DALLAS - A $747 million bond proposal to rebuild Dallas' crowded Parkland Hospital will share the November ballot with candidates for state and federal office in what some expect to be a record turnout.
With approval of the Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday, the proposal to rebuild the historic public hospital is ready to submit to voters after years of discussion on how to finance the project.
"The future health of Dallas County depends on a new Parkland Hospital," said County Judge Jim Foster, a Democrat who replaced Republican Margaret Keliher in 2006 when voters tossed out virtually all Republican officeholders in the county.
Under Keliher, the commissioners rejected a proposal by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to impose a visitor tax on hotels and car rentals to build a new stadium in the county. Keliher cited the needs of Parkland as having a higher priority.
Ray Hutchison, a partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP who serves as bond counsel for the project, said he thinks voters will recognize the hospital's value to the community and its conservative fiscal practices that have left it debt-free.
"Even I, as closely as I've been working with Parkland, did not realize the financial standards they had met," Hutchison said. "It's an outstanding institution."
Beyond providing health care to the needy in the Dallas area, the 983-bed Parkland serves as the primary teaching and research hospital for the University of Texas' Southwestern Medical School. More than half the doctors practicing in Dallas received some or all of their training at Parkland and UT Southwestern, which has 10,000 employees and a budget of $1.4 billion.
"We have an absolute gem in this community that never gets the attention it deserves, and that's UT Southwestern," said Hutchison, a former state legislator and candidate for governor and husband of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex. "Parkland is the foundation, and it needs to be replaced."
With voter approval, up to $747 million of tax and revenue bonds would be used to finance about 60% of the new hospital's total cost of $1.3 billion. The hospital would provide $250 million in existing cash, while its charitable foundation would contribute $150 million. About $80 million of the $150 million has already been raised, Hutchison said.
"If they don't get the $150 million, they won't go into debt," he said.
Debt service would require the owner of a $100,000 home to pay an extra $20 in Parkland taxes in 2010, rising to $35 by 2014.
The new hospital, to be built across Harry Hines Boulevard from the existing building, admits twice as many patients as it was designed for. The hospital plans to continue using the old hospital built in 1954, Hutchison said.
UT Southwestern, which is linked to Parkland, St. Paul, and Children's Hospital, recently completed a $17 million student housing project and is preparing to build an eight-story, $156 million biomedical research building and underground parking on its 90-acre north campus, across Harry Hines from the hospitals.
The hospital is managed by a board that is supervised by the county commissioners. Dallas County is one of 48 U.S. counties with a triple-A rating.