Hospital petition falls short, grabs attention


WaKEENEY -- The push to force a vote on handing over $1.8 million to the Trego County hospital didn't succeed, but Diane Wagner is comfortable with what was accomplished -- bringing the issue of accountability to the forefront.

"The purpose of the petition was to get their attention," she said of hospital and county officials. "That purpose was achieved. The next bailout won't be as easily obtained. There will be an army to protest."

Still, Wagner has plenty of questions about what led up to the request for no-fund warrants by Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital.

Wagner, a WaKeeney resident, led the charge late last week to get a petition together for force Trego County to take a vote on giving the money to the hospital.

That $1.8 million, to be repaid through four years with money from property taxes, an increase of more than 8 mills.

Trego County commissioners also have signed off on a resolution calling for a vote on a 1-percent sales tax, most of which will go to the hospital.

Commissioners also are looking at raising the hospital mill levy.

Hospital officials said Trego County has promised to supply at least $700,000 annually to cover a shortfall projected by auditors.

To force a vote on the no-fund warrants, the petition deadline was Monday.

Wagner said it wasn't difficult getting signatures, and only two people she approached didn't want to sign, raising the question of what happens if a vote on the no-fund warrants failed.

But she was contacted by current and former members of the hospital board who appealed to her to drop the petition out of loyalty to family and for the sake of the community.

Business owners in the community were quick to sign, she said.

"It wasn't just the average Joe," Wagner said. "They have more than their home at stake."

Wagner said she simply ran out of steam in getting the signatures needed.

"I learned a lot," she said, now knowing a petition can't simply be dropped off at a restaurant, instead being required to witness each signature. "We'll be way better prepared next time."

The sales tax issue will go to a vote, with ballots going out Feb. 28.

"I think it will pass," Wagner said, "but I'm not going to vote for it. I didn't vote for it last time."

That vote was in the spring of 2011 and was voted down by a 2-1 margin.

She's not yet ready to let the entire issue die, however, and plans to attend Monday's commission meeting -- which will include a session with hospital representatives.

"I do have a whole page of comments and questions," Wagner said.

Tentatively, that meeting is set for 10:30 a.m.