Image courtesy of epcounty.com
Several weeks ago the County Commissioners and County Judge voted themselves a raise: Escobar saw a $14,422 pay increase with her salary going from $87,578 to $102,000. County Commissioners saw a $26,569 pay increase from $62,681 to $89,250. Outrage ensued and many of you emailed, called, tweeted and facebooked the County Commissioners. In response to the outrage, Veronica Escobar wrote a letter where she stated: “Finally, you should know that we will be adopting either the effective tax rate or be going below the current tax rate (for a tax decrease) this year again. If we do the latter, many El Pasoans will again this year see a reduction on their tax bill from the County.” See, it doesn’t matter that they gave themselves HUGE raises, your taxes are going to go down! Sure, that may be true, but:
- On September 15th they removed the cost-of-living adjustments for retired county employees. “Haggerty told KFOX14 the decision to cut COLAs for retired county employees will save the county’s retirement fund upwards of $30 million over a 15-year-span.” (You can read the KFOX story here).
- Also on September 15th the County Commissioners started considering lowering the number of paid time-off days employees receive annually. Haggerty was in favor of reducing the days. Stout stated that “We are in the public sector, and so part of our recruiting ability comes with the fact that we offer benefits. The private sector, they can attract people with money, and so we don’t want to lose that recruiting tool.” (You can read the KFOX story here). Interesting that they raised their own salaries to attract better candidates but are looking to REDUCE vacation days while at the same time acknowledging that the County does not pay as much.
- On Monday, the County Commissioners approved a tax increase for UMC. The court approved a 1.4 cent property tax increase for UMC, which amounts to approximately $17 more a year on a $123,000 home. We find this one to be the MOST disingenuous of all of the things the County Commissioners have done. Veronica Escobar has repeatedly stated that the County is not raising taxes. In fact, the article announcing the UMC tax increase even reiterated that the County isn’t raising your taxes. However, the UMC budget is approved by the County Commissioners; the UMC budget is part of the County Budget. So, YES, the County Commissioners did just raise your taxes.
We are incredibly disappointed and concerned with the way the County Commissioners have gone about giving themselves these raises. They keep reminding us that their raises are not going to increase our property taxes while, at the same time, cutting money and incentives for others in the county. They pat themselves on the back that THEY didn’t raise property taxes while they approve the highest property tax rate they can for UMC. Finally, as we stated in a previous article, the County Commissioners MUST advertise the raises. Under pressure, Veronica Escobar stated that the notice would be published in El Paso Inc. We have checked every week since then and STILL have not seen the raises posted. Have you?
Last year, instead of a loss of $16 million (as they projected), UMC actually ended the year with a $800,000 surplus and they doubled their cash reserves:”cash reserves doubled from what was originally budgeted — from $30 million to $60 million”! Amazingly enough, this information came out just as the UMC Board was deciding what Jim Valenti’s bonus was going to be. They even raised his performance score so that he would be eligible for a larger bonus.
The news is not as cheery this year, according to UMC, they are looking at a loss of $15.7 Million for the 2017 fiscal year:
If you look closely, you’ll see that El Paso First and the UMC Foundation are both projecting net positives and it’s the positives from them that are pushing the NEGATIVE from UMC down from $22.1 million to $15.79 million.
So, what has happened? Did UMC and its CEO paint a more rosy picture so that Jim Valenti would be eligible for a bigger bonus in 2015 and then kick the problem to 2016 for the new CEO to handle? No doubt, UMC will try some creative ways to make up the deficit. But, we find it hard to believe that anything other than a property tax increase will cover the projected $15.79 million loss.
The UMC Board today announced their new CEO: Jacob Cintron (formerly CEO of Del Sol Medical Center). The El Paso Inc Whispers over the weekend stated that Jim Valenti had been asked to stay on through September. However, the press release states that Cintron will begin his new job at UMC on July 25, 2016, so we find it unlikely that Valenti will be around much longer.
We wonder how the dynamic at UMC (and also the dynamic between UMC and the County Commissioner’s Court) is going to change – only time will tell.
Two interesting things happened at the end of last week and you may have missed them. First, Jim Valenti’s weekly Friday letter had the tone of someone who is saying goodbye. Is it possible that we’ll get an announcement on a new UMC CEO soon? If Steve DeGroat (UMC Chair) is to be believed in the El Paso Times Story, “He’ll stay some days of the month of June — whether that’s a week, or two, or three or four. But I would say no longer than July 1.”
Secondly, Commissioner Stout wrote an opinion piece in the El Paso Times entitled “Building Relationships key for UMC“. In his piece he says “I urge the new CEO to spend time rebuilding relationships with key community partners and the Commissioners Court that have been stressed.” We agree, the new CEO (with his board of directors) needs to rebuild old and establish new relationships. Odd that Commissioner Stout felt it was important to run an opinion piece in the El Paso Times rather than just saying these things directly to the new CEO. Commissioner Stout is on the search committee for the new CEO so he would not only know who the person is but also would have the opportunity to speak with them. Is Commissioner Stout worried about the new CEO already and he is trying to publicly put pressure on them?
Waiting for the announcement for the new CEO is starting to feel like waiting for the birth of a baby; everybody knows that it is coming but nobody knows when. So, start marking up your calendars or just shout out the date you think the announcement will be made.
The UMC Board met yesterday in Executive Session to discuss their new CEO. While UMC says they won’t release any details about who they have interviewed or to whom they might offer the job, they have said that they are three to four weeks out. According to the El Paso Times, UMC Board Chairman Steve DeGroat said, “I think we should have somebody on board by July 1.” Additionally, DeGroat stated that Jim Valenti’s last day is expected to be sometime in June: “He’ll stay some days of the month of June — whether that’s a week, or two, or three or four. But I would say no longer than July 1.”
If UMC is expecting their new CEO to start in July and Jim Valenti is expected to leave in June, so much for the contract extension to “be used in case the former CEO needs to mentor the new leader and help in the transition process.” (You can read the El Paso Times Story here). Given that the “hospital district will send Valenti a letter notifying him about his last day on the job. The letter will be sent 30 days in advance,” they must already know when his last day will be (and have already told him) and are just not releasing that information.
It would appear that Jim Valenti’s time at UMC is coming to a close. We wonder what this “new era” for UMC is going to look like.
The Leapfrog Group has published its quarterly scores and, like last year, UMC didn’t score very well. It received a ‘D‘ rating with failures in areas such as infections in the blood during an ICU stay, death from serious treatable complications, dangerous bed sores and responsiveness of hospital staff, to name a few (you can view the entire report here). UMC, of course is stating that the report is inaccurate and, according to KFOX, a spokesman for UMC stated that the “method the group uses to collect the data doesn’t paint a true picture of any hospital because it rates all different types of hospitals on the same scale.” Several Senators have even written a letter stating that “the current Star Rating System may not accurately take into account hospitals that treat patients with low socioeconomic status or multiple complex chronic conditions” (You can read the entire letter here). So, we decided to take a look at the other Texas County Hospitals that would be dealing with the same patient pools. Here are the comparisons for County Hospitals in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Austin:
University Health System, San Antonio: C
Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas: B
John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS), Fort Worth: C
Harris County Hospital District, Houston: C
University Medical Center at Brackenridge, Austin: B
Even among other county hospitals in Texas, UMC still rates the LOWEST. Are the scores skewed to rate hospitals lower that treat the indigent population? Possibly. However, unless the scores are skewed to attack ONLY University Medical Center of El Paso, then all County Hospitals in Texas are getting the same treatment and are still able to pull rating of C or higher.
According to MySA (a San Antonio news outlet), the CEO of University Health System, George Hernandez Jr., was awarded a 7 percent increase. This prompted the news outlet to do a comparison of wages for other county hospitals and UMC’s CEO Jim Valenti was included in that. Interesting to note that both El Paso and Houston paid their CEO’s significantly less than Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio. What does this mean for the future CEO of UMC? Are we going to see a jump in the amount of money UMC pays their CEO?
An interesting item on the UMC Board agenda last week:
You can read the full agenda here. Does this mean that they are FINALLY separating the UMC and El Paso Children’s Hospital Foundations? If you recall, we addressed the fact that the EPCH Foundation and UMC Foundation were basically the same here. Perhaps this is the first step in ensuring that the money that is donated to the El Paso Children’s Hospital STAYS with the El Paso Children’s Hospital. Would you be more willing to donate to EPCH if you knew for sure that the money wasn’t going to UMC?
There are three open spots on the UMC Board that the County Commissioners are looking to fill. Haggerty, who is looking for a replacement for Brothet Nick Gonzalez, is still accepting applications. Stout, who will appoint a replacement for Monica Salaiz-Navarez, has said he has already made his decision and is awaiting confirmation from the individual. Finally, Escobar, who will appoint someone to replace Tracy Yellen, is also accepting applications.
Not happy with how the UMC board handled things? Want a larger say in how your tax dollars are spent? Well, consider applying to be on the board! Click here to access the application.
You can read the entire El Paso News story here.
Last year Jim Valenti announced he would be leaving in May. The El Paso Times is announcing that the UMC board unanimously voted to extend his contract up to 4 months ‘if necessary’. They state that they will be reviewing the final candidates sometime in April. At least Witt/Kieffer, the executive search firm, has finally posted the job.