GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) – A potential tax break for a commercial development in Gautier that would include a cardiac surgery center has Jackson County and Singing River Health System upset.

Legacy Park would bring retail, restaurants, apartments, a hotel, and medical services to the Highway 57 corridor, just north of Highway 90. Before construction begins, developers want a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bond with the City of Gautier to recoup some of the millions of dollars that will be spent on infrastructure for the undeveloped land.

“We’re just taking the revenue from that increased property value, in addition to all the other sales tax from retail and hotel, to support a TIF bond to reimburse the developer for the cost of the roads, water, sewer, drainage, sidewalks, and lighting,” Gautier City Manager Paula Yancey said. “And it still won’t reimburse him for all of it.”

According to the proposed agreement, the developers could receive as much as $7 million back from the city through sales and property tax over 15 years. A public hearing for the TIF bond is set for May 7.

Jackson County and Singing River Health System do not want Gautier to enter into the agreement because a cardiac surgery center is included in the development.

“We are for development in Gautier,” Laurin St. Pe, the CEO of Singing River Health said. “What we are opposed to is the city of Gautier financially helping a competitor — a for-profit competitor, at that — to come into our backyard and compete with the county-owned health system.”

Dr. Sati Adlakha, an interventional cardiologist in Jackson County and a developer of Legacy Park, told WLOX News that he approached Singing River to partner with the cardiac center, but an agreement could not be made. Instead, the center partnered with Merit Health and Memorial.

“[Singing River Health] felt it was in their best interest to stick to an employment model and not partner with private physicians in a business venture,” Dr. Adlakha said. ”We decided, because we needed a hospital, to partner with Merit and Memorial. Even despite that, we the cardiologists here in Jackson County, we still believe that Singing River is an integral part of the health care system here and we discussed with Merit and Memorial to still include Singing River in our partnership. We went back in our contract and told Merit and Memorial, you have to give almost half of your percentage to Singing River Hospital.”

Singing River told WLOX News, it is worried that its employees could be poached by the new cardiac center and leave the hospital short-staffed.

“In order for the cardiac center to staff those, they will have to get those from Singing River, taking our employees,” St. Pe said. “It’s going to leave us in a situation where we’re short-staffed because they could hire our employees, and if that’s the case, we’re not going to be able to take care of emergency situations that happen after hours.”

But Adlakha argued, that is the nature of a free market.

“These nurses and techs, they have to support their family,” he said. “And if someone else can provide a better option for them to better their lives, that’s a decision they have to make. I think that the system, instead of worrying about ‘hey, you’re going to steal all my employees’ — why do you have that fear? It’s because you know we’ll treat the employees very well.”

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