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Proposed health district budget angers incoming board

by: Tyler Graf “They didn’t leave us enough money to do squat,” said Tammy Maygra, a long time CHD critic and board director elect, who wants to determine where the health district’s tax money went. “Now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Plans for a full-service audit of the Columbia Health District appear unlikely with the release of the district's 2011-2012 budget, and that's rankling feathers among its newly elected board.

After the fiscal year begins anew on July 1 - the same day a revamped board takes CHD's reins - the health district is assured to have $5,000 left in its coffers, barely enough money to hold the September election necessary for a planned public vote on its dissolution. The remainder of the district's money will transfer to a new oversight committee for the county's Public Health Authority, which will likely become the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, a public nonprofit.

That gap between the money in the district's bank account and the amount it's willing to transfer to the incoming board has some newly elected board members saying they may try to prevent the district's dissolution in order to properly perform an audit.

Aside from the $5,000 set aside for the election, the district will take in another approximately $60,000 in uncollected taxes over the summer. That's compared to the $502,513 in total checking and savings the district reported having in late April.

'They didn't leave us enough money to do squat,' said Tammy Maygra, a long time CHD critic and board director elect, who wants to determine where the health district's tax money went. 'Now we're stuck between a rock and a hard place.'

She will listen to district voters and the board's other directors to determine the best course of action for the district, she said. But preventing the district's dissolution and attempting to reinstate a tax levied to develop a hospital, for the sake of performing an audit, would put the district at odds with county officials, who have worked to develop a plan for dissolution as voters said they wanted in the November election.

County Commissioner Earl Fisher said opposition to the dissolution would not surprise him. 'I tell people that one way or another there will be challenges,' he said.

But in his personal opinion, it's more important to dissolve the district than to perform an audit, however.

'I've heard from so many people who want this to happen,' Fisher said. 'We can't keep dangling people along.'

But the next fiscal budget, when compared to this year's, remains a sticking point.

At a glance, the district's comparative budgets represent both a look ahead at a soon-to-be defunct special district, with zeroed-out account balances, and a glimpse at its past, when there were high hopes that development of a publicly funded hospital project would move forward.

Indeed, the 2010-2011 budget's numbers tell a story of optimism for a soon-to-be scuttled hospital project: More than $12 million was budgeted for an ending year balance; $7.8 million was estimated to be the district's debt level, which would have come from flex lease loans; and $4.6 million was expected to exist in the form of capital outlay.

Jay Tappan, current chairman of the health district's board, said the reason the 2010-2011 budget is so large is because the CHD anticipated a large-scale construction project that never got off the ground.

'Those numbers [from the 2010-2011 budget] are based around the assumption we would build a hospital, of course,' Tappan said. Operating under the assumption that the health district will be dissolved this year means very little money has been allocated to the district's 2011-12 budget, he added.

By the numbers

The health district plans to prepay its financial obligations through 2011-2012, ahead of the new fiscal year that begins on July 1. Those obligations include:

• A fiscal year 2011 audit ($10,000)

• The intergovernmental agreement with the county ($100,000)

• The final Department of Health and Human Services payment ($60,000)

• The cost of the May election ($5,000)

• Legal fees for the district's dissolution ($75,000)

• Liability employee sick/vacation time ($198,662)