City offers help to BWWMH

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 7, 2004

For at least the next five years, the city of Demopolis will pump some unexpected revenue into Bryan Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

A one-cent sales tax, passed by the Marengo County Commission in May, is expected to generate nearly $1.5 million in new revenue for local municipalities, schools, volunteer fire departments and county construction needs. Based on a formula, the city of Demopolis stands to gain more than $160,000 in revenue each year from the tax.

Woody Collins, a member of the Demopolis City Council, suggested Thursday that every penny of the new revenue be given to the hospital next year. After that, the city will give 90 percent of the new tax revenue to the hospital for the following four years.

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“I’ve been so supportive of the hospital because, without our healthcare and school systems, we’re nothing,” Collins said. “This is a revenue stream we were not expecting, and thanks to [Mayor Austin Caldwell], we’re in a reasonable position to give this money to the hospital.”

Collins, who said he was more than impressed with the financial recovery the hospital has made in the past year, believes the indigent care issue in Marengo County still puts BWWMH is a tough financial position.

For years, the hospital and county government have sparred over the amount of funding government should give healthcare to help serve patients who can’t afford to pay for medical service.

A lawsuit, filed by the hospital under former CEO Charles Nabors, was settled earlier this year by a mediator. After the settlement, county officials pushed a tax increase bill through the Alabama Legislature, giving Marengo County enough money to help fund indigent care at the hospital.

“I think there was a lot of give-and-take in that settlement, and I really think the hospital probably settled for less than what they needed to take care of indigent patients,” Collins said.

The city council’s vote to give BWWMH at least $125,000 for the next five years was not a surprise to those involved in the decision.

Regardless, hospital CEO Mike Marshall said every penny will help improve medical care in the area.

“[The city] wasn’t under any obligation to do this,” Marshall said Friday. “We’re extremely grateful for it, and it will help offset some of the costs associated with the care of our less fortunate citizens.”

This year, BWWMH has operating expenses of nearly $22 million, which means the city’s contribution amounts to less than one percent of budgeted needs. However, Marshall said the city’s decision indicates progress at the medical facility.

“What I think this shows is that [the city] has confidence that we’re doing a good job with this hospital,” said Marshall, who has served as CEO for almost 10 months.

While Collins said there may have been other areas the city could have spread its new-found wealth, he believes approaching city elections in August made it necessary to make a firm decision about the tax revenue.

“We’ll definitely revisit this, and should things continue to turn around, then the hospital may not need the money,” Collins said. “But [the council] wanted the hospital to know it could depend on us for a period of time.”

Along with the city’s contribution, Marengo County will give an estimated $225,000 to the hospital each year to help ease the financial strains of indigent care. The new sales tax is not temporary, which means county government will continue its contribution to local healthcare indefinitely.

Of the total revenue collected from the tax, 16.5 percent will be distributed to municipalities, based on population of the incorporated cities. Another 17 percent of annual collections will be distributed to school systems based on attendance numbers. Marengo County will keep 48 percent of the revenue for construction projects, including bridge work and renovation of the county courthouse, while healthcare will receive 17 percent and volunteer fire and rescue squads in the county will receive 1.5 percent of all new revenue.