Quorum Court ready to sign agreement with Baptist on Monday
By Mark Randall firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the Quorum Court got a chance to ask questions and offer revisions to the proposed contract between the county and Baptist Memorial Health Care to build a new hospital. Baptist is proposing to build a $25 million, 15 to 20 bed, 50,000 square foot hospital to replace the defunct Crittenden Regional Hospital, which closed its doors in August 2014 and declared bankruptcy. The deal is contingent upon county voters approving a measure that would re-direct funds from a one cent sales tax to build a new facility. The tax would generate $30 million over the next five years. Justices reviewed three separate contracts with County Attorney Joe Rogers — a development agreement, ground lease for the land, and a lease for the actual building. Justices expressed some concerns about the details of Baptist owning the land, the terms under which it could acquire the building, who is responsible for paying for any improvements, and what services Baptist would actually be required to provide at the new facility. “They had some very good questions,” Rogers said. According to the agreement, Baptist will buy the land and pick the location. Baptist is proposing to build the hospital on 25 acres located along North 7th Street and fronting the Service Road along Interstate 40. Baptist will use 20 acres for the actual hospital and parking and leave five acres for expansion. Baptist will then lease the land back to the county for $1 and the county will have the option to buy it back at cost in the event Baptist chooses not to renew the agreement. “They have that under option and will lease it back to the county,” Rogers said. The agreement calls for a 25 year lease with two five year extensions. Baptist will also have the option to buy the hospital after 10 years. The county, in turn, is agreeing not to open a competing emergency room and to hold a special election on March 1 to re-direct the tax money so that it can be used to pay for construction. The money from the tax will be used to issue $25 million in bonds to build the hospital. The remaining five to seven million from the tax will be put into a separate account to be used for maintenance, repairs, insurance, and utilities. Any costs above that will be paid for by Baptist. Justice Ronnie Sturch said his biggest concern is that Baptist will end up owning the building and the property. “I want to see this happen as much as anybody,” Sturch said. “But we still need to protect our interests as much as possible.” Rogers admitted that the county isn’t in the strongest position to bargain. “We’re not really where we can flex some muscle here,” Rogers said. Rogers said he would go over the revisions with Baptist. County Judge Woody Wheeless said he believes the county got the best deal that it could and that the deal has enough protections in it to safeguard the county. “And the bottom line is we will have a hospital for the next 25 years,” Wheeless said. The Quorum Court will sign the development agreement on Monday with representatives from Baptist in attendance.