Costs rise, demand grows

By Amy Smith, Fri., July 23, 2010

The board of what was formerly known as the Travis County Healthcare District (recently rebranded as Central Health) is considering a $106.9 million 2011 budget to cover the costs of expanding health care services for indigent residents. Preliminary approval of the plan is set for Aug. 18, followed by a round of public hearings and a final vote on a tax rate and budget in September. The proposed budget total does not include what Central Health officials anticipate will be $94 million in reserves in the new budget year.

With a proposed tax rate of 7.24 cents per $100 of assessed property value, tax revenue is expected to increase to $66.4 million, up from $65.4 million in the current budget. Although overall property values have declined, property owners' taxes could shift either up or down depending on the final appraisal assessments of the Travis Central Appraisal District. Travis County commissioners expect to receive the effective tax rate on Friday, July 23, based on estimated appraisal rolls.

On a related financial matter, the Central Health board on Aug. 3 will seek permission from county commissioners to issue certificates of obligation to build a new health clinic at 1210 W. Braker. The commissioners' blessing allows the board the option of using the certificates, which would be paid off over 20 years if it decides to go that route. Groundbreaking for the $18 million clinic is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10, according to John Stephens, Central Health's chief financial officer. As the need for indigent care grows, the health district is also renovating and expanding its South Austin medical clinic at 2529 S. First.

In the long term, county health officials can expect an increased demand for services thanks to a budget-slashing directive from state leaders to trim agency budgets by 10%. The Department of State Health Services is proposing slicing nearly $246 million from its 2012-2013 budget. Mental health services would take the hardest hit – a proposed $134 million cut. Funding shortages at the state level inevitably force local entities to carry the load.

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