A member of the Ashley County Quorum Court read a statement of support for the administration of Ashley County Medical Center and called on his fellow justices to avoid being “leaders in negative attitudes” at the Quorum’s meeting Tuesday.
Justice Carlton Lawrence read the statement in response to a discussion at last month’s Quorum meeting, during which some justices questioned if the ACMC administration was properly handling sales tax receipts earmarked for maintenance of the ACMC facility. The discussion arose when the Quorum took up the matter of renewing the Crossett Health Foundation’s lease of the county-owned hospital building.
Lawrence’s statement came after the Quorum’s attorney, Richard Byrd, prepared a packet for the Quorum showing the documents governing how the tax is spent, a detailed breakdown of purchases made using tax money, and a general statement of tax collections for the hospital since 2009.
Of particular issue for Lawrence was the allegation by some justices that the hospital was supposed to set back approximately 50 percent of all sales tax proceeds.
“None of the language in any of the documents suggest or imply the setting aside of funds,” Lawrence said.
“As a voter in the 2016 election, I did not vote ‘yes’ to tax myself and others so that the hospital could set aside funds in case they needed them. I voted because the funds were needed presently.”
The documents he referenced were the two ordinances the Quorum Court enacted and the 2016 election ballot itself, which read, “FOR or AGAINST the levy of a one-fourth of one percent sales and use tax, the net collections of which ... shall be dedicated to and used by the County solely for the purpose for funding the costs and expenses associated with the maintenance of the Ashley County Medical Center building equipment and related capital improvements...”
Lawrence said the justices could not become “leaders in negative attitudes,” and instead said the Quorum should be thanking the hospital administration for not only using the sales tax funds — which amount to approximately 1 percent of the hospital’s total budget — but contributing additional general revenue to the facility’s upkeep.
Byrd said that looking at the budget, “the sales tax is not running the hospital, but without that tax, it would be difficult to do maintenance at the hospital.”
At the September Quorum meeting, some justices said information about the sales tax had been difficult to get, but Tuesday Byrd said it was readily available.
In a letter attached to the information packet, Byrd reiterated the assertion, writing that the information has been made accessible each month at the hospital board’s meeting, and was provided to the Quorum Court’s appointees to the hospital board.
“It is my opinion that the information regarding the use of the sale tax has been there and has been furnished historically to the Quorum Court and the County and made available for any requests made of the hospital. The Quorum Court members have access to the records through their representative or representatives to the hospital board meetings.
“In my opinion, the Ashley County Medical Center has been meeting its obligations and providing the information regularly and routinely on a monthly basis.”
In the information provided to the Quorum Tuesday, which included monthly reports for the past year, the hospital reported that from April 2009 to August 2018, it had received $5,776,771.78 in sales tax revenue and had spent $2,888,385.89 maintaining the building and fixed equipment, and $2,709,217.46 on purchasing equipment and business renovations.
“People can find things to quibble about as far as numbers, but this (report) goes all the way back to the beginning of the tax,” Byrd said.
Following the meeting, ACMC Chief Executive Officer Phillip Gilmore thanked the Quorum for its support.
“On behalf of the hospital board of directors and administration, I would like to thank Mr. Lawrence and members of the quorum court in affirming their confidence for the support of the hospital board, administration, and the use of the county-wide sales tax,” Gilmore said.
In other news:
-Justice Corliss McCain updated the Quorum about the budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year.
McCain said the Ashley County Sheriff’s Department has requested an additional deputy, three new vehicles, three body cameras and three pepper spray guns.
The ACSD also requested a $1 per hour raise for jail employees, she said.
The county judge’s office requested a three percent raise for courthouse, road department and solid waste employees, McCain said, and likewise requested funds for a pothole patcher, dump truck, front end loader and two army trucks for the landfill.
The Office of Emergency Management also asked for a three percent raise, she said.
McCain told the Quorum that no raises have been approved at this time.
-The justices voted to approve several recommendations from the solid waste committee, including that next year the county lease a new garbage truck, the county exercise its option to purchase its current lease truck and that all county residents pay tipping fees for dumping in the landfill.
-The justices also voted to enter into an agreement with the City of Hamburg to allow the county landfill to dump its leachate water into the Hamburg water treatment pond in exchange for a $1,000 credit toward Hamburg’s landfill tipping fees.
Justice Rhonda Pippen voted against the measure, saying she was opposed to giving Hamburg a credit when the city still owes the county money for 911 dispatching services going back multiple years.
-The Quorum adopted an ordinance transferring $25,000 from the county emergency fund to the ambulance service fund as part of its temporary agreement to help the City of Hamburg provide ambulance service.
The county has committed up to $40,000 toward the effort, but the Quorum has placed a cap at that amount.
The ordinance passed 9-0-2, with Pippen and Justice Ronnie Wheeler officially voting “no vote.”