After much discussion the Liberty County Board of Commissioners officially adopted the 2021 millage rates during their Oct. 21 mid-month meeting.
During the discussion the Board learned about recent developments and the continued struggles at Liberty Regional Medical Center. The conversation came about when Commissioner Marion Stevens asked about LRMC’s millage rate. Noting that the County is absorbing the $1.9 million operational expense of the EMS department, Stevens asked if the hospital’s millage rate could be reduced.
He added he learned that LRMC was going to be receiving roughly $9 million plus in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, (CARES Act) funds.
Stevens said he understood the hospital has to cover COVID related fees and indigent care but felt the Board should request to lower the hospital’s millage rate.
Derek Rozier, LRMC CFO, and hospital CEO Tammy Mims spoke to the board about recent developments. Rozier said LRMC has accumulated a lot of bad debt due to indigent care.
He said that’s due to not only those without insurance, but includes those who fail to follow up with the proper insurance claims or payments. Mims said every rural hospital in the area is in desperate needs of funds. She said they’ve spoken with and shared their concerns with many of the state representatives.
Mims also said LRMC is now recognized as a Metropolitan hospital.
“That’s probably millions of dollars for us that we will not be eligible for,” Mims said. “We are a critical access hospital.
We are licensed as a 25-bed facility and during this last (COVID) uptick we had 52 inpatients and that’s not counting outpatients. We had patients on cots, laying in the halls, running out of heart monitors, running out of oxygen and we had no beds.
And now we are not considered a rural hospital?
Mims said they’ve made phone calls and have attended meetings throughout the region.
Every hospital is struggling and looking to their respective Counties for financial support. “Most of them (other area hospitals) are already shutting down services,” she continued. “We are one of two critical access hospitals in the state of Georgia that is still delivering babies. Everybody else got out of the business. Now medium sized hospitals are getting out of it as well because it is too costly and they are telling their citizens you’ll have to drive an hour for that service. We have chosen to continue doing those services that our community needs.”
Commissioner Frasier said many rural hospitals have closed due to lack of funding. He said he didn’t want to see the same thing happen in Liberty County. He said it was time for those at the state capital to put their political affiliations aside and do what is right for the people by expanding Medicaid. Mims said any discussion about Medicaid expansion at the state level is immediately shut down.
She added LRMC needs a lot of updates and repairs.
“We have put a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid until the Band-Aids are popping off…when you don’t maintain something the Band-Aids only last for so long,” she said.
Mims said they’ve met with other hospitals and all are preparing for another COVID uptick in January.
She said during the last uptick they had some employees work 21 days straight without any days off.
“We are not a trauma center however we have taken care of trauma patients,” she said. “Having 51 inpatients, we had 14 ventilators, and we put in over 40 chest tubes. That’s what you see at Memorial, not at a community hospital. But we had no other choice than to take care of our own and that is what we did.”
After learning about the hospital’s struggles the Board thanked the folks of LRMC for their dedication and care. The Board then voted to adopt the millage as presented.
The millage rate for the unincorporated areas of Liberty County was set at 16.60 mills which means a 1.8 percent property tax increase for the residents in those areas. The millage rate for the City of Hinesville was set at 14.80 with no property tax increase in that area from the County.
Stevens brought up the Freeport exemptions.
According to County Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin that exemption accounts for 50 percent of all the County-wide exemptions. The Freeport exemption total was $165,610,588.00.
Under the Freeport exemption manufacturers in the County are 100 percent tax exempt from property tax.
Freeport also exempts the inventory of manufacturing or producing businesses from tax. Freeport exemptions can be for 20, 40, 60, 80 or 100 percent of the inventory value; Liberty County voters chose to exempt 100 percent of property covered by freeport.
Stevens said it may be time to bring the Freeport exemption back in front of the voters. He said the exemption was last voted on more than two decades ago. Commissioner Frasier said that the majority of the Counties in the state offer a 100 percent Freeport exemption.
“No Freeport, no industry,” he said.