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Petition going down to the wire

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

WaKEENEY -- With a Monday deadline looming, Diane Wagner knows she faces an uphill battle in the race to gather enough signatures on a petition forcing the issuance of $1.8 million in no-fund warrants to a vote.

Not only will she have to get the petition language OK'd by Trego County Attorney Tony Potter, but she'll have to obtain at least 115 signatures in time to meet Monday's deadline.

That's why she was planning to present Potter with the petition Thursday, and insist he look at it right away so she can start collecting the signatures.

Without the petition, the county will move ahead with the issuance of $1.8 million in no-fund warrants -- to be repaid by property taxes during the next four years -- for the financially struggling Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital.

"It's not a big concern about giving the hospital $1.8 million," she said. "But I want them to be aware we're not just a bunch of idiots, that anytime somebody says they need money we give it to them."

Property taxes are expected to climb by at least eight mills for the principal amount, plus whatever the interest costs are.

Trego County commissioners Monday also approved a resolution setting the stage for a 1-percent sales tax, the vast majority of which would go to the hospital.

Nearly 2,200 ballots on the sales-tax question will be sent out Feb. 28 and must be returned by March 19. The tax would take effect July 1 if voters approve it.

Commissioners also are looking at boosting the county mill levy for the hospital from the more than $200,000 it gives the hospital each year.

All that's raised questions in Trego County, but no one publicly had stepped forward to question the issue.

"I kinda got pulled into this," Wagner said Thursday. "They needed somebody brave enough to take this petition to Tony Potter."

Potter on Monday was sent a petition by Wagner, although it apparently only sought some sort of accountability. He instead forwarded it on to the county's bond attorney.

Wagner said she's not heard anything back.

"The new petition is ready to go, and I will withdraw the one I submitted on Monday," she said. "I did update the petition. I will deliver it. I will do my best to get the signatures because I think it's very important."

But she recognizes it will be a difficult task.

She's intimately familiar with the hospital's difficulty, performing contract work for them last summer. Her paycheck came consistently late but finally was paid when directly asked where her check was.

Wagner said she attended one of four community meetings and asked questions.

"He stared me down," she said of hospital CEO Harold Courtois. "He said, 'We need this.' Those were his exact words."

While she has plenty of questions, it's the petition deadline that concerns her now.

"I really hope Mr. Potter approves the verbiage," she said of the petition. "If he doesn't do it, we can't do anything."