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Hospital’s a go

Harrison County officials Monday night approved $12 million ‘ $6 million less than requested ‘ toward the construction of a hospital in northwest Corydon. The project has been a subject of debate since early 2002.
County Council chair Gary Davis broke a tie vote in favor of providing the funds over three years at $4 million a year for a new hospital facility. It is, at least, a plan, Davis said.
‘I look at this as a way to get started,’ said Davis.
Also voting in favor of the measure were Councilmen Kenneth Saulman, Alvin Brown and Ralph Sherman. Opposed were Chris Timberlake, Rhonda Rhoads and Carl (Buck) Mathes.
‘They came to us for $18 million, and we had a motion for $12 million. I thought we could do more,’ Timberlake said. ‘I was holding out, but lost by one vote.’
Timberlake earlier had asked about the possibility of providing $3 million a year for six years, to make up the $18 million. Rhoads ticked off a laundry list of projects and services now being funded with riverboat revenue that she would be hard put to shelve in favor of funding the hospital construction. Mathes clearly wanted more money for the project.
‘I wanted to give them the full $18 million,’ Mathes said later.
Also in the exchange of information, former councilman Carl Duley, now a hospital director, told the council the hospital can safely borrow up to $27 million for the project, but that would not leave anything in case of emergencies.
The $12 million approved by the council is a start, Duley said, but it won’t be enough for the project, which has a $41 million price tag including ‘soft costs’ such as design and development fees and interest during the construction period.
Much talk between the council and the three commissioners, who sat in on the council debate, centered on concerns the Indiana legislature would confiscate $19.3 million of the county’s $23.3 million-plus a year in riverboat taxes. The state already gets 25 percent in taxes on the riverboat’s gross income, five percent of which originally was returned to Harrison County; however, the state later put a cap of $23.3 million on the amount of riverboat revenue Harrison County could receive.
With the issue up in the air, the council approved a $10,000 request from the commissioners to hire a lobbyist in Indianapolis to stand up for Harrison County’s interests and to summon the county’s leaders if needed. The $10,000 will cover two months, which includes the last two weeks of March and the first 15 days in April, after which the legislative session is expected to end.
‘With the speed at which things happen in the Statehouse, you’ve got to have somebody to represent you,’ said J.R. Eckart, chair of the county commissioners.
Timberlake said, ‘It’s a lot of money … ‘ Brown added: ‘You don’t know if you’re going to get your money’s worth or not.’
But Eckart said the commissioners felt it necessary to properly cover the county’s interests.
Saulman’s motion to approve funds for the lobbyist, seconded by Mathes, passed 4-2, with Timberlake and Brown casting the dissenting votes.
The threat is that the Republican majority in the legislature will take money from some riverboat communities that don’t have Republican voting clout.
Davis told those at Monday night’s meeting that he had considered canceling the joint council, hospital, commissioner meeting until the outcome in Indianapolis was known. ‘I decided to go ahead because there are a number of issues to be resolved in terms of developing a financing plan,’ Davis said.
Some council members said the hospital and the county should look to the Harrison County Community Foundation for another $5 million for the hospital project, leaving the hospital to finance the balance of the project.
Davis said officials will next put together a joint proposal to submit to the Foundation, and that is expected Monday night at the Foundation’s regular meeting.
In other matters Monday night, the council:
‘ Heard two good news reports from Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick.
First, officer-hopeful Bruce LaHue, a former EMT, has agreed to serve as the jail commander while Gayle Hume is on sick leave, until he can retake the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy’s entrance testing.
LaHue has negotiated a deal with the hospital for a 35-percent discount on the medical costs of inmates.
‘We’re at a loss for words,’ said Saulman, who frequently has said the county pays far too much for inmate medical expenses and ambulance costs, especially since the county owns the hospital which provides the care.
Second, Deatrick said the EEOC training for his staff, which would have cost at least $5,000 for consultants, will be provided free by the insurance carrier.
‘ The commissioners are seeking $22,000 to hire the Indianapolis law firm Barnes and Thornburg to work on the EEOC claims filed against the sheriff’s department by employees and former employees of the corrections department.
Commissioner attorney Chris-topher Byrd said the money would cover 100 hours of work by the firm. ‘I imagine we will use most all of it,’ Byrd said.