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Hospital, litigation survey closes with no suprise results

IDABEL, OK- McCurtain Memorial Hospital launched a survey recently across the county to poll local residents on their views of the need for a hospital in the county, where a new hospital should be built, how residents feel the current hospital is going, and their views on the 2% lodging tax litigation. The results are in an no-one is .

"We've heard repeatedly that this community needs and wants a new hospital," Brian Whitfield, the hospital's president and CEO said on Thursday morning. "This survey was launched to gauge the communities feelings on a wide range of questions related to the hospital and litigation," he said, "and it is clear, this delay in getting a new hospital is not popular across the county."

The survey began by asking voters whether they believed that the county needed a hospital at all. Again, no surprise to anyone, 92% of participants said "yes," the county certainly needs a hospital. Equally to no surprise, 77% of respondents said that they did vote "yes" for the new in November 2022.

In November 2022, the question to build a new hospital and pass a 2% lodging tax was presented to voters and 65% of voters in McCurtain County voted "yes." In fact, the measure passed in all 30 precincts of the county - including the area of Hochatown, where the legal challenges to the measure originated.

It is interesting to note that the question on where to build the hospital and whether voters supported the county commissioners' decision to spend over $2 million on land at the Idabel Airport was seemingly a near 50/50 split. An equal 55% of participants in the survey said the hospital should be built on the current property at 1301 E. Lincoln Road in Idabel - yet, the same 55% said that they supported the county's decision to buy the land.

Asked whether voters believed the current hospital operations is headed in the right direction, 81% said "yes," and when asked if they would support a new ballot measure to pass a 2% lodging tax should it be necessary, 83% of respondents said "yes."

Of those surveyed, 90% of all participants said that they do not believe the litigation filed by Hochatown incorporators, such as mayor Dian Jordan, was in the best interest of McCurtain County. One local resident who sent the hospital a message about this question said, "It is very clear that Hochatown is fueled by greed, lead by a person who is hell-bent on seizing power and control and if [she] cannot get her way, I assure you - we're all going to pay."

Of those who participated in the survey, 92% said they are registered voters.

The vote to pass a 2% lodging tax was passed in November 2022. Just over two months later, in January 2023, Hochatown, by and through a Tulsa, Oklahoma man, filed a lawsuit alleging that the ballot was invalid and that the tax should not be collected. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that the county failed to publish the ballot in a newspaper for four consecutive weeks as required by Oklahoma law. The lawsuit claimed that residents who voted simply did not know what they were voting for, how much the hospital was going to cost tax payers, and for how long.

Shortly after the suit was filed, the man who was named as the lone plaintiff in the case, asked that his name be removed and he asked to withdraw from the case. It took no time, however, for Hochatown incorporators to find another plaintiff and began courting Michael Cathey, the owner of Vonderosa Properties, LLC. Cathey, a Texas man with a few cabins in the Hochatown area, only appeared at one hearing last year and that was only due to a subpoena requiring his attendance.

In July 2023, the case was before Judge Emily Maxwell and she was to decided whether the Plaintiff's (Cathey / Vonderosa Properties, LLC) had stated a claim or not, and, whether the tax was valid. Maxwell ruled that the new tax was valid and ruled in favor of the county and hospital. That decision headed immediately to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Today, the case sits with the Oklahoma Supreme Court and final responses and filings are due today, February 29. It is unclear how long before a decision mights be reached in the case. Meanwhile, the hospital and county residents continue to be deprived of a new hospital.

A separate lawsuit is pending in McCurtain County, currently. New filings are expected in that case this week and it, too, surrounds the 2% lodging tax question. The hospital will release a public statement about that case once the filings are prepared and filed with the court.

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