Hospital levy to cost Otsego folks

by Dawn Feddersen-Poindexter
ECM-Sun Newspapers

A $1.5 million levy coming from New River Medical Center to be paid for by Otsego and six other communities was discussed at an Aug. 28 Otsego City Council meeting.

Otsego and the six other communities formed the Monticello-Big Lake Community Hospital District in 1961 to help fund the construction of the hospital, located in Monticello. As the years went by, however, a disproportionate amount of the levy has fallen on Otsego, as its population and home values have risen faster and higher than any other city in the hospital district.

In 2008, Otsego residents comprised 24 percent of the hospital district’s population, the highest of any of the cities involved, but only used 4.5 percent of the hospital’s services, among the lowest of any of the cities in the hospital district.

In 2009, the city of Otsego sued the hospital district in order to be removed from it and the burden of its levy, citing that many of Otsego’s residents commute to the Twin Cities metro area and access medical services in that area. In 2010, a judge denied their petition.

According to Mayor Jessica Stockamp, Otsego and the Hospital District Board came to an amicable understanding regarding the tax levy.

“We had an agreement that the board was dedicated to decreasing the levy every year until it would zero out in five years. That was two years ago,” she said.

New River Medical Center CEO Marshall Smith told the council that many of the hospital’s operating expenses, like supplies and salaries, were fixed and could not be changed to decrease the tax levy.

City Administrator Lori Johnson said, “I’m disappointed to hear this. We’ve been working hard to keep taxes down for our residents. This is something we have to pass on to them and it’s not our choice.”

The tax will likely amount to about $60 annually per property owner.

In other matters, the council approved a contract to put a fog sealant on 6.3 miles of trail and nearly 130,000 square feet of other city-owned pavement to help extend the material’s useful life.

They also agreed to change the time for their Sept. 24 meeting to 6 p.m.