In June, voters overwhelmingly ap- proved to continue the tax to maintain hours and services at the Williams Healthcare Center. Because $35 per household is a small price to pay to have a professionally staffed and well-equipped clinic, it is no surprise that 81 percent of the voters gave it their okay.
The reason this past election was so vital is because it almost did not happen, said Dr. Jim Wurgler, a retired physician who is on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. Had the special election not been conducted, the $400,000 to $500,000 a year needed to keep the facility open 12 hours a day, nearly 365 days a year, would have resulted in a steep reduction in hours and services.
“It’s the only one we’ve got,” said Sierra Miller, who spearheaded the drive to extend the tax to maintain hours at the facility. “People come from all over [to the center], it’s the only thing close enough. Flagstaff is another half hour away.”
Although the tax has been ongoing for at least 20 years, Wurgler said its continua- tion must be approved by voters every five years by a special tax district election. He said that about two years ago, the Arizona legislature decided elections for special tax districts should be on the ballot of major elections.
Healthcare center officials missed seeing the new legislation, and the opportunity to appear on the November 2007 ballot came and went. After much hand-wringing and testifying before the body, the legislature agreed to make a special exception for a special election this past June. Voters once again gave their approval for the tax to continue to support their clinic.
Williams, with a population of 3,000, is also called “The Gateway To The Grand Canyon.” The very popular Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express train ride to the North Pole to visit Santa draws about 100,000 people per year during the holiday season.
It is estimated that at least four million people from all over the world visit the Grand Canyon each year (although many of them enter on the east side of it as op- posed to Williams). Additionally, the city is on historic Route 66, which has events and visitors all summer long. Wurgler esti- mates at least half a million people stay in Williams and visit surrounding attractions. “When there is an accident with a tourist, [the healthcare center] is a resource for them. There is a great ambulance system to take them over to a major trauma cen- ter,” Miller said.“I am a retired nurse and the doctors they have there are amazing. They know everyone. I feel comfortable going there. If a problem is out of their scope, they send people to Flagstaff or Phoenix.”
Wurlger said the subsidy allows the clinic to provide x-rays, an on site lab and the ability to stabilize heart attack victims or people who have suffered serious injuries before sending them on to a larger facility. Plus, it offers day-to-day services as well.
“We have a high school with a football team and all kinds of other athletics. Kids get hurt, if they had to transport every kid 30 miles away to x-ray a finger or ankle, it would interfere with the quality and time to care for people,” Wurgler said.
The healthcare center not only provides urgent care, it also gives family care, medi- cal imaging, lab services, women’s health services, diabetes care and much more.
Miller said a lot of retirees are finding Williams and settling there.
“I know with retirees, one thing that comes up first is, ‘is there some place you can go quick?’ Then they want to know if it is a good one. I think it definitely helps people decide if they want to settle here,” Miller said. FBN