Oxford aldermen to vote on annexation

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The Oxford Board of Aldermen may vote today on an annexation requested by owners of a possible site for the proposed new hospital.
Baptist Memorial Health Care agreed to build a new hospital of $250 million or more as part of its purchase of the existing hospital last year from the City of Oxford and Lafayette County.
Landowners Beth and Robert King and tenant Catherine Babb petitioned Chancery Court to order the annexation, citing “a well-documented need for expansion” and its being surrounded by the city on three sides. The 160-acre square, commonly known as the Franklin Estate, sits west of the existing hospital. An April 3 hearing is set in Chancery Court.
Speculations that the site is favored by Baptist officials are reinforced by the recusal of Ward 1 Alderman Ney Williams, whose wife works for Baptist from discussion of the annexation.
Asked by the Daily Journal to assume a hospital on the Franklin Estate, City Engineer Bart Robinson said Oxford would benefit from the through-roads that would be necessary.
“The biggest challenges … will be access, water and sewer. It’s doable,” he said, adding that the city does not have the $3 million roughly estimated cost. (Oxford officials voted to spend only return on investment of $30 million from the hospital sale.)
Lamar Boulevard cannot be practically widened, Robinson said, but a new hospital and related businesses would require four-laning Old Taylor Road from Highway 6 to Whirlpool Drive. Oxford and Mississippi Department of Transportation officials have been negotiating upgrades to the Old Taylor Road interchange for years.
If the hospital relocates to the proposed annexation area, Oxford Electric Department would lose its biggest customer to North East Mississippi Electric Power Association. Baptist Memorial Hospital annual power bill is “well over a million dollars,” said Oxford Electric Superintendent Lynn Robbins. Losing that customer “would affect our bottom line,” he said, adding that a larger hospital with more sophisticated medical technology would presumably be an even bigger customer.
One more issue surrounding the possible connection of the annexation and the hospital’s relocation is Baptist system chief operating officer Jason Little’s public promise last spring to keep the hospital within “current city limits.” The pledge came in response to a public outcry after Baptist was found to have used a third-party purchaser to secure more than 100 acres west of Oxford and several miles from the existing medical community.
The purchase agreement requires the hospital to be located within Oxford city limits but does not specify that it must be within bounds existing at the time of the agreement. While some city officials insist the decision not to include such a restriction was discussed in open meetings, some who followed the negotiations closely have no recollection of such discussion.
The mayor and board will meet to discuss the annexation, the proposed farmers’ market and other issues at 11:30 a.m. today.
errol.castens@journalinc.com