Voters turn down proposed sales tax for Pocahontas hospital

Voters turn down proposed sales tax for Pocahontas hospital

POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - A half-cent sales tax would have raised roughly $650,000 a year for Five Rivers Medical Center in Pocahontas.

Though 57 percent of voters turned down the proposed tax, the hospital isn't giving up hope just yet.

They've spent millions over the past three years improving equipment and patient care, but CEO Luther Lewis told Region 8 News that a few things have fallen by the wayside.

"You walk up to the hospital, you see the exterior is not real attractive, we've got old air conditioning units and other things that just really need replaced," Lewis said.

Lewis said there are bigger problems the hospital faces each year too. Charity care and bad debt can add up to over a million dollars a year.

"We really need a source of stable funding," Lewis said.

While the city of Pocahontas generally budgets $750,000 a year for the hospital, the hospital still seeks funding from the municipality if special projects or issues pop up.

"They've been generous in giving us the extra funding but basically, they've got that money already budgeted so they have to take it away from another source," Lewis explained.

Lewis said they were hoping a half cent sales tax put on the November ballot would have fixed some of those problems but voters turned it down.

"A lot of people, and rightfully so, are saying 'we pay enough in taxes, we just can't afford any more taxes,'" Lewis said.

Seven years ago, another tax did pass to help the hospital.

"Everyone thought when they voted on that tax that it was dedicated to the hospital. In fact, the signs that were out said 'Save our Hospital.'"

But the tax also helps the roads and economic development. Lewis said that means the hospital never gets a set amount depending on weather or economic conditions.

"We are disappointed it didn't pass but what we've got to do now is just move forward," Lewis said.

They plan on doing that by asking the city to appropriate a set amount of that 1 cent sales tax for the hospital.

"Hopefully we can reach an agreement as to how much the hospital can anticipate in the coming years in an amount that the city is comfortable with," he said. "And also an amount the hospital feels is adequate to fill the needs it has."

Lewis said the hospital is not at risk of shutting down.

They plan on seeking the appropriation from the new mayor and city council members when they take office at the beginning of the year.

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