Hidalgo County voters have important decisions to make at the polls on Nov. 8.

They will not only vote for the next president of the United States, but they will also vote on Proposition 1, which if approved would create a new local taxing authority in the form of a Hidalgo County Healthcare District to help provide care for the poor, supposedly.

Deane Waldman
Deane Waldman

At first glance, this proposition is appealing. With a second and deeper look, however, the proposed district is a costly endeavor of questionable value. Adding a new district would create another layer of government bureaucracy and a new property tax without assuring taxpayers it will actually provide quality patient care.

Taxpayers and the poor would be better served by funding indigent healthcare with the county’s current collection of property taxes while confirming these taxpayer dollars actually fund doctors and nurses to provide care, rather than supporting bureaucratic bloat.

An argument for this district is that the county’s current funding of indigent health care through county property taxes and federal dollars isn’t enough.

According to Hidalgo County’s fiscal 2017 budget, adopted last week, the general fund is $194.3 million. About 90 percent of the budget will go to salaries, operations and fringe benefits for county employees; while only 2.8 percent, or $5.5 million, will go to indigent care. While there are governmental personnel who provide vital services, how many are more necessary than doctors and nurses caring for the indigent and the uninsured?

In other words, of the $194.3 million, how many dollars could be made available for health care by reducing bureaucratic inefficiencies? Moreover, are all of the $5.5 million going to doctors and patients who provide indigent care or is a portion going to fund healthcare bureaucrats?

Considering that the county hasn’t provided answers to these questions, it’s practically impossible to determine dollar efficiency: How many taxpayer dollars go toward funding citizens’ needs, like indigent care, and how much tax revenue is wasted?

By creating a healthcare district, will Hidalgo County simply throw away more precious dollars by adding even more bureaucracy and thus diverting money away from essential goods and services?

By determining the true costs of bureaucracy and how much is actually needed to provide indigent care, it’s likely that the county could find savings in their general fund to provide this service without adding another headache in Hidalgo County.

It’s about setting priorities, and the county erroneously believes that expanding bureaucracy is a better use of taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers disagree, as was noted in November 2014 when they turned down the last initiative to create a hospital district that would have added more layers of bureaucracy and higher property taxes.

The current proposition’s new local property taxing jurisdiction, called a healthcare district, would be on top of other taxing jurisdictions in Hidalgo County. The proposed healthcare district would fund its expenditures by imposing a property tax that would add

8 cents per $100 property valuation — an estimated $80 in annual property taxes on a $100,000 home.

Although Hidalgo County Commissioners have promised to lower the county’s property tax rate to offset the initial property tax increase, the likelihood that this tax swap on property owners will remain revenue neutral while growing another bureaucracy is slim to none.

Homeowners are already overburdened with property taxes that totaled $2,298 for an average $94,877 house in 2015. There’s rightfully little voter appetite for adding yet another taxing authority with an associated bureaucracy and increase in taxes.

Moreover, the economic cost to individuals countywide should also put the healthcare district in question as one of every three is in poverty and the unemployment rate of 8.6 percent is almost twice the state’s average.

When you consider the lack of dollar efficiency (money going to patient care), expanding the bureaucracy, and raising the tax burden on an already impoverished community, is it prudent to ask voters to approve a new waste of their limited dollars? When you consider the county’s total debt service outstanding of $206 million, which includes principal and interest owed, should taxpayers be on the hook for more expenditures?

More taxes or more debt — either is a bad solution. Instead, Hidalgo County should be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and fund indigent care with current revenue without adding more taxes.

In addition, the county should look to reduce the size and scope of government so that individuals have more economic opportunities and thus more ability to finance their own health care.

The county must maximize dollar efficiency of every taxpayer dollar it’s entrusted with. This can be achieved by identifying and reducing bureaucratic costs, not by adding another layer of bureaucracy with a new district called healthcare.