By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
A tax hike warning and shutdown of public comment caused some commotion at the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) last week. “This is going to cause additional tax increases, “ said County Commissioner Ron Milton regarding the new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) the BOC passed at the December 15 special-called meeting. “The citizens have been heard that they do not want to pay more taxes,” said Milton, who believes the county will have to pitch in even more money than they have committed to in order to keep a new hospital afloat. Milton was the only commissioner to vote against the new intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the county and Morgan Memorial Hospital (MMH) which finalized the county’s commitment of $1 million per year for up to 25 years to MMH for the purpose of constructing a new hospital.
After a 2-1 vote on the new IGA, Milton, who voted against it, warned that another tax hike would certainly be on the horizon if the proposed $35 million hospital is established in Morgan County. Milton calculated that the county would have to pitch in at least $2 million per year to sustain a $35 million hospital. “I am not opposed to a medical facility,” said Milton. “I think all the commissioners recognize the need for a medical facility in our community, but I do have a concern that spending $35 million and paying that loan off in a 25-year-period. I think our requirements would be over $2 million per year, though we have only agreed $1 million per year…for me, it just doesn’t add up.” Commissioner Clack asked County Attorney Christian Henry what the IGA stipulated in the case of MMH defaulting on their loan to finance the new hospital. “If MMH defaults, it would not get the county off the hook for the $1 million per year,” said Henry.
“It’s unlikely, but in that case, it is my understanding that such a default would not relieve us of our commitment to pay the hospital $1 million per year, but we would most likely continue paying that money to the lender in the case of default.” Commissioners Donald Harris and Ellen Warren voted for the IGA, Commissioner Philip Clack abstained from voting on account of his wife and son working at MMH. Milton was the sole vote against the IGA. After the vote, Chairman Andy Ainslie announced that there would be no public comment that evening, causing a backlash of criticism from the nearly dozen citizens who attended the meeting hoping to voice their opinion on the matter.
After Ainslie adjourned, some citizens approached the commissioners personally complaining both about the hospital deal and forgoing public comments. Others left dismayed that they did not get to speak publicly on the matter, even comparing the shutdown of public comment to communism. But Ainslie argued his decision was warranted. “We have had public hearings for nine months on this,” said Ainslie. “We have heard from the public since March when the initial request from MMH first came. I feel like we have listened for nine months and this needed some closure.” Ainslie also argued that the December 15 work session was not about the new hospital per se, but about the IGA with MMH. “It’s a fair agreement that protect the people of Morgan County, and that what the bases of our meeting was, that was the focus.”
“We are here to help facilitate quality medical care in our community. I think it’s important that we help provide the medical care and healthcare to this community and that is exactly what we are doing. The healthcare needs of the community have been served through the IGA, I feel,” said Ainslie.