Opp votes to split 1-cent tax with Mizell

Published 7:30 am Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Opp City Council last week voted to begin splitting a previously-approved 1-cent sales tax between the city and Mizell Memorial Hospital.

The tax, approved in 2017, was implemented to assist the hospital financially, including financial support in meeting bond obligations. According to Opp Mayor Becky Bracke, when the tax was established, the payments to the hospital were subject to annual review based on city and hospital needs. Since 2017, the tax has provided over $3.4 million to the hospital.

“Initially, the (tax) payments to the hospital were about $50,000 per month, but with our increase in retail sales, the payments are now around $90,000 per month,” Bracke said in a statement.

The mayor also said the hospital has received pandemic funding, which has “enabled the hospital to get back on its feet.”

The city receives 3.5 percent sales tax, with 1 percent previously going to the hospital and another .5 percent going to local schools. By splitting the hospital tax, Bracke said the city could fund other needs.

“The city is losing employees and having trouble hiring new employees,” she said. “We must give our employees raises to be able to recruit and retain qualified employees. The hospital needs funds to operate, but so does the city. Splitting the 1-cent tax was a good compromise with both the hospital and city benefiting.”

Mizell Hospital CEO Kerry Goff could not be reached prior to deadline, but he addressed the Covington County Commission Tuesday, asking the commissioners for assistance in funding projects.

“We are the only hospital in the county that has a true non-profit hospital status. Mizell spends over $1 million per year in charity care and is paid by (Medicare and Medicaid) an average of 36.5 percent of everything that we bill, and fully 25 percent of all residents who come to the ER will never pay their bill. This puts us in a little bit of difficulty, and that’s why we need (the commission’s) help,” Goff said.

The hospital has spent about $1 million of COVID funds on infrastructure work with some portions of that equipment dating back to the hospital’s construction in 1949. He said to finish the work the hospital will need another $1.7 million. He also said the hospital needs to replace its MRI along with funding elevator upgrades and other items. In all, Goff said the hospital needs approximately $3.16 for equipment and renovations.

“We could really use some help and hope you will be able to help us. We would appreciate anything the county can do. We are very good stewards of the money we get and keep things running,” he said.

Goff said the hospital received over $6 million in COVID funds with about $4 million already spent on infrastructure, beds, and reimbursing the hospital for personnel during the pandemic.

The vote of the Opp Council to change the disbursement of the 1-cent tax was approved by a vote of 2-2 with Bracke breaking the tie in favor of the motion. Councilmembers Chad Jackson and Charlotte Hunt voted in favor while Gary Strickland and Lavaughn Hines voted against it.

The mayor said the city will continue to support the hospital in any way it can.

“The hospital may very well face financial difficulties in the future and, if so, we will work together to do what we can to help,” Bracke said.