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Pinellas to pay back taxes owed to Pasco
Contract approved with hospitals to fund indigent care
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CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners ordered staff to pay the back taxes owed to Pasco County on Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches during an April 15 meeting. They also approved a long-overdue contract with local hospitals for indigent health care.

It was a day for controversial issues, starting with a unanimous vote to fire the county administrator.

Then after regular business concluded during the afternoon portion of the meeting, Commissioner Norm Roche made two proposals about the county’s ranch lands in Pasco County. First, he wanted an ordinance to require two public hearings and a supermajority vote of the commission to sell the ranches. Second, he wanted staff to pay the past-due taxes on the land.

Pasco County recently approached the county about purchasing one or both ranches. The majority of the commission voted against selling. County Attorney Jim Bennett said an ordinance could be written to provide requirements similar to those in place for sell of regional parks. The consensus of the commission was against moving forward.

However, all were in favor of taking care of the tax issue.

Pinellas County stopped paying taxes on the land in Pasco in 2012, after commissioners were advised they didn’t have to pay. Pasco County sold tax certificates on some of the land in 2012. Pasco now is threatening to issue tax certificates for 2013 taxes. If the tax certificates aren’t redeemed the land could be sold at auction.

“I want that resolved, yesterday,” said Commissioner Susan Latvala, in response to the more than $113,000 in past-due taxes and penalties. “This needs to be resolved.”

“We got into this mess because we received info that we didn’t owe the taxes,” Commissioner Janet Long said.

The consensus was to pay what is owed to redeem the 2012 tax certificates and negotiate with Pasco County for the 2013 bill.

“We don’t want to complicate things with more certificates sold,” Bennett said. “Let’s clean it up. Buy the certificates and then work it out.”

Commission Chair Karen Seel said she would like to have a discussion on assigning contracts for management of Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches to Pasco County.

“The money we paid them would be the tax bill,” she said.

Pasco County recently approached the county about purchasing one or both ranches. The majority of the commission voted against selling.

Contract approved

A dispute between the county and local hospitals over a new funding formula delayed approval of a contract for indigent health care for more than six months. Commissioners unanimously approved a renegotiated agreement using the former funding agreement April 15.

The commission approved a “master health program” agreement for an amount not to exceed $3.39 million Aug. 6, 2013. After the approval, Health and Community Services personnel were asked to review the funding formula, prior to executing the individual contracts.

Not all hospitals were happy with the results due to a disagreement on the number of indigent patients being treated. The hospitals count was higher than that of county staff. Contracts were not executed. Care was being provided only in life-and-death cases.

Commissioners recently agreed to an increase in funding by $390,000 to cover the additional care and ensure access to care by clients enrolled in the county’s health program. They also agreed to revert to the former funding formula. The new contract begins Oct. 1, 2013 and continues through Sept. 30, 2014.

The additional funding restores the funding level for Bayfront HMA Medical Center LLC and increases funding for Baycare Health Systems Inc. by $390,000.

Bayfront HMA will receive up to $1.41 million, the same as in fiscal year 2013. Baycare will receive up to $1.73 million, a decrease of 390,000 from FY 2013, and Florida Hospital North Pinellas will receive up to $30,000, a decrease of $97,500 from last year.

Funding for the contracts will come from the Health Program Trust Fund accounts and money appropriated to the Department of Health and Community Services.

In other business, the commission:

• Listened to a request for funding of a proposed Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing Skills Initiative program, using a proven German training-apprenticeship model. State legislators are considering a funding request of $1.2 million. If initial funding is approved, the organization needs another $200,000 from two counties in the Tampa Bay area for two subsequent years.

• Received notice that the county attorney’s office is defending against a lawsuit filed by John and Monica Reyner, who allege that the county’s stormwater system is polluting Lake Sylvia, a privately owned lake in Seminole.

The lake’s owners have spent about 30 years trying to get the county to assist in cleaning up the pollution caused by runoff. The Reyners are asking the court to make the county stop the runoff and pollution, and remove the alleged pollution in the lake. They are seeking damages in excess of $15,000 plus attorney’s fee and court cost.
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