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Posted on Jan 21, 2015

Mayor urges county to reconsider Gorge opinion

In a letter sent to Grant County commissioners last week, Quincy Mayor Jim Hemberry warned the local leaders that a recent email from the county to local legislatures may have jeopardized the city’s upcoming decision to help reduce the hospital’s debt with the county.

Hemberry wrote in the letter that the county commissioners’ email raising concerns about the proposed $1 surcharge on every ticket sold at the Gorge Amphitheatre “comes as a surprise to the city.”

Several months ago, county commissioners and the county treasurer requested that the hospital approach the city to see if it would be willing to accept $1.5 million of the hospital district’s debt to the county.

The hospital currently has $2.8 million in registered warrants with the county, hospital CEO Medhi Merred said. However, Merred expects that number to increase over the next few months because the first quarter of the year typically brings in less revenue than other months.

The county has said the warrants need to be under $3 million by June 1. At times, the warrants have been more than $3.5 million.

The city council last month, before a packed council chamber, voted to begin preparing an agreement between it and the hospital. A draft agreement has not yet been presented to the council.

With the commissioners’ email, Hemberry is now warning that the city council may not support taking on $1.5 million in debt from the hospital.

“My concern is (the hospital) doesn’t have a way to pay us back,” Hemberry said.

The surcharge was projected to bring in $240,000 annually over the course of the five-year loan, Hemberry wrote in his letter.

If the legislation is not passed, the county cannot collect the surcharge fee, which is necessary for the hospital district to pay back the loan to the city, Hemberry said. Or, if the legislation passes, commissioners still may not choose to collect the surcharge fee, which the legislation allows for, he added.

“The city council’s approval to negotiate a loan agreement with the county last month was predicated on the surcharge being instituted,” Hemberry wrote.

Hemberry urged commissioners to reconsider their position: “If the county has no intention of implementing a Gorge Amphitheatre surcharge in the future, then I can no longer assure the city’s interest in assuming the hospital district’s debt per your request.”


— By Jill FitzSimmons,