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Voters in Crittenden County favored a sales tax to reopen its closed hospital, and Phillips County residents turned down a tax that would have funded construction of a new jail during special elections Tuesday.

In Marvell, voters agreed to allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants in the Phillips County town.

Overwhelming support of a 1 percent sales tax in Crittenden County will allow a Nashville, Tenn.-based company to reopen the Crittenden Regional Hospital in September. The West Memphis hospital closed Sept. 7, 2014, after previous administrators said the hospital was $30 million in debt.

Complete but unofficial results are:

1 percent countywide hospital sales tax

For 2,842

Against 413

"I expected it, but I am very happy," said Crittenden County Justice of the Peace Hubert Bass of the outcome.

"I think everyone understood that this county could not reach its full potential without a hospital."

Voters supported a similar tax last year to help fund the hospital after a fire briefly closed it in June 2014. When the hospital closed in September, however, a circuit court judge ordered an injunction on the collection of that tax, and voters repealed it in October.

The hospital filed bankruptcy and administrators are accused in a civil lawsuit of withholding money from employees' paychecks in 2014 and failing to pay insurance premiums.

The 1 percent tax will collect about $6 million a year.

Ameris Health Systems, which has reopened and developed numerous medical complexes in the South and West, will take over the hospital in September with eight beds and emergency services. Bass said company officials hope to begin seeing patients in December and to eventually hire up to 400 people.

"I think once people understood, it made all the difference to them that this was not connected at all to the old hospital," Bass said.

While Crittenden County officials were rejoicing over Tuesday's victory, Phillips County Judge Don Gentry said sheriff's deputies will have to continue transporting prisoners to other jails after voters defeated a one-half percent countywide sales tax. They also turned down the issuance of $4.35 million in bonds to fund the jail's construction.

Had the tax passed, it would have collected about $1 million a year, he said.

Complete but unofficial results are:

One-half percent countywide jail sales tax

For 283

Against 779

Issuance of $4.35 million in bonds

For 340

Against 719

State officials closed the county jail in Helena-West Helena in April 2013, after an inspection revealed that locks didn't work, waste overflowed drains and onto floors, and prisoners had access to materials that could be made into weapons.

"We're going to have to keep sending money up the road," Gentry said. "We're going to have to still keep putting people in jail."

The county spends about $750,000 to transport and house its prisoners in jails in Wynne, Forrest City and other neighboring towns.

Plans had called for the construction of a $3 million jail behind the existing one in the Helena-West Helena downtown.

"We're going to have to go to Plan B now," Gentry said.

He suggested Phillips County cities all "chip in" $250,000 a year to house its prisoners in a new jail, and the county would continue to appropriate $750,000 for a new jail.

"We're going to have to see if we can get everyone on board with that," he said. "Nobody wanted to pay for a tax, but you've got to have money to run the show."

Voters supported a measure to allow the sale of alcohol in Marvell restaurants Tuesday. The western Phillips County town is in a wet county, and the sale of alcohol in stores is permitted. However, voters needed to favor the measure to serve drinks in restaurants.

Complete but unofficial results are:

Sale of alcohol in Marvell restaurants

For 71

Against 38

State Desk on 07/15/2015

Print Headline: Yes voters OK levy to reopen hospital


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