The South Central Kansas Medical Center sales tax initiative appears to have passed May 24 with an 80-percent approval rating. However, official results for the 1-percent sales tax will not be available until June 2.

The tax increase, which has preliminary votes of 1,885 for and 467 against, has been discussed for the last several months as a way to guarantee the majority of the hospital’s $1.9 million annual bond payment, related to the costs of construction of a new facility that opened in 2011.

“This will put us in a position to be able to catch up on our vendors. It will give us security knowing that the bond payment, the building, will be paid for, for at least the next 10 years. And give us an opportunity to actually have reserves, and grow those reserves over the years, so that we can guarantee payment for the rest of the life of the bonds,” said Holly Harper, SCKMC’s chief financial officer.

Since March, hospital staff and volunteers have held public meetings and gone door-to-door to inform the public about the hospital’s current financial situation and what the plan is to correct it.

“All of the employees and volunteers that we had that took leaflets around, Clayton Pappan standing tall for the hospital through 20-plus presentations, all of the management support from Holly (Harper), Jane (Campbell), and all of those who attended those meetings — I think all of them should receive great congratulations for a job well done,” said Virgil Watson, SCKMC’s chief executive officer.

Clayton Pappan, SCKMC’s chief operations officer, led the SCKMC Sales Tax community outreach program.

“The community overwhelmingly supported this sales tax because they understood the value that having a local hospital brings to all of us. We, as a hospital staff, can’t thank those who voted in favor of the tax enough. You have placed your faith in this organization, and we plan to do everything possible to earn it,” Pappan said.

While Watson said he didn’t anticipate such a positive margin of victory, he wasn’t surprised that the community came out to support the hospital.

“Over my 63 years of being around, I’ve never seen (Ark City) back away from a challenge. It’s exciting, outstanding, that the community has spoken in support of the hospital. I think that speaks highly of the citizens of Arkansas City, that they’ve done this. I just feel like this challenges us even more to make sure this hospital does what it needs to do going forward to make it a positive future,” Watson said.

Watson also thanked the City of Arkansas City for its support throughout the election process.

“I absolutely can’t thank the City Commission enough — both Mayor (Chad) Giles and Mayor (Duane) Oestmann, the rest of the City Commission, (City Manager) Nick Hernandez, and (Public Information Officer) Andrew Lawson for supporting the hospital through this endeavor. Without their support, we couldn’t have done this,” Watson said.

However, Watson made it clear the sales tax is just a starting point for the hospital to begin rebuilding its finances.

“We have a lot of work to do, a lot of things to accomplish, but at least we won’t have to worry about paying the bonds. As of January of next year, that burden will be taken off of the hospital. I think it will make all of the difference in the world moving forward. The revenue that we need in order to support the rest of the operations, that is what we have to focus on now,” Watson said.