UPDATE: Walker County ends public health tax fee one year early; Erlanger debt retired
Sole commissioner Shannon Whitfield said the county will no longer owe $8.7 million to Erlanger at the end of this tax cycle.
UPDATE: In Walker County Wednesday, sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield announced he is ending a fee designed to pay down the county's debt.
That's because Whitfield said the county will no longer owe $8.7 million to Erlanger at the end of this tax cycle.
The debt stems from a loan Walker County received from Erlanger Hospital in 2011 to keep Hutcheson Medical Center open and has plagued the county for years.
"Anytime your bills go down, you've got to take some joy in it," property owner Randy Pittman said.
Pittman is happy to hear his tax bill will be cheaper next month after Whitfield announced he's ending the Publice Health Facilities and Services fee.
"Our's went up a little over $300. A lot of folks that work here that own property, their's went up more than that," Pittman added.
The ordinance was created to pay down Walker County $8.7 million debt to Erlanger Health System and two years later, Whitfield said it's no longer needed.
"In two years we've collected approximately $8.3 million. And so with our projections that we see coming in through the rest of this year, it will put us right on the mark of the $8.7 [million]," he added.
Erlanger agreed to waive interest and attorney fees bringing what Whitfield called a dark chapter to a close.
"It's now behind us. It's time for Walker County to now move forward," he said.
Changes to the ordinance will be finalized at the May 23rd Commissioner Meeting.
Property owners will notice the fee eliminated from their tax bills that are set to go out in May.
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PREVIOUS UPDATE: In a Wednesday online video, Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield announced the end of the Public Health Facilities and Services fee, which will eliminate $140 from the average Walker County homeowners tax bill.
That reduction is based on the average home value in Walker County being $100,000.
The original fee was created to pay down the county's massive debt to Erlanger Health System over a three-year period.
"We project we have collected enough from the Public Health Facilities and Services fee over the past two years to meet our obligation to Erlanger at the end of this tax cycle," Whitfield said in a news release.
The fee will not be charged on residents' next tax bill.
PREVIOUS STORY: Officials with Walker County and the Erlanger Health System have agreed to settle an $8.7 million debt stemming from a loan commitment made by the previous Walker County administration. Former Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell pledged taxpayer dollars to cover this loan to Erlanger in 2011, as part of an intergovernmental agreement with the Hutcheson Medical Center board.
As part of the full settlement, Erlanger will waive interest and attorney fees awarded in its federal judgment against Walker County, and the County has agreed to make payments of $650,000 for 12 quarters, starting in January 2018. Walker County will make a 13th and final payment of $900,000 to Erlanger by the end of 2020, according to the terms of the full settlement.
"I am deeply appreciative for the empathy shown by Erlanger toward the people of Walker County," said Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield.
"Our citizens didn't get the county into the financial mess we are working to correct, but they are being asked to help dig us out. By allowing Walker County to pay off this debt over three years, we understand that Erlanger recognizes real people are making real sacrifices," he said.
Erlanger President & CEO Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE, said, "With Walker County's commitment to repay the full amount due today, Erlanger is pleased to conclude these negotiations and waive both the interest and attorney fees. We remain committed to caring for patients from Northwest Georgia, and will continue to look for opportunities to partner with Commissioner Whitfield and the good citizens of Walker County."
Jack Studer, Chairman of the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Board of Trustees, also expressed his gratitude for the settlement agreement between Erlanger and Walker County.
"I am appreciative of the leadership from both Commissioner Whitfield and CEO Kevin Spiegel for putting our two great organizations on more solid footing for the future." Studer added, "Erlanger is honored to serve North Georgia, and looks forward to continuing to provide world-class care to everyone in Walker County."
Commissioner Whitfield said, "This agreement will save the county nearly $580,000, and gives our taxpayers peace of mind. We have reached a full settlement that allows us to make payments and brings closure to an issue that has concerned our community."