Commissioners Take Action Requested By Fed Hock In Holzer Tax Case

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Actions requested by the Federal Hocking School Board, which is embroiled in a tax dispute with Holzer Clinic, were taken Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners —  at least in part.

School board member Tom McGuire met with the commissioners last month to reiterate his request that the commissioners take three actions relating to Holzer. The clinic is seeking a tax exemption that would cost Federal Hocking about $100,000 in annual tax revenue. The commissioners told McGuire they wanted to touch base again with County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Charlie Adkins said he’d spoken with Blackburn who, according to Adkins, indicated that taking the actions would not have any impact one way or the other on the tax case.

However, Adkins made a motion Tuesday that the commissioners take two of the actions requested by McGuire, but not the third.

The commissioners made a determination that bonds issued by Gallia County on behalf of Holzer were not issued in accordance with a public hospital agencies agreement approved by the Athens County Commissioners in 2012. The commissioners also voted to withdraw from the public hospital agencies agreement.

The bonds were connected with nonprofit Holzer Health Systems’ acquisition of the for-profit Holzer Clinic, and McGuire has said previously that the agreement was originally approved by the commissioners without Holzer disclosing that it would lead to Holzer Health seeking a property tax exemption for the clinic.

However, the commissioners did not vote Tuesday to withdraw from a 2012 memorandum of understanding with Holzer related to charity care.

Adkins said he did not want to undo the action taken by an earlier board of commissioners. “I want to respect their decision,” Adkins said.

Blackburn told The Messenger that as a matter of public policy, he felt it would show bad faith to withdraw from the agreement approved by a prior board.

Holzer officials met with the commissioners in October and asked them not to rescind the 2012 memorandum relating to charity care. They said it would hurt lower-income people and had nothing to do with the tax case.

Blackburn said that from a legal standpoint, the commissioners had a legal right to take the actions requested by McGuire.

“I don’t believe it will have any legal effect on the (tax) case,” Blackburn said.

McGuire, an attorney, told the commissioners last month that he disagreed. McGuire said he felt that the determination that the bonds were not issued in accordance with the public hospital agencies agreement, and Athens County’s withdrawal from that agreement, were “important factors” for the Ohio tax commissioner to consider.

“I believe it would be helpful, to assist all the agencies that receive tax revenue from Holzer,” McGuire said.

If the property is declared exempt, about $200,000 in local tax revenue would be lost, with Federal Hocking having the largest loss.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation said Tuesday that no decision had been made on Holzer’s tax exemption application.