Voters approve tax to help hospital pay its bills


WaKEENEY -- Hospital administrator Harold Courtois was thrilled Tuesday when he learned the outcome of a mail-in ballot authorizing a 1 percent sales tax.

"Well, I'm happy," Courtois said after learning of the vote total. "I'm happy the people recognized the need."

Most of the money from the sales tax, which will take effect July 1, will go to help shore up the financially beleaguered Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital.

Trego County voters overwhelming approved the sales tax by a vote of 950-433, results that were announced late Tuesday, nearly 4.5 hours after Roxanne Werth, Karon Cramer and Shirley Gottschalk started the arduous task of opening each of the 1,383 envelopes, removing the ballot and then tallying the vote.

Approximately 2,100 ballots were mailed out.

Gottschalk read off the votes, which Werth and Cramer tallied.

It was apparent early on the issue would sail through, as the pile of ballots with yes votes soon outpaced the no pile.

After all the votes were counted, the trio twice recounted the no ballots to ensure the total was right.

Courtois said he favored the sales tax rather than raising the necessary money only through property taxes.

"I think it will be a good thing in the end," he said of the money coming from a tax on sales. "It won't be a greater burden on taxpayers."

The sales tax is just one of several approaches being taken to help resolve the financial straits facing the hospital.

Already, Trego County has issued $1.8 million in no-fund warrants, money that will be made available to the hospital April 1.

Much of that money will go to pay what is by then expected to be $1.1 million in outstanding bills the hospital owes its vendors.

Trego County commissioners also boosted the amount of money being made available to the hospital on an annual basis. The amount's expected to be increased again next year, high enough to augment the hospital's finances by approximately $700,000.

That's the annual shortfall auditors said the hospital will face in coming years.