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UMC to ask county commissioners to issue hundreds of millions in public debt

EL PASO, Texas -- University Medical Center is set to present to county commissioners a master expansion plan Thursday morning. The county hospital will be asking the commissioners to approve the publication of notice -- which could include a hefty chunk of money.

400 million of your taxpayer dollars -- that's what is set to be discussed during a special El Paso County Commissioner's Court meeting Thursday. The county hospital -- University Medical Center, is looking to use the money for expansion.

The board of managers of the El Paso County Hospital District voted unanimously in favor of bringing this to county commissioners. So what kind of expansion is UMC looking at?

The grand total is nearly $350 million. About half of that goes towards UMC capacity expansion, including renovating the 3rd floor north tower for 23 ICU beds and adding surgery expansion with three new operating rooms. And nearly 40 million of that to create an ambulatory procedure center, includes six operating rooms and two procedure rooms.

About 37 million dollars is budgeted to expand El Paso children's hospital. Then there is nearly 80 million dollars earmarked for the creation of a cancer institute. Finally, nearly 55 million dollars for property and land acquisition. To include current Texas Tech properties adjacent to the existing campus. But how this is all paid for is where it becomes controversial.

The board is asking commissioners to approve this using certificates of obligation -- that's what allows governmental entities to issue debt without voter approval to fund any public project.

Now -- a project of this scope would have an impact on the property taxes you pay --- UMC is one of the five taxing entities in El Paso.

During the board presentation Tuesday-- they estimated the impact on El Paso homeowners would be about 55 dollars on a 100-thousand dollar if your home is worth double that -- you're looking at more than $100 more per year -- and that's without the cost changing.

Here's the other issue coming to light here -- transparency … Or lack thereof. All of this information was first reported by a blog called El Paso news.

The amount of certificates of obligation was not published on the agenda -- nor was there an attachment for more information. The board has also not been broadcasting their meetings since they shifted to virtual meetings -- the last video posted was from march 2020. And -- they don't post the meeting minutes -- UMC says it only has to make them available if someone requests them through an open records request.

Lastly -- the agenda for the county commissioners' meeting did not have details initially -- but so many of us asked questions -- the presentation slides were finally posted this afternoon -- less than 24 hours ahead of Thursday's meeting.

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