At least one Richmond Hill official isn’t sold on Memorial Health University Medical Center’s proposed free standing emergency room off Port Royal Road in South Bryan.
District 3 Councilman Mark Ott asked repeatedly for data on the ER during the council’s June 16 workshop. “I understand a lot of people want this, but I want to make sure there’s a need for it” Ott said, adding that the land the ER will sit on if it’s built is currently in Bryan County and “that’s not in our area.” That prompted a lengthy discussion on the ER, as well as frustrated questions from Mayor Russ Carpenter, an advocate of the ER.
“What facts do you need to see, Mark? Do you think the 13,000 residents of Richmond Hill as well as other residents in South Bryan need an ER?” Carpenter said. “Yes or no?”
Ott said he wanted information such as data from public safety personnel on how much the ER would be used, and to see Memorial’s projections on how much business it would do.
Later, Carpenter said if the new ER saved local firefighters, police and EMS trips to Savannah, it would be worth it and “there’s your data. ”
He quickly apologized to Ott, but seemed exasperated by the first-term councilman’s stance. Council members Robbie Ward and Steve Scholar weighed in as well, noting the hospital is a private business and doesn’t need the city’s approval.
“I know this is kind of apples and oranges, but when the new oil change place came in and opened up we didn’t ask how many oil changes they were going to do,” Scholar said. “When that new pizza place opened we didn’t ask how many pizzas they were going to sell.”
Scholar said the hospital likely did its homework and is looking at projected growth in the area, not current numbers.
Ward agreed, adding, “it’s hard for me to believe (anyone would oppose an ER). If we had an ER and it saved just one life by being here, then it would be worth it. And it’s not our money.”
While Memorial actually doesn’t need Richmond Hill’s permission to build the ER, officials say Memorial has asked both the city and Bryan County officials to sign off an the certificate of need.
In Bryan County, Commission Chairman Carter Infinger signed on behalf of the county. Carpenter, however, asked councilmembers to sign on as well. Ott insisted he wouldn’t do so until he got more information, citing the potential the city could be asked to annex the property and then have to provide infrastructure, “and I’m getting very hesitant because of all these projects where we’re going to borrow money.”
That was an apparent reference to the city’s plan to provide what’s called “backbone infrastructure” to land around the Belfast Keller interchange to help spur development, which will eventually be paid for by taxes through a tax allocation district.
The property where the proposed ER will sit already has infrastructure like water and sewer, according to assistant county administrator Scott Allison.
Richmond Hill likely won’t seek a rollback rate when it sets its millage rate at 4.132 mills later this year, and that will mean public hearings since it means taxpayers will end up paying more due to increased assessments.
But it won’t raise the millage rate either.
Still, under state law, if a government doesn’t roll back its millage rate to account for growth in the tax digest it has to advertise it as a tax increase. That doesn’t make it a tax hike, officials insist.
“I’ll go to my grave defending that it’s not a tax increase,” said Carpenter, who said “we have no intention of going up.”
City Manager Chris Lovell said the city got its valuation from county tax officials showing the digest for maintenance and operations grew from about $591 million to more than $639 million, which is an increase in about $196,000 to the city’s tax coffers.
Only 13 percent of that increase was due to higher evaluations of existing property, said the city’s financial director, Bob Whitmarsh. The rest is coming from new growth.
It’s still going to be an increase on existing homeowners, Scholar said.
“If there’s no rollback obviously then the taxpayer is going to pay more in taxes because the value of his home goes
up,” he said.