Gasperson responds to questions on hospital funds

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Editors note: Following is the full response from Polk County Commissioner Ray Gasperson to questions sent by the Bulletin regarding the countys $285,000 gift to St. Lukes Hospital last year. An article summarizing the responses from commissioners, candidates and St. Luke’s Hospital ran in the Friday, July 23 Bulletin. Look for full responses from other commissioners and candidates in upcoming editions.

The history of taxpayer money being used for the capital projects at St. Lukes Hospital dates back several decades. The current hospital building was built by Polk County in 1972 and leased to the St. Lukes Hospital Corporation for $10.00 per year. The current lease (revised Feb21,2000) will be valid until 2025 and requires that the hospital can only be operated as a nonprofit general hospital. It is important to note that although the taxpayers of Polk County provided large amounts of funding for the construction and outfitting of St. Lukes Hospital in the early 1970s, since that time many individual benefactors and foundations, especially the St. Lukes Hospital Foundation, have provided critically needed funding to keep the hospital in operation.

In 2006-2007, Polk County paid $400,000 for the purchase of a former doctors office owned by St. Lukes Hospital located at 35 Walker Street, Columbus for office space to house the Polk County planning, building inspections and IT departments. &bsp;

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

On the surface, the location and square footage of the building seemed like a wise use of taxpayer money; however, the terms of the agreement and the amount paid raise questions. &bsp;

When the option to purchase agreement&bsp; between Polk County and St. Lukes&bsp; Hospital was entered into on September 18, 2006, the county included a $200,000 payment for the option.&bsp; This action received unanimous approval by the board of commissioners, which included two current commissioner candidates for the November 2010 election, Ted Owens and Tom Pack.

In the official minutes of the September 18, 2006 BOC meeting, commissioner Owens stated that this was an arrangement for the hospital to renovate the emergency room and for the county to buy an additional building.

One year later, in September of 2007, the county closed on the property and paid an additional $200,000.

The purchase of this building would have been wise use of taxpayer money if the property had been worth $400,000. However, I can find no evidence that any certified appraisal was done before the closing. According to the Polk County tax appraisal office, the building and lot was valued at $226,662 in 2007, and after the 2009 re-evaluation (which reflects current real property values) at $223,215.

One can only conclude that the commissioners in 2006 and the next board in 2007 which included commissioners Watson and Melton, wished not only to purchase the building for office space, but to also provide an approximately $175,000 donation of taxpayer money to St. Lukes Hospital for capital improvements.

In April 2009, the county received $285,000 from the sale of the James Tool Building.&bsp; This money was paid back to the county through an economic development initiative. During the April 20,2009 BOC meeting, several hospital administrators, board of trustee members, doctors and other citizens connected with St. Lukes apprised the board of the dire financial condition of the hospital.

After the presentation commissioner Melton, who also sits on the board of trustees of St. Lukes Hospital, made a motion that the board of commissioners give the $285,000 to St. Lukes Hospital with no repayment required.

At that meeting, I was opposed to giving the money to the hospital because I wanted the county to use the money to repeat the success that had happened with the James Tool partnership between private business and local government. This partnership resulted in a new business being attracted to our county, provided new jobs, became a success, and then a full repayment of the seed money. There was no second to Meltons motion.

During a subsequent meeting, an ad hoc committee was formed to investigate the needs of the hospital. After several weeks of work this committee along with the Economic Development Commission strongly recommended that the board of commissioners approve giving the $285,000 to St. Lukes Hospital.&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;

I am also aware that the hospital is one of the largest employers in the county, and that it provides a vital service. These facts, along with the report given to the BOC by the committee and the EDC, convinced me at that time to vote in favor of the funding. It now appears that the funding along with the hospital eliminating some positions, raising fees for medical services, and hard work by personnel has resulted in a major improvement of the financial picture of the hospital.

Currently the annual interest and principal payments for the Polk County Middle School debt is approximately $2,000,000 per year, which is equal to over seven cents on our current tax rate.&bsp; Because of this debt and other funding cut backs by the state, I&bsp; believe that it will be difficult for Polk County to give additional funding to St. Lukes Hospital until the debt for Polk Middle School has been paid, economic conditions have improved,&bsp; and the county is again in a position to give raises to county employees.

&bsp; Ray Gasperson