Garrard raising more money to pay off hospital debt

January 14, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - The financial fallout of closing Garrard County Memorial Hospital was on display Tuesday as the Garrard Fiscal Court took steps to put more money into the county's coffers.

The court moved to pursue a new tax on insurance and to push the sale of the county farm on Poorhouse Road.

The insurance tax - 5 percent on all policies except health - would replace the unpopular 1 percent occupational tax increase enacted last summer.

The tax would bring the county an estimated $350,000 a year. The court also considered a 6 percent tax, which have raised about $425,000. It was rejected as excessive.


The details of the tax - such as how it would be billed and collected - are unclear, but Judge-Executive E.J. Hasty said the court would like to implement it by July 1, with the first returns rolling into the county around Dec. 31.

"It'd be more or less like a property tax," Hasty said.

The court will have to hold two public hearings on the proposed tax before it is enacted. None has yet been scheduled.

The court needs to raise funds to pay on the $4.5 million it borrowed in 2001 from the Kentucky Association of Counties to restructure the hospital's debt.

To pay down the debt, the court reaffirmed its intention to sell the county's 147-acre farm. Earlier this year, magistrates agreed to declare the farm surplus and apply the proceeds from its sale to the KACO debt.

At Tuesday's meeting, Magistrate Joe Leavell said the property should be sold in tracts of up to 15 acres with tight restrictions on the size of houses built on them. A survey last year divided the land into 28 tracts.

"I've talked to people that know, and they say that land right now is bringing more in large tracts than it is in lots," he said.

Leavell was backed up by Cliff-Ed Irvin of Danny Irvin Real Estate and Auctioneers.

"I would think the thing would bring around 350 (thousand), something like that," he said. "That's probably fair."

Leavell said the county should consider installing water lines on the section of property currently not hooked up. Although it could cost as much as $18,000 for the water, he said it could increase the property's value and the money could be recouped when sold.

Ultimately, the magistrates agreed to have Leavell look into it, and for him to investigate the best options for selling the land. He'll report back to the board at next month's meeting.

In a presentation by Garrard EMS Director Colby Arnold, the court also heard that the closure of the hospital has greatly increased the number and length of trips by emergency crews. The numbers, he said, are sure to rise in 2004.

Arnold noted that the number of calls for assistance rose 45 percent after the hospital closed Aug. 31.

With no local hospital available, the ill or injured must be transported out of the county.

Forty-three percent of trips in 2003 were to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville, a trip that averages an hour and 46 minutes from a crew's time of dispatch to its availability again. Thirty-five percent of trips were to Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford, with an average time of an hour and 27 minutes. Trips to Garrard County Memorial averaged 26 minutes.

The longer trips are taking a toll on the county's ambulances. The vehicles traveled an average of 69,705 miles in 2003, an increase of 14,705 from 2002.

"Ambulances being committed longer will add to the challenge of having units available to our citizens," Arnold said in his report to the court. "The added travel distance will obviously wear out ambulances more quickly."

Another consequence of the lack of a local hospital, he said, was that 14 people walked into the EMS station for assistance in 2003. Arnold stressed that doing so is a bad idea. With crews increasingly busy, he said, there's a good chance a sick or injured person won't find help at a station.

In other Fiscal Court business, convenience center manger Bill Hack told the court that the county and trash hauler BFI have settled their dispute over franchise fees. He said he expected a $3,000 check from BFI to arrive at the county today.

Last month, Hack told the magistrates that BFI had balked at paying the franchise fees it negotiated earlier in the year.

Also, Hack said two securities cameras had been placed at the convenience center in an effort to stop thefts of recyclable materials, including 80 pounds of aluminum horseshoes.

The cameras were placed by a security company at no charge to the county, Hack said.

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