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Hospital's future could hinge on voteBy AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

March 06, 2001

CALEXICO — The future of medical care at the Calexico Hospital building could hinge tonight on the votes of four people.

A special session of the Calexico Special Financing Authority, made up of two members of the Calexico City Council and two members of the Heffernan Memorial Hospital District board, has been called for 5:15 p.m. in City Hall, 608 Heber Ave.

Calexico Special Financing Authority is a joint powers authority established in 1996 by the city and the hospital district for the purpose of purchasing $9.235 million in bonds that are paying off a past bankruptcy and other debts incurred by the past operations at Calexico Hospital. The bonds are being paid off by a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.

The two hospital board members sitting on the SFA — Rosie Fernandez and David Ouzan — would like to refinance the $9.235 million bond issue from 1996 from its current interest rate of 7.4 percent to 5.1 percent or lower.

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Further, Calexico Hospital officials say they would then ask to restructure the payment plan to free $1.5 million to pay off outstanding loans from the Calexico Redevelopment Agency and other creditors.

The end result would be the life of the half-cent sales tax would be extended to pay off the refinanced bonds. However, the restructuring of the payment plan would allow the hospital board to have moneys at its disposal for the operation of some kind of medical services in Calexico Hospital.

"It makes sense to lower debt, but we need to make sure the spirit of the assignment provides services for the community," said City Councilman Gilbert Grijalva, one of two City Council members seated on the SFA.

Before the refinancing and restructuring can occur, it must be approved by at least three of the board members.

The kicker is that two of the three required affirmative votes have to be from City Council members, which is how the authority was set up. A 3-1 vote including two hospital members voting yes would not be sufficient.

At issue tonight is whether the two members of the City Council — Grijalva and John Renison — will vote to extend the half-cent sales tax for at least a year longer in order to provide residents of Calexico with medical services.

"If that was the case, I'd be leaning toward that," said Renison.

He said the people of Calexico have been wary of the hospital situation, adding the bottom line of the joint powers authority is to provide some sort of medical services.

Said SFA Chairwoman Fernandez: "We want to provide some type of first-aid services. You take care of them and then you ship the person out."

Ray Falcon, a hospital board trustee, said if the restructuring and refinancing is approved the urgent-care services would be made available "as soon as possible."

Hospital district Administrative Assistant Henry Legaspi, a former Calexico city manager and hospital board trustee, said the refinancing can occur but the key to providing medical services is the restructuring of the payment plan. He added the SFA can approve the refinancing without approving the restructuring.

What is being asked by the hospital board is the ability to draw a total of $1.5 million from the early retirement fund and the reserve fund of the refinanced bonds.

That money would be used to pay off an outstanding $450,000 loan made to the hospital from the city, as well as other debts not directly covered by the bonds or the half-cent sales tax revenue.

Area property taxes the hospital receives are now being tied up by the other debts. Once those debts are repaid, Legaspi said, that property tax money would be freed to use for medical services.

Robert Swerdling, a financial consultant with Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray is crunching the numbers for the district.

The hospital board will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Calexico Hospital to discuss the outcome of tonight's meeting.

In other district business on Wednesday, Calexico resident Mark Perrone is expected to be appointed to the hospital board. He would replace former Trustee Jack Anderson, who stopped attending board meetings.

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