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City, schools may suffer with Columbia acquisition

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

If the proposed acquisition of Columbia Hospitals by Cox Health Systems is approved by regulators, it represents more than just a health care issue to county tax coffers.

Columbia is a for-profit business that paid at least $353,511 in property taxes in Greene County in 1997. Cox Health Systems is a not-for-profit organization, and as such, does not pay taxes.

"If they go through the process of applying for not-for-profit status, and are approved, then there would be no property taxes owed," said Jean Twitty, Greene County assessor. Each parcel must be individually designated, she said.

Neither are personal property taxes paid by not-for-profits, Twitty said. Columbia's owners paid $10,928.47 in personal property taxes in 1997, according to records from the Greene County Collector of Revenue.

Columbia/HCA also pays franchise, income, sales and use taxes in the state, though the amounts attributable to the Springfield hospitals were not available. Not-for-profits are exempt from certain of those taxes.

Details of the proposed acquisition were not disclosed by regulators or the hospitals, so it is unclear what of Columbia's property in town might be sold.

Tax records showed Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., Medical South Partnership and Missouri Healthcare Systems LP, owners of Columbia Hospitals here, own at least four parcels in Greene County. Included are property and improvements on three parcels at 2828 N. National, 3525 S. National and 3535 S. National, as well as an empty lot adjacent to the North National hospital.

True market value assessments made in 1997 by the county placed the properties' worth at more than $20.1 million.

If Cox acquires all of Columbia/HCA's holdings here, that $20.1 million in property will be taken off the tax rolls. The property tax levy in 1997 was $5.34 per $100 of assessed valuation. Of that, $3.54 per $100 of assessed valuation went to public schools. The library system, Ozarks Technical Community College and the city were other benficiaries.

The city's take is about 13 percent of the property tax levy, said Fred Fantauzzi, director of finance for the city.

"We feel every nickel and dime," Fantauzzi said. "We don't like (loss of taxable property), and the schools like it even less."

George Freeman, spokesman for Springfield Public Schools, said after voter defeat of a property tax increase in April, loss to the tax base is even more acutely felt. "We're really talking about people, kids and programs anytime we cut budget," Freeman said.

Freeman said revenues in the school's 1997-98 fiscal year were $136 million, 48.2 percent of which was local, property tax funding.[[In-content Ad]]

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