Hidalgo County voters overwhelmingly rejected Healthcare District on Tuesday.
With 83 percent of precincts reporting, 72 percent of voters had cast ballots against the Healthcare District, according to preliminary results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department at 9:49 p.m.
The Healthcare District would have collected a new property tax to fund medical care for the poor and partially supported the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley Medical School.
Hidalgo County voters were sharply divided on Proposition 1.
Advocates for the poor, including Father Jerry Frank of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and members of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, supported the Healthcare District.
Hidalgo County hospitals provided financial support.
The loosely organized opposition included Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, who said Hidalgo County simply couldn’t afford a new tax; County Commissioner Eddie Cantu, who questioned the lack of a formal plan for spending the money; and a wide assortment of residents opposed to new taxes and distrustful of county government.
As proposed, the Healthcare District would initially collect 8 cents per $100 of taxable assessed valuation. That would add $80 to the annual bill for a property valued at $100,000.
Money collected by the Healthcare District could cover the cost of providing health care at existing hospitals and community clinics. Hidalgo County could partner with a specific health system or spread the money among existing medical centers.
How, exactly, the Healthcare District would work remains unclear.
Similar districts in Bexar County and El Paso County fund public hospitals affiliated with medical schools. The Bexar County Hospital District collects a 27.6 cent property tax. The El Paso County Hospital District collects a 22.1 cent property tax.
Hidalgo County, though, doesn’t have any plans for a public hospital.
Nueces County partners with the nonprofit Christus Spohn Health System, which operates several hospitals and community clinics. The Nueces County Hospital District collects a 12.68 cent property tax.
The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and the four largest local governments — McAllen, Mission, Edinburg and Pharr — would appoint a 10-member board of directors to manage the Healthcare District.
Directors would set policy and make big-picture decisions about how Hidalgo County would provide health care to the poor. They would hire an administrator to handle day-to-day operations.
“The district has full responsibility for operating hospital facilities and providing medical and hospital care for the district’s indigent residents,” according to the law.
Voters narrowly rejected a similar district — called the Hidalgo County Hospital District — in 2014.
Nearly 52 percent of voters didn’t support the district, according to the Elections Department.
State lawmakers tweaked the law in 2015, attempting to address concerns about the tax rate. They also approved a new name: the Hidalgo County Healthcare District. (The Healthcare District is still legally a hospital district.)
The law also allowed any 50 registered voters to submit a petition to place the Healthcare District on the ballot — allowing supporters to easily force another election.
The results will not become official until canvassed by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.