County

County Meeting Scheduled For Today Includes Several Interesting Community Items

Today’s scheduled county meeting includes several items of interest to the community. It includes discussion items on the finances of the University Medical Center, immigrants detained at the local jail and an offer by KTSM to produce a historical video, among other issues.

UMC Financial Report To County Commissioners

Today, the county commissioners will receive a report from the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) about the hospitals finances from last year. The last fiscal year ended on September 30, 2020. The Independent Auditor’s Report is dated December 11, 2020.

Blended Units

Of particular interest to El Paso taxpayers, UMC has four other businesses units under it. All of them are listed as “blended component unit”.

A blended component unit, according to the generally accepted accounting standards, is a business unit that is “so intertwined with the primary government that they are, in substance, the same as the primary government and are presented as part of the primary government entity,” in this case UMC.

The four blended units are: El Paso Health (El Paso First HealthPlans, Inc.), the University Medical Center Foundation of El Paso, UMC El Paso Healthcare, Inc. and the El Paso Children’s Hospital.

El Paso Politics readers should note that we have been reporting on several medical malpractice lawsuits against the children’s hospital making their way through the court system. Use this link to view the malpractice lawsuit archive.

As a blended entity, the El Paso taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the costs associated with the malpractice lawsuits and any awards made to the plaintiffs.

The newest blended unit at UMC is UMC El Paso Healthcare, Inc., which became operational in 2020.

Although the financial statements indicate that UMC’s financial statement saw a $28 million improvement, the report also notes that operating expenses increased to $58 million, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The increase in expenses between 2019 and 2020 were slightly less than the increase of $67 million between 2018 and 2019. Expenses have increased by $125 million since 2019.

Since 2018, UMC has been operating at a loss. However, because of an increase in property taxes by $12 million from 2019 and $6 million from 2018 to 2019, UMC has seen a positive change in net position in 2020.

UMC’s long-term debt is $332 million as of September 30, 2020. A little more than 80% of the property tax revenues go towards operations while the resulting 19.7% goes towards debt service.

Covid-19 Pandemic Considerations

The auditors pointed to the Covid-19 pandemic as a key challenge for UMC.

During the 2020 fiscal year, UMC received approximately $62.9 million from the CARES Act.

UMC also took in $30.1 million in Medicare Accelerated and Advanced Payments in 2020. These payments are six months of advance Medicare payments as requested by UMC. UMC is expected to pay back these funds this year provided that Congress does not make changes to the CARES Act legislation.

Immigrant Marshals Contract Up For Discussion Today

As reported by the El Paso Politics last week, the U.S. Marshals Service contract with the County of El Paso that mainly detains immigrants at the local jail is up for discussion in today’s county commissioners meeting. It was postponed last week because the U.S. Marshals Service was still reviewing the contract.

The discussion of the approval of the contract will happen while the nation debates the immigration question in anticipation of the Biden administration ending the construction of the wall. Biden is also expected to offer immigration reform legislation.

The issue for El Paso is money. The Marshals contract is the third largest revenue source for the El Paso county. The proposed contract “can amount to $92 million,” according to the contract summary provided by the County. Sheriff Richard Wiles has previously argued that the contract provides for 280 county jobs.

The action on the Marshal’s contract also has a corresponding Executive Session item.

The reasons are unclear because the agenda item is devoid of backup material including a copy of the proposed contract. According to previous news reporting, the contract discussion item was postponed last week because the Marshals service was still reviewing the proposed contract.

According to the County’s contract summary, the Marshals proposed contract increasing the fee to jail federal prisoners to $101 per detainee per day. This is an increase from the $80 under the existing contract.

Has the U.S. Marshals Service proposed a lower fee necessitating the County to discuss a new fee proposal? Or is the Executive Session item intended to tamper down any discussion about the jailing of immigrants at the local jail?

The proposed contract is for three years.

It is expected that the county commissioners will approve the proposed contract without addressing the immigration question and instead focusing on the money it generates for the County.

KTSM Asks for $5,000 To Promote Trost & Trost Buildings

The county commissioners will also discuss and possibly approve a request by Texas Preservation to use county hotel occupancy taxes (HOT) to pay KTSM $5,000 to produce ten segments promoting Trost & Trost buildings.

Readers should note that the HOT taxes are used by the City to pay the debt service for the ballpark where the Chihuahua’s play. Because the revenues from the HOT taxes are insufficient, the City has had to use funds from its general funds to make the debt service payments for the ballpark.

To facilitate the KTSM payment, County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal’s office offered a legal opinion arguing that the use of the HOT monies was authorized.

KTSM is proposing to broadcast 10 segments during the year including a minimum of 20 promotional spots. The segments are to be produced by KTSM anchor Natassia Paloma. KTSM is asking for $5,000 for the production of the promotional materials.

Newspaper Advertising Up For Approval

The El Paso, Inc. is expected to be awarded the county’s newspaper legal ads contract. Only the El Paso Times and the El Paso, Inc. provided bids for the contract. The El Paso Inc. offered to print the county’s legal advertising for $1.84 “per line”. It also offered to provide the required affidavit without cost.

The El Paso Times’ fees were $3,27 per line and $5.00 for the affidavit.

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