Local physician Dr. David Cox (above) spoke in favor of a hospital district during the second public forum Tuesday night. He said he doesn’t like the taxes a hospital district will create, but “I don’t know of any other way (a hospital) is going to happen.”
KOGT and Lamar State College-Orange sponsored two public forums for information, questions and opinions on the hospital district election. Tuesday was the second, and last.
At Thursday’s forum, physician Dr. Calvin Parker spoke in favor of the hospital district and said the county could lose doctors without a hospital to attract young ones.
Citizens, led by businessman Ross Smith, circulated a petition calling for the election to create a hospital district. The ballot proposition calls for a maximum property tax of 18 cents per $100 valuation. Smith Tuesday night said he used that figure because it is the average tax rate of the hospital districts across the state.
The hospital district election will be Tuesday, December 19, and early voting started Monday.
David Covey, chair of the Orange County Republican Party, on Thursday spoke against the hospital district with Smith speaking in favor of the district. However on Tuesday, Covey said he had a work conflict and could not attend.
Instead of having two designated “pro” and “con” speakers, Moderator Judge Jerry Pennington, called on people in the audience to speak.
Orange County Judge Brint Carlton again laid out how a hospital district will work. He pointed out the district will be a separate government entity with elected directors that will run the district and set the tax rate.
The district “will not be controlled by the county, not controlled by the city, but controlled by you, the voters,” he said.
Members of Orange County Commissioners Court will appoint the first board members before an election can be held the next year.
Smith said he began the petitions because every effort by local elected leaders and business leaders failed to get another hospital company to locate here.
Baptist Hospital Orange stopped delivering babies in 2013, then closed the in-patient care buildings in 2015 and in January this year closed the emergency room.
Judge Carlton said the company owns the building and can do what it wants with the building, even letting it go vacant. He said Baptist will be paying property taxes of $327,000 this year on the building.
Smith said the taxes for the district will allow the board to have something to negotiate with hospital companies to attract them to get a hospital in the county.
Dean Crooks of Orangefield said everyone agrees the county needs a hospital, but forming a hospital district is not the way. “This does not guarantee anything,” he said about the district.
Creating a hospital district is going to end up a permanent tax on the people who will have higher taxes.
Chick Collins (left) also spoke against the hospital district. He said the proposal is for a new hospital with 12 to 20 beds, but Orange County will not attract top physicians with a small hospital. He said the county needs at least 100 beds in a hospital.
Terrie Salter, a nurse and Orange City Councilmember, said “we need a hospital.” She talked about a 10-year-old student last week who died after an asthma attack at school and it took the ambulance 45 minutes to get him to a Beaumont hospital.
“I do not want to pay taxes, but when I think about paying taxes over a life, I’m going to choose life,” she said.
Mark Levy of Mauriceville said if private industry can’t make a hospital work, government can’t make one work. He said “the better doctors” will go where the money is and Orange County will not get them.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-