NOREEN: No hospital ballot measure, but voting begins in 42 days

June 21, 2012
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It’s a funny way to run a ballot measure campaign, but don’t worry — we have experts in charge and it’s inconceivable anything could go wrong now.


Colorado Springs voters will be asked to weigh in on the future of city-owned Memorial Health System and the ballots will be counted Aug. 28. According to an already-approved schedule, ballots will be mailed to voters as early as Aug. 3.

As of now there’s a schedule, but no ballot measure. The City Council will discuss the issue again Tuesday — just 39 days before the first ballots can be mailed out.

Linking Memorial with University Hospital in Aurora and Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins looks like a good thing for Colorado Springs but right now there are more questions than answers about this complex deal.

Council President Scott Hente said a lease arrangement with University of Colorado Hospital would be worth about $74 million up front, plus $5 million a year after that. No one in City Hall knows what limits can be placed on spending the revenue from the deal. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has pledged to produce an opinion quickly about that issue, but there is no answer yet.

“There’s a little internal squabble going on,” Hente acknowledged, alluding to a disagreement between council members and Mayor Steve Bach over who gets to appoint members of an advisory panel that would recommend how to spend the money. It hasn’t even been determined how many members the panel will have.

Bach has called the merger of the hospitals “a home run” for the city but has sent mixed signals, at one point saying he would oppose the ballot measure is he doesn’t get his way, then backing away from that position.

Memorial employees won’t be members of the Public Employees Retirement Association if the deal goes through, but they’ve only been given vague assurances about what kind of retirement plan they’ll belong to.

CU President Bruce Benson said Wednesday that Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz is ready to donate to the ballot measure campaign. Anschutz has donated millions to University Hospital in the past.

“We’re hell-bent on this,” Benson said. “Don’t go into a deal unless you’re willing to make it happen.”

It would be nice if local officials were as gung-ho as Benson.

A well-funded whirlwind campaign may work because it’s unlikely there will be well-funded opposition. But trying to educate voters in a little more than a month seems like a shaky strategy, because voters tend to resist measures they don’t understand.

If the measure fails, don’t blame the voters.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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