EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) El Paso County Commissioners voted in favor of authorizing publication of notice of intention to issue El Paso County Hospital District Certificates of Obligation, in a 3-2 vote.

Commissioners Iliana Holguin, Pct.3 and David Stout, Pct. 2 voted against the item and voiced concerns about wanting the item to go towards a general obligation bond and seek voter approval. Meanwhile, Commissioners Carlos Leon, Pct. 1, Carl Robinson, Pct. 4 and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego voted in favor of issuing the notice of intent.

Commissioners are expected to vote on issuing the COs during the September 12 regular meeting, after requesting 60 days for the notice rather than the required minimum of 45 days.

During Monday’s meeting, the public voiced concerns about the County Hospital District’s proposal to issue $346 million worth of certificates of obligation for hospital upgrades, which would raise property taxes for El Pasoans.

As KTSM previously reported, the El Paso County Hospital District presented its proposal to county commissioners last week to upgrade University Medical Center and expand services and facilities. The cost was estimated at around $346 million, which would be paid for by taxpayers through a property-tax increase if approved.

The county hospital is asking for the money to upgrade hospital beds, implement a cancer center, neighborhood clinics, operating rooms and emergency department expansion at El Paso Children’s Hospital.

If county commissioners agree to start the process, UMC leaders would have at least 45 days to implement their public outreach plan and gather input from the community before submitting a final proposal to commissioners for approval.

During the last meeting, commissioners asked UMC leaders, including hospital CEO and president Jacob Cintron, to come back with a presentation that was updated with rates adjusted to recent hikes in interest rates, as well as a plan for public outreach and a presentation showing the comparison the taxpayers would have to pay between certificates of obligation and a general obligation bond.

A general obligation bond would need voter approval whereas certificates of obligation only require the majority of county commissioners’ approval.

During Monday’s meeting, the majority of those who spoke during public comment expressed concerns over certificates of obligation, however, some people expressed the need for healthcare expansion in El Paso.

According to the county hospital’s presentation, the total cost for the proposed projects is 345,722,346.

If the certificates of obligations are approved, the total debt service would amount to $563 million. From 2023 to 2033, on a home valued at $100,000, the annual impact would be $56.80 or $4.73 monthly.

Then from 2034 to 2048, the annual impact on a home valued at $100,000 would be around $28.70 or $2.39 monthly.

Physicians from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, UMC and EPCH presented perspectives during Monday’s meeting.

UMC said some consequences of not funding these proposed projects could lead to burn patients continuing to be sent out of town for care, cancer patients not receiving care or needing to travel outside the community, limited capacity for patients needing critical care and UMC losing patients who are transfers or referrals and negatively affect revenue from insured patients.

Commissioner Holguin said she believed voters need to have a say since they are going to be paying for the projects.

“Every email, every phone call to my office has been to request an opportunity to vote on this matter through a general obligation bond, I agree with those voters, I agree they should have a say,” Holguin said.

Holguin said she could not vote in favor of issuing an intent on approving the certificates of obligation.

Commissioner Stout said he agreed with Holguin’s statement.

“I do think if we want more of an opportunity to hear from the public we should wait,” Stout said. He added he was disappointed with the number of plans for public outreach the hospital provided in its presentation, expecting more.

He said he was leaning towards not supporting the item as he felt more time was needed.

“We have to spend additional funding for that but maybe three weeks from now after explaining to the public, all they’re hearing is ‘more taxes, more taxes,’ I think it is still important to reach out and complete that process and doing it while telling them were intending to it is not the same,” Stout said.

Commissioner Robinson said he felt there was no time to wait and felt the court should go forward with the intent.

“You either fail to plan or plan to fail,” Robinson said. “When you have people waiting in the hospital, parking lot, waiting room to be seen by a doctor waiting for a bed, do we have time to wait?” Robinson said.

Samaniego said the commissioners had to follow through with their “due diligence” and didn’t want to end the meeting without taking action.

Commissioners will discuss the item and take action during the Sept. 12 regular meeting.

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