After a November 26, public hearing Williamsburg County Council approved third and final reading of an ordinance for the issuance and sale of $7.5 million in revenue bonds. The proceeds will be used to refinance and retire debt as well as other operating expenditures of the Williamsburg Regional Hospital.
The transaction is a culmination of a year's worth of work between Williamsburg County, a team of attorneys, and hospital administration - many of which were in attendance. "I can't tell you when I have seen such a force of financial engineers as these folks sitting in this room," said hospital CEO Sharon Poston who addressed council. Since she came on board in June, the hospital has undergone many positive changes, such as increasing surgical services, an ever broadening range of specialty physicians and the anticipated opening of an Intensive Care Unit but one thing has remained constant. "The changes have improved the outlook of everybody. There's just huge smiles on everybody's faces," said Poston. "The staff is just wonderful. We have people who have been there 40 years, 34 years, 20 years - there is not a high turnover rate at all because people care about each other and people care about the patients.... We are so fortunate. We have some of the best nursing care anywhere in the state of South Carolina - I'd bet in the nation."
The monies used to payback the transaction are from a $600,000 moral obligation the county has been funding the hospital with since 2002. According to Francenia Heizer of McNair law firm, the hospital will basically be leased to the county. "There will be a guarantee agreement, a mortgage, and an assignment of the lease as part of the legal documentation for the transaction," said Heizer. The 30 year fixed-rate bonds can be refinanced after 10 years. There will be no increase in millage. The bonds are rated BBB with a stable outlook as viewed by Standard and Poor's condition of the county. The rating invites a wide range of potential investors.
If the hospital can not meet the payments, the county will continue to make the payments or risk losing its credit worthiness.
The county has achieved and maintained a strong credit rating and Heizer said even though the county is not legally bound to make the payments, not doing so would not be advantageous. "That’s the difference between the legal obligation and the moral obligation," said Heizer to council. "However, we can't emphasize enough the sort of Armageddon scenario you would face if a future county council decided to not honor the moral obligation then all that good work would go up in smoke."
Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley recognized the leadership to the hospital administration for its hard work. "We're poised this time not to just come out of financial difficulties but to stay out," said Pasley who sits on the hospital board. However, Pasley added the community would also play a vital role in the success of the hospital. "We have an obligation as citizens to do our part," said Pasley. "The services are being provided and being developed. Now we have to utilize it...Whatever those myths and miss-perceptions have been, we feel very confident now that we have a product that the citizens can be proud of and should be willing to give it a try."