Judge OKs mill levy petition

Voters will consider funding South Routt Medical Center

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— A judge approved a petition Friday allowing South Routt Medical Center officials to ask voters to approve a mill levy in May.

The proposed mill levy would raise funds to support the Oak Creek-based medical facility.

What: South Routt Medical Center educational open houseWhen: 5 to 7 p.m. April 28

Where: South Routt Medical Center, 300 Main St. in Oak Creek

Call: Linda Long at 736-8378 or Sandy Stefano at 638-0471

The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted in March to approve the medical center's service plan, which outlines plans for the formation and operation of the South Routt Medical Center Health Service District. The district would have the same boundaries as South Routt School District RE-3.

The proposed property tax would equal about 2.1 mills, or $24 per $150,000 of assessed property value. The center's service plan states the funds raised by the mill levy would be spent on salaries for staff and physicians, medical supplies, capital improvements, medication and education projects.

Medical center officials say if the mill levy does not pass the facility would have to close because of increasing operating costs and lower insurance and government reimbursement rates. The center provides services for residents of South Routt and McCoy, which is in Eagle County.

Oak Creek Holdings, the company that owns commercial properties on Oak Creek's Main Street, objected to the mill levy proposal and asked District Judge Michael O'Hara to exempt the properties from the tax if it is approved.

In March, county commissioners heard from 106 other South Routt property owners who wanted to be exempted from the proposed tax. The commissioners ruled against the exemption requests. Oak Creek Holdings took its request to court.

South Routt Medical Center board member Linda Long said the center couldn't afford to contest Oak Creek Hold-ings' exemption request. Long described it as a disappointing but small loss in getting the mill levy issue on the ballot.

"The great thing is, that is past. It was out of our hands," she said Friday. "It is up to the voters now."

Long said she thinks the community knows how valuable the medical center is and that support for the tax issue has been overwhelming.

To prove to O'Hara that there was sufficient support for the proposal, medical center officials had to gather 200 signatures. In 2 1/2 days, 397 South Routt residents signed the petition.

Long said the next step will be to educate South Routt residents about the ballot language. State statute mandates that the proposal be split into five questions, all of which will appear on the ballot. Voters have to approve all five questions for the mill levy to pass.

The five questions will ask voters to approve:

The formation of the South Routt Medical Center Health Service District;

Permission for the district to create a mill levy that will generate $180,000 annually;

Permission for the district to accept grant money, donations and other funds in addition to the mill levy;

Permission for the district to take out a loan to keep the center open until tax money can be used in January 2007;

The creation of a five-person board of directors that will control the medical center after the May 2 election.

"We have five questions. We need five questions to pass. If they don't, we're sunk," South Routt Center Medical board member Chuck Wisecup said. Wisecup said the amount of property tax most people would have to pay each year is less than they would spend in gas money commuting to Steamboat Springs for doctor appointments.

Board member Evelyn Kenn-edy, who is seeking election to the medical center's new board, said South Routt would be at a loss if the medical center closes.

"A lot of small towns wish they had something like we do. We're excited to keep it open," she said.

The South Routt Medical Center is hosting an open house to discuss the ballot proposal and related issues from 5 to 7 p.m. April 28.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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