Saturday, February 28, 2015

COSA Priorities: Development Beatsdown Health

San Angelo's City Council met Thursday morning in a strategic planning session at Fort Concho.  The Standard Times reported:

Making San Angelo a regional leader in development while preserving quality of life is no easy task.

That’s why city officials spent half of Thursday ensconced in one of Fort Concho’s chilly barracks hammering out goals and strategies to move San Angelo forward.

The meeting, while open to the public, drew no attendees.
The article said nothing about health, which fits under quality of life.  Simply preserving health sounds like underachieving, but that's the City's sorrowful public health history.  The city eliminated many public health services since 2000 while investing heavily in economic development awards and various development studies.

Downtown Master Developer Catalyst Urban Development presented its report for Phase 2 to City Council at their last meeting.  Paris Rutherford identified sample workplace, restaurant and residential projects for downtown.  The total economic gap requiring incentive for those three areas equaled $5.89 million.

In the next two phases of downtown development Catalyst would earn a fee on any projects it took from conception to completion on behalf of the city and any private partners.

City Council's 2012 strategic planning session slashed funding for the sexually transmitted disease and immunization clinics, basically the only two remaining health services for the public.  Mayor Alvin New, Interim City Manager Michael Dane, Assistant City Manager Rick Weise and Health Department Director Sandra Villareal looked for the state and federal government for funds to restart these services. The problem with the budget cut narrative came when City Council gave a half cent tax cut, a new employee holiday and hired Catalyst Urban, the aforementioned downtown master developer.

1)  Cut the tax rate by .01 per $1,000 valuation (roughly the same amount as the $138,000 health clinic cut)
2)  Approved a downtown master developer, estimated at $225,000 plus expenses (not in the city budget)
3)  Approved a new employee holiday costing roughly the same amount at the clinic cut.

When Mayor Alvin New reflected on his term in office I wrote:

Under New's Mayorship the City applied for a federal grant that would reinstate the STD clinic, including the purchase and renovation of a building.  The Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver grant criteria clearly state the service requested must be new and that funds not go toward an ongoing service.  The City asked for federal funding beginning October 1, 2012, having closed the clinic September 30th, the day before.  In addition, city staff are on record, in newsprint and at council ,as saying the city was still treating some citizens for STDs, i.e. the city was providing an ongoing service, albeit severely limited.   
I believe the city fraudulently applied for federal money to reopen the STD clinic.  I assume the feds felt likewise as the City's 2013-14 budget showed zero funding for the 1115 Waiver.

There's a final irony.  In 2012 The City found unbudgeted funds for downtown development to meet its contractual obligations to the San Angelo Health Foundation regarding the Edgewater Inn property.  I'll bet Health Foundation board members did not expect the City to drop its few remaining health services, whether to fund the downtown developer, a property tax cut or a new employee holiday.

The City's public health story was missing from the newspaper story.  Was it absent from the strategic planning event itself?  A recording would tell me that, but there hasn't been one the last two years.  That itself is telling.  There's less and less sunshine in our city operations.

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