By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
The Dade County Commission at its regular January meeting on Thursday bristled at a proposal by the other two counties sharing Erlanger at Hutcheson as their public hospital to reduce Dade’s representation on the hospital’s governing board of directors.
“I don’t how it would benefit us to take one of our members off the board,” said District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman. “I’d rather have two people looking after our $6 million-interest.”
At issue was a proposed resolution to replace one passed just a few months ago dictating the makeup of Hutcheson’s Hospital Authority Board. The previous resolution was for a 13-member board with five members from Walker County, five from Catoosa and three from Dade. The new resolution was for a nine-member board with four from each of the other two counties and only one from Dade.
Currently, explained Dade County Attorney Robin Rogers, the makeup of the nine controlling board members is four from Walker, three from Catoosa and two from Dade.
As for the 13 number, Dade’s Emergency Services Director Alex Case, one of the county’s representatives on the Hospital Authority Board, explained that that comes from Hutcheson’s pre-Erlanger history of an alphabet soup of competing boards.
“There’s 13 board members on HMC Inc., and 13 board members on HHE Inc.,” he said. But since the partnership with Erlanger and the subsequent reorganization, the controlling nine members serve on both the other boards plus the Hospital Authority Board, said Case.
“I know it’s very confusing,” he said. “The Hospital Authority wants to do away with the other two Inc. boards, just have one board like it used to be, but there’s stuff in these other two boards it’s going to take two or three years or four years, to get these dissolved.”
Meanwhile, attorney Rogers told the commissioners that the proposal on the makeup of the controlling nine had been reworded slightly just that morning after Catoosa County had met and revised it, and urged them to review it carefully before voting on it. “There’s been a lot of cooks in the kitchen on this one,” he said
Dade County Executive and Commission Chairman explained to the commission that the proposal came as a result of the board’s desire to rebond money. Following Hutcheson’s 2011 deal to partner with Chattanooga’s Erlanger, Catoosa and Walker had both pledged tax dollars to guarantee the hospital’s debt repayment, but Dade had declined to do so.
Dade, separated from Erlanger at Hutcheson by Lookout Mountain, depends on it for indigent care for county prison inmates, and historically helped pay to establish Hutcheson, but as a matter of geography most Dade residents now use Chattanooga hospitals.
In any case, said Rumley, Dade’s decision not to risk taxpayer funds for the hospital was the reason the board felt Dade’s representation should be reduced.
Attorney Rogers corrected him that it was also based on relative populations: The 4-3-2 makeup was based on figures from the 1950 census. “Following the 2010 census, you’ll see that Dade County’s population in comparison with Walker and Catoosa has decreased fairly sizably, to where we now have 11 percent of the total population for the three counties,” he said.
He said Walker and Catoosa were now roughly equal in population; hence the proposal to give them equal voice.
District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith brought up the notion of asking the other counties to buy out Dade’s percentage in the hospital. In that case, he said, Dade residents could still not be denied the right to use the facility. “It’s nothing to start a war over,” he said. “It’s just a thought.”
“The issue would be, percentage of what?” said Rogers. “The net value of the hospital, or are we talking about the value of the real estate?
But Rogers noted that getting out of the hospital authority business was a possibility, and that Dade’s relationship with the hospital had evolved over the years, especially since Hutcheson gave up its ambulance arm and was no longer the county’s emergency medical services provider.
At any rate, the commissioners voted unanimously not to accept the 4-4-1 proposal. “It’s been thrown to us way too quick,” said Alex Case.
Attorney Rogers said the likely upshot of Dade’s rejection of the proposal would be that the other counties would not agree to the bond resolution.
Otherwise, a lot of the business on the commission’s plate was generated by the fact this is the beginning of a new year. In that regard, the commissioners took a moment to greet its newest member, Allan Bradford, who this month replaces Peter Cervelli as District 4 commissioner.
Bradford, who had served on the commission previously, for the most part sat this first meeting out quietly. “A lot of things have changed in the last four to eight years and I have a lot to catch up with,” he said.
Commissioners approved an amendment to their budget to move money around for emergency services. Alex Case told them that since the city of Trenton’s fire hall was expanded to house Puckett EMS, the ambulance provider for the city and county, utility bills there, which go to the city, have doubled or tripled as personnel stay there around the clock. County Clerk Don Townsend said it was possible to provide for this by reallocation though: “There may have to be an intergovernmental agreement if we get too technical here.”
The commission agreed to sell surplus county vehicles and also accepted a $103,833 bid from Prater Ford for three new law enforcement vehicles already scheduled for purchase this year with special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) funds. The sheriff’s department will also purchase two vehicles for school resource officers using a separate drug-money fund. Additionally, two public works vehicles were also approved to be traded in.
The commission approved numerous board appointments and reappointments, including: Ted Rumley to the Board of Health; Tom Black to the Mental Health Board; Tommy Lawson to the Region One EMS Council; David Paris to the Board of Assessors (to fulfill Don King’s unexpired term as District 1 member); Evan Stone and Doug Anderton to the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority; Dora Crisp and Nathan Wooten to the Industrial Development Authority; John Case and Buford Stephens to the Limestone Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council; and John Gothard to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, or so-called beer board.
District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff was reappointed as commission vice chairman and also as county legislative coordinator, charged with keeping the county informed about state legislation in the works.
The commission passed routine measures to approve elected officials’ signatures on county financial documents and to allow the county to obtain a tax anticipation line of credit from a local bank. The county can borrow up to $800,000 if it has to though it will borrow only when and as much as strictly necessary, he said. “If things stay the same as they have the last 10 years, we’ll probably end up using it around May or June,” said Townsend.
Townsend took the commission through a lengthy review of the county’s SPLOST projects on the books pursuant to an auditor-required reallocation of funds for them. Attorney Rogers suggested a rewording of the language before the reallocation was approved: “The SPLOST funds projects rather than departments.”
In his monthly report, Rumley said Dade hoped to have new playground equipment for the county athletic fields by spring. He said the new jail kitchen was saving the county about $2,000 a week on inmate meals, making Dade an example for surrounding counties. “We’ve proven that this is going to work,” he said.
He promised a similar report in savings from the county’s purchase of a road paver for next month’s meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 7.