After much discussion, county commissioners Tuesday moved forward with investing in steps to finance a new hospital.
In the morning session, the commissioners balked at approving a $60,000 expenditure, requested by Weems Memorial Hospital CEO Ray Brownsworth, to secure an opinion letter from BKD that would be needed to secure a loan for the new hospital.
“If we want to proceed forward with the project we have to do this,” said Brownsworth, noting that this $60,000 expenditure was $15,000 less than it would have cost two years ago.
But Commissioner Pinki Jackel led opposition to moving forward with this expenditure, stressing that it was her understanding that the commissioners has recently agreed that a $50,000 expenditure foe a feasibility study by Adams Consulting Group was their last move in this regard.
“I can support this if this is not in addition to the prior funds we already approved,” said Jackel. “Didn’t we say we had paid once and for all?
“I cannot support it because we said we were going to cap it,” she said. “I was under the understanding that we were getting the feasibility study we needed at that time for the USDA.”
By a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Noah Lockley and Smokey Parrish, the commissioners said no to approving the $60,000 expenditure at the morning meeting, asking that county officials research what had been okayed earlier.
In the afternoon, Alan Pierce, director of administrative services, reported that the commissioners had been told earlier that the BKD expenditure would be forthcoming, and had approved it. By unanimous vote, the commissioners voted Tuesday to release the money.
“They’re gonna examine the data Adams came up with and tell us what we can build and what we can afford,” said Commissioners Smokey Parrish. “They’re going to analyze the data and tell us what we can build. Their company’s reputation will be riding on this opinion letter they write for this board.”
Despite the approval, the matter appeared to give commissioners the jitters.
”It’s got me confused, it’s got me nervous,” said Commissioner William Massey.
“You don’t know what nervous is. It has me concerned,” said Commissioner Cheryl Sanders. “I don’t think anything’s gonna keep me from having some concerns over this hospital. I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen the ups and downs of the hospital. It’s my gut feeling sitting here and looking at these numbers.”
Brownsworth said that in scaling down the hospital renovation project to $10.25 million, with about $6 million to $7 million in construction costs, Weems officials have been “prudent stewards” of sales tax funds that go to the hospital.
He said that of the $67,000, on average, in monthly hospital capital outlay funds, about $10,000 goes to funds the clinics, and about 90 percent of the remaining $57,000 would be used to cover debt service for the new hospital, which could be built by mid to late 2016.
But Jackel questioned whether this funding stream would be suitable to cover the costs of funding a new hospital.
“That’s not conservative,” she said. “I want a new hospital built because I know that we need it but we’ve got to be able to afford it.”
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders questioned Brownsworth about past due monies that are owed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, as well as the overall balance sheet.
“How do you plan on paying them?” she asked. “I’m not liking the numbers is what I’m telling you, Mr. Ray.”
Brownsworth said $54,000 of that debt was paid down to TMH over last year. “We are six months behind,” he said. “They are willing to float that right now. We haven’t been pushed by them to pay that off. It might take two years to get it down to 30 days, 60 days.”
He said Weems was improving its bottom line.” We’re making little steady progress towards building the assets and cash of the organization, and reducing the liabilities,” Brownsworth said.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Brownsworth announced that Weems had hired a new chief financial officer, John C. Graham. He is expected to start April 15 and will be paid $110,000 annually.
Currently the CFO at Barnwell County Hospital in Tifton, Ga., where he lives, Graham also has been working as CFO at Caverna Memorial Hospital, in Horse Cave, Ky.
Holder of a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Murray State University, he has served for 15 years as a financial officer with Good Hope Hospital, in Erwin. North Carolina; Transitional Hospital Corporation, in Indianapolis, Ind.; Garrard County Memorial Hospital in Lancaster, Ky.; Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford, Ky.; and