West Park tax on primary, landfill on general ballot?

Posted 4/8/10

Meanwhile, a $14.2 million capital facilities tax for improvements and expansion at West Park Hospital in Cody appears to be headed toward a slot on the primary ballot.

With a landfill proposal now essentially out of the picture for the primary, …

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West Park tax on primary, landfill on general ballot?


It's likely a proposed capital facilities tax for the county's landfills will be on the November general election ballot rather than the August primary, Powell City Councilman Josh Shorb said Monday — if the measure is ultimately posed to voters at all.The deadline for a proposition to make the August primary ballot is April 28, and Shorb said he doesn't expect a landfill proposal to be ready soon enough as a proposed tax is reworked.

Meanwhile, a $14.2 million capital facilities tax for improvements and expansion at West Park Hospital in Cody appears to be headed toward a slot on the primary ballot.

With a landfill proposal now essentially out of the picture for the primary, Cody City Council President Sam Krone said on Wednesday that he thinks West Park “will have a pretty clear path to their August goal of getting on the ballot.”

The Cody City Council is scheduled to vote on West Park's proposal on April 15.

West Park already has the OK of the Meeteetse Town Council, and several commissioners have indicated they'll vote to put the measure on the primary ballot.

On Monday, Powell councilmen voted unanimously to table a decision on West Park Hospital's proposal.

Mayor Scott Mangold said he wanted Cody to take the lead on the decision.

“I don't think we should make a decision before the Cody City Council does,” said Shorb. “It's in their hospital district. They should decide first.”

Mangold said he believed that if the situation was reversed, Cody council members would get direction from the Powell council before voting on a Powell Valley Hospital measure.

To get on the ballot, West Park's proposal only needs the OK from two of the three municipalities and the county commission.

The county and municipalities have generally appeared willing to put West Park's proposal to voters, with the only disagreement being which ballot to put it on.

Several officials from Cody and Powell had advocated putting West Park's proposal on the general election ballot, when voter turnout is typically higher.

However, West Park officials have said the delay would force construction to wait until spring. That would drive up the project's cost by $1.5 million, as materials and financing costs are expected to rise during that time, West Park officials say.

At a roundtable discussion last week at West Park, Commission Chairman Jill Shockley Siggins said she supports putting the hospital's proposal on the primary ballot as requested, citing the cost savings.

“We've heard millions of dollars of reasons why,” Siggins said.

She said the municipalities and commission should trust the judgment of the hospital board and follow their request to have the proposition on the primary ballot. Siggins also said the West Park project should be a higher priority because the landfill already has funding in place.

“I sure wouldn't hold one hostage over the other,” she said.

“Essentially right now, we are being held hostage,” said West Park board member Melissa Fraser.

Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown disagreed with that characterization, saying that, since West Park initially presented its plan to the Cody council in January, city leaders have been doing “due diligence and homework” before making a decision.

“None of us knew how this was going to work,” Brown said, noting that the process — with two potentially competing projects — has been unlike previous capital facilities taxes in the county.

“This is not about holding you hostage,” said Brown.

West Park officials are seeking the $14.2 million for a $26.2 million project that would expand and upgrade West Park's emergency room and relocate a number of medical departments to a central location.

In total, the project would add or upgrade 110,071 square feet of space to a facility that West Park officials say is now outdated and outgrown.

Initially, the West Park board proposed a $48 million tax that would have included $10 million for landfill costs — a number that came from a conversation with one member of the committee studying the feasibility of a landfill tax.

But that proposal drew opposition due to its size and long pay-back period, and the board has said it was a mistake to combine the two projects.

“I am sorry that we ever got sucked into that to start out with,” said Fraser.

Fraser said she continues to receive questions about why the figure changed, including from doctors at West Park.

“They're still confused why it went to $50 million down to so low,” she said.

Removing the landfill from the project removed additional financing costs, then the estimated project cost dropped due to lower construction prices, and finally the hospital board opted to commit $12 million from reserves that had been set aside for future hospital improvements, bringing the total requested tax to $14.2 million.

“What we're presenting here is the best option for the hospital. I can tell you that unequivically,” said board member Alan Swenson.

Powell councilmen do worry that if the West Park Hospital tax proposal passes in August, the landfill tax in November would be a lost cause.

“If it passes in August, we might as well forget the whole deal for three years,” said Councilman Don Hillman. “It's an uphill task to ask for two cap taxes in this economic climate — even getting one to pass is steep.”

If voters approve West Park's measure in August and a landfill tax in November, West Park's $14.2 million would be collected first, Shorb said.

“It would be 29 months before we'd see a single penny for the landfill,” he said.

Asking for a second extra-cent tax is possible, but leaders have expressed no interest in going that route.

Hypothetically, if both the West Park and landfill facilities tax proposals were on the same ballot, and both passed, they would split an extra penny proportionately — in the same way the recently-completed tax was collected.

However, splitting the revenue would increase the collection time, which would drive up West Park's financing costs by about $3.3 million dollars, hospital officials said.

So if both were on the primary or general ballot, there would have to be language specifying that, if both passed, West Park's project would cost about $18 million instead of the $14.2 million it would cost if it passed on its own.

“How do you put that on the ballot?” asked West Park CFO Pat McConnell. “I don't know how you would write that.”