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Our Opinion: One last chance

March 11, 2001

The Heffernan Memorial Hospital District board has taken quite a few shots from this newspaper over the years for, among other things, its seemingly ineffective leadership and inability to provide the residents of Calexico with much-needed medical services.

However, the district's current bid to refinance the $9.235 million bond issuance and its concurrent effort to restructure the district's debt payment to free up money to fund some sort of medical institution in the vacant Calexico Hospital is a noble effort that could work.

The Calexico Special Financing Authority, a body comprised of two Calexico City Council members and two hospital board members set up to purchase the bonds in 1996, has already approved the bond refinancing, a move that will take the current interest rate of the bond issuance from 7.4 percent to as low as 4.2 percent.

The next step is the restructuring, and that may be the tricky part. The bonds are now being paid off by a voter-approved half-cent sales tax. However, there are a number of other debts strapping the hospital district that are not covered by that tax revenue. Instead, those funds are being paid off by property tax money the hospital receives, as well as some $250,000 in sales tax money that was supposed to be used for medical services.

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District officials have said they hope to restructure the debts by obtaining $1.5 million from the bond issuance's reserve and early retirement funds. That money would then go toward paying off the debts not covered by the bonds.

As a result, district officials have said the annual $250,000 disbursement of sales tax money and the property tax revenues could all go toward health care.

There is a core group of dedicated and intelligent individuals leading this effort, including Henry Legaspi, a former Calexico city manager and hospital board trustee; Eduardo Rivera, the district's attorney; and Robert Swerdling, a financial consultant with a reputable firm.

They must make it happen. Calexico residents are tired of seeing an added half-cent on the sales tax when all it goes to fund is failed attempts to run a hospital.

Residents are also tired of traveling to El Centro and Brawley for medical services, when they live in a town that's experiencing so much economic growth.

And then there's Calexico resident Rudolfo Moreno, who again is trying to throw a wrench in the works. Having already attempted to repeal the sales tax some years ago, Moreno reached a settlement with the city and the hospital board that kept the sales tax flowing but limited the amount of sales tax revenue that could go to the hospital district for operations to $250,000.

Now it seems he wants to stop that $250,000 with the refinancing.

Moreno's actions seem petty. If that money is not in place for the district, then the district can't provide health care, which is what it was established to do.

In the case of this current refinancing/restructuring effort, we think the hospital district should be given a chance. But this should be its last chance. All the blustery talk of what the hospital board is going to do needs to turn into real action, for the sake of the residents of Calexico.

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