Aleshire: Decision could mean more costs

November 18, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council's decision last week in closed session to increase its official involvement in Washington County Hospital's second attempt to move could open the door a second time for unplanned spending, one council member said.

It was not yet known whether last week's action will lead to additional spending, but Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, the only council member who opposed the decision, said Wednesday he believed it will lead to "unnecessary additional cost."

In the fall of last year, as plans to move Washington County Hospital from East Antietam Street to a site near Robinwood Medical Center progressed through the Maryland Health Care Commission's review process, the council decided in a closed session to pursue "interested party" status. That status is granted by the Health Care Commission to allow groups to challenge health-care facility plans.


That move eventually led to $300,000 in city expenditures for expert legal and health-care advice.

Hospital officials withdrew their plans in May citing problems, including their financing plans. They submitted revised plans Sept. 10.

Last week's decision by the City Council limited its involvement to the City Attorney's Office, and city officials say they don't intend to use the outside experts again. The city has not yet sent its request to join as an interested party but has until Dec. 13 to do so.

Aleshire said he believes joining the case again could be expensive.

"I think there will definitely be additional costs assumed by participating as an interested party," Aleshire said. Furthermore, "I don't have the complete faith right now that outside services ... won't be used again."

Aleshire said that last year he at first opposed pursuing the special status, but throughout the process saw the merits of having the expert advice. He said city officials were new to the complicated state process, and were concerned that the Health Care Commission might be influenced by politics or industry.

Aleshire said he's now satisfied that the Health Care Commission will consider the application fairly and that it is not necessary for the city to be granted special status.

Mayor William M. Breichner opposes the hospital move and said he believes the council's decision to seek interested party status is the right one.

"I don't think there's going to be an added cost above what is budgeted" for the City Attorney's Office, Breichner said.

According to the city's adopted budget, that cost is planned to be about $112,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005. The money is supposed to cover the expenses of legal services provided to the city by the firm Urner, Nairn & Boyer, which is commonly referred to as the City Attorney's Office.

Under some circumstances, the City Council can decide to authorize spending in a closed session, or make decisions that can lead to spending, as they did last week, Breichner said.

Breichner said if the expense goes beyond what is expected, it should be put before the council in public session, unlike the last time. In that case, no public meetings were held to authorize the ongoing expenses, Breichner said.

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