County commission considering hospital mill levy agreement with Belen

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(Editor's note: Visit www.news-bulletin.com to read about the commission's decision Wednesday on the agreement for the hospital project.)

(Editor's note: Visit www.news-bulletin.com to read about the commission's decision Wednesday on the agreement for the hospital project.)

It's not a joint powers agreement, but it is an agreement nonetheless.

Once again, Valencia County Commissioners considered entering into an agreement with the city of Belen for a hospital.

At last night's commission meeting, commissioners weighed the wisdom of signing an agreement that outlines how the county will transfer its mill levy funds to a provider selected by the city of Belen.

According to the agenda request form for the item, there is $17,216,851 in the hospital mill levy fund account as of April.

The item was placed on the agenda for consideration by Commissioner Mary Andersen, who represents nearly all of the village of Los Lunas and northwestern Valencia County.

Andersen said Tuesday her sponsorship of the agenda item does indicate her support for the Belen project.

A draft agenda for the commission meeting sent out on July 9, seemed to indicate the board would be deciding between the two competing hospital projects — Belen's project in partnership with Ameris and a Los Lunas hospital, developed and built by Miller Architecture — and award the mill levy funds to one.

However, when the full agenda packet and final agenda was released on July 11, the agenda language had been changed to indicate consideration of awarding the mill levy funds just to the Belen project.

"These are my own private thoughts, but I look carefully at the five-year financial plan provided by each project. I am more comfortable I got from Ameris," Andersen said.

One thing she found concerning about the projections for the Miller project was the line item for interest expenses that totaled $5.5 million a year.

"My understanding is that is the amount, the return on investment, to the people who are putting up the capital for the project," she said.

Andersen said the situation was perfectly understandable, considering how the project would be financed, but she was still concerned with the ongoing expense.

She also pointed out that Miller has said its project didn't need the mill levy funds.

"Their financial statement doesn't include the mill levy and looks at it in terms of extra," she said.

As far as the plans for a hospital in Los Lunas are concerned, the commissioner said she genuinely hoped Miller went ahead with the project. Andersen said she is looking at the future of medical funding under the Affordable Care Act, which seems to be in a constant state of flux right now.

"If the money comes from Obamacare like they say, then we will have two hospitals," she said. "And we need them — one on the north, one on the south. And we desperately need some kind of emergency care on the east side. But that's something for another time."

Frank Schupp, vice president of development for Ameris, said Wednesday the company was still committed to the Belen project.

"Nothing changed as far as our desire to develop and manage the Valencia Community Hospital," Schupp said.

If the agreement is approved, Schupp said he best guess-timate would be that the Belen hospital could open its doors in late summer, 2016.

"One thing I am very sincere about is, the key to success or failure with this or any other hospital we have been involved in, is it is all dependent on the doctors," he said. "Whatever the outcome tomorrow, that will still be our focus."

Los Lunas Mayor Robert Vialpando said he could not simply walk away from the project without trying to bring it to his municipality.

"I have to represent the people in Los Lunas and the county because it is going to serve everyone," Vialpando said.

When asked if he felt the commissioners had given both projects due consideration, the mayor paused.

"I guess. I've been there, Miller's been there, we gave our presentations," he said. "We have support from part of them but majority rules when they vote.

"I just don't understand the reason as to why it's being done this way. I realize a hospital will bring economic development. Is that it? Do they want to help Belen bring in economic development? I would like to know that."

Earlier this year, Andersen drafted questions for both Ameris and Miller concerning the development and funding of both projects. At the time, the commissioner said she wanted an "apples-to-apples" comparison of the two projects.

Both companies responded to the questions, but the commissioners never revisited those documents.

Vialpando said it seemed to him that Andersen was pushing the mill levy funding to Belen, something she may have to answer for to her constituents.

"We are 10 miles from Belen," he said. "This can be a hospital for Belen people as well."

In regards to the hospital project in Los Lunas, Vialpando said the mill levy would make a better facility.

In the past, Darin Miller, CEO of Miller Architecture, has said he is going forward with development of a Los Lunas hospital, with or without the mill levy funds.

"As far as I know, next year, he's going for it," Vialpando said. "And I will be there with a shovel."

Via email on Tuesday, Miller said he had no comment related to the business of the Valencia County Commission.

"As it relates to the Valencia Regional Medical Center in Los Lunas, the Miller/Lovelace team is making progress towards a construction start in spring 2014 with an anticipated hospital opening in December 2015," Miller wrote in the email.

According to the proposed agreement between the county and Belen, the county agrees to execute a health-care facilities contract with the provider chosen by the city if: Belen issues a request for proposal for a provider to operate and maintain a hospital on the Belen site, Belen shall submit a financing plan for the construction and equipping of a hospital facility, and Belen agrees to include the health-care facilities contract in the RFP and that it will be the contract offered to the chosen provider.

The health-care facilities contract, drafted by the county's attorneys, spells out a five-year time line under which the mill levy funds will be disbursed to a provider.

Ten days after hospital services begin, $3 million will be disbursed to the provider. Over the next five years, on the anniversary of that date, another $2.5 million will be released.

Either party can cancel the agreement with 30-days notice after the initial six months.

At Monday's Belen City Council meeting an item agenda for the selection of the lease of land for the hospital on Christopher Road was deleted. Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo suggested the deletion, but didn't disclose why the issue was taken off the agenda.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.