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Central Health ready to issue bonds for North Austin health center

Friday, July 23, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Central Health, formerly known as the Travis County Healthcare District, is on track to issue $18 million in bonds this fall to build a new health center in North Central Austin. Planning for the center began in 2008.


Officials of Central Health asked county commissioners Tuesday for approval to issue certificates of obligation, a type of bond that does not require voter approval, to build the facility on Braker Lane.


John Stephens, Central Health’s chief financial officer, told the court the annual payment on the bond debt is estimated at $1.3 million, money that would be drawn from the district’s approximately $115 million in total reserves next year. Starting in 2012, the property tax rate would increase by a fraction of a penny to cover the debt payment.


Central Health is young, created with the approval of Travis County voters in 2004, and has not yet established a credit rating. Stephens told the court that is a driving factor in the request to issue certificates rather than finance the project with money from reserves, as initially planned.


“We believe that certainly in working with our financial adviser that market conditions for such a financing are good now,” Stephens said. “We think it would be prudent for us to hold on to the reserves and use this opportunity to establish a credit rating.”


Central Health is independent of county and city government and has its own nine-member governing board. The organization doesn’t directly provide health care services to low-income families in Travis County but contracts with a variety of providers to get the job done. One of the providers is the nonprofit CommUnityCare, formerly a department of the city.


CommUnityCare operates 18 healthcare centers that provide a broad range of services to needy families, including primary care, dental, mental health, and pediatric care.


CommUnityCare would also operate the new North Central facility, slated for completion by the end of 2011. At 50,000 square feet, the center would accommodate an additional 11,450 patients seeking primary care but would also offer a range of other services.


The court delayed action on the request because two commissioners were absent from the meeting.


“I don’t have any problem with the (certificates of obligation),” County Judge Sam Biscoe said, “but I do have a problem with three of us being here. I would feel a whole lot better with four.”


Biscoe said the vote would be a “major decision for us” and asked that the district return on Aug. 3, when four commissioners are expected to be present.


The county commission is comprised of five elected officials, including Biscoe. Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who is recovering from open-heart surgery, has been away from the dais since April, and Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt is on vacation.

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