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Voters to decide on hospital expansion
Special election this Summer; updating hurricane communications
By Michael Luke -   Apr 06, 2006

Voters to decide on hospital expansion

On Monday, at the parish council, two measures were introduced simultaneously for St. Charles Parish Hospital, as a resolution was put forth and passed to hold a special election on July 15 for the hospital.

Two issues will be on the ballot, and, in each case, voters will decide the merit of the projects. One part of the election is the issuing of bonds for the construction of an expansion project for the hospital. The bonds are 20-year with a maximum of $5.5 million.

In 2003, voters approved a motion to issue $18.5 million for expansion. However, with rising construction costs and evolving needs, the hospital needs additional cash to meet the bids. "After the hurricane, we revised our estimates," said Fred Martinez CEO of St. Charles Parish Hospital, adding the new wing, among other things, will "house a state-of-the-art intensive care unit, a new cardiology department and a new dialysis center."

In March, the hospital put out bids for construction, but rejected all of the bids when they came in almost $3 million higher than they had expected.

Facing a shortfall of cash, Martinez said the hospital did want to cut back on the original plans, citing the expansion problems the hospital faced in the 70s. At that time, due to a lack of funds, the hospital reduced the size of the planned structure, thus the hospital could not build on top of the old structure when it came time to expand. Martinez said that this still plagues the hospital.

"With population shifts, hospitals being closed, we don't feel like we should cut this project back; we should try to move forward with it," said Martinez, adding, "We are busier than we ever been."

The other issue in the election proposal was a millage proposition for a 5-year 2.48 mills property tax for operating, and maintaining the hospital; this is a regular procedure for the hospital. Also included is ambulance service for both banks of the parish. The tax begins on 2011 and ends 2015.

The proposition for the election passed unanimously with Councilmen Barry Minnich absent.

Hurricane Communications:

Remembering the difficulty getting information out to the public during Hurricane Katrina, an ordinance to amend the 2006 operating budget passed unanimously providing additional funds for communication equipment.

"We rely on the New Orleans Media," said Director of the Department of Emergency Preparedness Tad Troxler, adding that creates a lag between when the parish sends out a message and went it is aired.

Hoping to avoid that reliance, Troxler said the upgrade allows the parish more avenues to communicate with residents and better communication between officials. The parish will now have its own AM Radio station that residents can tune into to get emergency information.

The total increase is $291,000 and, of which $200,000 will be used for an AM Radio alert system, $10,000 for a satellite-based communication system, $3,800 in recurring costs for the satellite system, $70,000 for a mobile satellite-based system, $2,400 in recurring costs for the mobile system and $5,000 CB Radios.

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