Van Buren County Voters are preparing to answer two ballot questions this election. Each question has garnered its share of attention. Election season seems to be especially vulnerable to misinformation. These issues are no different. What follows is an attempt to not join those ranks but give you an equal perspective on the issues.
Local option question (wet/dry issue)
The first question before the county concerns the prohibition on alcohol container sales. This issue has been debated in the public circle as well as in the courts. The validity of the question is under consideration by the Arkansas Supreme Court. I expect the court to uphold the lower court’s ruling and allow the local voters to decide on this issue. A FOR vote will allow for the sale of packaged alcohol and a NO vote will maintain the status quo. This issue will be decided on the grounds of the residual impacts of allowing alcohol sales.
Opponents of the measure express fears of an increase in alcohol-related traffic stops. Critics also express concerns that increased access will have a negative influence on teenage cunsumption. For many this issue is a matter of a moral question and a “FOR” vote will feel more like an endorsement of alcohol consumption.
Supporters cite the fiscal impact that this vote has the potential to create will increase tourism and create jobs. The recent trend of expanding “private clubs” in the county suggest this vote is more than about access. This vote positions the county to capture revenue that is currently being captured by surrounding communities. That explains why the majority of the opposition has been financed by external influences who stand to lose the most.
Special election on county sales and use tax levy
There is submitted to the qualified electors of Van Buren County, Arkansas, the question of the levy of a one-half of one percent (0.50 percent) sales and use tax (the “0.50 percent Medical Center Sales and Use Tax”) under the authority of Title 26, Chapter 74, Subchapter 2 of the Arkansas Code of 1987 Annotated (the “County Sales and Use Tax Act”), the net collections of which will be distributed to the County and shall be utilized solely for the payment of costs and expenses associated with the operation and maintenance and capital improvements at the facility known as Ozark Health Medical Center which is owned by the County.
The question before voters is whether to extend the current .5 percent sales tax to pay for capitol improvements. One of the myths that seems to be circulating is that this vote is for the creation of a new tax. Hospital Administrator, David Deaton said, “This is a only a continuation of an existing tax and if this issue passes, the current tax rate will not change.”
Opponents of the measure express concerns of the fiscal responsibility of the hospital as well as concerns that these funds will be directed to pay operating expenses.
The wording of the statute mandates the hospital only use these funds for a specific purpose. As written, the hospital would only be able to access these funds for capitol improvements. The needs to maintain the hospital are costly and can not be satisfied by the existing revenue stream the hospital is able to generate on its own. In 2004, the voters made an investment in the hospital and it is one that they should not walk away from.
The hospital administration has expanded access to services at the local hospital. The local hospital has expanded access to much needed cancer treatments, MRI and X-Ray technology, increased surgical offerings, and a strategy to continue down this path. The continuation of this tax will free up revenue and allow the hospital the felxibility to expand these critical services.
“The hospital is the largest employer in the county and our staff are not just employees they live and pay taxes here.”, said Deaton. In addition to being the largest employer in the county, it is also the healthcare option surrounding communities depend on. “We appreciate the opportunity to serve the county and we hope they will see this as a continued investment in their healthcare. If given the opportunity, we will continue to look for opportunities to expand our services.”
The question before the voters on the hospital tax is whether we entrust the hospital administration to continue to deliver and expand its healthcare services to the county.
Many communities are losing their critical access hospitals due to closures and revenue shorfalls. Van Buren County has a hospital that we should be proud of. This vote is a decision about how much we value this access to care.