by Chris Butler, Editor Tennessee Watchdog
Commissioners in Williamson County can either sell the hospital the county owns, or they can raise property taxes.
All that growth in the county won’t pay for itself.
As reported, three county commissioners want to know if it’s smart for the county to sell Williamson Medical and get extra money — about half a billion dollars’ worth — to help pay for new development.
Those commissioners, Todd Kaestner, Gregg Lawrence, and Sherri Clark, said they don’t know for sure that they want to sell the hospital. They said they just want to study the idea.
Most other commissioners, though, won’t budge even on that.
The county has owned the hospital since the 1950s.
Commissioners aren’t slashing spending either, Kaestner said.
So, what must the county to do to make ends meet?
If county officials won’t sell the hospital then the only alternative is to jack up property taxes year after year, Kaestner said.
“Centennial Hospital (in Nashville) pays Davidson County $3 million a year in property taxes, and we get zero from Williamson Medical Center. Those are two facts,” Kaestner said.
“We didn’t raise property taxes this year, but it was only by the skin of our teeth. I expect those taxes will increase next year, though, but I cannot tell you by how much.”
As Kaestner already told Tennessee Watchdog, the county is about $500 million in debt and has about $500 million in funding requests for 10 new schools in the coming decade.
The county, Kaestner went on, has an influx of 2,000 new students per year. Most of those kids are relocating from Davidson County. Even if one of those child’s parents moved into a new 2400 square foot home then they still don’t pay enough taxes for that child’s education, Kaestner said.
Taxes would have to increase from a rate of 2.15 percent to a tax rate of 4.45 percent, he added.
“All this new development is going to push us toward a series of tax increases. There is no way around it,” Kaestner said.
“We’re not inept at financial planning. We’re not stupid. We’re drowning in residential growth. Residential development doesn’t cover the cost of the burden it creates.”
Commissioner Gregg Lawrence, meanwhile, said the average cost per student per year in the county is about $9,000.
But Commissioner Jack Walton, who is one of four commissioners to sit on Williamson Medical’s board of trustees, said selling the hospital will only do so much.
“You could sell it for $500 million or $300 million. Right now, we need $500 million for schools for the next three to five years,” Walton said.
“Once that money is gone then you have lost your asset. You don’t have anything to fall back on. You’ve spent it on schools.”
Commissioners who are holding out on the hospital study are guilty of a conflict of interest because too many of them are tethered to Williamson Medical in one form or another, Clark said.
Thomas Little, for instance, has a brother who serves on the board of trustees. County Commissioner Steve Smith directs the Williamson Medical Center Foundation.
Walton and Commissioner Bert Chalfant said, per county law, they and County Mayor Rogers Anderson must serve on the hospital board.
Lawrence said if commissioners would privatize the hospital then more hospitals and clinics would open in the county, and that would do wonders for competition and available services.
Walton and Chalfant, though, said competition would ruin Williamson Medical.
Lawrence said county taxpayers spend $1.5 million a year on the hospital.
Walton, however, disputed that and said the county spends nothing on Williamson Medical and that it poses no risk to the county’s finances.
When asked why it is that a certain number of county commissioners must serve on the hospital’s board of trustees in the first place, Walton said the following:
Commissioners are put on the board for oversight to make sure everything is going well and aboveboard.
Because, after all, there is some liability for the county if the hospital fails.
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Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected]
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Reprinted with permission from Tennessee Watchdog