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Central Health parts ways with firm redeveloping Brackenridge site

Commissioners approve Central Health budget, but the debate continues

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved Central Health’s $238 million budget, which will add about $12.50 to the typical homeowner’s property tax bill.

The Travis County health care district’s budget includes a 4.5 percent increase in tax revenue, with the tax rate at 10.74 cents per $100 of property value. For the owner of the average home valued at $305,173, the Central Health property tax bill will come out to $327.71.

The agency touted several projects that will be funded in the upcoming budget year, including new and expanded service locations in East Travis County, the renovation of the CommUnityCare Rosewood-Zaragosa Health Center and increased funding for women’s health care services.

But discussion on Tuesday revolved more around concerns about Central Health’s transparency and its relationship with Dell Medical School than the budget itself.

Lawyers Bob Ozer and Fred Lewis and others have frequently argued that spending on the medical school, which Travis County voters approved in 2012 via a property tax increase, is not within the bounds of the hospital district’s mission to provide services to the indigent.

RELATED: Report finds UT Dell Medical School is properly using taxpayer funds

After the lawyers spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty expressed frustration that Central Health hasn’t answered many of these questions.

“You’re caught in something that I’ve witnessed to be pretty unhealthy because now there are feelings out there where people think there is something going on that really shouldn’t,” Daugherty said to hospital district officials. “I hope today we can move forward.”

Commissioners Brigid Shea and Gómez said they were uneasy about having to vote on the budget now, simply because they faced a deadline, while so many questions remained unanswered.

“I think that it’s in everyone’s best interest to get them answered and get it resolved,” Shea said. “It’s not healthy for any of us to have these very large questions hanging over the process.”

RELATED: At public meeting, Central Health’s reach, use of funds criticized

Gómez abstained from voting for the same reason, saying she felt she was “in a real corner” to vote for the budget before the questions were resolved.

“I understand that we have to have budgets in order to continue providing services, but I wish we could adopt the financial policies before we adopt the budget,” Gómez said, referencing a later item on the agenda. “There’s no reason for these issues to continue just swirling and swirling.”

After an hour of discussion that grew heated at points, commissioners voted to postpone until Oct. 3 a vote on that item, which would bring changes to Central Health’s financial policy. The changes are meant to increase the agency’s transparency by stipulating things like regular third-party audits.

This postponement, requested by Central Health president and CEO Mike Geeslin, was in part to give the agency’s board time to consider proposed amendments.

“In two weeks, I really do want to vote,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “I think the perpetual conversation about it actually is not healthy.”

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