DRUMMOND – A group of residents from the Lower Rock Creek Area attended a special community meeting Wednesday night at the Drummond Community Center, expressing their desire to removed from the Granite County Hospital District (GCHD).
Their request was made via a petition of 50 of the 81 land owners in the area. The petition shows that 62.7% of the residents are in favor of withdrawing from the district, far exceeding the required 51% as stated by the Montana Code Annotated 7-34-2156 that addresses this issue. That code states
7-34-2156 Withdrawal of land from hospital district. (MCA)
(1) Any portion of a public hospital district may be withdrawn therefrom, as provided in 7-34-2156 through 7-34-2160, upon receipt of a petition signed by 51% or more of the taxpayers residing in and owning property within the area desired to be withdrawn from any public hospital district, on the grounds that such area will not be benefited by remaining in said district.
(2) No petition for withdrawal shall be entertained or acted upon by the board unless the same is filed before December 31 of the preceding year.
Granite County Commissioner Chairman Bill Slaughter opened the meeting by reading the MCA statute and laying out the ground rules for the evening. After that, the commissioners were essentially the audience while those in favor and opposed to the petition spoke.
The first speaker for the proponents was Carolyn Perisco, who has been one of the more outspoken advocates of the withdrawal, spoke to the double taxation of those living in the Lower Rock Creek area. Lower Rock Creek residents are currently taxed by two separate entities for emergency medical response. They are taxed 4.85% by the GCHD and 8.79% by the Clinton Fire District.
She also cited that the residents of Lower Rock Creek attempted to formulate a local ambulance team in 1994-95, but it was the promised $1,600 per year not funded by the two of the county commissioners who, as Perisco put it, “… didn’t sign the check.”
A.J. Macnevich was another resident who spoke in favor of the withdrawal. In speaking twice during the meeting, he stated that he had lived in that area for more than 40 years and had multiple health issues. He said that not only had he never used the GCHD services, but that it took special calls to the Granite Count Sheriff to get help with issues and likewise to the commissioners to get any kind of road maintenance.
Opponents of the withdrawal cited a number of varying reasons they thought it wasn’t right for the county commissioners to uphold the petition.
John Barbara, chairman of the Granite County Hospital Board, noted that he was there as a citizen and was not in favor of the pull out.
“While all of these fine folks certainly have the legal right to petition to be removed from the hospital district, I think it would set a terrible precedent,” said Barbara. “Because where will it end? I don’t think county residents have the choice of what taxes they get to pay and which ones they don’t.”
Barbara also stated that recent hospital records showed that “… a certain number of people that did in fact sign (the petition) used hospital services.”
Concern was immediately raised over Barbara’s statement and that it may violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But according to the Health and Human Services website, because his statement did not include individually identifiable health information, it was in full compliance.
Hall resident Chuck Johnson also spoke in opposition to the petition for withdrawal. His comments compared county taxes for such services as the school district. Like Barbara, Johnson argued that the taxes that residents pay for services they may or may not benefit from directly, but that benefit the county community as a whole.
As the meeting opened, Slaughter read some information regarding the petition for withdrawal. There were a total of 56 signatures on the petition or which 50 were deemed legitimate. One three were eliminated because they were not listed as a land owner, were not a registered voter or submitted a Power of Attorney. The other three were disqualified because they had land in a trust.
After receiving the petition, Granite County Treasurer Vicki Harding verified the signatures and submitted her report to the commissioners September 13, 2018.
The GCHD levy charges the 220 taxpayers in District 5419 $16,928.75 a year. If 81 of those tax payers were allowed to withdraw from the levy, it is unclear at present if their missing portion of the tax burden would fall to the remaining taxpayers in the district or if it would be deferred throughout the rest of the county.
If you missed the special community meeting Wednesday, the Granite County Commissioners are still accepting input from county residents through December 31, 2018 as per the MCA. Slaughter invited county residents to attend the commissioner’s weekly meetings where they have an Open Public Comment each Tuesday at 2 p.m. Residents can also send the commissioners a letter (220 N. Sansome St., PO Box 925, Philipsburg, MT 59858) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All comments on the matter become part of the public record, as will all of the comments made at the special meeting. The Granite County Commissioners will have to make a decision on the petition after the New Year. The first meeting time that the commissioners will have after that would tentatively be January 8, 2019.