The City Commission of Arkansas City rejected a request Tuesday night from South Central Kansas Medical Center (SCKMC) to reduce the number of meetings hospital staff must attend this year.

City of Arkansas City logo“I’d like to move this meeting to a quarterly meeting,” said SCKMC Chief Executive Officer Virgil Watson.

“We’d like to do our monthly (meeting) with the city manager, (a) commission representative and (the) city clerk, because we’re going to have some tough decisions to make. I think we need to do it in an environment more conducive to open discussion.”

SCKMC officials have attended commission meetings and provided reports once a month since April 2016, after the city learned the hospital did not have funds to pay its autumn bond payment.

Watson’s request to make those reports less frequent was met with resistance from both citizens and commissioners, though.

Citizen objects to request

Arkansas City resident Vicki Jackson, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting and said she also regularly attends SCKMC Board of Trustees meetings, asked Mayor Dan Jurkovich for permission to speak about the request after Watson finished his report.

“Are you wanting not to come to the City Commission and give this report?” she asked Watson. “Only quarterly,” he replied.

“I like you, you’re a nice man,” Jackson said, motioning to Watson, “and I like you, you’re a nice lady,” she said, gesturing at SCKMC Chief Financial Officer Holly Harper.

“But as long as you’re taking my sales tax, which I voted to give you all … I want to hear something every month,” Jackson said. “It sounds like we’re going in the wrong direction right now.

“I want to see you here to explain (to the citizens) what has been done.”

Jurkovich reminded Watson that the purpose of the reports was not just to inform commissioners, but also to ensure there are no more surprises for the public regarding the hospital’s finances.

“I’m not sure that need … is not still a need,” Jurkovich said.

“We don’t need every detail. … At a point where, as a commission, we feel like we’re not likely to be (surprised). Maybe for another quarter, and we can re-examine that…”

“I’d like to see you come every month,” Commissioner Jay Warren chimed in. “That was a request, and you can say ‘denied,’” Watson said. “My feelings won’t be hurt at all.”

Commissioners Duane Oestmann and Karen Welch also agreed verbally that they would like to see Watson and Harper continue to attend the second meeting of each month and provide a report.

SCKMC sales tax sunset looms

Not counting the 1.5 cents of sales tax it receives, which totals around $2.4 million annually, SCKMC posted an overall loss of about $250,000 in 2017. That has commissioners concerned.

“At this point, it still seems that in 2019 there will be … another need for the general fund of the city to provide money to the hospital,” Jurkovich said.

“If we lose the half-cent sales tax, that might be a reality,” Watson said. That tax sunsets March 31, 2019, but he has indicated he will push for a renewal effort if the funds are still needed.

“We’re still in a deep hole. If we didn’t have the sales tax revenue…,” Oestmann said. “We need to go the other direction fast.”

Regarding efforts to add more coverage for care, Watson said SCKMC is starting to prioritize adding more nurse practitioners, who are easier to recruit.

He said the effort to continue recruit new physicians will continue, but acknowledged the reality that it is hard to succeed with most candidates.

In the meantime, the sales taxes currently are able to pay the bond payments in full, but the day-to-day operations of the hospital do not generate enough income to pay them without the taxes.

“The citizens have spoken and they have agreed to help us with the bonded indebtedness of the hospital,” Watson said, adding that SCKMC needs to do its part by at least breaking even.

City Manager Nick Hernandez said later in the meeting that after a recent call with Moody’s, he expects the investor service to downgrade the hospital’s bond rating due to lack of improvement.

Building regulations changes

The commission also passed an ordinance modifying Municipal Code Part II, Chapter 14, concerning buildings and building regulations, on a 3-2 vote.

The two dissenting votes were cast by Warren and Commissioner Kanyon Gingher.

Both commissioners cited a desire for an additional study session to discuss the changes in the ordinance, which has been eight months in the making.

Gingher added that she would like to take the time to make sure citizens could financially bear any changes made.

The changes in the ordinance include minor cleanup from the last major update of building codes in 2016, including eliminating requirements for GFCI outlets in garages for electrical door openers and in kitchens for refrigerators, as well as lessening the number of rooms that must have arc fault circuit interruptors. All three changes were cited as cost-saving measures for owners.

The ordinance also modifies the International Plumbing Code and International Residential Code to require annual maintenance of backflow prevention devices by a certified contractor, which is a new requirement of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The definition of such a contractor will be included in a future ordinance currently in development.

Property owners with these devices will receive annual reminders to perform this maintenance and provide proof of such within 60 days, otherwise the city can hire its own contractor to perform the work and bill the owner accordingly.

This ordinance further modifies code to account for the 2017 Public Works Department reorganization, including the realignment of the Neighborhood Services Division under the city manager.

In the process of drafting this ordinance, city staff also determined many provisions in Chapter 14 were duplicative, outdated, archaic or otherwise unclear. This ordinance also corrects those issues.

In other business, the commission:

  • unanimously approved the Jan. 8 regular meeting minutes and ratified Jurkovich’s reappointments of:
    • Jackie Barnett — Northwest Community Center Advisory Board;
    • Chris Tackett — Outstanding Young Student Award Committee;
    • Andrew Paton and Dr. Scott Rogers — Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Appeals;
    • David Billings and Mike Munson — Public Building Commission;
    • Jerri Achenbach, Larry Gilmore, Carol Goldwater and Gary Humiston — Retired Citizens Advisory Council.
  • unanimously approved the purchase of a 2018 Ford E-450 ambulance chassis from Emergency Medical Services Supply, of St. Louis, Missouri, and a contract with Osage Ambulances, of Linn, Missouri, to remount an existing ambulance module onto the new chassis, for a total amount not to exceed $89,675.00.
  • unanimously approved the purchase of one 2018 Dodge Charger police vehicle from Zeller Motors, of Arkansas City, for an amount not to exceed $20,875.
  • heard updates from Hernandez concerning Amendment No. 2 to the loan agreement for the new Water Treatment Facility, the hospital bonds, proposed changes to the Kansas Roofing Contractor Registration Act and the commission-approved 2018 capital outlay budget.