From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 106, Number 13 - March 26, 2009
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Health district broke?

by Jonathan Van Dyke

The Sublette County Rural Health Care District (RHCD) is losing, on average, over $300,000 a month, according to figures discussed during its March 18 meeting last week.

“Overall, we’re losing money and I think we need to do some tightening to bring that in line,” RHCD treasurer Dave Racich told the Roundup on Monday.

The RHCD has been operating in this manner for at least a year, he added. Total revenues for the district are estimated at $11.4 million with total expenses dialed in at $17-plus million. It will still receive $3.269 million from the fiscal year 2008 mil levy total of $7.354 million. That leaves a $3-plus million gap.

The March 18 meeting took on a somewhat somber mood at the deficit prospect.

“I have visions of shutting down the Marbleton clinic and that bothers the heck out of me,” Chairman Bill Budd said. “Shutting it down for 24 hours or weekends, or whatever we have to do.”

The problem is that the RHCD is just now beginning to climb toward its full operation levels with the opening of the new Big Piney/Marbleton Clinic.

CEO/CFO Lorraine Gatzke informed the board that she had asked department heads to try and cut up to 20 percent of their current budgets.

“Hopefully we can get into May before that ($2.6 million in the bank) runs out,” she said. “I’m a little nervous because payrolls are going to drain that pretty good.”

Assessment forecasts have given the RHCD more bad news: A potential 8 percent drop in the mil levy next year.

“Ten percent is a lot for us,” Gatzke said.

The RHCD does have savings and reserves over $2 million and at least $3.4 million in WYO-STAR investments.

However, Racich is hesitant to dip into those accounts.

“I would hope not [to use those],” he said on Monday. “I kind of admire the state with the rainy day account they have — probably one of the few states not in deficit spending. I’d like to see us contain a little bit better spending.”

During the meeting, Racich suggested an immediate freezing of wages and hiring.

“With this budget, we need to do something drastic,” he added.

Recent legislation could put a mil levy increase on the ballot for county residents to decide — which would allow the mil to be raised to four. Yet, that might not be instituted until 2011 — if it even passed.

A mil is .0001 of a dollar assessed on property taxes. For example, raising the mil levy to four would increase one’s property taxes by $19 on $100,000 of assessed value.

Racich wanted the board making every fiscally conservative step possible, before asking residents to increase the mil levy.

“I’ve told a couple of board members that until we make some budget cuts, I won’t back that,” he said on Monday. “I don’t think that’s fair to the taxpayers and the commissioners. We need to try and show the public that we’re financially responsible.”

The cost of the two new clinics and how they will ultimately be paid for could dictate the whole future of the RHCD.

“The expense of the clinics have been covered by the commission so far,” Racich said. “If we have to pay back that money, that would be a major drain on our revenues.”

The time of reckoning on the expenses of the new buildings and growth has come, Budd said on Wednesday.

“That was just ignored by everybody the last three or four months,” he said. “Now it’s getting close to when the rubber is going to hit the road. That’s why I was so concerned about trying to get the extra two mils.”

Because of concerns voiced by several board members, the RHCD will hold a budget workshop on April 1, in Pinedale at 7 p.m.

“We’re going to look at that (the budget) a little more closely,” said Cindy Van, newest RHCD board member, on Monday. “Furnishing the two clinics has been pretty costly. I think that’s going to slow down.”

The cost, ultimately, could be too high for state of the art medical care in Sublette County at the current two mils.

“Yeah, we are going into the hole,” Gatzke said on Wednesday. “We’ve always been that way. It’s not going to change. I don’t know how we ever get our head above water by doing the same services on both ends of the county and duplicating everything.”

Before deciding on the April 1 workshop, the board even discussed the possibility of going before the Sublette County Commission about its deficits.

They would first need to bring in the department managers and create a line-item list of expenses, Gatzke said.

“The commissioners are well aware we cannot operate this business on the 2 mils that we have,” Budd said.

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