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WATER VALLEY – Supervisors committed to a request from officials with Yalobusha Health Services (YHS) to fund three projects estimated to total over a half-million dollars using settlement proceeds from an environmental lawsuit.
YHS maintenance director Todd Hughes provided details and rough cost estimates for the work that includes $148,000 for a new roof on the south and east wings of the nursing home, $200,000 for the installation of a new emergency generator at the nursing home and $175,000 for a new boiler that provides heat and hot water to the Spears Wing at the hospital. Hughes explained during Monday’s Board of Supervisor meeting that the hospital needs the commitment from supervisors before advertising for bids.
Hughes previously met with supervisors last October requesting $130,000 from the settlement funds that would be used as matching money for a $42,172.50 USDA grant to cover the boiler replacement. Supervisors approved the request at that meeting, but Hughes reported Monday that they are still waiting to learn if, and when, the grant will be approved.
“The boiler is a 1969 model, it is just barely hanging in there,” Hughes said. “The grant is hung up at the USDA, we don’t know for sure when they are going to get released and if it will get approved,” Hughes added.
Also noted during Monday’s meeting was that a USDA grant may also be available to fund a portion of the generator purchase, but again a tight timeline was cited as an obstacle.
“We can’t wait to get through another storm season without a new generator,” Hughes told supervisors.
Board President Cayce Washington recommended that if the hospital can’t wait on the USDA grant, or grants, they may need to go ahead and put the projects out to bid.
“I would rather see us save the money. My first choice would be to get the grant money, but if we can’t wait, we can’t wait,” Washington said.
“I am favor of doing what we said we were going to do, and that is help the hospital with that windfall,” Washington said.
“Cayce, we sat in here and we point-blank told them, if they need something for capital improvements, that is what it is there for,” District Five Supervisor Gaylon Gray added about the settlement proceeds.
“We said we were going to help them and they have a need,” District Three Supervisor Kenny Harmon agreed.
Supervisors initially opted to immediately transfer $550,000 from the settlement proceeds to the hospital to fund the requests.
“Would you be okay with the $550,000 transfer?” Washington asked.
“Unless you say different, I don’t see why there is a need to transfer right now and not wait until we take bids,” Hughes said.
“We want to be as transparent as possible,” YHS Administrator Jessica Embry added.
“This money is not going anywhere except to these projects. I would say let us advertise and come back to you and say this is what our bids are and that is what we need,” Hughes said.
“Let’s go with that,” District 2 Supervisor Ken Rogers agreed. “That way we will know exactly what they need.”
“What if the bids come in at a million dollars?” Gray asked, as multiple references earlier in the meeting noted soaring material costs.
“They are going to be what they are going to be,” Washington said. “What Todd needs to hear, does he have a commitment from this board?”
“He has a commitment from me. We will try to help them as much as we possibly can,” Gray said.
“I am with you on that,” Washington said, a sentiment shared by other supervisors.
Although the terms of the 2019 settlement were confidential, the amount received by the county became public when supervisors voted in January, 2020, to disperse $500,000 to road funds and bank another $2.5 million from the proceeds. The lawsuit stemmed from a contaminate, trichloroethene (TCE), that was released into the environment from 1973 to 1987 by the Holley Automotive Division of Colt Industries. The TCE contaminated the soil and groundwater at the plant and spread to approximately 340 acres north and northwest of the former Holley Carburetor plant.
Much of the contaminated property listed in the lawsuit that sustained damages is owned by the hospital, but as the hospital is county-owned the proceeds from the settlement went directly to the county coffers.
District Four Supervisor Eddie Harris noted in Monday’s meeting that using a portion of the TCE settlement money has been discussed as an option to fund the county’s portion of the cost of the Gum’s Crossing bridge replacement.
“I know we have that TCE money and we have obligated some of that money for the bridge, that is no secret,” Harris said. “Everybody knows that, it was in the newspaper.”
“I didn’t know we had done that, it is not on my list of funding,” Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn said about using the settlement money for the bridge.
“We haven’t taken any money out (of the account), but we have discussed it during a board meeting,” Harris said.
“I think we are going to make it without it,” Gray said about using other county funds instead of the TCE money for the bridge.
“I know there has been some back and forth in the community about the county hospital and county board. We all work for the same people,” Washington said.
“That is taxpayer money,” Gray agreed.
“It belongs to the taxpayer. We are just trying to make sure that we can say, ‘Mr. or Ms. Taxpayer, your money went towards this and this.’ That way if they ever ask where that little wad of money went, we can officially tell them this is exactly where it went, back into the facilities,” Washington said as conversation on the topic came to a close.