Weems Memorial Hospital will get a quarter-million dollar boost in sales taxes next year, thanks to a rise in the local economy.
The decade-old one-cent sales tax, half of which is socked away in the Weems capital outlay budget, will yield $2.34 million, compared to $2.11 million last year, an increase of about $228,000.
Half of that tax revenue will go directly for hospital operations, with another $10,000 a month to help support Weems’ two clinics. The rest will go towards capital outlay, which is earmarked in large part for a hospital renovation project now in the approval process. Currently there is $2.22 million in the capital outlay fund, said Erin Griffith, the county’s assistant finance officer.
At last month’s budget workshop, Weems CEO Mike Cooper, along with Jordan Fulkerson, Weems interim chief financial officer, outlined plans for some future expenditures.
Cooper said plans are in the works to upgrade the hospital’s radiology offerings to a fully digital version. “I hope to be bringing you that detailed version next time I present or the time thereafter,” he said.
Weems will receive a separate ambulance operating subsidy, which comes out of property tax proceeds, that is similar to last year, $764,252, as the result of steady growth over the past two years, when the subsidy was about a quarter-million dollars less, or $505,592.
“How are we running on the ambulance?” asked Commissioner Cheryl Sanders.
Cooper said all the positions are filled, but the county needs more full-time paramedics. “Quite a few are in an ‘as needed’ status,” he said. “They have full-time jobs other places; we don’t have the pool that we like.”
He said he and Mike Murphy, who heads up the ambulance service, carefully track the costs.
“The average rate of pay we pay for staff as a whole is a barometer, if it goes up because of overtime,” said Cooper. “Also (we track) the average length of tour. A year ago it was in excess of 40 hours (a week). That’s not good; we don’t want people on that truck that long. We’ve got that down to 31.”
Sanders noted that the rate of pay is lower in Gadsden County. “You are getting people who worked at Gadsden,” she said. “Mr. Mike (Murphy) is doing a good job, he really is.”
Sanders warned her colleagues that “counties are going to see extreme cuts of Medicaid to their hospitals. This is something we have to really look at when you come to looking at funding.”
Cooper said the hospital system currently has 135 full and part-time employees, which equates to 86 full-time positions.
Since the one-cent health care sales tax was begun in Jan. 2008, is has grown, from its first-year receipts of $1.37 million. Griffith estimated that next year, annual tax proceeds will eclipses $3 million.
She said so far this year, Weems has made two payments on the funds that it owes on an emergency cash advance from the county. The first was $150,000 in April, and the second was $50,000 several weeks ago, she said, noting that there is a balance due of $690,000.