MANATEE -- The half-cent indigent care surtax referendum should not be held this summer in a special election, but should be postponed until the August 2014 primary election, Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen said Wednesday.
Noting cost estimates in the six-figure range for a special election, Gallen said that if the referendum were held during the regular election in 2014, "there would be no additional cost," he said in a news release.
Gallen also argued that voters would have more time to understand the issues and cast an informed vote. Fewer voters would participate in a what he called "a rushed summer special election," he said.
"Within a year, the county will know the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the state legislation involving Medicaid," Gallen added, referring to the national healthcare.
Former commissioner Pat Glass, chairwoman of a political committee pushing for the sales tax increase, blasted Gallen's call for a delay.
"Property owners should be fuming at any calls to delay the half-penny vote until August 2014," Glass said in a statement. "A delayed vote means the loss of a year of property tax relief. It also means depriving our community for another 14 months of the chance to have the uninsured themselves help bear the cost of their health care."
Glass said delaying the vote until 2014 would save only a minimal amount of money, and that it would risk the issue being "buried" in a more partisan election year.
"Health care for the uninsured and underinsured is one of our obligations if we want to be an economically vibrant county," Glass said. "Lets make sure those advocating to delay this essential vote do not sabotage our chance to address this pivotal need."
Gallen contended that the present policy of treating indigent patients in a hospital emergency room constitutes the most expensive care, but added, "however - no alternative plan has been adopted."
While County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has recommended using money generated by the sales tax increase, should it pass, to hire consultants to draft a new indigent care plan, the cost of the special election would "more than pay for the needed consultants, and we could implement a plan more quickly," Gallen said.
"A more efficient and less expensive indigent care plan should be adopted regardless of whether the one half cent surtax is approved," Gallen said. "A plan needs to be adopted and implemented ASAP, not delayed for a year and a half and contingent on passage of the surtax."