Fulton Countians vote 1,573 for,
Fulton County residents sent a resounding message at the polls April 13 -- we want to keep our hospital.
By a 6:1 margin voters approved a half-cent sales tax benefiting the hospital. In the final tally, 1,573 voted for and 266 voted against.
"It's unbelievable. This tax may have had the largest approval rating of any tax ever passed in this county," said Fulton County Judge Curren Everett.
Everett said the economic consequences of losing the hospital would have been disastrous for the county. He said a compelling case as to why the county needs the hospital was presented by the hospital board and that's why turnout was so high.
Twelve of the 13 voting precincts voted decisively in favor of the tax. In the largest majority, 92 percent of the voters in Benton/Union (479 for, 39 against) approved of the measure. The only precinct that voted against the tax was Afton (12 for, 16 against).
"It came out better then we expected, by far," said hospital administrator Frank Wise. Now that the tax issue has been settled the hospital board will focus on the program of improvements made possible by the voters, he said.Dr. Griffin Arnold and hospital board member Vicki Fowlkes told the Salem City Council Feb. 26 what improvements the hospital needs. These included building onto the hospital, replenishing the hospitals' reserve fund and buying new equipment, bringing the hospital into federal compliance.
Wise said if the tax had failed the hospital would have closed. He said the hospital started losing money in 1998 when federally funded programs like Medicare were cut. "The hospital has been losing over $100,000 annually because of these cuts," he said.
Not only was the hospital losing money, its expenses continued to grow, Wise said. The hospital loses money every year on the emergency response service and lost $162,000 alone on its ambulance service in 2003, he said.
Everett said with the passage of the tax the hospital should meet its financial obligations. He said the impact to the community if the tax failed was something he didn't want to think about.
"The people of this county really came through when they needed to," he said.