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‘Strong possibility’ TMH needs funding help

Letter of intent for levy expected today

Jerry Raehal

— When referring to building the new The Memorial Hospital west of town, those on the hospital’s Board of Trustees often call it the “hospital on the hill.”

Getting up that hill might be steeper than first expected in regards to funding the new building.

The TMH Board of Trustees met with the Moffat County Board of County Commis-sioners and Craig City Council members Thursday to discuss the funding issue, and what to do next.

The first step, they agreed, is submitting a letter of election intent in for the November general election. The letter would be for a yet to be determined mill levy to help pay for a portion of the project. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is today.

Because of TMH’s funding ties to the county, the Board of Trustees cannot submit the letter. Rather, the county commissioners must, and they plan to do so at a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. today.

The commissioners made it clear that doing so does not constitute an endorsement of a hospital levy from the county commissioners as an entity.

Instead, it gives Moffat County residents the opportunity to vote on the matter, commissioner Tom Gray said.

The letter of intent gives the hospital the option of going to the voters if need be, TMH Chief Executive Officer George Rohrich said.

The number for how much the levy would be for – if the board goes for one – won’t come until the hospital finishes work on its master plan, Rohrich said, which should be completed by month’s end, but after today’s deadline. It was estimated by several in attendance that the levy would cover a third of the building costs.

“In all likelihood, we will not have enough funding through our ability to borrow money that we have available to build a hospital,” he said. “But we don’t know that yet. We will know that in five or six days.

“There is a strong possibility that we will need help to build a new hospital.”

Concerns

Mayor Don Jones, speaking as a citizen, initially expressed concern about how the decision came about.

“Five years ago was time to ask the public, ‘when looking at a new hospital, would you vote for mill levy?'” he said. “(We were told then) ‘We don’t think we need it,’ and ‘now is not the time.'”

He also questioned the timing of the ballot.

“If you’re on the ballot, and the school is on the ballot, both issues will fail,” he said, referring to a potential $28 million bond issue the Moffat County School District might seek in the election.

Commissioner Tom Mathers said he understood where Jones was coming from, and had the same thoughts initially. But he changed his mind.

“Sooner or later, you have to have the hospital,” he said. “It’s got to come, so if it doesn’t pass the election, you have to put it on the ballot for the next one and the next one until people get tired of looking at it and say ‘Let’s vote for it and get it over and done with it.'”

Jones agreed, “You’re right. Is there going to be a better time?”

As to Jones’ criticism of the hospital’s change in stance in regards to going for a mill levy, board member Sue Lyster defended the board and past CEOs.

“We have done everything in the last five years, I believe, within our power to streamline this to where we don’t have to go to taxpayers, and it’s not working,” Lyster said. “We’ve cut staff, we’ve cut services, we’ve cut equipment purchases. With Katrina and the other hurricanes that happened, you guys have all seen the cost of construction going up. It’s far more than we ever anticipated. Those are the costs that are beyond our control.”

If the hospital does go forward with the mill levy, it will be key to get the word out to the public, many in attendance said.

Board member Corrie Poni-kvar said there would be an aggressive campaign, if that is the route the hospital goes.

If TMH does go for the mill levy, and if it doesn’t pass, it puts the hospital in an awkward position.

“We’re not going to close,” Rohrich said. “It isn’t ‘build a new hospital or close’ today, but it will have long-term negative impact on our ability to recruit and retain the best physicians in town. : We suffer from that today.”

He added, “We got a building that most parts are 60 years old, and it wasn’t designed to deliver care the way it’s delivered today.”


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