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December 20, 2014

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County nixes asking voters to OK more taxes for hospital

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Sam Morris / File photo

University Medical Center is Clark County's only publicly funded hospital.

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

County commissioners shot down a proposal today to put a question on the November ballot asking voters if they would be willing to pay more to support operations at University Medical Center.

The county’s current subsidy to UMC will increase by $30 million to a total of $71 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, an amount commission Chairman Steve Sisolak called “unsustainable.”

Commissioners have for years discussed a property tax increase as a way to provide a stable funding source for UMC, but they've never moved forward with the proposal. Sisolak suggested a ballot question to gauge voter support.

The hospital’s troubled finances stem largely from its role as the region’s only safety-net hospital, providing care to indigent patients. The hospital has for decades drawn subsidies from the county of tens of millions of dollars a year to fill out its budget.

Without new revenues for UMC, Sisolak said, other parts of the county’s operations would suffer, including Metro Police and the jail.

“I’m afraid a year from now or 10 months from now, we’re going to be sitting here saying, ‘What do we now? We’re short...and there’s not enough money to go around,’” he said.

Other commissioners didn’t buy Sisolak’s argument, countering that the commission can raise the property tax without consulting voters.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he didn’t think voters would support a property tax increase. He noted the voters’ rejection of a property tax increase to pay for school construction in 2012.

Weekly also said it’s important to give a newly formed governing board charged with turning around the hospital more time to complete its work.

“Yes (UMC) takes a huge chunk or our general fund and I agree we have to do something,” Weekly said. “The (governing board) has been in existence for five months. With the amount of expertise we have, I believe it’s a little unfair and disingenuous on this board’s part that we haven’t even given those folks an opportunity.”

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