are hoping it spurs, is quite a bit of ancillary business to go with the pipeline. Trucking, distillates and those type of things. Maybe we will get a number of these Chapter 313 agreements going and invite even more businesses in here," Myers said.

During Monday's meeting, the trustees held a public hearing and voted unanimously to approve the value limitation agreement which will bring close to $2 million of additional revenue to Crockett ISD over the 15-year lifetime of the agreement.

"The entire county benefits...This agreement should help highlight the cooperative efforts of our county and school district toward bringing new industry and growth to Crockett and our surrounding Houston County communities," Myers said.
"For CISD, we will receive a PILOT or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, of $100 per student inrolled in CISD. We expect more than $120,000 per year during the 10-year abatement period," he continued.

Myers and his team intend to use this money to augment improvement and upgrade projects already on the radar for the district.

"We want to improve general education across the board," he began. "I'd love for our teachers and administration to be the highest paid group around. That would let us attract the best and brightest teachers and build on our already excellent team," Myers went on. "Educators touch every life in this country," Myers said.

"For the last eight years, we have had a financial struggle. I'd like for the money to help us achieve financial stability. We want to put at least the normal 25 percent in our fund balance against problems or emergencies like the recent flooding issues we had," he said.

"Our facilities and roads around the school need improved. Better technology, cutting edge upgrades to technology and better infrastructure would benefit our students greatly now and in the future," Myers said.

"A new bus fleet would be a wonderful thing, we run some old buses now. Probably 60 percent of our students ride buses. I'd like to see that fleet be improved, and our roads around the school need attention," he added.

Greg Poole of Jigsaw Consulting, who aided the negotiations along with Rebecca McManus and Sara Leon of Powell & Leon, commended the school district and Houston County for their strategic initiative.

"Judge Erin Ford, Superintendent Terry Myers and their boards are ahead of the power curve in attracting industry. Their progressive strategy of negotiating and implementing abatemens and value limitation agreements will fuel job creation and they were instrumental in negotiating arrangements very favorable to the taxpayers of Houston County and Crockett ISD," Poole stated after the meeting.

Myers hopes to begin receiving payments as early as January 2016; if not, it may be January 2017.

"It depends on how fast they finish up out there (construction of the plant)," he said.

"These funds are going to augment what we are already doing. Even with our limited funds we have begun to address these issues," Myers added.

Myers expressed his gratitude and pride at the test scores and ratings recently announced by TEA.

"I am so pleased with the outcome of these assessments. I am extremely pleased with the response to the high expectations we put out for the students," Myers said. The superintendent has just completed his first year at the helm of the Crockett ISD.

"This year, we have a cooperative effort between the school district and the city to provide an off duty officer present on the campus at all times. The school district will be paying the officer, but hopefully next year we will be able to have a full-time resource officer," he said.

"The officer is here to prevent problems. He's not disciplinary. He's not here to do the business of the school district. The officer is just here to keep anyone from trying anything silly around the schoolhouse," Myers added.

"An officer here at the school certainly is a safety factor, as well. Our officers are well-respected and we like to see them around school," he said.

Administrator Passes Muster

By Teresa Holloway
Courier Reporter
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City of Crockett Administer Sean Hutchison passed muster Monday, Aug. 24 when the city council held an executive session to conduct his first performance review.

Following the executive session, Meadows invited the council to speak publicly on the personnel evaluation of Hutchison. Hutchison created the evaluation form used by the council, and they referenced it in some of their comments.

Precinct 1 Council Member Jeannie Julian told Hutchison, "I like the evaluation because it sets goals, and then it has objectives under it. It gives you growth, it gives you an opportunity to branch out in every direction of the municipality. Not just in the public works but in all areas. I thought you did a good job on the evaluation."

Precinct 2 Council Member Ray Bruner said, "Sean, I appreciate the evaluation that you created. I thought you did an exceptional job. It's a pleasure to know you and I enjoy your Christian morals."

Precinct 3 Council Member Ernest Jackson lauded Hutchison, and said, "Sean, I've only been here a short time. But in this short tenure, what I have observed from you - your demeanor, your professional discipline and the way you handle yourself in the office of city administrator is impeccable. I think you are a great asset to this city and to this council. Quite frankly, I mentioned to the other council members that you could quite possibly be one of the best city administrators we've had come through this great city. I thank you for your service."

Precinct 4 Council Member Muriel Williams was solicitous in her praise of Hutchison, as well.

She stated "Sean, I want you to know we deeply appreciate you. We respect you. We may challenge you - but we are so appreciative of your hard work, your diligence and professionalism. Thank you so much for what you have done for us."
Precinct 5 Council Member Mike Marsh's comment was simple and short.

He told Hutchison, "Keep up the good work. We certainly appreciate you, thank you."

Meadows acknowledged that neither Hutchison nor any council member was perfect. He expressed his admiration of the administrator's decision to start working in December, when he had been given an option of starting in January.

"I don't know if the public knows that you spent Christmas away from your family to come up here and go to work for this city. I had the honor of having you eat Christmas dinner with my family. You started off with an immense amount of respect for the kind of man I've come to know you to be," Meadows said.

"I really appreciate your work ethic. It's no secret that you are here before and after operating hours and weekends. As pointed out by another councilmember, you often work from your home," he continued.

"One of my favorite sayings is about how to eat an elephant...one bite at a time. You've begun to eat this elephant. I really appreciate everything you've done, and look forward to working with you for years to come," Meadows concluded.

The council voted unanimously to give Hutchison an 'acceptable' rating on his evaluation.