|Ocala, FL -
November 6, 2012|
Ocala.com file photo: Munroe Regional Medical Center in early March.
Published in Ocala Star-Banner Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 10:45 p.m.
Marion County voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a hospital tax referendum that would have generated $65 million for Munroe Regional Medical Center.
Officials at the nonprofit, public facility had said that while the hospital is currently financially secure, it doesn’t have the income to make long-term upgrades.
The proposal called for a one-mill property tax to support a bond issue. Almost 58 percent of the votes cast were against the tax.
“I think people are having a hard time putting food on the table. They want creative ideas on providing services without the answer being higher taxes. This referendum has turned out to be a mandate for change. I look forward to the hospital trustees negotiating a new lease with a new management tenant who can give our community an even better Munroe of the future,” said Chuck Pardee, who created a website to voice his opposition to the tax.
A Tallahassee group formed by Associated Industries of Florida also pumped more than $100,000 into an anti-tax campaign.
Supporters of the tax were disappointed with the vote and noted there has never been a successful campaign to increase property taxes to fund public entities.
“Voters had absolutely had no appetite for a tax increase,” said Stan Hanson, chairman of the pro-tax Protect Hometown Healthcare.
Now that the tax is defeated, Marion County Hospital District trustees are expected to continue discussions with two private health care companies that want to lease the 421-bed facility.
Duke LifePoint Healthcare, a joint venture of Duke University Health System and LifePoint Hospitals, is offering $375 million for a 40-year lease. Some trustees say this group appears to be most compatible with Munroe.
A Health Management Associates/Shands HealthCare partnership is offering between $440.2 million and $500.2 million. HMA owns or leases 70 hospitals nationwide and has affiliations with 32 hospitals in Florida, including some in the Shands group.
Pardee said both of those offers are great, and the trustees would have to choose one.
But Hanson said the trustees should take a step back and consider other nonprofit options before signing on with a private company.
“I don’t believe either of them (the offers) are that great,” Hanson said.
If he had to choose, Hanson said he thought the offer from Duke Lifepoint Healthcare was probably the best fit for the community.
Munroe is owned by the state-sanctioned Marion County Hospital District and is overseen by seven trustees who are appointed by the County Commission. The trustees currently lease the hospital to Munroe Regional Health System Inc., which is overseen by a 13-member board, some of whose members also are district trustees.
Supporters of the tax said they fear a private company with a long-term lease would cut critical services such as labor and delivery.
Those who opposed the tax said the hospital could be operated more efficiently or that private health care companies would be financially prepared to make the kind of cash infusion into Munroe that the hospital needs to remain competitive.