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01/30/2019

Extending Hospital Tax Addresses Two Needs

New Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson probably feels like he’s back on the campaign trail.

Nelson has spent the last several weeks in front of any group willing to listen to him pitch the extension of the 1/2-cent hospital sales tax, which would provide a revenue stream for the hospital system for years to come and allow for major renovations to the Blytheville courthouse, as well as improvements to the Osceola courthouse.

Usually with special elections, politicians are low key in hopes of a poor voter turnout, especially when there is a sales tax or millage hike being proposed.

Give credit to those pushing the tax, they are seemingly everywhere in the county, answering questions whether they be at public forums, city council meetings or even senior citizens centers.

Hopefully, engaging Mississippi County citizens will lead to a high number participating in the special election and being involved in a decision that has major implications for years to come.

If passed, the tax, which is set to sunset in 2020, would be extended to 2051, providing up to $16 million for the Blytheville courthouse rehabilitation, $2 million for Osceola courthouse improvements and funds to help sustain the Mississippi County Hospital System for the next several decades.

There are two certainties: major work is necessary on the deteriorating Blytheville courthouse and both Great River Medical Center and SMC Regional rely on the tax money to operate.

Continuing the tax will solve both problems, extending the life of the courthouse some 50 years and assuring healthcare in the county for the foreseeable future.

The county can’t kick the can down the road any longer; the courthouse is at a point where safety is an issue.

A few months ago, tiles fell from the ceiling in the courtroom, which was the site of a big trial the next week. Fortunately, the tiles didn’t fall while court was in session or someone likely would have been injured.

Mushrooms have been found growing on the walls; there are numerous issues with the 100-year-old building that must be addressed now with or without a tax.

Equally as important is having a continual revenue stream for the two hospitals, which combined for an eye-popping $8.8 million in uncompensated care last year. The hospital system is a vital part of this county, particularly with all of our industry.

Precious minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death when it comes to treatment of certain conditions and injuries.

Mississippi Countians have a big decision on Feb. 12 — one that will have a significant impact on the county’s future one way or the other.