Belen files injunction; LL says it's not wrong

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The city of Belen filed a complaint for declaratory judgement and preliminary and permanent injunction in response to a resolution and position statement passed by the village of Los Lunas that city officials say contains "inaccurate, false and misleading" information about the proposed Belen hospital and Valencia Regional Medical Center.

Belen city officials aim to stop the distribution of this resolution, comparing the two competing hospital projects within Valencia County, to residents with the injunction.

"The inaccurate, false and misleading information listed in the resolution will have the probable effect of influencing the public, the voters of Valencia County, and the Valencia County Commission against construction of a county municipal hospital in Belen," the injunction states.

The court filing says the resolution would interfere with Belen's ability to finance the construction of a county hospital and obtain mill levy funding.

The injunction asks for the village to rescind its resolution and prohibit them from passing any other similar resolutions.

Each of the nine categories listed in the resolution explains why Los Lunas is the preferable site over Belen, the injunction states. The injunction claims the village council knew the information listed in their resolution was false, exceeded its authority by adopting such a resolution and "amounted to a clear abuse of discretion."

The 10-page injunction goes on to correct each of these categories and details how the information within the resolution is "falsely portrayed" for both projects.

Los Lunas village attorney Larry Guggino said Belen's injunction to stop the Los Lunas council from continuing to publicize its resolution and position statement regarding the two proposed hospitals appears to be an attempt to stifle public discourse.

The resolution was passed by the council earlier this month with the purpose of informing the public on both projects, the hospital proposed by Darin Miller Architects and the hospital proposed by the city of Belen using Ameris Management Services.

"You have to compare the projects in order to see the differences between them," said Los Lunas Village Administrator Gregory Martin.

The hospital comparisons in the resolution were based on Miller's proposal, the 140-page hospital study by Ameris and Ameris' website, said Martin.

"This is an important public project in the county, and the citizens have a right to know how the two projects compare with respect to who is going to be running it, and with respect to its sustainability," said Guggino. "Belen had a hospital and it failed. What's different about this hospital? Why is this one going to succeed where another one with a major carrier in New Mexico — Presbyterian — failed?"

The Los Lunas attorney said Valencia County taxpayers have a right to know as much about each hospital project as possible.

"We just want to have an open discussion that I think the people who voted for the mill levy are entitled to," Guggino said.

The injunction states the Los Lunas village council "adopted the resolution knowing that the factors listed were inaccurate, false, misleading, or else in reckless disregard for the truth."

"If there's fault with these (comparisons) in the resolution, then the fault with these comes from the (Ameris) study itself and their website," Martin said. "And they certainly were not blatant statements that the council believed were inaccurate, false or misleading."

There hasn't been other legal cases in the state that the village attorney is aware of where one governmental entity sued another governmental entity to stop them from talking about an important project with significant impact on taxpayers.

In the executive summary of Ameris' study, it states that the construction and development of the Belen hospital will cost an estimated $57 million, and on the advice of Stern Brothers, broker — investment bankers, they assumed an interest rate of 5 percent, but the bond rating for Belen is excellent and would likely help lower the bond interest rate, making the project even more financially feasible.

"Why are we talking about Belen's bond rate if Belen isn't going to publicly finance this facility," Guggino said. "It's a joint-owned facility where they're going to create a nonprofit board to run it, and it has to be built, and when you look at the act, it provides for governmental entities issuing bonds for the building of these things, that sounds like public financing to me."

Los Lunas isn't a financial partner with Miller; Miller's hospital is privately funded.

"They do want to use the mill (levy) money, but there's a distinction," Guggino said. "They don't want to use the mill money to pay for shortfalls and operational costs. They want to use the mill money to pay for expansion and the provision of additional services."

The Ameris study shows that in the first year, the Belen hospital will use the mill levy money for a shortfall in its operation's budget. On pages 12 to 20 of the forecasted balance sheet, they are projecting a loss of $2 million, he said.

Ameris' study is available on the city of Belen's website at www.belen-nm.gov, and Darin Miller's hospital presentation is available on the Los Lunas website at www.loslunasnm.gov

Guggino said when it comes to service providers, Lovelace Health System, which will operate the Los Lunas hospital, is owned by a large insurance company. He said Ameris is not.

"We think the real thing that is going to be the deciding factor in all of this is going to be those questions (Valencia County Commissioner) Mary Anderson and (the other commissioners) developed," Guggino said. "I think that's the tool the commission wants to use to look at all these projects."

Village officials believe Miller's project is in the best interest of the entire county because it is privately funded and poses no risk to the taxpayer.

"The hospital can only be built in one place," he said. "And for the reasons stated in the resolution, we feel like it's important for the taxpayers and the commission to understand why we believe that the best place for the hospital to be built happens to be in Los Lunas …

"We hope that the questions asked by the commission, spearheaded by Mary Anderson, also shed an equal amount of light on the differences between the two projects so that once and for all the people can feel like, whatever is decided is in the best interest of the county, not just one community or another."

The case has been assigned to District Judge Violet Otero, but a court date has not yet been scheduled.