The Fulton County Quorum Court met in regular session on Monday, April 12. Quorum Court member Cris Newberry brought a topic to the court's attention which had been raised by concerned citizens in his district. Last month, the hospital presented their plans to apply for a grant which would assist in upgrading the windows, heating and cooling in the old section of the hospital.
"I had some calls concerning that grant for the hospital, for the windows," said Newberry. "I would like to see if Mr. Plumlee would read this and give us his opinion on it."
The paragraph in question from the Arkansas Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program is: "2. Grantee understands and acknowledges that the federal stimulus process is still evolving and that new requirements for ARRA compliance may still be forthcoming from the federal government and the state of Arkansas. Accordingly, Grantee specifically agrees that both it and all sub-grantees will comply with all such requirements during the contract period."
"What it says is that the grant is ahead of the regulations that's going to govern how they do all of this," said Dewayne Plumlee, county attorney. "They agree to comply with the regulations, whatever they are. They have the right to enter into a contract with whomever is administering the grant and if they fail to perform, then that's on them, it's not on us. They need to do their due diligence as much as they can before they enter into that, to see what their obligations will be. There's probably no way to know right now. A lot of these programs are putting out grants before they have their regulations developed."
Discussion ensued regarding the county's role as far as the hospital and it's funding is concerned. It was stated several times by both Fulton County Judge Charles Willett and Quorum Court member Jim Bicker that the hospital is governed by its Board of Governors and not by the county.
"It's named Fulton County Hospital, but they have their own governing body," said Willett. "We have nothing to do with governing the hospital. That's the hospital board's responsibility. They are their own governing board. They are a separate entity from the county. The only thing we do is administer the money. If they get a grant for a million dollars, then the county will appropriate it. We have no obligation over anything they do."
Resident Jack Cole brought up the possibility of the hospital closing and wondered about any debts the hospital may have in place and who would be responsible for paying those debts.
"On their construction loans, they have obligated their sales tax to pay that off," said Willett. "As long as the sales tax is in there, the USDA gets that money for the loan, whether the doors are open or they're closed."
"The taxpayers actually voted twice," said Bickers. "First they voted in the half cent tax for the hospital. They then came back and bonded that tax, which basically allocates that tax to pay the loan. Again they are a separate entity within the county unit. If you and your neighbor decided you wanted to pave your road, you could enter into an agreement and create an improvement district. You would then raise funds and obligate yourself to a tax to pay for it. The only function that the Quorum Court has in relation to the hospital is that we appoint the board members. Once they're appointed, they function as a completely separate entity, much like the way the school districts operate, not exactly the same but in a similar manner."
Resident Patt Pall addressed the court regarding the hospitals current financial situation.
"Would it not be more prudent to wait until the hospital is making money again before we put more money into it," said Pall.
"Again, we're not appropriating money to go into it and we're not in a position to allow or disallow them to do anything," said Willett. "It's not our decision, that's the decision of the hospital board. This body doesn't deal with the hospital beyond the fact that we appoint the board members."
The concerned residents agreed that a trip to this month's meeting of the hospital's Board of Governors was in order and addressed the Quorum Court members as to their intentions to do the same.
"Do you not feel that you need to go as well as the Quorum Court of the county, the government of the county?" asked resident Shirley Keylon. "Do you all not think that since you elected the members of the board there, that it would be good for you all to go up there and give your opinion to the board?"
"If I were to go to the hospital board meeting, I would be going as just a resident, as far as having input or influence as far as the decisions of the hospital board," said Quorum Court member, Jack Haney. "I'd just be a spectator, but I understand what you're saying."
Several Quorum Court members discussed attending the hospital's Board of Governor's meeting on April 26, and then the court moved on to other business.
The court proceeded to approve a lease agreement between the hospital and several doctors from Mountain Home who rent office space in the building. They then appointed Joy Underwood to the Library Board to replace Shannon McGuffey.
Each month, the court appropriates to the hospital sales tax monies, and County Clerk Vickie Bishop and County Treasurer Donna Hall presented a way to make the appropriations save the county some money.
"Donna and I talked and we want to just appropriate for the year," said Bishop. "The hospital will still have to turn in a statement to us each month, but this way if we have nothing else to appropriate for the month, we won't have to spend the money to have an ordinance placed in the newspaper."
There was discussion among the members as to how much to appropriate and what the cost savings would be for the county. Bishop stated that it costs $60 to place an ordinance in the paper, and she predicted there would be two to three months during the year where the hospital sales tax appropriation would be the only appropriation in a month.
"I think if we can save even a dollar, we need to do this," said Bicker.
The court agreed to appropriate $110,000 to cover the hospital sales tax through the end of the year and continued on to additional business.
"The county has received the balance of monies owed from the March 18, 2009 flood," said Willett. "We need to pay off White River Planning and Development, since they are the ones we have a line of credit with. We have a total of $332,025. We owe White River $276,897.26. The difference is $55,102.99, which we'll put into our equipment fund. We are still owed monies from the October 2009 flood, the ice storm and the Bay Creek bridge in the amount of $1,364,300, owed to us from federal and state. The Oct. 29 flood monies just got approved in Washington D.C. The $456,000 from the state should be approved this week or next week."
Next on the agenda was a motion to move funds from fiscal year 2010 back to fiscal year 2009.
"At the first of the year, we made an appropriation for $363,021.15 to pay off the loan at the bank," said Bishop. "Our auditors have been here and they're telling us we should have taken that out of 2009, instead of 2010. So, we need to amend ordinance 2010-01 and make it for a correction and retroactive for 2009 in that amount."
The members agreed and the meeting was adjourned. The Quorum Court will meet again on Monday, May 10, on the second floor of the county courthouse at 7 p.m.