Hospitals get needed funding

Council also ups garbage, water and sewer rates

Medical Center Hospital CEO Russell Tippin on Wednesday praised the Odessa City Council for what he described as making sure the city and MCH patients have the care they need during the COVID crisis.

Tippin reacted to what was a unanimous decision during Tuesday night’s council meeting to give $3 million to MCH and $1 million to Odessa Regional Medical Center to help them deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money approved for the hospitals will come from a pot of $10,161,479.50 American Rescue Plan Act funds that the city received in July.

“What you saw happen last night at the city council meeting is just a perfect example of how when you have two entities working together – that ultimately the citizens of Odessa and the patients of MCH win,” Tippin said Wednesday morning. “We really appreciate the mayor and city council and the city manager (Michael Marrero) just believing in what we are trying to accomplish at the hospital and also understanding that this is something you can’t budget for. It’s nice to have friends on the council that understand things happen….ultimately this will help us all try to recover.”

The hospitals were two of several local organizations that requested funds.

“I wish there was more we could do,” Mayor Javier Joven said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”

What they did was appreciated, Tippin said adding “It’s a blessing and something we will not take lightly and we are just really are honored that they will put their trust in us to work with us on this. Ultimately the city has made sure our patients will have the care they need.”

Both hospitals have also requested help from the Ector County commissioner’s court, which as yet to announce what they will do with their funding.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons on Tuesday said commissioners have not yet discussed the request or discussed placing it on a future meeting agenda for consideration.

In other business, the Odessa City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to raise garbage, water and sewer rates by 2.5 percent each beginning Oct. 1 when the 2021-22 fiscal year begins.

Council voted to increase water, sewer and trash rates without any discussion or comment. City administrators previously told council the rate increases were necessary to “cover inflation, equipment costs and an increase in employee salaries.

The 2.5 percent rate increases mean that the average Odessa household will see a .52 cent increase in their monthly solid waste bills, Assistant City Manager of Administrative Affairs Cindy Muncy said. Residents who live in apartments, or mobile homes will see a .27 cent increase. Small businesses will see a $2 per month increase.

The average household will see their sewer rates increase by .53 cents per month, and residents who use 2,000 gallons, or less per month will see their bills go up by .32 cents per month, Muncy said.

Water users will also see a 2 ½ percent increase in their bills, with users of 5,000 gallons per month seeing their bills go up by $1.92, and rates for residents who use 2,000 gallons will increase by $1.32. Qualifying senior citizens 65 years or older will pay $1 per 2,000 gallons.

Muncy emphasized that the rate increases will not be used to repay a $95 million certificate of obligation that council in August approved to pay for the rehabilitation of the city’s water treatment plant.

Council deliberated much longer on how to distribute the American Rescue Plan Act dollars. After much discussion and negotiating, council also agreed to allocate $5 million to the city, which will use the money to provide free COVID-testing and vaccinations and pay first responders and other staff who will help with the programs.

The council also agreed to reimburse the city’s general fund $1 million to cover previous COVID-related expenditures. Council agreed to give the West Texas Food Bank $161,460 that will be used to help pay for the organization’s $12 million planned expansion. Food bank administrators had requested $700,000.

Habitat for Humanity and the Ector County Independent School District requested funds but did not receive any money. The city also requested $5 million that could have been used for water and sewer upgrades, but that request was also denied.

One of the reasons council agreed to give money to the hospitals and to fund city COVID-related programs, is because they can be reimbursed for that spending – which would allow the city to use those reimbursed dollars on projects that weren’t funded Tuesday night.

The city is also scheduled to receive another $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds in July 2022, City Manager Michael Marrero said.

Council also voted 6-1 to give UTPB up to $280,936 to purchase and install new athletic equipment at their sports park. The money will come from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax fund, Marrero said.

Councilwoman Denise Swanner initially made a motion to give UTPB just $100,000, but that motion was defeated. She did not explain why she preferred the smaller amount. She was the lone no to the $280,936 in funding.

Swanner explained that her initial $1,000 motion was intended as a “starting point” for discussion.

“The request was for other items that were not provided before such as the shades,” Swanner said. “I hope they will do as they have promised and let all citizens use the park.”

UTPB recently allowed several local sports associations that had been using the university’s sports fields for years to remove equipment and even building structures that the sports groups had purchased over the years.

The sports groups decided to relocate after UTPB and the City’s long-term contract expired on Aug. 31. Leaders from the sports associations refused to sign new contracts with the university.

The proposed new contracts would have required the sports groups to pay a small fee to continue to use the school’s facilities, submit to annual financial audits and give the university oversight of the use of their own fields.

Several council members said they supported giving UTPB money to purchase new equipment for the facility because the city does not have a park in the East part of Odessa.