On Tuesday, residents of South Routt County will decide whether to tax themselves to support a medical clinic in Oak Creek.
New taxes are a burden on residents; thus, we always have reservations about endorsing such efforts. However, we think a new tax is the most reasonable means of ensuring that this important community facility remains open, and we urge South Routt residents to vote "yes" on ballot issues A through E.
Specifically, the ballot issues include:
n Issue A, which would create the South Routt Medical Center Health Services District in the same boundaries as the Soroco School District. The purpose of the health services district would be to levy taxes necessary to provide health care in South Routt.
n Issue B, which would allow the district to levy a tax of 2.095 mills to raise about $180,000 a year to fund the operation of the clinic.
n Issue C, which is a de-Brucing initiative that allows the district to keep excess revenues beyond restrictions set forth in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
n Issue D, which would allow the district to borrow up to $150,000, giving it funds to keep the clinic open until its first tax revenues are received next year.
n Issue E, which would establish the new health district's board of directors: Judith Kendall, Ken DePaul, Betty Romick, Evelyn Kennedy and Patricia Schalnus.
The South Routt Medical Center has operated as a clinic in Oak Creek since 1964. Most often, the clinic has been operated by a Steamboat Springs-based medical office, which staffs the clinic on a part-time basis. Three years ago, Steamboat Medical Associates decided it no longer could afford to staff the clinic. Since that time, the clinic has struggled to keep its doors open, and if the tax initiative fails, board members of the South Routt Medical Center have said the clinic will have to close.
There are reasons for the clinic's struggles. Primarily, most of the users are Medicare and Medicaid patients, and reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements have made it difficult to break even on services provided to such patients. The clinic also has struggled to retain personnel -- Doctors can see greater patient loads and thus earn more working in communities such as Steamboat Springs.
The new tax of nearly 2.1 mills will cost residential homeowners about $16 a year for every $100,000 of value. Owners of commercial properties will pay about three times that rate, or $48 per $100,000 of value.
Overall, the tax is not a significant burden. The $180,000 it will raise provides a bare-bones budget for the operation of a medical facility. The physician's salary of $85,000 is well below average.
Many residents in the health care district will rarely, if ever, use the clinic. Some might argue it's unfair for such people to be forced to pay a tax to support the clinic. But the medical center is a community asset not unlike roads, schools and parks. Taxpayers rightfully pay for those amenities, whether they use them.
The problems that the South Routt Medical Center faces are not unique, and they are not going away. More and more, patients with insurance coverage are paying more for health care services to offset the costs of uninsured and under-insured patients, as well as Medicare and Medicaid patients. As long as the South Routt clinic caters mostly to such patients, it will need public funding to offset losses.
The modest tax proposed by the South Routt Medical Center is, in our opinion, the best way to raise such public funds. It is a communitywide solution to a communitywide problem. Vote yes on Ballot Issues A through E.