Want to see what happens when taxpayers show up in droves to government tax hearings? Check out Odessa.

Despite the Ector County Hospital Board proposing a massive property tax rate increase for 2017 during their initial budget meeting, board members voted yesterday to adopt a rate below the effective tax rate due to a very vocal outcry from residents.

This public pushback, led by Odessa resident Matthew Stringer and echoed by many – even county officials – began not only because of the proposed tax increase of 9.95-cents per $100 valuation (a substantial increase from the effective rate of 8.25-cents per $100 valuation), but a notable event that preceded it.

At their August meeting, Ector County Hospital Board members (ECHB) approved the purchase of two new properties in Odessa – totaling $2.49 million. The purchases, according to hospital officials, were made simply in anticipation of growth and with no specific project in mind. At the following meeting, however, the same board proposed a tax rate increase that would bring in an additional $2.5 million to the hospital district. Hospital officials say this increase is needed to offset the decline in sales tax revenue and went so far to say that the hospital has “bottomed out [financially],” and that they cannot possibly “cut more without risking lives.”

To make matters worse, the public hearings for the tax hike were scheduled at 4pm during the week, a time when most residents are working. Board members commented when asked about their scheduling decision that few people actually attend the hearings despite the time they’re held, and if they have a problem “people will show up.”

Well, residents showed up and made it known that they clearly had a problem. Dozens of them, including Ector County Judge Ron Eckert and Ector County Attorney Dusty Gallivan, attended the hearings to voice their opposition to the tax hike that, if passed, would have resulted in an approximate 35.7 percent increase on hospital district tax bills.

The reasons residents opposed the tax hike varied. Many worried about the financial burden this would place on families that were already suffering from the current economic slump. Others were concerned with the hospital’s management of current resources – like acquiring additional land amidst a downturn and subsequent decline in revenue and the relatively steep salaries earned by its top executives.

Their messages were heard loud and clear. Following the public hearings, all board members (with the exception of District 3 Board Member Richard Herrera) decided to take the tax increase off the table. At their September 27th meeting, the rate of 8.25-cents per $100 valuation was, instead, passed. This is a slight decrease from the effective rate of 8.2515-cents per $100 valuation.

In terms of cuts to the hospital’s budget, Medical Center Hospital CEO Bill Webster stated that twelve full time positions will be cut either through attrition or relocations within the hospital, hours will be cut for some part time employees, and a salary freeze will take place for hospital executives.

In addition to passing a lower rate, the hospital board plans to hold all future public hearings at 5:30pm to allow for higher attendance. Odessa residents, it sounds like your voice has been heard.

Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.