West Park says sales tax benefits entire county

Posted 1/28/10

The tough selling point is convincing voters to approve the additional 1-cent tax — and before that, convincing city and county officials to put the measure on the ballot. Hospital representatives first approached the Cody City Council with …

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West Park says sales tax benefits entire county


Powell Hospital has needs, but no cap tax plansWest Park Hospital officials in Cody say a $38 million county-wide sales tax is the best way to pay for improvements to its aging facilities.Using a capital facilities tax would raise the money much faster than a general obligation bond limited to the hospital's tax district and ultimately make the project up to $18 million cheaper, West Park officials say.

The tough selling point is convincing voters to approve the additional 1-cent tax — and before that, convincing city and county officials to put the measure on the ballot. Hospital representatives first approached the Cody City Council with their proposal on Jan. 19.

The Cody City Council delayed a decision on the proposal, citing a need to gather public input.

West Park is planning to present the tax to the Meeteetse Town Council at its Feb. 10 meeting.

Depending on how those conversations go, West Park CEO Doug McMillan said the hospital would then approach the Powell City Council.

Last week, Powell Mayor Scott Mangold said it would take “a lot of convincing” to get the city onboard.

Two of the three municipalities and the Park County Commission must give the OK for a 1-cent tax to get on the ballot.

In an open letter to Park County residents released this week, the hospital's board of trustees said that, as they began pursuing a sales tax, they knew some people in the community would oppose the project based on its size.

“We recognized that during these challenging economic times, asking the citizens of Park County to invest in the hospital ... may not be the most popular decision,” wrote the board. “Regardless of these factors, we believe there is no better time than the present.”

For one thing, McMillan said the hospital would like to take advantage of now-low construction prices. The hospital would like its proposal to be on the 2010 primary ballot in August. Construction would begin by October, with completion in late summer of 2012. McMillan said if voters approved the tax, estimates indicate it would take between six and seven years to collect the $38 million.

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 demolishing the currently “vacant and unusable” Coe Medical Office and create separate entrances for emergency and outpatient services.

The current facilities, McMillan said, are crowded and have created privacy problems.

The hospital was built in the 1970s, and McMillan said the hospital has outgrown the facilities.

In total, the $38-million endeavor would add or improve 110,071 square feet of space — more than the roughly 88,650 square feet in the entire Powell Hospital.

The infrastructure improvements would put West Park in “great shape” for the next 40 or so years, McMillan said.

The project is the second phase of a master facilities plan West Park officials put together in 2006. Phase one was the construction of a new medical office facility, the Cathcart Center, on Cody's west strip last spring.

That $16.1-million project was funded independently, said McMillan. But because of the amount of money involved, that option was not practical for the emergency room expansion, he said.

McMillan added that the hospital serves the entire county, not just Cody.

In 2009, the hospital had nearly 61,400 visits and admissions.

West Park says that roughly 9 percent of those patients came from Powell, and around 31 percent come from out of its district.

That percentage is quite similar to the Powell Hospital's figures.

In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics were available, around 8 percent of Powell Hospital's patients were Cody residents, and 35 percent were from out-of-district, said Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Rod Barton.

McMillan said if the Powell Hospital ever opted to pursue a capital facilities tax, the Cody medical community would be supportive.

“Today, it's West Park and, in due time, it will be Powell,” said West Park's Board of Trustees' open letter.

However, Barton said that while the Powell Hospital has needs similar to West Park's, officials have not discussed pursuing a capital facilities tax.

Barton said the hospital had tentatively planned to seek around $20.1 million for expansion and upgrades to Powell Hospital's emergency room and surgical department in two separate phases. That hospital's facilities, he said, also have space and privacy issues.

Projects in need included creating a separate obstetrics area, moving the emergency room and waiting area to the back of the hospital, expanding the operating and outpatient area at the hospital and expanding and consolidating the lab and radiology areas.

He said Powell Hospital officials had discussed asking voters to pass a general obligation bond — the same funding mechanism used to construct the hospital in the early 1980s and the nursing home in the early 1990s. A bond, which would only apply to members within the hospital's tax district, would be funded by a temporary increase in property taxes.

“We had never really thought about a cap tax,” Barton said.

The plan, put together in 2008, called for putting a question on the 2010 ballot asking voters to approve a $8.4 million bond for the emergency room overhaul, Barton said. That project would have been completed in 2015.

Then, the hospital would seek a $11.7 million bond for surgical expansion to be completed by 2019.

But with the downturn in the economy and the hospital's finances in a rough patch, Barton said those plans were deferred last year.

He said it would be “an interesting situation” for Powell residents to fund a Cody hospital.

Barton told the Powell Hospital District board at its meeting on Monday that McMillan had contacted him a couple of weeks ago about West Park's plans to seek a capital facilities tax.

He said McMillan did not mention the amount that West Park would be seeking or raise the prospect of a combined request for both hospitals.

Barton said McMillan asked for a letter of support from the Powell Hospital District board for West Park Hospital's proposal, and McMillan said he would send a sample letter for the board's consideration.

Barton said he had not received the letter as of Monday evening.

Board President Brent Foulger suggested board members determine their position on West Park Hospital's capital facilities tax proposal.

“Trust me, you'll have questions asked,” he said, noting he had fielded several questions already.

Hospital board member Kathy Bieke questioned the wisdom of asking taxpayers to foot that kind of a bill, especially during current economic circumstances.

Board member Kay Carlson asked the question that seemed to be on all their minds: “I don't want to seem like sour grapes, but, what's in it for us?”

Editor's note: This version of the story corrects the amount of square footage in the Powell Hospital, adding 2,650 feet.