Five non-profit medical facilities that seemed to have escaped taxation last year will soon find themselves in front of the State Tax Commission alongside other hospitals that were less fortunate.
Salt Lake County's assessor has filed an appeal with the commission asking that the five - Primary Children's Medical Center, St. Joseph Villa, and Holy Cross, LDS and Wasatch Canyons hospitals - be taxed because they are not used exclusively for charitable care.One deputy Salt Lake County attorney said the issue of which hospitals should pay taxes, brought about by a voter decision in 1986, will likely end up before the state Supreme Court. Utah County's assessor also has appealed his county's decision not to tax hospitals in the area.
All appeals greatly distress hospital executives who insist too much time and money is being spent on the laborious process.
"We are disappointed they have filed an appeal, but we are prepared to go forward," said George J. Romney, an attorney for St. Joseph Villa. "We think we qualify as a charitable institution, and we certainly intend to vigorously defend our position."
"Obviously people need to understand he (the assessor) is coming from a taxation base and needs to find all the revenue he can," said Holy Cross President Ken Rock. However, Rock said because he has never had a one-on-one discussion with the assessor, "it's difficult to understand his rationale at all."
"Our question is who would take care of the indigent and poor who have health care needs if you don't have not-for-profit hospitals to do it?" Rock asked. "Would the property tax money be used for the indigent and poor?"
Also expressing disappointment was Intermountain Health Care attorney Allan Sullivan. "Unquestionably if any hospitals in the state are entitled to property tax exemption, they're LDS, Primary and Wasatch Canyons," he said.
Sullivan said the volunteer board of trustees of each of the hospitals has been consulted, "and they are all pretty adamant about taking every step possible to retain the property tax exemption before the state Tax Commission."
"We hope this process will work itself out because the system can't bear the expense and the incredible amount of time this has taken," Sullivan said.
The assessor's appeal comes a few days after IHC's InstaCares and Cottonwood and Alta View hospitals appealed to the Tax Commission saying they should not be taxed. St. Mark's and Holy Cross Jordan Valley hospitals and Holy Cross' Magna Clinic also filed appeals.
Salt Lake County commissioners decided to tax the medical facilities last year - the first time any non-profit hospitals were taxed in Utah.
The only non-profit hospital not involved in an appeal is Shriner's, which refuses payment from its patients.
Salt Lake County Assessor Bob Yates said he hopes his appeal will help decide once and for all what standards county commissioners should use to judge the hospitals. Counties must decide each year which hospitals to exempt. Salt Lake County's process begins again Tuesday.
Deputy County Attorney Karl Hendrickson, who will represent Yates in the appeal, said the matter probably will not be decided before county commissioners have to decide which hospitals to exempt in 1988.
"I believe the appeals will go to the Supreme Court, no matter who wins or loses," he said. "I think the hospitals are significantly at risk in this process. It seems just as likely to me that they could all lose it (tax exemption)."
Hendrickson said the commission also may decide to exempt only parts of the hospitals used exclusively for charity care.
Voters rejected a proposal in 1986 that would have added specific language to the Utah Constitution making non-profit hospitals and nursing homes automatically tax-exempt. Because of that decision, hospitals are obligated to defend their tax-exempt status yearly.