Randolph county residents send a loud message
BY DALE QUINNEY
Residents of Randolph County, areas of which are served by Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative, face challenges to their future like those faced by most rural Alabama residents. The 2010 Census revealed that the county’s population was less than it was in 1910. Of even greater concern was that population projections through 2040 indicated that the loss in population would continue. If population loss continues, where will the youth of Randolph County find employment?
Most of Alabama’s rural counties share this concern over population loss. Twenty-four rural Alabama counties have less population in 2010 than they had in 1910. Forty-one of Alabama’s 67 counties are projected to lose population between 2010 and 2040.
Health care is an economic engine, producing jobs and economic opportunity. The presence of a hospital acts like a magnet in attracting other health care service to the area. The Economic Development Association of Alabama has struggled to attract new businesses to communities that do not have adequate health care.
Randolph County lost one of its hospitals, the Randolph Medical Center in Roanoke, in 2011. The lone remaining hospital, the Wedowee Hospital, had been constructed in 1953. A new facility was sorely needed. Tanner Health System of Carrollton, Ga., was managing the hospital and was willing to provide funds for equipping a new hospital, if county residents could provide construction funding.
Funding by the county posed a challenge. Randolph County residents already had a property tax designated for the county’s health care. Unfortunately, due to the poor performance of an existing retirement fund, most of these funds had to be directed to keep the retirement plan afloat. In addition, the county had the usual rivalry between communities that exists in most rural counties.
A one-percent sales tax was proposed to raise county funds for hospital construction. Would the residents of Randolph County look at the future and pass this tax in August 2016 to build a new hospital to provide local health care, care for those traveling through or visiting the county, and to compete for future economic development? Would they be disturbed by the fact that the first health care tax was not being used for its designated purpose and refuse to support a second tax?
After an actively debated campaign, 86 percent of the voters in Randolph County did approve this second health care tax to build a new hospital. At a time when voters want no part of new taxes, this sent a loud message. When people see that a new tax is in their own, their children’s, and their grandchildren’s best interests, they will accept new taxes. A large part of the debate centered on assurances that the new taxes would be used wisely. There appears to be a strong relationship between willingness to pay taxes and feeling that tax dollars are not being wasted.
In November 2016, the voters of Randolph County responded again by approving a half-percent sales tax to build a new jail. The jail was seriously undersized and outdated. This preemptive action probably avoided unnecessary expenses, such as legal fees, that would have followed taking no action.
Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.