Harris administration pushes to replace Regional One with new hospital

Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 10:24 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 3:41 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris wants to build a new, state-of-the-art Regional One Health hospital in the Medical District of Memphis. The mayor’s ambitious plan would create a flagship public hospital that would partner with the University of Tennessee, similar to how Vanderbilt University Medical Center partners with Vanderbilt University in Nashville. But it’s going to cost taxpayers.

Mayor Harris’ team has to sell the Shelby County Commission on a funding plan, and it’s going to be a hard sell. Part of the plan includes the possibility of increasing the wheel tax, which was originally created as a “temporary” tax to generate revenue. But everyone who owns a car in Memphis and Shelby County has been paying the wheel tax since 1987.

To replace the aging ROH, Mayor Harris’ administration says it will cost $750 million.

“We believe Regional One Health should be one campus,” Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harold Collins told county commissioners during a committee meeting on Wednesday. “It is a community hospital. It’s West Tennessee’s only Level 1 trauma center. That means people who are shot or are in major traffic accidents or catastrophes, this is the place they will go in a 200-mile radius.”

Harris’ team said $350 million would come from local funding. Proposed ways to generate that money include hiking fees, raising property taxes, or doubling the wheel tax from $50 to $100.

The wheel tax was created in the late 1980′s as a one-time only tax to pay down county debt. 40 years later, Shelby Countians still pay the tax every time they renew their car tags.

The Harris plan also calls for an influx of money from the state of Tennessee.

”I hope our relationships with the state and federal governments are a little bit better,” said Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr., “because Mayor Strickland is getting hundreds of millions of dollars for things. Even though he disagrees with the state on a lot of things, that relationship is there. I don’t even want to qualify or quantify the lack of relationship on this side.”

Mayor Strickland’s administration successfully campaigned for state funding to renovate Liberty Stadium where the Memphis Tigers play football and FedEx Forum, where the Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Tigers play basketball.

Governor Bill Lee last month committed $350 million for the projects.

”I applaud the mayor of the City of Memphis on the other side for getting hundreds of millions of dollars for amenities like basketball arenas and such,” said CAO Collins, “And we appreciate it. But our work is for the children and the uninsured in Shelby County.”

Commissioners voted Wednesday to send a “go-forth resolution” to the full commission for discussion on March 20.

“I know I’m ready to have a hard conversation with the people in District 6,”said Commissioner Charlie Caswell, “because this is something we have to address.”

This time, funding for Regional One is also tied to raising money to build new high schools. Several commissioners expressed concern about that, and about how fast the process is moving without a lot of specific information. A spokesperson for Mayor Harris told Action News 5: “the money for Cordova High School is in the budget. It will not be tied to funding for Regional One.”

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