City approves hospital project with 3-2 vote

The project for building a new hospital has been approved by the Sabetha City Commission after a 3-2 vote. However, there is no decision as to where the city shop will be moving. This decision comes after a lengthy discussion at the Monday, June 27, City Commission meeting, which was held at 6 p.m. at Sabetha City Hall.

Present for the discussion were Mayor Cody Bletscher, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer, and City Clerk Steve Compo. Guests present were Dr. James Longabaugh, Jason Enneking, Garrett Colglazier, Brian Voos, Shawn Weldin, David Wright, T.J. Siemons, Ed Steinlage and Marvin Kohlmeier.

Monday, June 27

Dr. Longabaugh thanked the commissioners for letting him come back to discuss the proposed $38 million hospital project. 

“Hopefully, you have had some good opportunity to either get feedback from constituents or think about the investment that Great Plains of Sabetha wants to make in Sabetha with the proposed $38 million project. I realize it is no small task to have the city move their city lot. I certainly don’t take that lightly at all. That would be a substantial project, but I certainly hope and feel that it would be worth it over the next 40 years to get a first-class medical facility, that would serve us for many generations to come,” Dr. Longabaugh said.

Aberle asked about the USDA loan for the project, which is to be paid with hospital revenue bonds.

“Those kinds of hospital revenue bonds, are they backed by the city? In the code for community facilities, that 1942.17 Page 20 says other essential community facilities, such loans, are secured by one or a combination of the following and in the following order of precedence,” Aberle said. “Obviously, they like GO bonds the best, to back them because then there are taxpayers to pay them. Second option is assessments. Third is bonds, which pledge other taxes. The fourth are bond revenues of the facility being financed. When such bonds provide for the mandatory levy and collection of taxes in the event that revenue later becomes insufficient to properly operate and maintain the facility, and to retire the loan. So, by the USDA rules, they are not real hospital revenue bonds that aren’t backed by taxes.”

“I don’t know,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Obviously, not my area of expertise, but yes we have financial people that do that stuff for us – both consultants from the USDA and from the financial analysis company – so I can’t tell you exactly the connection between the bonds and the USDA, but I’ve certainly been assured by both of those organizations that do that for a living that the city has no financial liability in that process.”

Aberle asked if the city applies for the loan or if Great Plains of Sabetha applies for the loan.

“City organization has to be the sponsor for the USDA loan,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “It will be granted through a government entity, so that is where we need the City of Sabetha to be that sponsor for that USDA loan. You are exactly right. Great Plains of Sabetha is a  locally based 501c3 that would really love to invest $38 million in the City of Sabetha.”

Allen said according to Mishler, who discussed the topic with Phil Wolf, the city’s bond counsel, Wolf did not feel like the city would be responsible for the repayment of the loan. 

“I know you said we’re not going to pay for this, but it sounds like sooner or later we are going to be liable for something,” Burenheide said.

“It sounds like a resident expert had already said we’re not going to be, though,” Schmitt said. “I know there are several people that are in favor of it that I have spoke to.”

Wittmer agreed and said she also has not had anyone say they weren’t in favor of the project.

Sabetha Community Hospital (SCH) Physical Therapist Brian Voos said he hopes the hospital and the City can work together on this project. 

“Your support will pave the way for creating long lasting healthcare in Sabetha,” Voos said.

Burenheide said she was still “stuck on the city shop.”

“Last meeting, I said I would like to see a plan for what it’s going to cost us,” she said. “If I remember right, we kind of left it at that, and I haven’t seen a plan to show the taxpayers what it is going to cost us to move a shop and all that good stuff. Did I not ask that last meeting?”

“I think we have a ballpark figure of what it is going to cost,” Bletscher said.

“I would like a plan,” Burenheide said. “I would like to see it instead of ‘we have a ballpark figure.’”

“We did look at some other property, as I recall, that has building facilities on it,” Schmitt said. “So, to say that we haven’t done anything…”

“I didn’t say we didn’t,” Burenheide said. “I’m just saying it would be nice to have the whole plan. Is the hospital providing any funding for that?”

“I think $750,000 is a small price to pay for a $38 million investment in our community,” Bletscher said.

“The minutes would reflect that $750,000 that we approved,” Aberle said. “We approved that at the beginning of the meeting, but that was for a building. That wasn’t for the acres or the relocation of it, or moving of electrical loops and service from the hospital. They are going to move it when they construct it, I get that, but that whole subdivision goes through that area. So, I don’t think it is $750,000. I think we all know that. I think it is a good faith on the hospital’s part to build a facility that people want to work in that is nice and that can do their jobs. Nobody denies that. I went to your [Dr. Longabaugh’s] office. If it was one floor lower, it would be a dungeon. It’s old. It’s antiquated. But to move a city shop and put them in a building we would have to purchase, that is not better than what they have, in fact it’s worse. How is that being a good steward to our employees, in a time where we’re trying to do the same thing? Just like you’re trying to do, we’re trying to attract quality people to do a job.” 

Then, Aberle said he felt like there was a conflict of interest with Schmitt being on the city commission, as well as the hospital board.

“It’s just the white elephant in the room, but I think there is a conflict of interest, Norm, with you being on the hospital board in your capacity with the hospital board, especially with this project to be in our executive sessions, and I know you’re a professional and what is in executive session never leaves either way, but I don’t see how you cannot be a conflict of interest, and recuse yourself from voting on this. I know that is touchy and I’m attempting to tread softly.”

“So, I anticipated that,” Schmitt said. “So, strictly from a legal aspect, KSA 75-4301, which there’s really no definition of ‘conflict of interest,’ but there is a definition of ‘substantial interest,’ which implies conflict of interest, and per all those pieces, I do not fall underneath that. [I] Even got that as legal advice from the Kansas Bar Association. There is a section 6112, which outlines ‘substantial interest,’ as well as the not for profit pieces as well. So, technically and morally, there is no conflict of interest. So, I appreciate you treading lightly, but I did take it into consideration as well.”

Bletscher then made a motion to “let the hospital take over that property and for us to start working on a new city shop.”

Wittmer seconded the motion and Bletscher asked, “all in favor, right hand?”

“We need more discussion, by legal,” Aberle said.

“Did we not have more discussion?” Bletscher said.

“No, not for the motion,” Aberle said. “You’ve made a motion. Now, there is a standing motion on the floor that has been properly seconded. We need to discuss that specific motion in its wording. My discussion on that wording is you would like the hospital to take over that property – flush that out for me. It’s got to be better than that.”

“So, the motion is, what the hospital is asking for is that property, where the city building and city shop is currently located, and I made a motion to make that,” Bletscher said.

“Is it as is? Is it contingent on anything? Is it tomorrow?” Aberle said.

“If all they need is for that motion to be made for them to start working on their grant and everything else, and from what we have discussed, this is going to be a spring 2023 project, so that gives us nine months,” Bletscher said.

Burenheide asked if asking for a spreadsheet of costs for taxpayers to see at the last meeting “just falls by the wayside.”

“Well, we had a 5-0 motion to approve it,” Aberle said.

“So that doesn’t count anymore?” Burenheide said. “We’re just jumping over that? $750,000 is not going to cut it.”

“We don’t know that, Julie,” Bletscher said.

“You just said, ‘we don’t know that,’” Burenheide said. “That is exactly what I asked at the last meeting.”

“What if it’s $600,000?” Schmitt said.

“That is exactly what I asked for at the last meeting, was to give me some figures,” Burenheide said. “Show me what it’s going to take to move the shop. We voted on it.”

“So, let me ask a question, what have you done to further that yourself?” Schmitt said.

“I’m waiting on someone to give me figures,” Burenheide said. “They were supposed to do that.”

“So, that is proactive?” Schmitt said.

“Don’t go there with me, Norm, thinking it is my fault that we don’t have spreadsheets and stuff,” Burenheide said.

“I didn’t say it was your fault,” Schmitt said.

“I asked for these guys to do that. We voted on it. So, you either follow the rules or you don’t follow the rules,” Burenheide said.

“I am,” Schmitt said. “We went into an executive session and I’ve got enough dollars to calculate and move forward.”

“Okay, so I don’t get a spreadsheet,” Burenheide said.

“We’re in a period of limbo, if this motion that is currently on the table passes, we’re in between there and when we do something, we should get a spreadsheet and we do it. We just have a section here that we have to go on faith that it’s going to come back to the right number. Just like the hospital has to go on faith that they’re going to get their pledges and construction costs aren’t going to double or shrink.”

Then, Aberle said he wasn’t trying be to difficult with Bletscher’s motion.

“It is to make sure we are doing complete due process and that there is no vagueness to it,” Aberle said.

Bletscher revised his motion to state: “I make a motion for the hospital to accept the city land on or before 12 months time and if nothing is done, the land will come back to the city.”

The commissioners approved the motion 3-2, with Aberle and Burenheide opposed.

State Budget – Revenue Neutral Rate

Allen said there was an error on the state budget, which left the city three mils short – roughly $60,000 to $65,000 short. 

“To get that back, even though it was done in error, we will have to do the revenue neutral rate in steps, which is notification of all taxpayers by a written or email form through the county,” Allen said. “Posting a budget hearing and posting an ordinance in the paper, so if we’re going to do all of that, we might as well get this year’s money back too. We’re looking at [adding] six mils [to the budget].”

After further discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow the city to present them with a budget with a six mil increase.

Also at the meeting:

The commissioners approved the minutes from the June 13 regular meeting and the June 22 special meeting.

Wednesday, June 22

The Sabetha City Commission met at noon on Wednesday, June 22, for a special meeting and executive session to discuss possible land acquisition. Present for the executive session were Mayor Cody Bletscher, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, and Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer. No decision was made as a result of the executive session.

The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, July 11, at City Hall.

Heather Stewart213 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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