PHILIPSBURG – The Granite County Commissioners granted the petition of some 80 residents of the Lower Rock Creek area to withdraw from the Granite County Hospital District (GCHD). The action took place in the District 3 courtroom and saw the commissioners acting in a judiciary capacity.
While arguments were voiced on both sides of the issue, the decision by the commissioners was essentially dictated by a single line in the Montana Code Annotated.
7-34-2156 Withdrawal of land from hospital district. (1) Any portion of a public hospital district may be withdrawn therefrom, as provided in 7-34-2156 through 7-34-2160, upon receipt of a petition signed by 51% or more of the taxpayers residing in and owning property within the area desired to be withdrawn from any public hospital district, on the grounds that such area will not be benefited by remaining in said district.
That italicized portion of the MCA gave the commission their direction, and all three – Chairman Bill Slaughter, Scott Adler and Chuck Hinkle – all agreed that the residents of the Lower Rock Creek Area did not receive benefit from the current hospital district.
The decision will become effective January 1, 2020, meaning that the residents of the district will still pay taxes on the recently approved hospital district mill levy from July 1, 2019 until December 31, 2019. After that, they will be released from that portion of their taxes.
“It’s the hospital’s position that this decision rests entirely with the commissioners and that Lower Rock Creek, by statute, has the right to request a withdrawal,” said Granite County Medical Center CEO Maria Stoppler. “That is uniquely within the hospital district statute and is not in the statute in terms of school taxes or road department taxes. … It’s their right and it’s fully a decision of the commissioner.”
Likewise, they will also be excluded from votes concerning the Granite County Hospital District. In the November 2018 election, the GCHD passed by a margin of 955-833. That came after it had failed during the June 2018 primary by just 20 votes, 528-508. Considering their desire to leave the GCHD, it is likely the 50+ residents now withdrawing from the district voted against the mill levy which will now have a substantially better chance of passing on future ballots.
Or at least one might think.
“In terms of what consequence there might be to the hospital,” said Stoppler, “the mill levy passed and it’s based on a certain level of mills. So the taxes will be adjusted. Some people have commented that this might make the next mill levy, should we request one in the future, tougher to pass.” That means that the $6,263 that those residents had been paying into the mill levy must not now be dispersed among the remaining residents of Granite County starting in January of 2019.
When asked if he thought the decision might start a cascade of others wanting to exit the GCHD, Slaughter said, “I’ve thought about that. But given the statute they’d have to meet the same standard and I don’t think they can. Start with the 55 miles that they (Lower Rock Creek) have to drive to come here versus the 31 that they (Drummond) do to access a Level 3 pharmacy, I just don’t think they could meet that standard.”