The Union Recorder

March 20, 2013

County approves ORMC tax pledge

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —  

The Baldwin County Commissioners approved the resolution supporting the Oconee Regional Medical Center's borrowing of up to $30 million to refinance existing bond debt and provide new monies Tuesday. 

The board voted 4-0 in favor with Tommy French, District 2, abstaining due to spousal hospital employment.

“I know this has been a long process, and I assure you that myself and the board will do everything we can to make use of this tool the best we can for the patients,” ORMC CEO Jean Aycock said. “That's what it's all about as we move this forward.”

Operating through the Georgia Hospital Authorities Law, ORMC asked for a county ad valorem tax pledge not to exceed 3 mills for 15 years. 

The current bond interest rate is 5.34 percent. ORMC estimates the county tax pledge would drop the rate up to 2 percent, saving the hospital between $300,000 and $400,000 a year.

The net proceeds would be used to call and redeem $24.7 million worth of bonds, pay off a $810,000 BB&T note and fund the acquisition of $4 million in hardware and software upgrades required by the HITECH Act. 

According to Aycock, the savings will help offset the millions of dollars in charity and indigent care being provided to Baldwin County citizens.

ORMC provided $3.6 million of charity and indigent care costs for Baldwin County residents in fiscal year 2012 and wrote off $5.6 million of bad debts for citizens.

This free care has overwhelmed the staff. Savings are a positive step towards addressing this issue.

“The hospital is not asking us for a dime. They are asking us to be their partner in achieving lower expenses to better deal with significant issues,” Henry Craig, District 4, said. “There is no reason to expect that our indigent care is going to get any better. What we can do is give the hospital the tools to improve how they deal with our community's medical crisis that is going to increase.”

Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation will provide the bond insurance. They require debt service coverage equaling 120 percent of the maximum annual debt service generated through ORMC's operations.

“The county won't be the only one responsible with looking over everything to make sure it's in line,” Aycock said.

The resolution includes protections preventing the county from ever leveraging the millage. Unrestricted cash and investment levels must be maintained throughout the agreement.

Two-year debt service payments are part of the proposal offering the county leeway to act before ever leverage the tax on citizens.

In other news:

• The board approved a Georgia Department of Transportation Rural Transportation grant renewal application 4-1 Tuesday. Sammy Hall, District 3, voted against the program's renewal citing perceived inefficient use of local money. John Westmoreland, District 5, said a regional transportation program is in the works that could create a more cost effective process. This current transportation program is in its 18th year. Citizens pay $2 per ride from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Currently, the rural transport outfit includes two vans. The county's operational budget share totals $45,495. 

• The commissioners approved a federal grant application for the Officer of Violence Against Women's Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Assistance Program. If approved, the grant award period lasts three years beginning Oct. 1. There is no county match required. Baldwin, Hancock, Jasper Wilkinson and Putnam are the listed benefactors within the Ocmulgee Judicial District. The program would run 24/7 assisting victims from its central Baldwin County hub.

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