POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - Five Rivers Medical Center collected enough signatures to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.
The signatures are now in the city clerk's hands for verification. She will then present them to the city council Tuesday at its regular meeting for final approval.
CEO Luther Lewis said he anticipates the city council will approve the sales tax for the November ballot.
"We have scanned the signatures and at least 300 of them are residents of the city of Pocahontas," Lewis said. "So we feel like we have greatly exceeded the required number, 235 signatures, to get this initiative on the ballot. I feel like we'll get a majority of the voters to approve this initiative. Yes, there's some concern about another tax, but there's also concern about the tax that was passed in 2007."
The city has owned Five Rivers Medical Center since 2007, and shortly after that, the city passed a one-cent sales tax to help fund it. But the hospital, road department and economic development share it, which means the hospital gets about $1 million a year from the tax.
Lewis said this is not enough. Over the past three years, he has had to cut expenses, salaries, programs and about 40 full-time jobs to make up for the hospital's shortfalls.
He said the proposed half-cent sales tax is the solution.
"That would really get the hospital to a stable financial condition," Lewis said.
The half-cent sales tax would generate more than $600,000 every year solely for the hospital. Between this and the 2007 sales tax, the hospital would receive about $1.5 million a year, which would put a dent in its $2 million a year of bad debt and charity care.
"I feel like we'll get a majority of the voters to approve this initiative," Lewis said.
"It needs to be passed," Pocahontas resident Roy Dale said. "The hospital needs the funds and this town needs a hospital."
Dale goes to the hospital every week for blood tests.
"If you ever have to use the hospital, it's worth the money," Dale said.
The proposed half-cent sales tax would cost Pocahontas residents five cents for every $100 they spend.
"Oh yeah, that's not much money at all if you think about it!," Dale said. "It's worth every penny of it."
But some residents want to know why they should keep investing in a place that does not give great care.
"I haven't had a good experience," Pocahontas resident Casey Stevens said. "They messed me up a little bit."
Stevens said she feels like she's already paying enough taxes.
"It's ridiculous," Stevens said. "Everything's high and it doesn't need to be."
Lewis has a message for sales tax skeptics.
"A number of people that aren't so sure they want another tax perhaps haven't had to access health care recently," Lewis said. "We've had many people who have said, 'Yes, we're supporting this tax,' just because they had an incident, they ended up in our emergency department. Many of them had life-threatening situations and we basically saved their life. I think when you have experiences like that you realize how important it is to have a hospital here in Pocahontas. We just encourage everyone to really stop, consider and think about the availability of emergency and health care services here so that it can be here in the event they need it in the future."