Commissioner Wants Meeting With Fed Hock And Holzer

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Athens County Commission President Lenny Eliason said he wants representatives of Holzer Health System and Federal Hocking Schools — two entities at odds over a tax exemption request — to meet with the commissioners.

Eliason also said he’d like the outcome to be an agreement by Holzer to compensate local entities for tax revenue they will lose if a real estate tax exemption is approved for Holzer Clinic of Athens.

Eliason suggested the meeting after Federal Hocking School Board member Tom McGuire asked the commissioners to rescind actions they took in 2011 and 2012 on behalf of Holzer.

The 2011 measure related to the issuance of bonds by Gallia County, with part of the revenue used by Holzer Consolidated Health System to purchase Holzer Clinic’s various facilities.

Holzer Consolidated and Holzer Clinic merged in 2012 to create Holzer Health System.

The Athens County Commissioners were involved because some of the money was used to purchase Holzer Clinic of Athens.

The 2012 action by the commissioners was a memorandum of understanding needed so that the charity care policy of Holzer Medical Center could be extended to Holzer Clinic of Athens.

McGuire asked that both measures be rescinded.

He said Holzer should have informed the commissioner that their actions could lead to a request to become tax exempt.

Holzer has argued that the Athens clinic is entitled to exemption because it provides charity care and because of the bond-financing arrangement.

The exemption application is pending before the Ohio Department of Taxation, and Federal Hocking School Supt.

George Wood has said Federal Hocking will challenge the preliminary determination that Holzer is eligible for the tax exemption.

The exemption would save Holzer Health System about $200,000 it pays annually in taxes that benefit local government and schools in Athens County, with the largest chunk — about $100,000 — going to Federal Hocking.

As The Messenger previously reported, in March the Ohio Department of Taxation sent a letter to Federal Hocking stating that Holzer had been found to qualify for the tax exemption, but that the school district had 30 days to respond to the ruling.

The deadline was later extended to May 2 to allow Federal Hocking time to review lengthy bond financing documents.

Holzer had applied for the exemption last fall based on the charity care the clinic provides, but in February amended its application to include an argument related to the bond financing used to purchase Holzer Clinic.

Holzer is arguing that the Athens clinic is entitled to the exemption under a section of Ohio law that allows tax exemptions for hospital facilities purchased with bonds issued by a public hospital agency. Under Ohio law,

Gallia County meets the definition of a public hospital agency, and the services provided by Holzer Clinic meet the definition of a hospital facility, according to Holzer attorney Michael Cullers.

John Kirsner, also an attorney for Holzer Health System, said Tuesday he does not believe rescinding the 2011 and 2012 measures would impact either the operation of the clinic or the request for tax exemption.

He also said that Holzer Clinic of Athens would continue to provide charity care, and pointed out that Holzer Health System provides millions of dollars worth of care annually to people who can’t afford to pay.

McGuire told the commissioners Tuesday that he wasn’t expecting them to take immediate action to rescind the 2011 and 2012 measures, and he suggested they review the matter with County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

Eliason then said he wanted to arrange to have Holzer and Federal Hocking representatives meet with the commissioners about the matter.

Kirsner said Holzer is willing to participate in such a meeting.