Decision not yet made on LL hospital

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After a lawsuit opposing the county's decision to award mill levy money for a hospital in Belen was dismissed, it's unclear whether or not a medical facility will be built in Los Lunas.

The village of Los Lunas filed a lawsuit last year against Valencia County and the city of Belen claiming the county didn't have a right to award tax dollars for a Belen hospital. But Second Judicial District Court Judge Valerie Huling ruled that the village does not have the standing to put the lawsuit forward.

Last week, the Los Lunas Village Council decided not to take any action to appeal the judge's ruling until after they see the written order.

"When we see the ruling, it will come back to the council and we'll have a formal action at that time," said Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego.

In the meantime, Darin Miller, CEO of Miller Architects in Oklahoma, who had planned to build a privately-funded hospital in the village, said he and all the parties involved in his hospital project are in some detailed negotiations, but nothing definitive has been decided.

Whether Miller is still optimistic about building a hospital in Los Lunas, he said he couldn't say either way.

Two years ago, Miller approached Los Lunas officials about a privately-funded hospital. After a feasibility study was completed, he proposed a plan to build a regional medical center on the west side of Interstate 25 in Los Lunas.

Miller initially said he did not need mill levy money, but after his feasibility study showed a greater need for medical services than he initially anticipated, he broadened his plans to include satellite clinics that would need the mill levy money for initial operations.

Meanwhile, the Belen City Council has been working with Ameris Management Services LLC, from Tennessee, to build a full-service hospital on Christopher Road, near Interstate 25.

Last week, representatives from Ameris met with several Belen city councilors as well as Mayor Jerah Cordova.

The village's lawsuit was in response to the county commission's decision to enter into a contract with a health care provider of the Belen City Council's choice and award about $22 million to a Belen hospital project.

In 2006, county voters approved a mill levy to fund the start-up operations of a hospital in Valencia County. That hospital has yet to be built, and the mill levy expires in 2015.

Last July, the county commission decided to enter a memorandum of agreement with Belen for the city to select a health care provider. The village of Los Lunas filed a lawsuit shortly after the commission's decision.

Larry Guggino, the village's attorney, said he questioned the legality of the commission's vote because former Valencia County Commissioner Donald Holliday, who cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the MOA, no longer owned a residence or resided in his district or in the county.

Guggino said that according to the New Mexico Constitution, a county commissioner is automatically resigned from the seat if he or she moves out of their district.

He also questioned the legality of the commission to abrogate its authority to Belen for the selection of a health care provider.

However, the lawsuit never got that far. Judge Huling ruled that the village does not have the standing to put the lawsuit forward.

In essence, the court said the village doesn't have any standing because it hasn't suffered any harm, or it's too speculative that it suffered a harm, Guggino said.

"Secondly, in reaching that decision, I think the court decided the county, in deciding to pledge mill levy money, was doing something it is authorized to do. (The village) doesn't have a hospital and wasn't seeking the money, so (it) wasn't harmed."

And Holiday's voting did not involve a clear threat to the essential nature of government guaranteed to the citizens of the state of New Mexico by the Constitution, the Los Lunas attorney said.


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