LL files suit against Belen, county over mill levy

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Claiming that the Valencia County Commission illegally delegated its authority by allowing the city of Belen to choose a health-care provider for a hospital in the Hub City, the village of Los Lunas has filed a complaint asking the court for an injunction.

The village filed the complaint against the Valencia County Commission and the city of Belen on Friday in response to the commission's decision to award mill levy money to a health-care provider of Belen's choice.

At the July 17 commission meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 to enter into an agreement to contract with a health-care provider chosen by the Belen City Council for a hospital on Christopher Road in Belen.

Village attorney Larry Guggino contends that the New Mexico Hospital Funding Act does not allow the county to enter into a contract with a municipality when the county and the municipality are not going to jointly build or jointly operate a hospital, or the city is not already operating a hospital.

"The city council doesn't represent all of Valencia County — they represent Belen," Guggino said. "The county commission represents all the citizens of Valencia County — they're the ones, since it is a countywide mill levy, that should be making the decisions as to who the health-care facility provider should be."

The village attorney said Los Lunas officials hope the commission will award the mill levy money correctly, in accordance with the law.

Currently, the mill levy balance is estimated to be about $17 million.

County attorney Dave Pato and Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said they cannot comment on the village's legal action at this time.

"I can't comment on pending cases," Pato said.

In 2006, county residents approved a mill levy, a property tax, to raise money for the operation and maintenance of a hospital that has yet to be built.

Last year, the village began working with Miller Architects, an Oklahoma company, that has said it plans to develop a privately-owned hospital in the municipality.

Darin Miller, the CEO of Miller Architects, also worked with the county several years ago when a hospital board was formed, and the Rio Communities area was being considered for a hospital site.

During a presentation by Miller earlier this year about his firm's proposed hospital, the Valencia Region Medical Center, he said the company didn't need the mill levy funding for the hospital. But, he said, the money was needed to operate additional services at satellite clinics.

The Belen City Council is planning to use the mill levy funding for a nonprofit hospital in Belen.

Guggino also argued in the court documents that the agreement may not be valid because former County Commissioner Donald Holliday did not reside in his district when he cast his vote on July 17.

Holliday's Bosque Farms home has been sold.

"The original contract for the sale was entered into on May 27," Guggino said. "On the (multiple listing service), it says it was July 15, but a memorandum of real estate contract was filed in the county clerk's office on July 12."

According to the home-listing service, possession is the day of funding, so Holliday would have had to vacate the premises on July 12.

"It's our position that the day of funding was July 12 at the latest, because that's when the documents were recorded," Guggino said.

According to state statute, if a commissioner "permanently removes his residence from or maintains no residence in the district from which he was elected, he shall be deemed to have resigned."

However, Holliday says there is another state statute that gives him what amounts to a 30-day grace period.

"Statute says I have 30 days until I am considered not the representative of the district, until I'm AWOL," Holliday said in a phone interview last Thursday.

He is referring to section 10-6-3 that says, in part, "any incumbent of any public office or employment of the state of New Mexico … who shall fail for a period of 30 successive days or more to devote his time to the usual and normal extent during ordinary working hours to the performance of the duties of such public office … shall be deemed to have resigned from and to have permanently abandoned his public office …"

Holliday said he flew back to New Mexico on the morning of July 17, attended the meeting and left the state the next morning.

"I left on July 12, the day the house closed," he said. "I was still in contact with the county. I looked at the statutes. If I hadn't thought I could do that, I would have pushed back leaving."

The complaint also includes a copy of the real estate contract for the sale of the property where Holliday lived. The property was owned by Janice Dunivan, Holliday's mother-in-law.

Holliday said he was not living in the house at the time of the vote on the contract between the county and Belen.


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