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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • County forgives penalties,hospital tax arrears focus of concerns

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  • A special meeting was called for the Hempstead County Quorum Court here Tuesday to discuss a vote on waiving penalties and interest on the real estate taxes owed by the Medical Park Hospital, after Hempstead County Judge Wallace Martin received a letter from Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey last Friday addressing the situation.
    Ramsey stated in the letter that "we," not specified in the letter, "met with Tom Gilbert, CEO, Wadley Medical Center, and others working tirelessly to secure, certifications, licenses, etc., in order to assume ownership of Medical Park Hospital, on August 1, 2012." He writes, "Also they have discovered that equipment needs, health and safety needs and other maintenance, far exceed their initial estimates. In order to help mitigate some of these additional costs, Wadley is asking for certain consideration as it related to the unpaid R/E taxes owed by Shiloh."
    Ramsey lists three facts in the letter: First, that Wadley Regional Medical Center, in Texarkana, will pay the taxes in full, 2007-2010, totaling $319, 890.28.
    Interest is $71,933.47.
    "They are asking to waive $61,933.47. They would pay $10,000," he lists. "Penalties are $31, 989.03. They would pay $10,000," Ramsey states.
    Ramsey also lists at the bottom, that Hope Public Schools agreed to the proposal and, through the efforts of State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, the state land commissioner agreed to this abatement.
    Ramsey also states that time is a critical issue in the matter and requests that Martin visit with his quorum court members as soon as possible and write a letter of support.
    Kevin Keech, attorney representing Wadley, spoke to the justices and the judge saying it was an oversight on his part that they were not contacted sooner about the issue.
    Concern and questions were in the air as the letter had been presented on Friday, and needed a quick response.
    Hempstead County Clerk Sandra Rodgers said when the letter was presented and the judge was approached that there were questions on the matter and a special meeting had to be called.
    The Quorum Court expressed that they have had great concern over the hospital being able to survive, as well as those who had been involved in discussions that led to the Mayor's writing of the letter, including State Representative David "Bubba" Powers, D-Hope, Mayor Ramsey, and Hempstead County Economic Development Corp. President Wesley Woodard.
    Chris Thomason, chancellor of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope, was also involved in prior discussions on the matter, according to Powers.
    Powers said the time frame "was not of their making" and the county was contacted within 24 hours of the discussions about the waiving of the interest and or penalties.
    JP Lynn Montgomery moved to accept what Wadley was asking and JP Jessie Henry gave a second and it was a unanimous vote.
    Page 2 of 2 - The total amount waived from the county was $61, 933.47.
    Hempstead County Prosecuting Attorney Christi McQueen said that the actual vote needed to give approval to the land commissioner from the county on waiving penalties.
    McQueen said the proper procedure was for the quorum court to vote on giving the judge approval to issue an order to waive the $61, 933.47.
    Members then moved to word the vote subject correctly and it was unanimously passed.

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