During the past several weeks there has been an excitement in the community that the efforts to establish a skilled nursing home might be a few steps closer to reality. Several individuals had met over the past few months, and the commitment to work toward that end recently evolved with a proposal to change some of the City Sales Taxes to fund an Economic Development Corporation to lead the efforts. I have been approached by several residents who want to be sure the City would support the efforts to develop a strategy for a nursing home, and there have been notices posted around town to encourage citizens to attend the next City Commission meeting to show public support. I have personally been very supportive of working toward a solution for a Mason nursing facility since the last one closed several years ago, and I have met with Judge Bearden and others several times to look at various proposals and recommendations, and have spent many hours investigating every avenue that has been suggested. I and the entire City Commission and Staff are very supportive of working toward a positive way we can help to provide a nursing home facility for the citizens of Mason, but as I have looked into the issues of an Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the appropriate tax changes I have found several serious concerns.
Currently in Mason, as in most of Texas, when anyone purchases a taxable item they pay a sales tax of 8 ¼% of the price, and that tax is split with the majority going to the State budget, and 2% coming back for local needs. The County receives 1% of the local portion for special use for health and medical care and to help fund the EMS ambulance services, which are very much in need of every penny of funding. The other 1% comes to the City as a general sales tax that we use to fund the general government activities such as parks and recreation, street maintenance, animal control, emergency preparedness and general office expenses, to name a few. After emailing and talking by phone to a municipal lawyer and two different department heads in the State Comptroller’s office, it was explained to me that by law the City could not “reduce its one percent general sales tax”, and any change would require a municipal election to establish a special use sales tax in order to form an Economic Development Corp (EDC). If the City held an election to change its sales tax from general revenue to special uses, it would require most of the current sales tax collections of about $220,000 per year to be used for restricted funding, including the EDC, and the City budget would have a direct negative loss of most of that amount to its general funds available for regular City services. The City works on a fairly tight budget, and while this year’s budget covered over $6 Million dollars it only had an excess revenue of just $2,468.00!! So changing the sales tax from general revenue, as it has been, to special uses of which $165,000 is taken directly out of the City revenues means that some services will have to be curtailed or some other funding would need to be initiated. Since we already get a regular complaint that we need to provide more and better services, the only real answer would be a very significant increase in some of the utility rates, which I am sure would be very poorly received by our residents.
Beyond the significant negative consequences of shifting the sales taxes in order to fund an EDC, I was told that regulations prohibited an EDC from directly funding any medical facilities, including a nursing home, and that the Attorney General’s office had written a strong opinion supporting that rule. In addition, there was a strong consideration that the staff in the Comptroller’s Office, who would have to certify and implement a change in sales tax if our municipal election was held, would disallow the change abolishing a general sales tax and beginning special use sales taxes in this case, and had taken a similar action in a previous situation that was similar to ours. I came to the conclusion, as I think most others have, through much research and asking the right questions that the expectation of establishing an EDC through the City to spearhead the efforts for a nursing home would result in much greater complications than benefits. I remain very committed to doing what is possible to assist this project to attempt to bring a nursing home to Mason to benefit our community and our residents. However I feel that another organizational structure might be more effective, such as a non-profit 501c3 Foundation or some other form of organization, and have encouraged the investigating committee to look into that avenue.
As happens when you begin looking closely at the law and the rules which regulate how we do business as a City and best serve the public good, some ideas that seem direct and simple are not allowed or are certainly not as easy as first supposed. If I felt an Economic Development Corporation was possible and would be a good tool to gain the financial support to bring a skilled nursing facility to Mason, then I would do all in my power to make it happen. But when I find that it is likely to cause greater harm than good, and is legally questionable even in its formation, then I have to stand up for what is best for our City, even if it is seen as being against something that I and most of the community would like to see happen. If you would like to come to the next City Commission meeting and show your support for a local nursing home you will be welcome and I have put it first on the agenda for discussion, but be aware that some of the previous ideas seem now to be questionable at best. Our City Commission meeting will be next Monday, April 14 at 5:30 in the evening at the Eckert Civic Center, and we are always glad to have citizens come to express their opinion or support, to share ideas or complaints, and to hear about the decisions that will keep our City progressing. Together we can make Mason the best hometown in Texas, and if we work together we can find the right way to support and build a nursing home for our community.
Your friend and neighbor, Brent