By: Bill Melugin
EL PASO, Texas – A tax hike proposed by University Medical Center CEO Jim Valenti is getting mixed reaction from El Pasoans.
"I wouldn't do it, I wouldn't be OK with it,” Cindy Matrell said. "I don't think it's right because a lot of people are already spending enough as it is, plus they're already taking taxes from everywhere else, so I think they can find somewhere else to get it.”
Joan Korn wasn’t happy hearing about a possible tax hike, but said she’s willing to make sacrifices to help UMC keep its partnership with the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
"I know we're taxed a lot, but I'm a big advocate for children and we need to take care of our children, thus I guess we're gonna have to pay for it,” she said.
Both women told KFOX14 other options should be discussed, but that the Children’s Hospital is worth saving.
"I'm a mother, and I want my child to have the best care possible and I know that's a good hospital where we don't have to worry about taking our kids,” Martell said.
“I worked for a school district for many years as a counselor and you do what you need to do for your children,” Korn said.
Valenti said the board will be meeting again next week to find ways to increase revenue and cut expenses without having to utilize a tax increase.
As KFOX14 has reported, the Children’s Hospital owes UMC an estimated $70 million and has said they cannot pay it back.
As a result UMC has a $28 million hole in its annual budget.
UMC has said it cannot afford to subsidize the Children’s Hospital any longer.
UMC has laid off 56 employees, and proposed furloughs and a tax hike.
The UMC board chair mentioned cutting contracts with the Children’s Hopsital if a tax hike isn’t approved.
El Paso’s five county commissioners would have to approve any tax hike.
County Judge Veronica Escobar said it’s unlikely that would happen.
“At what point do we stop the bleeding?”asked Commissioner Sergio Lewis. “Sustainability and accountability are two major factors on this issue. UMC and EPCH need to be involved in the conversation and we need to look at the advantages at attempting to bring in a strategic partner that will hopefully bring resolution to this matter.”
Escobar told KFOX14 she has requested a full copy of UMC’s 2015 budget in order to determine if a tax hike is truly necessary.
"Instead of taking their word for it, we need to take a close look,” she said. "We're delving into this; if we need to get into the weeds, we will get into the weeds."
El Paso Children’s Hospital spokeswoman Susie Byrd sent KFOX14 the following statement: “We have a four hour administrative team meeting with UMC tomorrow, followed by a meeting between teams from each board on Thursday. It is our goal to resolve these issues expeditiously and in a manner that is beneficial to each institution.”
Those meetings will not be open to the public.
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