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County considers dipping into endowment to furnish hospital

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By Alice Du Pont

Eugene Lamb, chairman of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners, is optimistic that the Legislature will grant an extension to complete hospital renovations.

"The House subcommittee passed on the extension two weeks ago and last week the Senate passed it. It looks like we'll be getting that extension for 12 months," Lamb said during a regular board meeting last Tuesday night.

He said there is no reason the extension should not be granted because there are no financial considerations that will affect the state or county. The extension was one of several avenues the commission pursued when it appeared that renovations might not be finished by June 21.

The extension would guarantee the much-needed time to get a handle on other problems facing the commission. Those problems include hiring an administrator and other key personnel, ordering and installing furniture, fixtures and equipment, and identifying a source of funds to operate the hospital for the first 6 months.

"I don't see any way the hospital will open (by June 21), but the Urgent Care Center can move into the facility," Craig McMillan, chairman of Gadsden Hospital Inc., said while giving the board an update on the hospital.

A battery of applications and licenses are required before the hospital can reopen. However, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and Calhoun County Hospital officials have promised to help the county complete and file applications with the appropriate agencies.

The biggest problem faced by the commission is how to fund the major purchase of furniture, fixtures and equipment that could cost more than $2.5 million. Some vendors will require 50 percent of the payment upon order and the remaining 50 percent on delivery.

The options commissioners considered were to approve a formal letter to Capital City Bank to request a withdrawal from the hospital endowment fund for $2.5 million from the corpus of the trust or approve a formal letter to Capital City Bank to request a loan from the corpus of the hospital endowment fund for $2.5 million.

Both options must be approved by a circuit judge and the trust committee. If a loan is approved, Commissioner Doug Croley wanted to know when the money will be paid back, what the funding source to repay the loan is, and how much and how long the county would take to repay the loan.

Charles Chapman, assigned to the hospital project, said he could not answer Croley's questions.

The other financial problem the board considered was the $2.31 million required by the Agency on Health Care Administration to be held on deposit for the initial 6 months of operations.

Those options were to approve the county attorney drafting a resolution allocating 100 percent proceeds received from the indigent care half-cent sales tax fund or approve a letter to Capital City Bank requesting the withdrawal of $2.31 million from the hospital endowment fund.

County attorney Thornton Williams said the half-cent sales tax option will have to be in the form of a public hearing to get the money in time. But Clerk of Courts Nicholas Thomas said 100 percent of the money, if it's legal to take all of the money, might not generate enough.

"The first installment has come in and it was $87,000. Sales are down in the county and that's what drives the tax," he said.

The tax would have to bring in a minimum of $125,000 per installment to be feasible.

If the circuit judge approved the $2.31 million and the $2.5 million loan from the endowment fund, the fund will be depleted by nearly half. That will also reduce, by half, the amount of money the fund has been generating from interest. The interest has been used to help the county pay other bills.

"I want to see the cost of each option. This is incomplete. I don't know which option is better. We need to know how much this is going to cost," Croley said.

Commissioner Gene Morgan wanted the entire half-cent indigent care sales tax to be held on deposit.

"With modification it will allow the sales tax not to be a loan but a straight plan," Morgan said.

Williams advised the commission that three of the options would require legal work.