Host: On Tuesday, the Sarasota hospital board sat down to take a major step towards approving Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s $1.7 billion budget, and a proposal for the taxes local property owners will have to pay. The public hospital has been hotly criticized by anti-vaccination and anti-mask activists. Some of them have even called to privatize it. But something was different at this meeting in the cavernous Old Auditorium, as our news team reports.
Soundbite: At this time, we’re going to suspend the board discussion, and ask for anybody in the audience for public comment. [long silence] OK, we will close public comment and move forward with the board.
Johannes Werner: The hum of the AC system was the only response to the call for public comment by the board chair. That’s because the old auditorium inside the Sarasota Memorial Hospital complex was near-empty. Only a dozen hospital staffers and tech support, as well as one reporter were occupying some of the front-row seats.
Around the board table, the first hearing of the proposed budget for 2024, in the form of a presentation by Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Limbocker, went down in a matter of 25 minutes. All nine board members approved it, including the three medical-freedom activists elected to the board last fall.
This is a change from meetings earlier this year, when activists packed the auditorium and stood in line for comments, many of them accusing the hospital of malfeasance during the COVID pandemic. In February, Michael Flynn, the former general and Trump chief of staff who now lives in Englewood, called for the privatization of Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
But the tempers seem to have cooled down since.
As to the financials: The tax millage – the percentage property owners are charged – remains unchanged at 1.042 per mill, the chief financial officer told WSLR News. For people who own a home assessed at $400,000, that translates to $365 for the year. Even so, Limbocker expects tax revenue to increase next year.
Jeffrey Limbocker: The millage itself is not an increase. The total dollar value generated from the millage is, because the home values, and overall values are going up.
JW: Tax revenue actually makes up a small and shrinking part of the overall budget. The share of taxes in the budget has been sinking since 2007, thanks to the growth of the hospital under CEO David Verinder. Here’s how the chief financial officer explained it.
JL: It’s been the growth of revenues outside of taxes. I’ve been here for less than a year. I’d love to take credit for this, but the reality is, David, all the previous boards, and the executive team have done a great job of meeting the needs of the community and growing our revenues. How should I say this – as they’ve grown revenues at a much faster pace than the tax revenues since 2007, so that ratio has dropped by more than half. It was more than 10% [of total revenues] at one time, and now it’s hovering around 5%.
JW: What does the hospital use the tax revenue for? In the last fiscal year, the $96 million were spent pretty much everywhere in the hospital, but the bulk went to capital asset additions – in other words: mostly new buildings – and to community programs. New construction plans for 2024 will be mostly an expansion of the Venice hospital campus and construction start of an outpatient cancer center on the main campus in Sarasota that is slated to open in 2026.
The final budget hearing is on the agenda for Sept. 19.
This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.
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