Council members made the informal decision Friday, March 29, during a joint meeting with the Moab City Council.
Canyonlands Healthcare Special Service District officials raised the possibility of a new 0.5 percent Healthcare Facilities Tax as a fundraising method. However, attorneys for the council and the special service district’s board of directors indicated that Utah law does not allow a county of Grand’s size to levy the tax for that purpose.
Currently, state law allows the tax to be imposed by class three, four or five rural counties to help fund health care centers that are owned by the county. Grand, a class five county, does not own the Canyonlands Care Center; the center is owned and managed by the special service district board.
The district recently sought a ruling on the law from the Utah State Tax Commission, but has not received a response. During Friday’s meeting, special service district board member Joey Allred said the board has decided to withdraw the request for a Tax Commission ruling.
Instead, she and other local officials hope to convince Utah legislators to change the law to allow Grand County to levy the tax.
“We are withdrawing our request for a ruling to move forward with legislative action that would benefit all communities in the state,” Allred said during an interview.
The goal is to pass legislation that would give counties the ability to financially support a special service district facility such as Canyonlands Care Center, she said.
Allred acknowledged it will take a long time, if efforts are successful, to have such a bill passed during the next session of the Utah Legislature.
Moab City Council member Kirstin Peterson raised that point during the meeting, too. That’s why she and other members of a task force looking for solutions to the funding problem are considering many other options, including selling the care center or contracting with a private firm to manage the facility.
Friday’s discussion even included the possibility of Grand County buying the care center, which would allow sales tax money to be used for operations.
Council chairman Gene Ciarus said the county doesn’t have enough money to purchase and operate the facility, noting the significant debt owed for construction of the center.
“I’m not sure the citizens want to assume $4.5 million in debt,” he said.
Roy Barraclough, the current care center administrator, said many cost-cutting measures have been implemented and more are being considered.
“We’ve reduced staff, we’ve cut back benefits,” he said. “We are trying to get as lean as we can be.”
He said cuts already made include reducing the number of paid holidays staff members receive from 12 to seven, with a projected annual savings of $137,000; requiring employees to pay 30 percent of health insurance premium costs, saving another $36,000 annually; and suspension of performance increases for staff during 2013, saving an anticipated $31,500 in salaries.
Other potential savings could come from outsourcing some services and replacing some full-time workers with part-time staff to save benefit costs, task force members said.
The task force that is meeting to find funding solutions consists of members from the county council, city council, the Canyonlands Healthcare Special Service District board and the Moab Healthcare board. They have run into dead ends with many potential options, according to Allred.
“We’ve exhausted so many options that we have a short list,” she said.
Anyone who is interested in serving on the task force is invited to submit an application to Allred at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison at email@example.com.