County: 1 hospital ballot question

Commissioners fear too many options will confuse voters


Two ballot initiatives about hospital construction plans could be one too many, Moffat County Commissioners said.

To avoid voter confusion this November, the commissioners want to see The Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and the Craig City Council agree on one hospital ballot initiative.

The Memorial Hospital's administrator, Randy Phelps, has proposed writing a ballot initiative requesting voter approval to raise taxes to fund the construction of a hospital. The commissioners unanimously approved the ballot initiative proposal.

"If we do the project on an alternative site, we're going to need financial help, and we'll ask for it on a ballot," Phelps said.

But the Craig City Council also wants voters to decide whether to close Russell Street. One block of the street must be closed if the hospital builds a new building on its current site.

"What if they vote not to vacate Russell Street and not to approve a tax increase? Then where are we?" Commissioner Les Hampton asked.

The hospital board, City Council and commissioners have scheduled a meeting Aug. 19 to settle the matter.

"The goal of the meeting is to come out with a strategy everyone can agree on," Phelps said.

If the group decides to build on Russell Street, then city voters would be asked whether they want to vacate Russell Street. If the group decides to build at a new location, then city as well as county voters would decide whether they want to support a tax increase to fund the project. The hospital board says it has enough money to build on its current site, but it needs additional tax dollars to build elsewhere.

"We don't need to divide it out into two questions," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

Phelps has until July 23 to submit the ballot initiative. If it's deemed best to go with a Russell Street question, Phelps can pull the tax question anytime before Sept. 2.

But as the governments and board try to decide what option is best, the cost of building materials steadily is rising. Phelps said the price of steel is up, as is PVC pipe, because of what he called a PVC pipe shortage.

In an effort to make the project more affordable, hospital officials have looked at the possibility of building a smaller, partial facility and adding new portions in phases. Originally, plans called for a 72,000-square-foot building. Revised plans call for a 52,000-square-foot building.

That revision means that no matter where the new hospital is built, the old building will be needed to house staff and equipment that won't fit in the new building.

"For the short term, we don't abandon that space. We'll have a space need," Phelps said.

But once the new hospital is up and running, Phelps said TMH's market share should increase, new doctors will be attracted there, and they'll be able to make the space for the staff left behind.

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