Commissioners award Belen mill levy funds — again

........................................................................................................................................................................................

More than 60 people crowded into the Valencia County Commission room last week to hear whether the commissioners would support another agreement with the city of Belen for a hospital.

On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners threw their support behind the city's hospital project, entering into an agreement to contract with Belen's health care provider of choice.

"If all the actions are accomplished in six months to the satisfaction of this agreement, the county will enter into a health-care-facility contract," Commissioner Mary Andersen said. "It's been a long time getting to this point. I am confident what we are trying to do this evening will protect the county and the $20 million in taxpayer funds."

As of April, there was $17,216,851 in mill levy funds available for the hospital project. The $20 million figure referred to by Andersen is the projected revenues of the eight-year mill levy, which expires in 2014.

Commissioners Charles Eaton, Donald Holliday and Andersen voted in favor of the agreement, while commissioners Alicia Aguilar and Lawrence Romero voted against.

Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said he was very excited about the commission's decision.

"I'm glad a decision has finally been made and I'm not going to say I'm not glad it was made for Belen," Jaramillo said. "Now we need to go forward and send out the RFP as soon as possible."

The Belen City Council will be considering the agreement with the county at a special meeting today at 5:30 p.m.

Romero first attempted to change the agreement by making a motion to split the mill levy between the Belen and village of Los Lunas hospital projects.

Eaton questioned the legality of such a motion. County attorney Dave Pato said the commission could change the agreement to reflect such a split, but since the agenda item specified the Belen project, such a vote could not be taken.

Romero then asked if the item could be tabled and the agreement amended to split the mill levy monies. Aguilar backed his suggestion to table the matter.

"I would like to enter, for the record, that we did receive letters from Los Lunas, Bosque Farms, Peralta and Rio Communities asking us to withhold action on this tonight," Aguilar said. "I feel we need further communications from their constituents. This commission is taking action for one entity and (the other municipalities) are not being heard."

Romero's motion to table failed 3-2.

Commission Chairman Eaton then made a motion to approve the agreement with Belen. There were calls from the audience for the public to have a chance to speak.

Aguilar said she was not for Los Lunas or Belen, but rather questioned the process and "what's going on. I find it very disturbing that about June 4, the attorneys met with Commissioner Eaton and the health-care-facilities contract being drafted was taken from a blank form to Belen-specific."

Aguilar went on, saying that Andersen and the county attorneys met with representatives from Los Lunas to draft an agreement.

"But the votes are there for Belen and always have been," she said.

Eaton said Aguilar has the same access to legal counsel as any other commissioner.

"To say I have any greater access …" Aguilar interrupted, saying she did not say that.

"That's the impression you are giving," Eaton said.

The chairman then invited members of the audience to address the commissioners about the agreement.

Meadow Lake resident Bob Gostischa took to the podium, arguing that the original intention of the mill levy was for a hospital in the county.

"Now I want to know, as a citizen of the county, why my tax money is being turned over to a municipality," Gostischa said.

The 2.75 mill levy that was imposed in 2006 was assessed to all properties in Valencia County, whether they were within a municipal boundary or not. The mill levy funds have been collected from taxpayers in the unincorporated parts of the county, as well as from those inside the cities, villages and towns.

Clark Metcalf, a Rio Communities resident, said that, according to the agreement, the hospital in Belen would be a sole provider.

"That is totally ignoring that there is going to be a second hospital in Los Lunas first," Metcalf said.

Marty Callahan, president of the Los Lunas Chamber Commerce, said in May, Andersen made the statement that the county was not going to give any money to any facility that doesn't have a building up and doors open.

Andersen said that is exactly what the agreement and health-care-facilities contract does.

Aguilar asked who the provider was for the contract.

County attorney Adren Nance said there wasn't one yet, but if the criteria of the agreement were met, the county would enter into the contract.

Aguilar then asked if the agreement needed approval by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Nance said it did not, since it was not titled a joint powers agreement.

The city and county previously entered into a JPA for the hospital project, but it was rejected by DFA because it failed to spell out which joint powers the two bodies were exercising.

"So we are just going to hand Belen millions of dollars," Aguilar said.

Nance said the mill levy money would go to the provider, not the city.

"(A provider) that is yet to be named," Aguilar said.

The approval of the agreement starts the clock ticking for Belen to put together and issue a request for proposal for a health care provider.

According to the agreement, the county will execute a health-care-facilities contract with the provider selected by the city 45 days after the selection of a provider and the final resolution of any protests to the procurement.

That contract will transfer mill levy funds for the operation and maintenance of the hospital to the provider incrementally during the next five years.

In the legal analysis on the agenda request form, Nance wrote that the contract would prohibit the county from obligating the mill levy funding for six months, pending Belen's issuance of the RFP.


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