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UMC holds community presentation amid opposition of $345 million bond

EL PASO, Texas — Amid a petition, a $345 million dollar bond for the expansion of University Medical Center was at the center of debate. A public presentation was held at the Chamizal Memorial Center.

Jacob Cintron President and Ceo of El Paso County Hospital District said UMC wants more community involvement at these presentations which some of the people present agreed with.

"There's a handful of people there should be hundreds of people here," said El Pasoan Christopher Falk. He shared his thoughts on the certificate of obligation at the presentation. "What they've done is taken the people's voice out of this 350 million dollars", said Falk.

He does not agree with UMC's pitch.

"We're teetering on a recession and we won't know for a year how bad the recession is gonna be," said Falk. "Now's not the time to be spending 345 million dollars that we don't have".

Others were for it.

"This is the time we don't need this today, tomorrow, we needed this yesterday," said El Pasoan Alicia Villa. "I don't think there is a price for health you know we need to pay for whatever for our health".

A sentiment that Cintron also shared.

"When is it a good time to raise taxes it's never a good time but we have an obligation to provide good health care for our community," said Cintron.

Cintron also added getting approval for the bond by way of a certificate of obligation is an effort to save more money because the cost of the hospital's renovations will only go up as time passes.

UMC's board discussed the timeliness of passing the bond through a certificate of obligation, which would bypass voter approval. They also brought attention to a "false flyer" they say is giving the community the wrong ideas.

"I've heard were gonna increase your income tax 20% false. That we're gonna be the highest tax paying entity in the state false," said Cintron.

Cintron says false information is circulating about the 345 million dollar bond creating confusion. He says the bond's total impact on the tax dollar is less than 2 % or up to 9 dollars a month per household.

"One and a half cappuccinos one or two orders of Whataburger. And were saying for that, help us provide cancer care in our community for those that don't have insurance. Help us provide geriatric service for our older population," said Cintron "We want to make sure with public forums like this were able to state the facts".

One group in El Paso is trying to collect enough signatures to allow El Paso county voters to decide on a $345 million dollar bond issue for University Medical Center. 

Karla Sierra, the grassroots engagement director of The Libre Initiative, said under a new state law, voters are allowed have this on a ballot. 

“This petition really is about transparency and allowing the El Paso community to vote on an issue that could really affect their pocketbooks,” Sierra said. 

For the past three weeks, the group has been engaging with community members. 

“We definitely want to make sure that we hold our elected officials accountable," she said.

The deadline to collect enough signatures is Sept.12.

“We want to make sure that our community is educated," Sierra said.

According to Sierra, the group has mostly been receiving positive support.

The group has raised close to 3,000 signatures. The group must raise 25,000 signatures- which is 5% of the registered voters in the El Paso County. 

Ryan Mielke, the director of the public affairs at UMC, disputes a claim in the group's marketing flyers. The flyer says property taxes will go up 21%.

"That is false. It is not true with our proposal property taxes would go up no more than 2%, in fact it will be less than that," Mielke said.

According to UMC if the bond is approved, homeowners would pay about $55 per year on a home valued $100,000 for the next 10 years.

UMC officials arrived at the $345 million proposal because of the large capacity issues the hospitals are facing.

Both UMC and the El Paso Children's Hospital need more beds.

If the request is not approved, officials said some patients will be forced to travel outside El Paso for healthcare.

Hospital officials say years of extensive research and the needs of this community helped them come out as the necessary total.

They said they wanted to address the issues with county commissioners for a faster response.

"The needs are critical and the timing is critical. By going to a certificate of obligation, we are able to start to address these needs in a quicker way," Jon Law, the chief strategy officer at UMC, said.

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Sarah Coria

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