Published in the Iola Register on Feb. 28, 2013.

Cloud County voters reject sales tax hike

Voters in Cloud County rejected a proposed three-quarter cent sales tax increase to help fund the construction of a new hospital in Concordia.
With a 48.9 percent voter turnout for  the special election, the sales tax increase was defeated 1,699-1,387.
Cloud County Health Center (CCHC) had proposed the increase in sales tax to help repay $26,825,000 in revenue bonds to be used for the construction of a 70,000 square foot critical care hospital.
“We are disappointed that area residents have decided not to support the building of a new, state-of-the-art hospital. We will continue our commitment to quality service at our present building, while we evaluate how best to move forward in our efforts to find a new permanent solution for the hospital needs of our area residents,” CCHC chief executive officer Jim Wahlmeier said.
The sales tax question carried in Concordia 759-580, but was defeated in the rural townships and outlying communities.
“Only the voters can answer that question, and you can be certain that we will continue the dialogue that we started months ago,” Wahlmeier said as to why the proposal was defeated, “We need to find a permanent hospital solution to meet the health care needs of county residents today, and tomorrow.”
CCHC was looking to build a new one-story facility, that would have been located on the east side of U.S. Highway 81 adjacent to Blosser Municipal Airport, to replace the current 96,000 square foot, four-story building.
The Cloud County Public Building Commission approved a resolution to issue the revenue bonds to acquire the site and construct and equip the new hospital. It would be leased to the county and then to CCHC.
The sales tax increase would have helped pay for the bonds, with the remainder of the payment coming from the CCHC contribution and Medicare reimbursements.
The bonds were scheduled to be paid off over a 23-year period.
“The financing plan was a partnership between the hospital and area residents, with each paying its fair share,” Wahlmeier said, “With construction set to take place at a time when interest rates and construction costs are at, or near, historic lows, now was definitely the time for this play. Only time will tell how much the conditions change as we evaluate our next steps in our efforts to find a permanent solution for the hospital needs of our area residents.”
Wahlmeier said that CCHC will continue to operate as usual at the current facility, and will continue to look at options for building a new facility.
“In terms of the health care we provide, it’s business as usual. Our great physicians and staff will continue to provide the very best care in a facility that was designed for a completely different time in health care, and we will continue to spend money on repairing and maintaining an out-of-date building,” Wahlmeier said.
The CCHC board of trustees is scheduled to meet late in March.
“We will have options for them, what our recommendations are going to be,” Wahlmeier said.