Is it the right time for more expenses?

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On Wednesday, the Valencia County Commissioners made a decision that had it come at any other time would have been lauded as one of the best decisions they’ve made in a long time.
On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners agreed to enter into a joint powers agreement with the city of Belen to facilitate the building of a hospital.
Over the last year, Belen has shown itself to be a city of grit and fortitude as it pushed for and championed the much-needed hospital. In recent years, it has thrown nearly $23 million in direct infrastructure investment into the area surrounding the city land being made available for a hospital site.
But given the recent revelations about the state of the county’s finance troubles, we wonder whether the county can take on one more fiscal responsibility, given that it already seems to be overburdened by something as common as past-due bills.
On the surface, the JPA seems to indicate that the county isn’t obligated to spend any money, with the obvious exception of the mill levy, to bring this project to fruition.
However, upon a closer read, the agreement says the county “shall” analyze and evaluate the Belen feasibility study. In the legal world, “shall” is not permissive; it’s an order.
The JPA allows for the validation of the feasibility study to happen one of two ways — “the county,” presumably the commissioners and administration, may conduct and complete its own “internal evaluation,” or it may hire an independent consultant to provide written analysis and report whether the project will be successful and sustainable.
Since the commissioners have time and again declared themselves “not professionals” in the realm of hospital building and operating, why should the taxpayers put their faith in this admitted board of laymen to accurately evaluate the feasibility of what could be the single most important venture in the history of Valencia County?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for the commissioners to hire a consultant? A professional?
It does make sense, but given the fact that the validation of the study will cost tens of thousands of dollars the county doesn’t have, that is something that is most certainly not feasible.
Even if the commissioners chose to do their own evaluation of the study, once it’s accepted, there is still the preparation of the health care facilities contract request for proposal — man hours from staff, administration, county attorneys have to be paid for by the county.
Then there is the practical question of who pays to advertise the RFP — Belen or the county? With a project of this magnitude, the call for a contract needs to be broadcast far and wide. And that doesn’t come cheap.
As any project moves forward, there are always unexpected expenses. At this time, the county barely seems able to handle its known expenses, let alone something not anticipated.
The county needs to face the fact that, while this commission would dearly love to be the one to bring the hospital to the county, its own financial house is in near shambles and in desperate need of attention before it commits to additional expenses.