Citizens file motion in hospital suit

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Nearly 140 Valencia County taxpayers have filed a motion to make themselves part of the latest hospital lawsuit.

The village of Los Lunas disputes an agreement that the city of Belen can choose a health care provider for the planned hospital. The agreement requires Valencia County to contract with that provider for the mill levy funds.

The agreement was approved July 17; the village filed suit a month later.

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 agreement called for the city of Belen to issue a request for proposal for a health care provider to build and operate a hospital on city-owned property on Christopher Road.

The only company to respond by the Sept. 16 deadline was Ameris Management Services LLC, a Nashville company. Ameris is the same company that was paid $49,999 by the city last year to create the site-specific feasibility study for the Christopher Road property.

If the city decides Ameris is the most qualified respondent, a health care facility contract will be executed between the county and Ameris.

Guggino also argued the validity of the agreement based on former Commissioner Donald Holliday's move out of his district prior to the July vote.

The house Holliday lived in was sold on July 12. He has since moved out of state.

In the motion to intervene, the 140 taxpayers argue that as residents and taxpayers, they have an interest in how the commissioners vote and whether the vote is valid, when it comes to spending the hospital mill levy funds.

Their motion also states that any decision on the agreement "may impair or impede our ability to argue the validity of the actions of the county commission."

Attached to the motion is a copy of the pleadings the plaintiffs will file if they were allowed to intervene in the case.

It asks that the agreement between the county and Belen be declared invalid, because the county cannot delegate its authority to chose a health care provider to the city.

The draft pleading also argues that because Holliday was not a resident of his district at the time of the July 17 vote, the 3-2 decision on the contract isn't valid. Without Holliday, the vote would have been tied, 2-2, and died for lack of action.

Whether Holliday was considered a resident at the time of the vote is a matter of dueling state statutes.

It is Guggino's position that once the elected official no longer resides in the district or does not maintain a residence in the district, that they are deemed to have immediately resigned.

Holliday says there is another statute giving him what amounts to a 30-day grace period.

The former commissioner said he left the state on July 12, the day of the closing on the house, flew back to New Mexico on the morning of July 17, attended the meeting and left the state again the following morning.

Holliday says he remained in contact with county administration the entire time, thus still performing his duties as a commissioner. He sent a letter to the county manager and county clerk, setting July 31 as the effective date of his resignation.

The county and Belen responded to the motion to intervene last week, asking that it be dismissed. The response says that the complaint filed with the motion to intervene is identical to the original complaint filed by the village.

Attorneys for the city and county argue that the allegation by the interveners is one of general harm, rather than a "particularized and concrete harm because they fail to show … how the contract violates their rights."

In the response, the attorneys argue that the interveners have alleged "nothing more than a political difference of opinion … It is thus clear that the interveners have not alleged an injury in fact that is different from the public as a whole …"

There is no allegation of harm from the delegation of the county's authority to the city, nor allegations that the mill levy tax is illegal, that its use is illegal, that the interveners would be harmed by the use or that any potential hospital operator has been adversely impacted, the response says.

"Their sole complaint is that the hospital is to be located in Belen rather than in Los Lunas," the document reads. "Their sole basis for intervention is their perceived inability to otherwise challenge that decision."


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