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Council seeks cooperative effort with UHC

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Clarksburg City Council has asked the United Hospital Center Board of Directors to form a committee with them to examine possible sites for a proposed new hospital complex.

Also, council requested that the board provide them with an outline of buildings of the proposed complex so they could evaluate sites within the city or an area that could be annexed that would meet the hospital's needs.

On July 13, UHC officials announced their intent to relocate to another site within Harrison County. UHC President Bruce Carter cited needs for better access for emergency vehicles and patients who are referred from smaller, rural hospitals, as well as expansion of facilities, as reasons.

"Unless you have a footprint of the buildings, it's hard to evaluate a site to see if it works or not," said City Manager Tom Vidovich, who presented the requests to the board of directors. "Council has said it is their responsibility to see that all potential sites within Clarksburg have been given due consideration. They would like to help with that process."

UHC spokeswoman Suzanne Horner said Thursday Carter would formally respond to council's requests next week, after discussing them with the board.

In a July 13 meeting with Exponent and Telegram reporters, Carter said, "The decision of where to locate this hospital cannot be made on political expediency. We're a hospital that serves a 10-county region. We have to consider the whole community, not one political subdivision of it."

Councilman Jim Hunt said the UHC board and city council are driven by two different mandates: the hospital to care for the ill, and council to promote economic development in the city and the region. Hunt added he believes those goals are not mutually exclusive.

"I would like to see if we can work together to meet both of those requirements," Hunt said. "Put them both together and it will make the region stronger."

Hunt contends that regional economic development requires a regional hub. If you damage Clarksburg, you damage the region, he said.

"Clarksburg is the center of the region, whether people like it or not," he said. "When companies look at an area, they need to see a place with a recognizable name that has good schools and good medical care facilities."

If UHC would build a new facility in Clarksburg, the city could draw revenue from business and occupation taxes on construction. UHC is a non-profit organization and does not pay B&0 taxes on income, though some physicians who work there do.

According to City Finance Director Frank Ferrari, the amount of revenue that would be lost if the hospital relocates outside the city would depend on several factors, but added it would likely require a significant budget adjustment.

However, city officials maintain that revenue is not their primary concern.

"I'd be a liar if I said I don't worry about maintaining the police department and the fire department," Hunt said. "I worry about that every day. We've dealt with shocking reductions in taxes before, like when Anchor-Hocking left. But I would rather have the hospital than anything else that would provide an equal amount of jobs and revenue."

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.

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