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County voters approve tax for hospital upgrade

Southwest Health System CEO Kent Rogers jots down election results as they were read aloud by Montezuma County Clerk and Recorder Kim Percell late Tuesday.

Voters approved the Montezuma County Hospital District’s request for a limited sales and use tax that will be used to help fund a $14.2 million overhaul of the 40-year-old Southwest Memorial Hospital.

Ballot measure 5A passed 3,679 votes to 2,592, or 58.7 percent to 41.3 percent.

“Getting a consistent message out to the voters was the key to winning the campaign.” said Montezuma County Hospital District board president Brad Wayt. “We want to thank the voters of Montezuma County.”

Wayt said that securing bank loans and completing architectural designs would be the hospital’s next steps. Construction in the three-year project is expected to start in March.

“I think it will be a great asset for our entire health community,” Wayt said moments after the results were announced. “I’m looking forward to the new facility.”

Officials have emphasized that the expansion and facilities upgrade is crucial to modernizing the county’s health-care infrastructure.

The 0.4 percent tax – 4 cents per every $10 – would be applied to money spent in Montezuma County but would exclude certain items like most food purchased in grocery stores, prescription drugs, residential utilities and non-licensed farm equipment.

Hospital officials have said that the tax was the most equitable way to fund the project, and would apply to locals and tourists alike.

The ambitious capital project entails building a state-of-the-art inpatient wing at the 25-bed, critical-access hospital on Mildred Road, as well as an ambulance garage with conference space and rooming quarters for EMS staff.

The existing inpatient wing would be remodeled to house Southwest Health System’s four clinics, which are scattered throughout town in leased office buildings.

Officials plan to apply for a USDA loan to pay for $6.6 million of the project, and the sales tax would cover the bulk of the remaining cost.

Southwest Health System CEO Kent Rogers said the hospital board is seeking an energy impact and assistance grant from the Department of Local Affairs and will be presenting its grant application in Grand Junction to the agency on Nov. 18. Additionally, some design work still needs to be hashed out with Denver-based firm Davis Partnership Architects.

“This has been a long and interesting journey. We’ve been working on-and-off on plans, and we’re at a point where we’re still working on design with the goal to begin in the spring,” said Rogers. “On behalf of the board, and everyone involved in this campaign, we’re just incredibly humbled to see the public support and excited to move forward.”

Last-minute voters

Indicating it’s never too late to campaign, about half the 6,676 ballots cast in the coordinated election were received between Halloween and Election Day. Montezuma County Clerk & Recorder Kim Percell said more than 100 ballots were dropped off on Oct. 31 alone. On normal Saturdays before an election, she said her office might receive a total of five ballots.

“The late turnout was incredible,” Percell said.

Wayt, Rogers and about a dozen residents gathered inside the County Annex Building Tuesday night to await the election results. Just after 9 p.m., it was evident that anxieties were rising.

“People are starting to grow restless,” one man said.

After the polls closed at 7 p.m., four election judges were charged with counting ballots, which took more than 2½ hours. Percell said the process was slowed after one judge was unable to assist because of a family emergency.

“Normally we have five judges counting ballots,” said Percell. “That’s why we had a delay.”

Opening each individually sealed ballot kick started the counting process. After each name was checked against the voter roll, the judges then verified each signature. The final step was sending the ballot through an electronic counter.

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