Memorial mill levy to be on Nov. ballot

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City council agreed to put an initiative on the Nov. 1 ballot that would remove taxpayers’ liability for Memorial Health System.

The council also agreed to hold a request for proposal process, seeking health care groups who want to lease the assets from the city. And, it agreed to allow Mayor Steve Bach and the Regional Leadership Forum to lead the RFP process.

“We’re committed to examining all the options,” said Phil Lane, executive director of the leadership forum, an offshoot of Operation 6035, a consultant report that outlined economic development initiatives for Colorado Springs.

In addition, the council has agreed to hold a special election in 2012 to allow the voters to have the final say in who leases the hospital and the terms of that lease.

Both the RFP process and the special election will be paid for by the group chosen to lease the hospital. A special election costs around $175,000.

City council chambers were packed Tuesday as doctors, nurses and other health care workers gathered to express their opinions about what to do with Memorial.

“Employee morale is at a record low. Patient satisfaction scores are dropping,” said Dr. Mark Duster, medical officer for Memorial Children’s Hospital. “The hospital is in a downward spiral because the city won’t make a decision.”

He compared the situation to the way uncertainty affects financial markets.

“The stock market can react to event it expects, but it reacts erratically to events it doesn’t expect. That’s what’s happening at Memorial,” he said.

Some residents spoke against the proposal, saying there wasn’t enough information available to make a decision.

One of those people was former Sen. Andy McElhaney, who said he had received “knocks on my door to lead the opposition to this.”

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “But I do think we need to look at more options, get more information.”

McElhaney said the PERA question still was to be decided, and it was too early to rush into the decision. PERA has said it will take about $245 million for Memorial to exit the public pension plan, something it must do if it is no longer owned by the city.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.

Ballot language for the November election:

“Shall Ordinance No. 1854 (1949) that requires City Council to levy a tax to pay for any operating deficit of Memorial Health System be repealed?”