A second, third look is needed
The devil is in the details. And as more details of the hospital feasibility study, which was paid for by the citizens of Belen, come to light, there seem to be more and more devils popping out of the woodwork.
The purpose of this feasibility study is to determine whether a hospital will thrive or fail on the 14 acres on Christopher Road, which is owned by the city of Belen.
Representatives from Belen were more than happy to announce that yes, indeed, a hospital is financially feasible on the property. This is where the first little devil makes an appearance.
The financial success of the hospital is based squarely on Belen and Ameris’ assumption that the county-wide mill levy, currently more than $13 million, will be made available almost immediately to a yet-to-be-formed nonprofit corporation, comprised of laymen from throughout the county.
Years of litigation and conversations with county attorneys indicate that assumption is a falsehood. Commissioners, judges and lawyers alike have said the money cannot be used until a hospital actually exists — not during construction, not during pre-operational hiring, not for start-up costs — only when a brick and mortar building stands in Valencia County.
As the process moves forward, every step is predicated on the assumptions in the feasibility study. The third-party verification, estimated to cost the county between $75,000 and $100,000, will be based on the assumption that the mill levy will be released later this year.
That assumption paints quite a rosy financial picture. But all indications say it simply isn’t true or possible.
Setting aside that rather large issue, closer examination of the study reveals a trend of information gathering and research on Ameris’ part that can only be called sloppy and incomplete.
The study cites a sales tax rate of 7.19 percent for Belen, Los Lunas and the county. Not only does that information ignore our two northern most municipalities — the village of Bosque Farms and town of Peralta — but it is completely inaccurate.
A search of the state’s taxation and revenue website supplies the GRT rates for Valencia County. Current rates are a low of 6.375 percent in the unincorporated areas and a high of 7.8125 percent for Belen.
Why did Belen city councilors accept this inaccurate information? Do they not know their own city’s current GRT rate?
A list of “larger employers” in the county include a company with one employee located in Valencia County. How does that qualify as “large?” And have the city councilors forgotten about one of the biggest employers in the county and the Hub City itself, BNSF?
The study cites information from the local area chapter of the chamber of commerce. If Ameris, a Nashville company, is unaware that the county has not one, but three competent entities that have the moniker of “chamber of commerce,” surely the city councilors should have pointed that out.
If Ameris can’t obtain basic information, such as current GRT rates and major local employers, and city councilors are willing to close their eyes and accept these errors as fact, is it a good idea for the county to partner with the city on this project and partially fund it?
We encourage — implore — Valencia County commissioners, Belen city councilors, Los Lunas village councilors and all other entities involved in the decision-making process to stop and look at what’s at stake. Study the details. Make informed decisions. After all, isn’t that why we elected you?
There are other options in the offing. Yes, the Miller/Los Lunas project swooped in at the 11th hour and the village has asked the county to wait six months before it makes a final decision regarding the mill levy.
The citizens of Valencia County have been waiting six years for improved health care — a much needed hospital. They have contributed more than $13 million.
Six years is a long time to wait, but what will be the cost of saving six months?