Florida’s county based hospital tax is back in the news with local and state groups focusing on Sarasota’s Public Hospital District and its cash cow Sarasota Memorial Hospital for “alleged” abuse and waste of tax revenue from the local property tax. The recently launched website Stop Sarasota Waste Now is the platform highlighting their concerns and encouraging Sarasota residents to speak out on this important issue.
The tax used by public hospital districts has come under scrutiny many times in Florida over the past few decades. In 2001 the Orlando Sentinel raised the alarm questioning the lack of transparency and accountability with the hospital tax noting, “The accounting is based on what maximum charges could have been, not what actually was spent. So the public has no way of knowing how tax dollars actually are used.”
Several years later a TaxWatch study raised concerns not just on the lack of transparency on how the dollars are spent, but where they are spent. The TaxWatch study pointed out, “…. traditional purposes of providing indigent care and ensuring access to hospital facilities are often no longer the main focus, as they have expanded their roles and now compete with other non-tax supported hospitals.”
In 2011 Governor Rick Scott created the Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospital Districts, which examined a number of issues including whether or not hospital tax districts have “…..consistently acted in the
The group cites a number of concerns including a 1200% increase in the taxes collected in the past decade as well as a 400% increase in the mil rate over that same period. However, it’s not just the money that has this group mobilized – they are also questioning where those tax dollars are going suggesting that the hospital has long since abandoned the original mission of the tax dollars being used for “uncompensated and charitable care.” Instead they argue that Sarasota Memorial Hospital has redirected those tax dollars to boost its bottom line, build new facilities, or several other unrelated purposes.
In an editorial in Venice Gondolier, Tarren Bragdon, CEO of Foundation for Government Accountability and a member of Stop Sarasota Waste Now summed up their concerns when he wrote, “The Sarasota County community deserves the ability to scrutinize these questionable tax increases and to ask for more transparency and accountability for the use of taxpayer funding.”
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