CLINTON — The Van Buren County Quorum Court passed an ordinance for a vote on a county half-cent sales tax vote during the Nov. 3 general election. The ordinance passage was part of the business conducted at its regular June 18 meeting.
The sales tax, actually an extension of a sales tax already in place, if it passes at the November election, is to support the hospital. The ordinance allowing the tax to be placed on the county ballot was passed by the court.
The court also voted on a new backhoe for the county, and administrative matters.
A request for a special election for the hospital sales tax had been presented at the last court meeting in May, presented by Ozark Health CEO David Deaton. At the time Deaton said the revenue from the tax would be used to support capital improvements, as well as expansion and renovations of the hospital. Deaton had asked for a special election to avoid the vote being “overshadowed by other issues.”
The ordinance is a change from Deaton’s May request for a special election, making it part of the November election.
The sales tax is currently in place and due to retire shortly. If supported by voters, the half-cent tax would extend to December 2036.
The half-cent tax extension had been part of a special election earlier in the year, which included support for the library and volunteer fire departments. In that election, which required three votes, volunteer fire department funding was the only measure which passed.
Justices, during discussion of the ordinance, said the problem with the extension of the half-cent tax not passing on that election had to do with the wording and confusion it caused of that special election. The previous ballot measure was “too wordy,” Justice Sara Brown said.
Justice Dell Holt said part of the issue with the earlier failure was the sales tax extension being tied in with the library.
The decision to end the tax or support it should rest with the voters, the court stated.
“It’s up to the people,” Justice Brian Tatum said, “I don’t feel comfortable saying ‘No you can’t put it [the sales tax vote] on the ballot,’”
Justice Virgil Lemings spoke against the ordinance, and was the sole no vote in the ordinances passage.
Lemings reminded the court of the “tough times” many are going through, plus possible forthcoming county expenses.
“We’re talking about a jail that needs to be re-done,” Lemings said.
City of Fairfield Bay Paul Wellenberger made a statement “I stand in support of the hospital.”
He discussed his family’s recent interactions with the hospital due to a health crisis and the treatment they were able to receive, instead of having to make a trip to Little Rock for the same level of care.
“We are blessed to have this hospital,” Wellenberger said, “not just Van Buren County but this region.”
Other justices spoke in favor of the hospital, pointing out not just the level of care it provides, but it being a major employer in the community.
Tatum also asked that those with questions about the hospital and related issue attend a court meeting and ask question rather than get information from social media.
To a question, Van Buren County Clerk Pam Bradford said putting the sales tax extension on the ballot would not incur any additional expense for the county, due to the general election taking place the same day.
In other Quorum Court matters:
The court approved the county trading in a Case 590 backhoe toward the purchase of a John Deere 410 backhoe. The Case had been breaking down a great deal, the court was told.
A minor clarification to the employee manual was passed.
Resolutions supporting Shirley and Dennard Fire Departments to apply for block grants were approved.