City Council playing political hot potato

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Craig City Council members agreed Tuesday that they'd rather ask voters whether to close Russell Street than to decide the issue for themselves.

Harry S. Truman would call that passing the buck.

The council calls it responsive government.

We call it politics as usual.

At stake is whether The Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees can proceed with plans to build a new hospital next to the old one. They need the city to close Russell Street to begin construction.

We agree the hospital's request has put the city in a tough spot. The council feels it's being asked to endorse a construction plan that their constituents may or may not support.

"It's the hospital board's obligation to sell the public on a location for the hospital -- not putting the city in the position of deciding where the hospital is built," Craig City Council member Bill Johnston said Thursday. "If we're deciding where the hospital is built, then we want to put it to the voters."

Over the course of the last year or so, the hospital has come up with two options: build a new hospital somewhere other than its existing location or stay put and build next to the aging facility.

The hospital board has survey data indicating that voters won't approve a tax hike for the $5 million or so needed to build elsewhere. The survey also indicates that few people would mind the closure of Russell Street, but the city doesn't trust the survey numbers. The hospital board is stuck trying to salvage a construction plan that won't cost taxpayers any additional money. But that option -- which requires building next to the old hospital -- hinges on the city's cooperation.

"The money just isn't there" to build offsite, Sue Lyster, president of the board of trustees, told the council.

The City Council wants the public to do what it won't -- make a tough decision. The Russell Street controversy is just one of several bullets the council has to shoot down the project. Even if they agreed to close the street, they would still have to rezone the hospital property from residential to commercial. They hold all the power, but seem unwilling to exercise it. Instead, they're pawning off their responsibility on the public to decide what's in the public's best interest. As elected officials, they're job is to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions for the public based on information most of the public will never hear.

What if voters decide they don't want Russell Street closed? Does that mean the hospital board has to scrap all plans to improve health care in Moffat County?

Somebody has to step up and decide whether a new hospital is a priority for the community. We think the City Council has as much of an obligation as anyone to give us a solid yes or no.

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