Assembly works through hospital appropriations, other business

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2003

An agenda with all the earmarks of a late-night meeting turned out to be a relative breeze, as the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly dispatched with a slough of important public hearings and passed most of the subject spending measures with little or no debate.

The largest was Ordinance 2003-19-22, which proposed spending $1.3 million on a new Magnetic Resonance Imaging system for Central Peninsula General Hospital. After brief testimony from David Gilbreath, hospital chief executive officer, and Doug Wehrli, director of the radiology department, the assembly adopted the ordinance by a unanimous vote.

Wehrli said, among other things, the new machine would give physicians greatly enhanced images, especially of the brain, which would increase their ability to diagnose the extent of damage from strokes.

The machine will replace the current model, now five years old. Gilbreath and Wehrli explained that MRI systems typically have a life of about five years, and the machine was to reach full depreciation in January. The availability of a $300,000 grant from the Denali Commission led the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board to accelerate the purchase date for its replacement.

Meanwhile, the hospital's expansion plans took another step forward when the assembly approved Resolution 2003-121, authorizing the issuing of $49.9 million in general obligation bonds to pay the costs of capital improvements. Voters approved the bond measure during the Oct. 7 municipal election. The money will be used to construct a two-story addition, change the current 33 multipatient rooms into 50 single-patient rooms, and double the number of operating rooms and outpatient beds for procedures requiring fewer than 24 hours of recovery. The project will renovate 46 percent of the existing hospital and add 74,000 square feet of new construction.

Approved for introduction Tuesday was Ordinance 2003-19-28, which would appropriate $1.5 million for preliminary design of the CPGH expansion projects. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

The money is a temporary expenditure from two existing accounts: $1 million would come from the hospital's plant, replacement and expansion fund, and $500,000 would come from the hospital service area fund balance. When the proceeds of the $49.9 million bond sale are realized, those two accounts would be reimbursed. The money is needed quickly because to take advantage of the 2004 building season, the design contract must be awarded by December of this year, officials said.

Tuesday seemed to be the day for approving hospital expenditures. Other requests for funding from peninsula hospitals were on the agenda for public hearings and final actions.

Ordinance 2003-19-24 was adopted without debate appropriating $250,000 for a bulk oxygen generating system at South Peninsula Hospital. The new system will make the hospital independent of shipped-in oxygen and ultimately prove less expensive, hospital officials have said.

South Peninsula Hospital also won assembly approval for Ordinance 2003-19-20, which authorized spending $182,600 to purchase a small lot with a home and garage adjacent to hospital property. Hospital administrator Charlie Franz said the new space would allow "a domino effect" within the hospital. The intent is to move certain office functions to the house, allowing other hospital functions to be moved into the emptied office spaces in the main building, ultimately freeing up other spaces in the main building to house visiting physician clinic services, which themselves are to be moved from an old hospital building next door that is scheduled for demolition to make way for a hospital expansion.

Tuesday evening, the assembly voted to approve a contract with Kachemak Bay Broadcasting Inc., which will begin airing assembly meetings across the peninsula on Jan. 20.

Earlier in the day during a special meeting, the assembly heard an appeal from Dave Becker, owner of Peninsula Communications Inc., which has been carrying the meetings over its network of stations and translators since the 1980s. Becker disputed the decision to give KBBI the contract, arguing that Federal Communications Commission law forbids nonprofit public stations from taking money for advertising. Airing the meetings would necessarily air public opinions on public matters, which he said the FCC specifically defines as advertising.

The assembly retired to executive session to discuss the matter. Borough Attorney Colette Thompson said that was legal, because the assembly was acting as a "quasi-judicial body," and as such was exempt from the Open Meetings Act.

Tuesday night, without comment, the assembly adopted Resolution 2003-115, authorizing Mayor Dale Bagley to negotiate with and award a contract to KBBI. Assembly President Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, said the body would not render a written document detailing how they reached that decision until Dec. 4, and said he could not discuss if further until then.

In other business, the assembly:

Adopted Ordinance 2003-19-19, appropriating $14,000 from the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area capital project fund for a new defibrillator.

Adopted Ordinance 2003-19-21, appropriating $17,900 from an Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs grant to continue the work of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Adopted Ordinance 2003-19-22, appropriating a $58, 277 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Bear Creek Fire Service Area. The bulk of the money will be used for training, the rest for equipment.

The assembly also postponed three measures until the Dec. 16 meeting. They included Ordinance 2003-39, which would amend the borough's conflict of interest code; Ordinance 2003-40, which will incorporate the borough transportation plan into the overall Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan; and Ordinance 2003-41, which would authorize the sale of 23.3 acres of land in the Cooper Landing area to the Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Corporation for less than market value.

Also postponed until Dec. 16 is consideration of Resolution 2003-123, a measure sponsored by assembly member Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, which would ask state lawmakers to amend state law that now gives the Department of Natural Resources commissioner the power to waive local laws in favor of shallow natural gas development. Martin pulled the resolution from the consent agenda saying she wanted time to refine its language and that she intended to bring it back for the Dec. 16 meeting.

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