Editorial: Vote yes March 21

Tuesday, March 21, we have to go to the polls and vote yes. And we should not go alone. Encourage your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same.
The referendum asks Jefferson County residents to give commissioners the assent to raise the millage rate by up to 3 mills to support the financial operations of Jefferson Hospital. 
This should not require much consideration. For less than $10 a month a majority of Jefferson County’s property owners can save 130 local family-supporting jobs, ensure that emergency medical care is available just minutes away, and support economic development and the future sustainability of the place we call home.  
Most rural public hospitals get some kind of tax support from local government to offset expenses like indigent care. And while the county already has the authority to raise up to 7 mills of taxes for this purpose, they decided last year to go to the voters and see how they feel about it. 
Last summer, when the hospital came to the county requesting 3 mills of support while the county budget was being set, the sticker shock of a request for approximately $1.2 million was a bit much. We understand why, at the time, the commission paused to look into the situation. 
Since the initial request the hospital has cut ties with its management company, hired new leadership, replaced two retiring hospital authority members, developed a focused vision to improve the its financial situation in the current year and put in motion a strategic plan for the next three years. 
For the last several months Lou Semrad, the hospital’s new CEO, has been holding meetings throughout the area to answer questions, hear concerns and describe his plan to get the hospital financially independent of the need for this tax increase.
He described how this is not as simple an option of raising taxes or closing the hospital doors. 
If the hospital closes, the county will have to take on the debt of the hospital, which is around $3 million. The county will also have to expand its ambulance service by adding at least one vehicle and staffing it at a cost of at least half a million dollars a year.
“The only way to pay for either of these expenses is by increasing the millage,” Semrad said. 
And when indigent care patients who are currently going to Jefferson Hospital go to surrounding counties, those counties can send a bill to Jefferson County’s commission for the treatment of those individuals. Grady Hospital in Atlanta has already won a similar case in court. 
With the hospital gone taxes will have to go up anyway. Add to that a $6 million dollar blow to the economy when Jefferson Hospital’s 130 full-time-equivalent positions, the majority of whom are county residents, lose their jobs. This loss will be felt by every other business in this community. The people in those jobs spend their salaries in restaurants, gas stations and services all over this county. 
Greg Sellars, Executive Director of the organization designed to support local industrial growth and court companies into bringing more jobs to our community, has said that a hospital is key to economic growth.
“Not having a hospital and quality health care would put Jefferson County at a severe disadvantage for economic development, growth and stability,” Sellars said. 
And again, we are not talking about all that much more in taxes. Even if the full 3 mills is levied, then on a $100,000 home property owners would see only a $120 increase on their taxes for the year. And since the majority of homes in Jefferson County are actually valued at closer to $75,000, that means for less than $10 a month a majority of local homeowners can save our hospital and protect our community from an economic blow that would be catastrophic.
We have to support our hospital. Anyone with their eye on the long game should see that. We have to vote and get others to vote. With this being the only item on the ballot only the passionate are likely to visit the polls. Let’s make sure that the majority of voters in this election are thinking more about the health of this community than the $1 bills in their back pockets.