WEDOWEE--While Randolph County Commissioners didn't completely concur on the agreement with Tanner Health Systems, they did agree unanimously with the public's right to vote on it.

During an emergency called meeting on Friday afternoon of last week, Commissioner Lathonia Wright said he couldn't vote yes or no on the agreement until the public had voted.

Commissioner Richard Fetner said he has problems with the agreement and hadn't had time to study it like he should.

Commissioner Terry Lovvorn said he would like to see the agreement printed in the newspaper and have copies of it available at the office.

The vote to sign the agreement on behalf of the commission was 3-2, with Wright and Fetner voting no.

Then the group voted to have an election for a 1-percent sales tax on Aug. 4, which was followed by a round of applause from the audience.

On Monday, the HealthCare Authority of the Town of Wedowee and Randolph County HealthCare Authority (RCHA) also approved the agreement in separate called meetings. Tanner Health Systems must also sign off on the document, which has been written and rewritten over several weeks with the assistance of Randolph County Commission attorney John Tinney, Wedowee and RCHCA attorney Chad Lee, and attorneys for Tanner.

Some of the points of the 20-page document included that a new hospital building would be owned and financed by RCHCA for a term of not more than 30 years. The financing of the facility by RCHCA has been mentioned at several previous RCHCA meetings. It would be leased and operated by Tanner for 35 years. When it opens, Wedowee Hospital would close. Tanner will help plan, manage construction and equip a facility, and it would be built on land (with existing access to utilities) deeded to RCHCA by Tanner on an 18-acre tract. They would give enough for the building, parking, ingress and egress, which would be about four acres.

Both Wedowee Hospital and the already-closed Randolph Medical Center are out-of-date facilities that healthcare professionals have stated would not be worth bringing up to standards.

Financial support from the community is necessary to ensure long-term viability of any hospital. Especially since the closure of Randolph Medical Center, Wedowee Hospital has problems with the number of indigent patients. Randolph County is an area without many major employers who provide insurance. That is why voters are being asked for up to a 1-percent sales tax.

A tax would help to prop up the existing hospital until a new building could open. This is because if Wedowee Hospital were to close, Randolph County would lose its certificate of need and no new facility could then be built. The transition needs to be smooth.

A 1 percent sales tax would provide approximately $1.75 million. That would pay for financing construction of a new building with remaining funds going to Tanner for operational support of the facility hospital, other general improvements or additional retirement of debt. RCHCA would be responsible for things like taxes, license fees and utilities.

Tanner will contribute up to $6 million in furniture and equipment. If construction were for some reason to exceed $20 million, Tanner would be responsible. If the tax passes, some of the expenses Tanner has already incurred and will incur during the pre-planning stage and pre-construction would be reimbursed. If it doesn't pass, Tanner will be out that money.

Wedowee Hospital's medical staff in good standing shall maintain medical staff privileges at the new hospital. Other Wedowee Hospital employees may continue working at the new hospital. Tanner will also use its best efforts to recruit and provide needed physicians and other providers to meet the needs of the residents.

Tanner pledges to implement financial management services and operational improvements; bring experience in urgent and primary health centers to broaden the scope of services; make available advanced clinical and business solutions and information systems management to enhance and realize significant savings.

Tanner will continue the provision of indigent and charity care with a new hospital and continue to have 24-hour emergency room services in a 15-bed, Medicare participating, acute care hospital with a lab and radiology. At previous meetings, administrator Mike Alexander has stated that 15 beds is the smallest they can build.

Alexander, an employee of Tanner, has already been serving as administrator of Wedowee Hospital at no charge. Tanner has donated $1 million in financial support to Wedowee Hospital and has invested $7 million in Tanner's Wedowee clinic.

If, during the first five years, the tax money is not enough to pay the operating expenses, Tanner will donate funds to make up the difference. If after five years, the funds are still annually not enough to pay operating expenses, Tanner would have the right to terminate the lease. All assets leased to Tanner would return to RCHCA at the expiration or termination of the lease.

The board of directors of a new hospital will have nine voting members, with six to be residents of Randolph County. Included would be the CEO of Tanner, two from Tanner's board, along with one each appointed by (but not a member of) Wedowee Town Council, Roanoke City Council, Wadley Town Council and Woodland Town Council, a member of the county commission and chairman of RCHCA. The meetings will be in accord with Alabama's Open Meetings Law.

The previous property tax that has traditionally gone to health care facilities in Randolph County now must go to pay the retirements of retired RMC and Wedowee Hospital employees because the Retirement System of Alabama lost their money in bad investments.

Local legislation in preparation for an election on a 1-percent sales tax has been advertised in the newspaper and signed by the governor.