Brown County voters to decide fate of healthcare sales tax
Polls will be open throughout Brown County from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, for one purpose — for Brown County voters to decide whether the county can institute a 10-year, 1/2 percent sales tax to benefit Hiawatha Community Hospital and healthcare in Horton. If approved, the tax is expected to generate approximately $700,000 annually.
This is not the first time hospitals have requested county tax support. In 2015, Sabetha Community Hospital and Nemaha Valley Community Hospital came together to propose a 1/2 percent retail sales tax in Nemaha County, which would be split between the two entities — with NVCH receiving 55 percent and SCH receiving 45 percent. In April 2015, Nemaha County voters approved — with 60 percent in favor, 40 percent opposed — this 1/2 percent retail sales tax, which is set to expire in 2025. This sales tax was projected to provide the county with approximately $775,000 in tax support annually.
The request in Brown County stems from continued and increasingly urgent healthcare issues in Horton and Hiawatha.
Horton’s need arises from the March 12 closing of its 25-bed critical access hospital and corresponding clinic and ambulance service. While the ambulance service has been picked up by Brown County, the city remains without a local hospital or health clinic.
Hiawatha’s need arises from continued financial issues within the organization. In early January, then-CEO Jeff Shelton told Brown County government officials that the hospital needed help to avoid an immediate crisis at Hiawatha’s 25-bed critical access hospital.
Hiawatha Community Hospital was, in fact, showing net losses well in advance of this crisis being brought forth. Financial statements for Hiawatha Community Hospital show net losses in all but one fiscal year between 2011 and 2016. Net gains/losses were as follows: 2011, loss of $519,184; 2012, loss of $574,043; 2013, gain of $833,108; 2014, loss of $1,425,506; 2015, loss of $2,110,735; and 2016, loss of $1,502,787. Financials from 2017 and 2018 are not yet publicly available.
A joint advisory committee was formed with officials from Hiawatha, Horton and Brown County to make a recommendation regarding the healthcare needs in the county. After a few months of meeting, the joint advisory committee recommended the 1/2 percent sales tax question be presented to voters.
Sabetha Community Hospital officials requested that a share of the tax, if approved by voters, come to Sabetha’s hospital since a portion is being generated by businesses within Sabetha city limits. However, this request was denied by the Brown County Commission.
If the Brown County tax is approved by voters, Hiawatha Community Hospital would receive 80 percent of the generated tax money, while the City of Horton would receive 20 percent to be spent for the provision of healthcare services.
Both entities will be required to provide monthly reports to the Brown County Commission, while Hiawatha’s hospital also is required to provide reports to the City of Hiawatha. Additionally at Hiawatha, both the City of Hiawatha and the Brown County Commission will designate a board member to join the hospital’s board of trustees.
Nearly 30 town hall meetings have been held throughout the county in the past month to discuss the proposed sales tax increase. The final town hall meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at the Fisher Center in Hiawatha.
“Shall the following be adopted?
“Shall Brown County, Kansas, be authorized to impose a one-half percent (0.50%) retailers’ sales tax (the “Sales Tax”) for the purpose of financing the provision of health care services in the county by Hiawatha Community Hospital, or its successors, and by an entity providing health care services in the City of Horton, including, but not limited to, hospital expenses and any payments with respect to bonds issued for hospital and health care purposes, collection of such sales tax to commence on October 1, 2019, and expire ten years after its commencement; all pursuant to K.S.A. 12-187 ET SEQ., as amended?”
If approved by voters, the sales tax increase would be implemented on Oct. 1. It would increase Hiawatha’s sales tax to 9.5 percent, and Horton’s sales tax to 10 percent. It would also increase the sales tax for businesses within Sabetha city limits on the Brown County side to 9 percent. The rate is already 9 percent on the Nemaha County side of Sabetha, but is currently 8.5 percent on the Brown County side.
Early voting is offered at the Brown County Clerk’s Office from 8 a.m. Thursday, May 9, through noon Monday, May 20. Clerk’s Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
The poll election will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 21.
Area Brown County voting locations include the following: Fairview Community Center for Morrill, Walnut and Powhattan townships; and Hiawatha Fisher Center for Hamlin Township. Sabetha precinct residents who reside in Brown County should vote based on their township, rather than their city precinct affiliation.