By Jim Stieringer, La Mesa
February 9, 2012 (La Mesa)--In 2006 East County voters approved Proposition "G" authorizing the sale of general obligation bonds of $247 million to provide and improve various facilities at Grossmont Hospital. Included is an expansion of the hospital's central energy plant. The Grossmont Healthcare District is now considering adding a cogeneration feature to the plant to be acquired through a "lease/purchase" agreement for $17,900,000 to be paid over a ten year (120 month) period at a rate of around $2,000,000 per year.
To place this proposed expenditure in proper perspective it is necessary to understand that this represents about 30% of the District's entire annual non-Proposition "G" budget. For nearly two decades the District has provided funding to several community-based non-profit healthcare agencies. That funding is placed at serious risk if the District were to proceed with its improvident plan to fund the cogeneration with borrowed money. Since it is unlikely that the District would cut salaries or overhead, the reasonable alternative would be to forego the cogeneration project or to utilize the available Proposition "G" funds specifically authorized for the central energy plant.
I recommend that the Independent Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee ("ICBOC") prepare an interim annual report to confirm that sufficient Proposition "G" funds remain available to complete each and every project included in the text of the 2006 ballot proposition. If the funding remains sufficient we should simply pay for cogeneration using the voter approved funding. Alternatively the ICBOC should publicly report if there is any potential problem in meeting the District's remaining obligations under Proposition "G".
Although cogeneration is not an essential feature, everyone would agree that it is desirable. However it is not so desirable as to reduce or eliminate the District's acclaimed program of health care grants that have meant so much to East County institutions such as the Challenge Center, the Home of Guiding Hands and many others. The District board must not sacrifice the needs of our disabled population in order to provide an additional benefit to Sharp HealthCare and its sweetheart (dollar a year) lease of Grossmont Hospital.
Needless to say I am very disappointed that my former colleagues would even consider such a use of taxpayer money. I hope that they either abandon the improvident cogeneration project or else find a funding mechanism that doesn't jeopardize the support currently provided to our most needy fellow citizens.
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