West Park reduces tax request to $14.2 million

Posted 3/2/10

West Park Hospital has invited those governments to a roundtable discussion at the hospital on the subject on March 10. In a Monday conversation, Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said bringing everyone together for a discussion is a “great …

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West Park reduces tax request to $14.2 million


Facing opposition to a proposed $31.5 million capital facilities tax to expand and modernize West Park Hospital's emergency facilities in Cody, hospital trustees last week reduced their request by more than half.The West Park Hospital board now is asking for a $14.2 million facilities tax that would be funded by a temporary 1-cent sales tax throughout the county.To get on the ballot, the measure must be approved by two of the three municipalities (Powell, Cody, and Meeteetse), and the Park County Commission.

West Park Hospital has invited those governments to a roundtable discussion at the hospital on the subject on March 10. In a Monday conversation, Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said bringing everyone together for a discussion is a “great idea.”

“Once that (roundtable meeting) happens, that might give all of us some direction,” Brown said.

After tabling the matter at earlier meetings, Cody and Meeteetse's councils are scheduled to act on the request this month. West Park Hospital CEO Doug McMillan said the hospital hopes to pitch the Powell Council on the proposal at its March 15 meeting.

McMillan said West Park wanted to approach the two municipalities within its hospital district before approaching Powell.

With a capital facilities tax, West Park is seeking to take advantage of now-low construction prices and begin construction by October. The hospital would like its proposal to be on the 2010 primary ballot in August.

West Park officials say their facility is outdated and too small for the area's growing population. The project would expand and upgrade West Park's emergency room and relocate a number of medical departments to a central location. It would also involve the demolition of the currently vacant Coe Medical Office.

In total, the project would add or upgrade 110,071 square feet of space.

West Park has pitched its proposal as a countywide need, noting that about 31 percent of their patients come from out of their tax district. A total of about 9 percent of their patients come from the Powell area.

But West Park has faced skepticism about the size of its project.

McMillan said one of the common responses he's heard is, “Yeah, I'd support it if it wasn't so expensive and if it didn't take so long (to pay off).”

“We are pleased at the amount of replies we're receiving back from citizens letting us know they support the modernization of their community hospital. Asking the community to help support this project has created a terrific dialog,” said Carol Lea Roberts, chairwoman of West Park's board, in a news release last week. “In the end, we truly hope that everyone will understand how vitally important it is that we invest in our local healthcare and that hospitals such as ours have few alternatives to funding major renovations needed to bring our facility current.”

On Wednesday, the board reduced the project's sum, crafting a new proposal which would take around 31 months to pay off, the board said.

In the new plan, West Park would draw $12 million in reserves to help pay for emergency department renovations — phase two of a three-phase plan. The $12 million had been set aside for phase three of the hospital's master facilities plan, which involves relocating patient rooms. The hospital board opted to use that money “realizing that phase three isn't going to happen without phase two,” said McMillan.

Phase one was the construction of the Cathcart Medical Center on Cody's West Strip.

Last week, the Powell board declined West Park's request for a resolution supporting the Cody hospital's proposal for a capital facilities tax.

“We believe it is unwise for this board to support another hospital district's capital construction plans when we have chosen — for very compelling reasons — not to proceed with our own projects at this time,” the board said in a statement released last Monday.

Last year, as it faced budget constraints and a rough economy, Powell Valley Healthcare officials backed away from plans to similarly expand and upgrade Powell Valley Hospital's emergency department. Before being put on hold, those plans had called for the improvements to be paid for with a general bond issue. A capital facilities tax had not been discussed as an option.

McMillan said West Park is “disappointed” that the Powell Hospital Board didn't support its proposal in recognition of “the fact that all hospital boards, all hospitals, are recognizing the difficulty of realizing capital.”

West Park's board had requested a meeting with the Powell Hospital board to go over their proposal, but the Powell board choose not to do so.

“We're just disappointed they would not give us that venue of opportunity,” said McMillan.

Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Rod Barton said the board did not feel a meeting would be worthwhile, given that the board and members of the public had already voiced concerns with West Park's project.

If the city councils and County Commission do not clear West Park's proposal for the primary ballot, another option is an $18.5 million general bond issue that would be paid for solely by members of West Park's hospital district through property taxes. That amount, the board says, would take roughly nine and a half years to pay off, verus a little more than two and a half years for a $14.2 million county-wide sales tax.

McMillan said that, with the economic downturn, it doesn't make sense to ask for more property taxes through a bond issue.

“We just don't think that's a viable option,” he said.