Mississippi County Quorum Court split with a 7-6 vote against appropriating $750,000 in economic development tax funds to be used for an ambulatory care clinic to be constructed in Manila by St. Bernards Medical Center. The proposed clinic would employ an estimated 75. The decision was made at the Quorum Court session on Tuesday evening, July 26.
Manila Mayor Wayne Wagner said he is not giving up on the clinic in Manila.
"We are going to continue to work with St. Bernards to see if we can make it happen," Mayor Wagner said. "We are looking at it with the idea of being an economic boost for all Mississippi County. The one thing that got lost in all of this was the fact that St. Bernards was not asking for the economic development tax money, it was the citizens of the Manila and the surrounding area."
The proposed request for the tax funds to be used for a clinic came before Mississippi County Planning and Development Committee on Tuesday, July 19, and was carried over to the afternoon of Tuesday, July 26, for further discussion.
In the special called afternoon meeting several citizens, elected officials, and other members of the Quorum Court heard statements from Ralph Beaty, Mississippi County Hospital System CEO; John Logan, Mississippi County Hospital System chairman of Board of Governors; and Chris Barber, CEO of St. Bernards.
Chair Bill Nelson opened the meeting recognizing Logan who gave the history of the Mississippi County Hospital System. He expressed his objection to using the tax money for St. Bernards because it would have a negative impact on the county hospital system.
"In the last two years, the hospital system has added four new doctors, improved equipment and decreased debt," Logan said. "But for us to finance our competition is just another nail in the coffin."
Supporters of the tax money going to the clinic stated because the clinic will be an ambulatory care clinic open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. it would not pose a threat to MCHS.
CEO Barber said they are not trying to compete with the county hospital.
"We are responding to a need and a wonderful opportunity to serve the people of Mississippi County," Barber said. "We are here to create new jobs and offer quality care closer to home."
Justices Michael White and Fred Fleeman both spoke in favor of the clinic, noting that the Manila area has received none of the $25 million generated by the economic development sales tax and this would be an anchor industry for the county.
Justice Fleeman asked the committee to let the full court decide.
Mississippi County Judge Randy Carney said he was excited about the possibility of 75 new jobs. He also said he thought it should go to the full court for a decision.
Several others expressed their opinions for and against tax funds for the clinic before the committee moved to take the issue to the full court.
Justices voted Tuesday evening at the regular Quorum Court meeting. Voting against the resolution to the proposal were Justices Jonathan Abbot, Barry Ball, Robert Davis, Adonis Hopper, Emmanuel Lofton, Hattie Middlebrook, and Bill Nelson. Voting for the resolution were Sylvester Belcher, Judith Chiles, Benton Felts, Fred Fleeman, Ken Kennemore and Michael White.
Justice White said he was disappointed.
"It was disappointing but it was also frustrating to get every vote from outside of Blytheville and not even one vote from inside of Blytheville," White said. "It was a good project for all of Mississippi County not just the Manila area."