It may be the most convenient way to vote, but it sure does cause a lot of headaches.
Residents within the Loving-ton and Eunice hospital school districts and the Lovington and Tatum school districts can expect envelopes for four respective mill levy elections that conclude Feb. 5. While the Lovington Hospital District has a 2.5 mill levy election, the Eunice Hospital District and Lovington and Tatum school districts each have a 2 mill levy election.
It is the responsibility of the individual voter to make sure the ballot is returned to the Lea County Clerk’s Office by 7 p.m., on Feb. 5, regardless of the postmark.
The postal service should be circulating the ballots to voters’ mailboxes this week. Nor-Lea Hospital CEO David Shaw said a last-minute correction to the ballot delayed its mailing and voters in the Loving-ton Hospital District should begin to receive theirs Friday. The envelopes will come with a large graphic stating “Official Election Mail” and have a return postage envelope for voters to complete the ballot and mail to the Lea County Clerk’s office free of charge.
If, by chance, a ballot is tossed into the trash, there’s no worries. The voter can visit the Lea County Clerk’s Office in the Lea County Courthouse in Lovington and request a ballot to complete and return.
The reason for the mail-in ballots is due a new state law requiring all bond and mill levy elections to take place in November of odd-numbered years.
“And since our current 2.5 mill levy is scheduled to end in June, we can’t wait until November for a new election,” Shaw said. “So we had to have this special election to get everything back in the right timing with it being in the odd years.”
There are currently 8,357 registered voters in Lovington and Tatum combined and 1,756 registered voters in Eunice. A “yes” vote will continue the current mill levy taxes that are already in place throughout the three communities. A “no” vote would eliminate the mill levy and lower property taxes.
The 2.5 mill levy is part of an overall 4 mill levy within the Lovington Hospital District.
“What I hope is when the residents get ready to mark that ballot, the question you have to ask yourself is, ‘If I am going to pay this tax, am I going to get a return on my investment?” Shaw asked. “If you had a home that was valued at $200,000, the amount of tax that a voter will pay for the total 4 mills is $250 a year.”
Eunice Hospital District board chairman Charles “Bud” Hobbs said he hopes the 1,756 voters receiving ballots in the mail will vote and return them sooner rather than later.
“It has to be there. You can’t mail it Feb. 4 because it has to go to Lubbock, back to Roswell, and … we’ve got the runaround on the mail,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs encouraged voters to cast their ballots, noting the 2 mill levy maintains the same property tax rates, without any increase.
Asked how a possible voter rejection of the mill levy would affect the Eunice Hospital District, Hobbs said, “We don’t get the finances, just like anything else. If it doesn’t pass, it’s cut off. Like anything else, we have to have money to operate.”
Shaw’s biggest issue at the moment is making sure voters don’t throw away the ballots thinking they’re junk mail.
“I have been sharing with other people, so much of what we do these days, we do online,” Shaw said. “We do our shopping online, we pay our bills online. So a lot of the mailing we get, we treat it like junk mail and don’t pay a lot of attention to it. And my fear is our voters are going to see these ballots, not know what they are and throw them away like junk mail. So the critical thing right now is just getting the word out to people that this is a legitimate election. That these ballots are important.”
For the next three weeks, Shaw won’t be in his office much. He and other hospital district officials will be out on the town, talking to every voter they can.
“We will be making some public appearances,” Shaw said. “I have a number of speaking events planned over the next several weeks.”
When Shaw arrived at Nor-Lea 19 years ago, he said the hospital had 90 employees and did about $6 million a year in revenue.
“Today, we have $250 million in revenue and we have over 500 employees and we offer a wide arrangement of specialties,” he said. “We have a cancer center.”
Shaw said the total amount of funding the mill levy brought in last year was $3 million. The hospital district used it to help write off $3.6 million in charity care. It also provided $1.7 million in pharmaceutical assistance to patients.
“Normally our hospital district provides a safety net that helps with the overall help and wellness of the community,” Shaw said. “So people are not falling through the cracks. Because we have the mill levy and we don’t have to direct resources to the cost of charity care and those other things, it’s allowed us to expand our services.”
In the past five years, Nor-Lea has seen an expansion in overall primary care and with its in-patient facility. There is the construction of the $13 million Lovington Medical Clinic and the $16 million Lovington Wellness Center this past summer.
“Through that expansion of primary care providers, it has allowed us to keep and retain specialists,” Shaw said. “We have brought in a general surgeon, a gynecologist, an ear, nose and throat specialist. We now have a pain center, a rheumatologist, a wound specialist and we also have podiatry. The Lovington Wellness Center has far exceeded our expectations. It has close to 2,000 members now and we are close to reaching our point of being self-sufficient.”
Shaw said on Monday the hospital will break ground on an expansion of its cancer center.
“We are going to add a radiation oncologist,” he said. “So we will have a complete center that offers medical oncology and radiation oncology. That is an expansion of what we have had in the past. We would not have had the confidence to do those things if we had to redirect our resources toward being that safety net and providing those additional services to the community that were underserved. But because of the mill levy, it gives us the freedom to do that.”
Todd Bailey can be reached at .