Samantha Johnston: Reality: Hospital cannot be built without taxpayer support

The Memorial Hospital is asking taxpayers to approve the investment in a new community hospital by voting Yes on 1A in November. 1A is a ballot initiative to approve 3 dedicated mills for the construction of a replacement hospital facility. A new hospital is critical to meet the healthcare needs and expectations of Moffat County residents and to provide opportunities for improved healthcare in our community.

There are many questions surrounding the new hospital project, but TMH administration, Board of Trustees and mill levy committee have made a commitment to be open, honest and forthcoming with information about the current project, past promises and the future vision with a strong understanding of the past history. TMH administration knows that they will now, and for many years, carry the baggage of past administrations and that building credibility in a community comes one person at a time. We also know that a new community hospital is not only necessary, but critical to the long-term viability of healthcare in Moffat County.

At a public form held Wednesday evening at the Craig fire Station, a Moffat County resident who has lived through many years of hospital promises asked whether the new hospital will be functional and practical and not a notch on the hospital administration's belt. The answer is an emphatic YES. The new facility is a replacement facility.

At approximately 9,000 square feet larger, the facility will provide private patient rooms, three large operating rooms, a larger and more efficient emergency room, updated equipment and technology and logistical efficiencies that do not exist in the current hospital. The entire building project will allow the hospital to correct structural, medical and safety code deficiencies provide the necessary space to accommodate specialists and technical procedures and improve the overall patient experience. Most importantly, the facility will be located on 15 acres of land and will be engineered to accommodate future growth on three sides of the structure.

Many residents have asked why the ballot question indicates that a mill levy will sunset in 40 years and that money can be used for operations and not restricted specifically to the project debt. Because TMH is a county hospital, it must abide by rules and regulations specific to county hospitals. Such governance limits why and how the hospital can ask for money and it prohibits a hospital from tying a tax to long-term debt. The original intent of the hospital was to collect a dedicated 3 mills for the length of the loan.

However, the question had to be reworded through the efforts of hospital and county attorneys to reflect a defined period of time. Financing for the new hospital cannot be secured until the mill levy passes. It is nearly impossible to predict the exact terms of a loan that has not yet been closed. Therefore, the hospital and the county agreed to sunset the mill levy in 40 years, which is the legal maximum length of a mill levy for a hospital.

However, a critical piece of the puzzle is that the county and hospital board of trustees signed a Joint Resolution that is a promise that the hospital will only collect the tax for as long as it takes to pay off the building and that future county commissioners will provide oversight of this promise and will help the hospital to begin the process to stop collection of the mill levy once the debt is retired. We anticipate this to be about 25 years.

Finally, the ballot wording caps the amount of money that TMH can collect in any one year to $1.5 million. The current expected annual revenue is approximately $1.4 million. What this means to taxpayers is that if valuations continue to climb exponentially, taxes will not go through the roof - taxpayers will only be asked to invest a maximum of $1.5 million annually.

TMH employs nearly 170 people and is responsible for nearly $8 million in salary and benefits in 2007 - we understand the impact of our organization on the local economy. The reality of the situation for taxpayers is that a new community hospital cannot be built without taxpayer support. TMH simply cannot shoulder the debt on a new project on its own. Without a mill levy, TMH will be forced to wait another year and ask taxpayers to again invest in the same structure, but likely to the tune of several million additional dollars.

Call Samantha Johnston at 846-1832 or e-mail Samantha.johnston@bresnan.net for more information.

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