County free to sell defunct hospital property

Officials relieved to ‘have an option’ on former CRH building

By Mark Randall news@theeveningtimes.com

Crittenden County officials got a double dose of good news this week. They signed the development agreement with Baptist Memorial Health System to build a new hospital in the county, and learned that they can sell the former county-owned Crittenden Regional Hospital for whatever price they can get for it. County Attorney Joe Rogers told the Quorum Court that he has researched the law requiring counties to get no less than 75 percent of the appraised value in order to sell public property and found that it will not prevent the county from disposing of the building. “That doesn’t apply in the case of a hospital,” Rogers said. “There is a special section that deals with a hospital and talks about the governing body can sell it for that they feel is in the best interest of the county. We’re satisfied we can legally sell that property” That comes as a welcome relief to County Judge Woody Wheeless. The Quorum Court has given Wheeless until March 1 to find an entity willing to lease the building or else close it for good to save the county from having to continue to pay the nearly $100,000 a month to keep the utilities on. “It’s a relief to know that we have an option to sell because right now we just don’t have anybody,” Wheeless said. Wheeless has been talking to the state veterans office about possibly leasing the hospital building as a veteran’s home. He’s had no luck, however, in interesting any other health care entity in re-opening a hospital in the 50 year-old building. And now that the county has entered into an agreement with Baptist, no other hospital will be allowed to compete with Baptist in the county. A $15 million deal to re-open the hospital with Nashville-based Ameris Health System fell apart over confusion about how money from a one cent sales tax could be spent. County voters approved a measure that would generate $30 million over five years to help support a hospital at the current site. The county has already spent over $800,000 last year to keep the utilities on, insurance, and security at the hospital building. And even with scaled down security, it is still costing the county taxpayers $60,000 a month to keep the building open. Justices have agreed to let Wheeless continue talking to the VA and try to lease the building until March. After that, the building will likely be closed for good. “I’m moving on as if we will be closing the doors at the end of the month,” Wheeless said. Wheeless said he is, however, optimistic they can find a buyer for the property. The county also owns the professional building and the Schoettle Center. “I think if we put it up for sale somebody will buy it,” Wheeless said. “Same thing for the professional building. I don’t think we will have an issue trying to sell it.”

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