The Ashley County Quorum Court voted Tuesday to amend its lease of the county-owned hospital facility to Crossett Health Foundation to operate Ashley County Medical Center.

The change will reduce the hospital’s annual lease payment to the county to $1 annually.

In the initial 1998 lease, the contract read that CHF would pay “annual rent in the amount of $2,500, payable on or before Oct. 1 of each year...to fund a scholarship for which the Ashley County Quorum Court will establish qualifications and will name the annual recipient or recipients thereof.”

The change was made after the Quorum was informed earlier this year that the hospital providing the scholarship funding did not fulfill the rent obligation under state law.

Justice Carlton Lawrence said that changing the rent to $1 would allow the hospital to continue to fund the scholarship.

“In our looking at it, the only loser in the process of this change would be that we are no longer requiring any incentive to give the scholarship they have been giving,” Lawrence said. “We can’t give that, we understand that, but we can do things to encourage the hospital to give it in our stead. We believe that in moving the rent amount and encouraging the hospital to give the award of the scholarship, that would be the thing to do.”

Quorum Attorney David Harrod said that while the Quorum could not put the scholarship requirement in the contract, he would communicate the Quorum’s desire to continue the arrangement under the new contract.

The justices also discussed the county’s provision of dispatching services for the City of Hamburg.

Sheriff Tommy Sturgeon said the county had delivered a $48,000 bill to the city in January, but had not received payment yet. Sturgeon said he had not gotten any indication from the city that the bill would not be paid, only that it had not yet.

“They are not paying for 911, they are paying for dispatch for their 24 hour coverage,” Sturgeon said.

The sheriff said the arrangement goes back to before his election, but his understanding has been that billing for the previous years’ service is delivered each January. The cost of a full new dispatch center for the city would likely be $200,000, he said.

“I talked to the mayor and he wanted to know what I thought,” Sturgeon said. “I said he had a sweetheart of a deal.”

Justice Jeff Langley said the county ultimately needs to come to a new arrangement with the city, and the budget committee needs to have a meeting to come up with a plan.

“We have got to have something on paper,” he said. “It is our services we are providing, so we have got to come up with a number to let them know what it is going to cost. Written agreements are contracts, verbal agreements are verbal agreements. We need to get with our legal counsel to see what we need to do about that. “

Langley said the county also needs to make sure that the interagency agreements involved don’t need to be renewed annually.

“What I understand is one of the interagency agreements has to be redone every year because of how they do their budget; they can’t say they are going to spend money they don’t have,” he said. “We need to move forward, and then next year if we have to adjust it we can get with each party and adjust it each way. Our budget has the part that we are expecting. We have already put that in our budget they are going to pay for that person, so if we don’t get paid for that, that is $48,000 out of our budget we have got to make up.”

In other news:

-The justices voted to approve the financial report, though Justice Hiram Taylor objected to paying the ambulance subsidy to the City of Hamburg that the Quorum approved last fall.

When the Quorum approved the subsidy, Hamburg was underwriting the services of FAST Ambulance Service. ProMed Ambulance took over operations in Hamburg as of March 1. Taylor’s objection was based on the question of if the Quorum should pay the subsidy.

“It never stipulated FAST Ambulance service, just an ambulance service,” County Clerk Christie Martin said. “So we paid for March.”

County Judge Jim Hudson told the court that per its vote March was the final month of the payments regardless of which company was operating the service.

-The justices voted to allow the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce to use the courthouse’s back parking lot for the upcoming annual Armadillo Day Festival.

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