Mayor Harris calls on faith community for Regional One rebuild support

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 10:52 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Asking men and women of God to spread the word: Regional One Hospital needs a massive makeover, and it’s going to cost all of us.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris enlisted the help of the faith community to explain to their flocks his pricey plan to renovate the Mid-South’s only Level 1 trauma center.

Terrific needs, and horrific consequences if those needs aren’t met.

That’s how Reverend Dr. LaSimba Gray summed up the need to renovate Regional One. But he told Action News 5 he has faith Mayor Harris can rally the troops and the taxpayers.

Regional One Health
Regional One Health(Action News 5)

During a meeting Thursday that was closed to the media, Mayor Harris asked Gray and other church leaders to help sell his “One Campus” plan to the community, a sweeping modernization of Regional One Health Hospital with a daunting price tag.

”This is the place where our individuals who are indigent, folks without insurance, and communities of color utilize and access healthcare,” Harris said, “but unfortunately, the campus is outdated, and that can compromise care. So, it’s critical we invest in it. What we’re hopeful for is the county commission will give us the go-ahead to continue with the planning process and identify new revenue to the tune of $350 million.”

Rev. Gray said the clergy was receptive to the mayor’s request.

“We’re glad to be a part of this because we touch base with people weekly,” said Rev. Gray, “and we can push the concept of this program. The county commissioners have to be convinced that new sources of income will be used to fund the Regional One campus, the Regional One hospital that’s so desperately needed.”

Proposed sources of new revenue include:

  • Hiking fees
  • Raising property taxes
  • Doubling the wheel tax from $50 to $100

In a recent Twitter poll, 74% of the 712 respondents said “No, find another way,” when asked about paying a higher wheel tax, one that was created in 1987 as a “one-time-only” tax to pay off county debt.

Stacie Montero tweeted, “Since it’s a regionally used facility, maybe find a way to fund it with help from the neighbors who also benefit from its use. Tennesseans shouldn’t be the only ones bearing that burden.”

When asked about his dialogue with Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mayor Harris said, “We’ve done a lot of work to figure out what our game plan is for asking Governor Sanders to help the City of Memphis. Obviously, our odds are long. She has not identified as a priority investing in the City of Memphis or another state.”

And what about his conversation with Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves?

“Governor Reeves is currently at odds and in a very public debate with the City of Jackson, his only urban environment,” said Mayor Harris. “While we want to hope that he might invest in the City of Memphis, we think it’s unlikely that the Governor of Mississippi will decide to invest in Memphis when he has not invested in the City of Jackson.”

And for taxpayers who wondered how Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland secured $350 million in state funding to renovate Liberty Stadium and FedExForum before the state contributed to rebuilding Regional One?

It’s all in the timing, said State Senator London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis.

”Mayor Harris’ administration just presented us the idea this year, versus the stadium from Mayor Strickland,” she told Action News 5. “Those asks were put in about two years ago and were promised and completed this past year. But I think there is support for the idea that we need to modernize this facility, and I’m personally on board with it.”

Mayor Harris is expected to ask state leaders for One Campus funding during the 2024 legislative session.

“And I’ll be fighting for that for as long as I’m in this office,” said Harris. “Obviously, it takes a lot of courage to come up with a plan that includes new revenue. I’m just hopeful we’ll have some leaders among us.”

Mayor Harris said he’s also fighting for another $100 million in new revenue: $80 million for a new Frayser high school and $24 million for the six suburban school districts.

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