“I’ve always, since I’ve been on the court, been one to criticise the health care fund, how it’s written up by the previous court before we got on,” Salazar told his fellow commissioners on Tuesday. “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?”
It’s not the first time Salazar has discussed the possibility of having the contracts between Christus Spohn and the county revised to give commissioners unrestricted access to the funds.
He and Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez made an official request last 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.
But Salazar and Rodriguez both believe the county should have complete and unrestricted access to the lease payments.
“If I own a house, do I let the renter tell me how to spend the rent money? No,” Salazar explained when he brought up the issue last year. “The renter does not tell the owner how the rent money is to be spent, and that is what Christus Spohn is doing. It’s telling the county how it can spend the lease payments. And that’s how the contract is written, unfortunately.”
Salazar went on record Tuesday as saying he plans to try to change that policy.
“I’m going to propose to this court later on that we look into the possibly of tapping into some of those funds, which are rightfully the county’s, rightfully the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“I know we’ve tapped into it before and if there’s been any time that we needed to go to it, it would be this time.”
Commissioners asked for and received some $875,000 in health care fund proceeds two years ago to help make ends meet.
Then-County Judge Jimmy Martinez tapped into the funds in order to pay off a lawsuit, give employees a pay raise and balance the 2006-07 budget. Christus Spohn agreed to release the money to the county if the county would agree to allow Christus Spohn to spend $1 million or so on renovations and new equipment.