The West Volusia Hospital Authority expects to raise taxes next fiscal year, and the board blames Volusia County.
The Hospital Authority, the special taxing district that supports care for the area’s most in-need, may increase the tax it levies from property owners to cover the reimbursement that Volusia County says the authority must pay to help cover the costs of local Medicaid coverage.
The increased budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year includes few increases other than the $2.7 million the Hospital Authority must pay to Volusia County to cover its share of the county’s Medicaid burden for the year.
With a unanimous decision by all members present — Hospital Authority Chair Jennifer Coen was sick and unable to attend the authority’s July 20 budget workshop and meeting — the board agreed to advertise a millage rate of 1.14 mills. That rate is 16 percent above the rollback rate, or the millage rate that would allow the WVHA to collect the same amount of property taxes it collected last year.
Hospital Authority attorney Ted Small said the board’s hands were tied.
“It should be on the record with all of you that you’re being effectively required to raise taxes by the County of Volusia’s decision to impose on the authority the requirement to pay Medicaid matching dollars even though you do not own and operate a hospital and receive any Medicaid revenue,” he said.
Local hospitals accept patients with Medicaid, government-funded health insurance available to low-income children and adults, but the hospitals are eventually reimbursed by the federal government for the coverage. The state and county governments work together to cover the costs of the health insurance program.
The West Volusia Hospital Authority levies taxes to help pay back the Medicaid reimbursement — this year to the tune of $2.7 million — but the authority hasn’t owned or operated a hospital since 2020 when a deal to transfer the ownership of AdventHealth DeLand hospital went into effect.
In its 2022 legal battle with Volusia County, the Hospital Authority argued that even though it is the body responsible for charging local property owners, it never sees the benefits of Medicaid. While further appeals could be made, Small said, it looks like the WVHA’s legal challenge will be decided in Volusia County’s favor.
In a statement from Volusia County made in the wake of the 5th District Court of Appeal siding with Volusia County, officials said they hope the matter is settled for good.
“The County’s taxpayers have had to unfairly cover West Volusia Hospital Authority’s bills to fund a program for our neediest residents,” Volusia County Attorney Mike Dyer said. “It is time for the West Volusia Hospital Authority to meet its obligations.”
But the Hospital Authority, Small said, is the only special taxing district in the state that does not own a hospital and is still on the hook for Medicaid money.
With the litigation in mind, the Hospital Authority took a conservative stance when it came to funding agencies this year, with few increases in funding to partner agencies. That’s because, in part, all eyes are on “every move we’re doing here,” Hospital Authority Board Commissioner Voloria Manning said.
The authority is in the process of a follow-up audit from the State Auditor General’s office, and Hospital Authority board members are aware — especially with a tax increase on deck — of efforts in previous years by members of the community to see the Hospital Authority done away with entirely.
While the advertised budget clocks in at $18.7 million, it may decrease by the time the Hospital Authority officially sets next year’s budget in September.
“Personally I’m going to take a look at the budget and see where we can possibly cut some funding in order to keep ourselves in the swing of everything and legally correct,” Hospital Authority Board Commissioner Judy Craig said.
The Hospital Authority’s budget will next come up at its August meeting, at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Sanborn Center, 815 S. Alabama Ave. in DeLand.
After that, the Hospital Authority will hold two budget hearings, one at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at The Center at Deltona, 1640 Dr. MLK Blvd., and the second at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Sanborn Center.