$2.8M in tax revenue proposed for Holy Cross

GRT ordinance vote set for March, mill levy renewal to go on November ballot

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 2/20/20

After six months of sometimes contentious debate with representatives from Holy Cross Medical Center and county taxpayers, the Taos County Board of Commissioners has come up with a specific plan to determine the future of public funding for the county's only hospital.

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$2.8M in tax revenue proposed for Holy Cross

GRT ordinance vote set for March, mill levy renewal to go on November ballot

Posted

After six months of sometimes contentious debate with representatives from Holy Cross Medical Center and county taxpayers, the Taos County Board of Commissioners has come up with a specific plan to determine the future of public funding for the county's only hospital.

Commissioners unanimously passed two resolutions on Tuesday (Feb. 18) that propose a total of roughly $2.8 million in total annual funding for the hospital. Around half of that may come from continued mill levy funding, if voters choose to renew a 1 mill tax in the November general election.

The other half could come from a 3/16 gross receipts tax increase, to be decided by commissioners through an ordinance set for a March 10 public hearing.

How much public funding the hospital will ultimately see remains a question, but the final dollar figure will fall significantly short of the hospital's original request in 2019 for an increase from 1 mill to 4.25, which would have brought in an estimated $5.5 million each year.

Commissioners unanimously voted to host the hearing at the commission chambers on March 10 to have a final discussion with the public before voting on the GRT increase, which would bring in an estimated $1.35 million in additional sales tax revenue. Those funds come out of a total of 7/16 in discretionary GRT made available through new legislation passed last year granting counties greater leeway in how the sales tax is utilized.

District II Commissioner Mark Gallegos, who has been one of the vocal critics of the hospital's management, said he would support the resolution, but would continue to push for the commission to have a greater hand in how public funding is used by Holy Cross.

"I hope there will be further discussion down the road and that we will have the opportunity to negotiate the contract, the lease with the hospital, and have that contract changed," Gallegos said.

In the second resolution passed on Tuesday, commissioners followed through on a previous proposal to allow county voters in November to decide on renewing the 1 mill property tax, which draws around $1.47 million annually. Earlier this year, the commission nixed a request from Holy Cross to instead ask voters to decide the matter in a special election, which would have cost taxpayers an additional $65,000, County Manager Brent Jaramillo had estimated, but would have avoided a gap in funding for the hospital.

A significant chunk of the roughly $5 million collected by the current mill over the last four years remains untapped by the hospital, with just under $2 million still unspent. Hospital executives have faced questions about why additional public funds are needed if they haven't used all of the funds already collected by the existing tax set to expire in June.

Holy Cross Chief Financial Officer Steve Rozenboom said part of the hospital's financial strategy is to create a reserve fund to cover unforeseen expenses, particularly at its aging facility on Weimer Road. Last year, a water heating system broke down at the facility and cost several thousands of dollars to repair. Rozenboom says other systems will inevitably expire and will require a significant investment to repair or replace.

Executives at the hospital also sought $4.59 million in state capital outlay funds for four projects to replace outdated equipment and make various infrastructural improvements to the facility. Rozenboom said as of press time that the hospital didn't make the final list this week of funding recipients.

Before commissioners voted to place the question of renewing the 1 mill from 2016 on the November ballot, District V Commissioner Candyce O'Donnell proposed an amendment to the resolution cutting the mill in half, but none of her fellow commissioners seconded the motion.

O'Donnell also backed Gallegos' proposal to reassess the county's contract with the hospital.

"I would like to support what the commissioner said and I would like to ask our county attorney if we can have an executive session for the next meeting regarding the lease agreement so we can begin educating ourselves on that," she said, adding that she would like to see a detailed breakdown of how funds would be used to compensate hospital executives versus lower-tier staff.

Of the funding that would go toward compensation at the hospital, Rozenboom said recently that 50 percent of tax funds would be used to support staff salaries and wages, excluding executives; 29 percent  would go toward medical staff salaries and wages; 20 percent would go toward "benefit enhancements" for all employees; and 1 percent would go toward salaries and wages for administration.

Commissioners also asked County Attorney Randy Autio about the legality of voicing their support for or against the decision voters will face to renew the 1 mill tax.

"The law says what you can do in a county setting. You can't politick in a county facility," Autio responded. "You can't use county resources and so forth or use this as your bully pulpit to speak up here. But as a private citizen you can make the decision to speak on your own, not as a commissioner, but as an individual."

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