Hagerstown's actions may increase local health costs

April 08, 2004

Memo to the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council, who have thus far refused to talk to representatives of the Washington County Hospital about its proposed move to Robinwood: Remember last year, when the shoe was on the other foot?

We're talking about the refusal by the Washington County Commissioners to hold meaningful discussions on a variety of topics of interest to the city.

Those included sharing the revenue from the hotel/motel tax and the excise tax and crafting a new formula for the tax set-off, which compensates city residents whose tax dollars go to pay for county services they never use.

That refusal is certainly a big factor in the city's current budget, which calls for the fourth property tax increase in four years, even as county officials announce that they're bringing in more revenue than anticipated.


Just as the county government is damaging the city's ability to balance its budget, the mayor and council's refusal to discuss the hospital move is adding thousands of dollars to the project. That doesn't mean it won't be built, hospital CEO James Hamill said last week. It just won't be as well-equipped as it would be otherwise, Hamill said.

City officials are still clinging to the unrealistic hope that the hospital will accept its offer to use eminent domain to take control of more than 50 properties downtown.

In the mayor and council's fantasy, these would be demolished for a new hospital site. But there's no guarantee that a hospital built there would be any less costly than one built at Robinwood. If multistory construction is necessary, it might even be more expensive.

And let's be clear: Not doing anything is not an option. To maintain its accreditation, the hospital must either upgrade its existing facility, or build something new somewhere else.

Whatever happens - new construction or renovation - costs will increase if the city succeeds in delaying the process until interest rates go up.

If that happens, the rate-setting agencies will take that into account and everyone's health-care costs will increase.

City officials have already succeeded in getting the hospital to cut its projected rate increase, but the time to negotiate is now, before rising interest rates kill any chance for additional cost-cutting or concessions.

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