Ad Spot

WRH officials state case for property tax support

(Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected. Originally, it stated the hospital receives $3 million annually in local taxes. The hospital actually receives $300,000 in tax dollars. We apologies for this error.)

Representatives of Whitfield Regional Hospital stated its case in favor of an upcoming vote that would provide the local hospital with additional funding through a county-wide property tax increase.

Voters in Marengo County will go to the polls on Tuesday, Dec. 10 to decide whether to add 4 mils to current property taxes. The 4-mill ad valorem tax will be specifically dedicated to WRH.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, hospital representatives held the first in a series of town hall meetings to discuss the need for the new revenue and how it would assist the hospital moving forward.

WRH CFO Doug Brewer said to those in attendance that Alabama’s rural hospital face certain financial constraints that make doing business very difficult.

“We have seen 11 hospitals close in the last few years and projections are that there will be more. This is not one of them. This is one that needs to make it,” Brewer said.

Among the reasons Brewer said Marengo County and the surrounding area needs WRH is due to health factors, including a 17 percent diabetic rate and a low birth rate.

He said for many years the hospital has been constricting services in order to meet financial obligations, but added that has been a problem as it has given the hospital fewer options in creating revenue.

“This is a viable hospital, but with no access to capital you tend to start a downward spiral. We own nothing. We do not own this building. Other than equipment the hospital has no assets. We have no ability to get loans to update our equipment and make needed repairs to the building,” Brewer said.

In an effort to expand services, WRH became a regional stroke center in June and since that time has treated 125 stroke patients. Since becoming a trauma center there has been over 50 traumas treated, according to Brewer. Those and other new services have increased revenue for the hospital by about $2.6 million, but still short of providing a financial margin for long-term financial security, he said.

“We have to have access to capital in order to maintain our building and update technology. You cannot replace technology and equipment in Alabama with our current margins,” Brewer said.

He adds that the 4 mil tax “will not save” the hospital, but will provide a means to create a 10- to 15-year capital plan for the future. Along with the tax increase, Brewer said he hopes ownership of the building, currently owned by the City of Demopolis, will be transferred to the hospital, providing additional options in building a capital plan.

Brewer also discussed the hospital’s current impact on the local economy. He said the hospital currently employs over 300 people, paying $15 million in annual payroll. In addition, he said the hospital makes over $2.5 million in local purchases each year.

The hospital also receives about $17 million in federal Medicare and Medicaid funding each year, which Brewer describes as “new money.”

“This money gets churned into the community and that all goes away if the hospital isn’t here. Can we really afford to take $17 million out of our local economy?,” Brewer said.

Hospital officials hope to continue adding new services including health clinics such as one opened in Linden last month and bringing back to the hospital an obstetrician and childbirth. “We want to bring it back, not because we will make money on it, but because there is a true health need,” Brewer said.

In listing some of the current priorities for the hospital, Brewer said the hospital needs about three to four roofs, a new boiler, and to replace diagnostic imaging equipment.  “If our boilers go down we’re done. I tell everyone we operate until we are not. I don’t have $500,000 to replace these things. We sit down and talk about how we’re going to keep our doors open for another week,” he said.

The hospital does receive about $300,000 annually in tax dollars. However, Brewer said Marengo County is among the last counties in the state to pass a tax specifically to support a hospital. He said 49 counties already have that type of tax in place.

Brewer said he feels confident that the hospital can be a success with additional financial support.

“We can get this hospital to operationally breaking even as we have less cash constraints and grow business. There’s nothing we can do now but go and beg [when cash needs arise],” Brewer said.

If the 4-mill tax increase passes Brewer said properties assessed at $100,000 would equal about $40 extra for homeowners each year while commercial businesses would pay about $80 extra. Crop and pasture land would pay about .21 cents per acre while timber land would pay about .30 cents more.

Marengo County Commissioner Jason Windham, who was in attendance at the meeting, said if the tax is approved the funds can only be used for the hospital. It was also said that if the hospital were to close the additional tax would no longer be collected. “By state law we cannot use these funds for any other purpose other than the hospital,” Windham said.

Polls will be open Tuesday, Dec. 10,  from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Blackbelt Gazette

Marengo County High School to host a Back to School Kickoff

Blackbelt Gazette

Consumers to Take Advantage of July 16-18 Tax Holiday

Blackbelt Gazette

Billy George Tucker “Gramps” – “Daddy”

Blackbelt Gazette

Marengo County Commission honors long-time employee, votes to revoke liquor, lounge licenses

Blackbelt Gazette

Back Water Boat Rentals hold ribbon cutting ceremony

Blackbelt Gazette

Reptiles make appearance for the Demopolis Public Library Summer Reading Program

Blackbelt Gazette

Mother, son publish book on hope, determination, inspiration

Blackbelt Gazette

Smokin Jack’s named June Business of the Month

Blackbelt Gazette

Rebecca Crawford Marlowe

Blackbelt Gazette

Linden BOE members increase monthly pay by $100, discuss renovation projects

Blackbelt Gazette

Marengo County BOE discusses ESSER Funds for school district

Blackbelt Gazette

Demopolis resident grateful for Whitfield’s local medical facilities

News

Anthony Willis named superintendent of Demopolis City Schools

Blackbelt Gazette

Demopolis and Linden fire departments receive donations from WoodmenLife

Blackbelt Gazette

DACC announces 2020 Community Award winners

Blackbelt Gazette

The Mustard Seed named May Business of the Month

Blackbelt Gazette

Man who robbed Demopolis gun store in 2019 sentenced to five years in prison

Blackbelt Gazette

Demopolis Lady Tigers Softball wins one, drops one

Blackbelt Gazette

Marengo High Lady Tracksters claim 1-A Section 2 Track Championship

Blackbelt Gazette

Former West Alabama athlete shares journey to entertainment business

Blackbelt Gazette

Linden Board of Education discusses George P. Austin renovations, graduation

News

Linden City Council hears concerns from local delegates

Blackbelt Gazette

Marengo County Board of Education receives updates on school district

Blackbelt Gazette

Demopolis Girl Scouts troop chooses first responders as their 2021 Hometown Heroes