Hospital officials ask city for consistent financial support, DFD Batt. Chief James Bailey honored

Doug Brewer, CEO of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, and Don Lilly, Senior Vice President of University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, approached the Demopolis City Council during a work session on July 18 to ask for a more consistent approach to the city providing financial assistance to BWWMH.

“Communities are sending a message that their hospital is important,” Lilly said, referring to Alabama counties and cities that provide continuing financial support to the local hospitals.

In line with other Alabama counties and cities, he requested the council levy a sales tax in Demopolis to support the hospital.

Councilor Bill Meador mentioned the possibility of receiving funds from the state, and Mayor John Laney brought up the proposed county-wide 4 mill property tax that will go on the ballot in March and is set to benefit the hospital. Lilly said that, if passed, the funds from the tax won’t be accessible until the end of 2020.

Laney said he needed a detailed financial plan from BWWMH before moving forward with any new tax, especially amid his fears that the tax would drive out consumers and lead to services being cut due to negative economic impact.

“We do not take you for granted, but we do need more education,” he said.

In recent years, the city has provided funds to the hospital on several occasions. In June 2016, the city loaned Tombigbee Healthcare Authority $926,000. In October 2017, a promissory note of $10,272 was agreed upon for roofing repairs. In August 2018, the city and hospital agreed to a five-year $1 million  loan at no interest.

This year, in May, the city loaned BWWMH $300,000 for 90 days for general operation expenses. Most recently, the city approved taking out a loan of $1 million through Trustmark Bank, which offered the low-bid interest rate of 2.8 percent. The city will provide those funds to Tombigbee Healthcare Authority at the same interest rate.

In August 2018, the county commission approved co-signing with the hospital a $1 million loan for a five-year period.

The city council did not discuss the matter in regular session.

During the regular session, the council also addressed concerns from residents regarding the vote to increase rental fees at the civic center from $500 to $900 in addition to a $200 rental fee for the kitchen and a $250 refundable deposit.

Resident Mitchell Congress said the new fees would prevent some organizations and other residents from using that building.

Public Works Director Barbara Blevins shared that the revenue from rentals over the past five years was $247,500 and that it did not match up to the $314,998 that the civic center required in operational fees, not including employee salaries.

Congress said he feared the new rates would push more functions to the Theo Ratliff Activity Center that would normally be held at the civic center, such as wedding and family reunions, and asked the city to absorb the loss at the benefit of the citizens.

The matter was tabled so the city council could get the input of the two absent councilors, Cleveland Cole and Harris Nelson.

The discussion was reopened during public comments when resident Wes Henderson suggested holding a public hearing for the raise and Richard McDonald suggested the city utilize split fees, both of which Laney said the city council would take into consideration.

Other items discussed by the city council include:

• Demopolis Fire Chief Keith Murray presented Battalion Chief James Bailey with a certificate and a helmet shield honoring his 25 years of service. Bailey said “We’re here for this community, and that’s what I believe in. I enjoy it, so I’m going to continue to do it a while longer.”

• holding a public hearing on a possible ordinance that would rezone a portion of land at 3992 Hwy. 80 E from R-4 to A-1 which would permit the installation of a cell service tower so residents of a trailer park have access to wi-fi. The ordinance will be voted on at the next meeting.

• holding a public hearing on a possible ordinance that would rezone apportion of land at the intersection of Hwy. 43 S and Sports Plex Road for the Demopolis Sportsplex to place a digital sign. The ordinance will be voted on at the next meeting.

• increasing court costs to be placed in the Corrections Fund to $35.50 from $25.50 for traffic cases and $90.00 from $25.50 for non-traffic cases.

• amending the golf cart ordinance to allow the maximum number of passengers be equal to the number of seats in the golf cart. Previously, the maximum number of passengers was to be equal to the number of seat belts.

• approving a 50 percent sales tax rebate, based on a three-cent sales tax, for Social Butterfly Marketplace for three years, effective Aug. 1.

• Laney presented a proclamation declaring that Aug. 18-25 will be Demopolis Senior Adults Appreciation Week and that Senior Adults Living Triumphantly (SALT), a respite program for seniors with dementia and memory loss, was recently given the 2019 Outstanding Community Service award from the Southeastern Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 24 issue of the Demopolis Times.)