By J.R. Sparke
Contributor to Reflector-Chronicle
HERINGTON — Herington City Commission members expressed reluctance in approving a $125,000 grant in an on-going effort to help keep the doors open at the Herington Municipal Hospital. Action was taken Tuesday during a regular semi-monthly meeting.
Pat Moyer, HMH Chief Financial Officer, said the city will be paid $132,211.14, which is $7,211.14 more than the grant. The monies will be applied to the health care facility's electric utility bill, which is delinquent with the city.
The $132,000 will be paid in two payments prior to June 30, the end of the hospital's fiscal year.
Mayor Robbin Bell made it clear that the city and the hospital need to jointly develop a plan to help HMH meet its financial needs without continuing to depend on assistance from the city.
Commissioners have approved several hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance to the hospital during a multi-year period. This includes a $489,000 loan that was forgiven by the governing body last year.
Under a current agreement, monies for financial aid targeted for the hospital comes from an equipment reserve fund, with money transferred from the electric fund. Monies flow in and out of the equipment reserve fund on a revolving basis.
Last month, HMH paid the city $50,887.04, which covered five months of electric bills. After the grant, the hospital will owe the city $55,207.21 on past due electricity bills.
Commissioner D.J. Neuberger, who has been critical of the practice of continuing to give the hospital money, voted against approving the grant.
Neuberger also suggested the HMH web site be updated to accurately reflect that the facility is not self-supporting.
HMH CEO Mike Ryan agreed an update was needed, but that it was not considered a priority matter.
Ryan also noted the health care facility's board of directors are continuing efforts to establish a hospital district. When the district is formed, ownership of the hospital will be transferred from the city to the district, he said.
A timetable for district formation has not been established. A series of town hall meetings are being held throughout the area in an effort to better inform the public.
The question of a hospital district was brought to a public vote last year and failed.
Ryan also noted that the majority of critical access hospitals in Kansas receive considerable tax support.
Moyer presented a third-quarter financial report for HMH. She noted the facility was in "way better shape" financially than at the same time last year.
However, expenses continue to significantly exceed revenues.
Ryan said the hopsital is current on all bills except those with the Great Plains Health Alliance and the City of Herington electric bill. The hospital receives billing and computer services through GPHA.
In a bit of positive financial news, the city received a $10,467.07 dividend check from EMC, provides group safety insurance to several municipalities in Kansas. Tandi Arevalo, a Herington Mutual Insurance agent, provided the information to the commission as the city's insurance carrier.
Commissioners also approved seeking bids for the sale of a 1-/2-acre landlocked tract of city-owned property behind BC Salvage, which is located at 424 South Fifth St. City Manager Ron Strickland said two individuals have expressed interest in purchasing the tract.
A preliminary hand rail design for a new bridge in the 500 block of North Broadway was approved by commissioners. An existing bridge has been deemed unsafe by state officials and will be demolished.
Commissioner Neuberger said it was his opinion that a five-year street plan needed to be developed.
Two proclamations were adopted by the commission.
The week of May 10-19 was designated as "Hillbilly Hotspot Week" in recognition of a production at the Great Plains Theatre in Abilene, which bills itself as the only professional theatre between Kansas City and Denver.
May 18 was designated as "National Kids to Park Day".
The Herington City Commission is next scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21.
The meeting time for the Herington City Commission will remain unchanged.
The governing body will continue to meet at 4:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month. A motion to that effect passed, 4-1, during a regular session Tuesday. Commissioner D.J. Neuberger cast the "no" vote.
He said several persons to whom he had spoken wanted a later meeting time, with some citing conflicts with job hours.
Commissioner Neuberger suggested changing the time for a three-month trial period. If audience numbers didn't stay at least the same as recent meetings, the time could be changed back.
An ordinance is required for time changes.
Chuck Miller, who was administered the oath office at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, said the 4:30 p.m. time allowed the public and city staff to attend. He said he had heard of only one request to set the meetings at a later time.
Commissioner Fred Olsen noted that 4:30 p.m. meetings had been well attended in recent weeks, adding persons to whom he had spoken said to leave the time unchanged.
Following a request by Herington resident Leslie Mayes during a March 19 meeting, commissioners directed City Attorney Brad Jantz to draft an ordinance setting a 6 p.m. meeting time.
He presented three draft ordinances at Tuesday's meeting, which included 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Commissioners also approved a revised Code of Procedures, with particular emphasis on executive sessions. Those sessions are closed to the public under provisions of the Open Meetings Act.
The revised Code of Procedures was an outgrowth of a commission work session conducted April 29.