“We are currently $500,000 in the red on the proposed budget for the next fiscal year,” Salazar said. “Our ending fund balance is nowhere near where it needs to be.
“Not a welcome thing for the tax payer.”
Salazar had pitched the idea of approaching the hospital for additional money last year but could not get a majority of the commissioners to go along with it then either.
“I’ve always, since I’ve been on the court, been one to criticize the health care fund, how it’s written up by the previous court before we got on,” Salazar told his fellow commissioners during the meeting last year. “Right now... the projected balance is almost $3 million. You know, here you have a house that you’re about to lose and you’ve got $3 million in the savings account, and the court doesn’t want to go and use some of that savings?”
Salazar once again echoed that same sentiment.
“I think the time of being ‘politically correct’ needs to a take a back seat to what is ‘really correct’ — the utilization of some of Christus Spohn’s lease money for the general fund,” he said Monday.
A history of attempts
Salazar’s attempt to get the county access to the money dates back even further than 2010.
He and Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez made an official request that prior year to have the county attorney determine if the county could legally change the two lease agreements with Christus Spohn.
Christus Spohn pays the county about a million dollars annually to lease the county-owned hospital.
The two contracts restrict how those lease payments may be used. One of the lease agreements deals with the lease payments paid for the use of the original hospital building. A second contract deals with the lease payments paid for the use of the newly added sections of the hospital.
One of the lease agreements restricts the spending of the lease payments to capital expenditures — new buildings or equipment — to which both parties must agree.
The other lease agreement allows the county access to a portion of the lease payments for indigent health care.
A lack of support
Once again, Salazar met resistance by other commissioners to his proposal.
“We need to think about stepping up to the plate and asking Christus Spohn if they would accept such a proposal,” Salazar said.
Judge David Silva said, “It has always been out there. I know at other courts and at other times we have discussed it.
“Last year they made a little money out of this hospital. This year they are losing money again.
“The only caution is that we approach this with the idea that we want to sit down and talk to them.
“I don’t want to violate the contract as it is written.
“The reason for that is I had not had any other hospital group come to my door and say that ‘As soon as you get rid of Christus Spohn we will move in and we will make money for you.’
“There is nobody doing that.”
What residents say
Salazar said that he has spoken to the people of Precinct 1 and they don’t like that the county can’t touch money they consider to be theirs.
“They feel that this is our county facility,” Salazar said. “It is owned by the county. It generates revenue supposedly for the county yet it is strapped 80 percent for their use.”
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt cautioned that a renegotiating of the lease is in effect a breaking of the current lease.
“When you renegotiate a lease in effect you are breaking the current lease,” he said. “However you want to couch it, that is what you are doing.”
His concern, and one echoed by others on the court, was the possibility of losing the hospital.
“The nearest emergency care from here is Corpus Christi — 60 miles away,” he said. “The folks that called me are not willing to gamble on the hospital saying, ‘You know what folks, you’all can have this thing back.’”
Salazar restated that his proposal wasn’t to force a renegotiation of the lease, but only to ask Christus Spohn if it was a possibility.
“This isn’t something we are going to force on them, Commissioner,” Salazar said. “This is something we are going to approach them with and explain to them the situation we have today we didn’t have in 1997 and ‘98 when this lease was drawn up. The economy is completely different than it was 11 years ago.
“If they are not willing to do it, it is off the table.”
Silva reminded Salazar that the lease, contained in a five-inch thick binder, already has a provision for the county to get additional money from the hospital.
“There is a provision in the existing contract that once the amount reaches over $5 million, the excess goes to the county,” Silva said.
Silva again expressed concern that attempts to redraw the lease agreement could cause problems.
“The only problem I have is this is the smallest hospital in the Christus Spohn chain and they could very easily say, ‘You need us more than we need you,’” Silva said.
Commissioner Ken Haggahas said he has received calls from both sides of the issue.
“I get calls both directions,” he said. “It would be good to sit down and talk to them and see if they are willing to negotiate but then again I get a lot of calls that (say) we are going to wind up owning a building no one lives in and we already own a couple of those.”
Rodriguez chimed in saying, “In an ideal situation we have a building we lease it out and we get money.
“This is not an ideal situation.
“Look at the overall picture.
“There are a lot more pluses than minuses in leaving things as they are now.
“We need to provide care for our citizens.
“I seriously doubt anyone is willing to come in and take over this lease.”
DeWitt said, “We have roughly 32,000 people in Bee County and without an emergency room we are in a bind.”
Salazar said that commissioners shouldn’t be afraid to discuss a new lease with the hospital.
“As far as Christus Spohn itself the organization, don’t feel sorry for them,” he said. “They are making some money.
“I don’t know about here locally, but they making some money.
“Let’s get off the poor Christus Spohn train.”
Salaza also gave a grim future if the county isn’t table to tap into this fund.
“If not, gentlemen,” Salazar said, “what is going to happen, I guarantee you, that during the next three or four years, taxes are going to go up... because we have to meet a responsibility to our tax payers in running county government.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.