By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 29, 2007 at 5:17 AM
It’s been an easy guess lately that construction cranes dotting the city skyline are associated with area hospitals -- most recently the rebuilding of St. Mary’s on the East Side. But as the building boom for the non-profit hospital industry continues, the bottom line is that those buildings do not equal more property taxes for municipal coffers. Non-profit hospitals pay no property taxes. In fact, the average homeowner in the City of Milwaukee chips in $40 to subsidize the presence of local hospitals.

The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future surveyed hospitals throughout the state and found that 95 percent were not-for-profit and pay no property taxes. If they did, it would add $70 million to local budgets to help pay for much-needed municipal services. This is at the same time hospitals are declaring $837 million in income on revenue of $11.2 billion.

As noted by study author Jack Norman, “The not-for-profit hospitals operate a win-win system -- they charge high rates and have others cover the cost of their municipal services.”

In Milwaukee, the property value that hospitals own is $1.17 billion. And when thinking of Milwaukee area hospitals the name Aurora tends to dominate the landscape. Yet Aurora pays nothing for its municipal services, according to the IWF report. Some municipalities ask local non-profits to chip in a “payment in lieu of taxes” but since it’s voluntary, few step up to the plate.

In Milwaukee, only the Columbia St. Mary’s chain anted up a voluntary tax payment, in its case a $500,000 donation to combat infant mortality. Aurora and Covenant, the other two major operators in the city, have failed to sign similar checks.

Conceding that hospitals do a share of charitable work in the community, the argument remains that they enjoy a degree of public services that they simply don’t pay for. “Imagine a hospital without fire protection, police protection, courts (to enforce financial claims against patients who don’t pay their bills, among other functions), sewers and so on,” writes Norman.

Norman offers no clear-cut solutions nor does he suggest that hospitals should pay property taxes along the rates of the rest of the city’s property owners. But perhaps some public officials could glad-hand hospital execs into helping out severely strapped local budgets with some sort of contribution.

Limelight Shines on Lowlight Office: Dawn Marie Sass, who went from part-time Milwaukee Boston Store clerk to the state treasurer’s office after being elected in November, had the rare opportunity to issue a press release on her behalf. The state treasurer doesn’t do a whole lot so it is hard to get press. But Sass was given the honor of “Best Start” in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison Politics” issue.

According to the mag, “The Harley rider defeated a well-liked incumbent state treasurer on her third attempt for the post, thanks to the Democratic wave. She went on to draw attention to the unheralded office in her early months, especially with her plan to put up unclaimed property on eBay.”

Offers Sass, “It is very rewarding to see that the innovative work our office has been attempting in terms of improving the accessibility and effectiveness of our Unclaimed Property Program, the Wisconsin College Savings Program and the Local Government Investment Pool has not gone unnoticed. We have only just begun and I hope by next year we can produce even greater results.”

Monetary Hypocrisy: Fiscal conservative the likes of Gerard Randall, outgoing president of the Private Industry Council, bemoan public officials getting what amounts to golden parachutes. But we doubt Randall is going to be crying any fiscal blues with the sweetheart exit deal the PIC board gave him this week. Randall will be paid some $57,000 to keep quiet for the next six months while the city takes over the workforce development operations and the $14 million in federal funds that goes with it.

It’s a slight pay cut for Randall, who made more than $154,000 a year while running PIC operations literally into the ground in the last year. Meanwhile, at least six PIC employees will lose their jobs this week because the money has run out while the exec staff continues to toil under their six-figure salaries.
Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.