SHARP COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Sharp County residents vote "no" on sales tax increase.
At the closing of the polls Tuesday night, the measure did not pass. The Sharp County Clerk's Office said 1,249 votes were "yes" for the permanent one-percent increase, while 3,452 voted "no."
For the temporary half-percent sales tax increase, 1,240 voted "yes," while 3,441 voted "no."
Residents constantly moved in and out of the polls Tuesday to vote for or against a 1.5-percent sales tax increase. If passed, the tax would pay for the construction and operations of a new, county-owned hospital.
Backers of the plan said the tax increase would boost the county's healthcare and economy. It would generate $2.6 million annually and create about 110 jobs at the hospital.
"Do any of us want more taxes? No, none of us want more taxes," Jonathan Rhodes with Citizens for a County-Owned Hospital said. "But the reality is, if we're going to move our economy forward, if we're going to bring jobs here, if we're going to keep our residents here, if we're going to attract new population, we're going to have to have infrastructure, like a small hospital."
Opponents said a new hospital would be too risky for the county. The 40,000-square-foot facility would cost about $12 million to build.
"It's out of our budget county-wise to pass a 1.5-percent sales tax," Mike Clark with Sharp County Citizens for Responsible Government said. "That's the last thing that we need to do is pass a 1.5-cent sales tax and be stuck with it forever, and then the hospital fail."
The half-cent sales tax increase is temporary to fund the hospital's construction, but the one-percent increase is permanent to maintain its operations.
Clark wonders why the county would want to pay more when there is a free alternative. White River Medical Center plans to turn its clinic in Cherokee Village into an emergency room.
However, Rhodes said White River will not offer as many services as the new hospital.
"It's a 24/7 emergency room staffed by a physician," Rhodes said. "It's a small hospital, 19 beds, specialty clinics, minor surgery, bringing services like chemotherapy and a helipad."
Sharp County Judge Larry Brown also opposes the tax proposal.
Judge Brown said the county does not need to be in the hospital business. Instead, it should save its funds for a possible county jail or natural disaster.
"The disaster is already here," Rhodes said. "Our businesses are struggling, our economy is stagnant, our population is leaving, and we don't have new population coming."
If anyone is curious to see how much of their money goes to city, county and state sales tax, visit the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration website.
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration also has a list of the city and county sales and use taxes throughout the state. That information can be found here.