The CRA voted 6-2 in favor of the $1.5 million grant to Big Bend Cares. Voting for the grant were County Commissioner’s Maddox, Lindley, Dozier, City Commissioner’s Miller, Richardson, and Mayor Gillum.
Voting against were City Commissioner Scott Maddox and County Commissioner Bill Proctor.
Those who supported the project talked about the redevelopment upgrade the project brings to the southside.
Those who voted against the project questioned supporting a non-profit that does not pay taxes with tax payer dollars and the potential impact of the facility of the Bond Health Care Center.
At the September 24, 2015 Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, City and County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the approval of the Big Bend Cares application for grant funds in the amount of $1.5 million.
The funds are to assist with construction of a 27,000 SF medical facility located at the corner of South Monroe Street and Magnolia Drive.
The request by Big Bend Cares is seen by the CRA staff as a way to address blight and to provide more health care choices for southside residents.
However, the request has generated a heated debate among members of the southside community.
And while some residents support the project, others have raised concerns. Some of the concerns have been answered and others that open questions about the impact of the project.
First the request.
Big Bend Cares, currently located on the southeast corner of Magnolia and South Monroe, has provided educational and comprehensive support to people infected with HIV/AIDS in Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla counties since 1987. Big Bend Cares is planning an expansion of their services through the construction and operation of a comprehensive medical facility on South Monroe Street, immediately to the west of their existing facility on the SE corner of South Monroe Street and Magnolia Drive.
The proposed facility will be a two story 27,700 SF facility dedicated to a variety of medical services. The first floor will include space for clinical, dental, laboratory, and mental health services. The second floor will include space for a pharmacy, administrative offices and future office expansion. The proposed facility is located within the Greater Frenchtown/Southside (GFS) redevelopment district.
Now the concerns.
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, a member of the CRA, told TR he will oppose the grant because he believes the money will be used to support operation expenses for Big Bend Cares and “that is not what the CRA is supposed to fund.”
“We are suppose to fund bricks and mortar, not day to day operation expenses”, said Proctor.
Others are concerned that the project will put the Bond Community Health Center out of business.
Based on CRA documents, Big Bend Cares has stated they will only be able to see insured patients because their Medicare C coverage only pays for insured patients.
Some on the southside view this as unfair competition with Bond Community Health Center and see the real possibility of Big Bend Cares taking insured patients away from the Bond facility. Bond serves both insured and uninsured patients. Ultimately, some say, Bond will not be able to survive under these conditions.
What does leadership at Bond have to say? Not much and this is where it gets interesting.
TR has not been able to find anyone from Bond to publicly take a position on the issues others have raised.
Some believe that the process is full of conflicts and something sinister is taken place.
TR has confirmed that Antonio Jefferson, the Chair of Bond’s Board of Directors, is also the City Manager of Gretna. In addition, Clarence Jackson, the Mayor of Gretna, serves on the Big Bend Cares board.
TR was told of another link to the City of Gretna. Harold Knowles, who is the City Attorney for the City of Gretna, also serves as legal counsel for Bond Community Health.
Critics say the fact that a Gretna city commissioner, Clarence Jackson, “signs the paychecks” of Jefferson and Knowles, explains why Bond is not taking a public position against the grant.
TR will be at the CRA meeting and will file an update.