County's tobacco cash distributed

August 14, 2002 11:00 pm

By CHRIS BATEMAN

Purchase of more than $6.9 million in new vehicles, building improvements, computer gear and medical equipment was approved this week by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

Expenditure of the cash, which came to the county as part of a multi-billion dollar legal settlement between tobacco companies and several states, was approved on a 4-1 vote.

Supervisor Mark Thornton, who didn't want Tuolumne General Hospital to get a cent of the $6.9 million in tobacco settlement cash, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Some $2 million worth of hospital purchases are on the county's spending plan.

County departments receiving the cash are being asked to treat it as an internal loan and to pay it back —with 4 percent interest — in five years.

"That's something, given its financial record, that I don't think the hospital will be able to do," said Thornton. "Until a fiscal recovery plan is delivered, I'm not ready to vote for this."

Tuolumne General regularly relies on county general fund subsidies to stay afloat and is still carrying a debt of about $5 million.

But the board majority supported the hospital purchases, reasoning that the new equipment would enable Tuolumne General to remain competitive and improve its bottom line.

Hospital purchases listed include $1 million for a new, much faster CT scanner and retrofit work necessary to accommodate it, building improvements, beds, microscopes, a $100,000 oxygen tank, an anesthesia machine, a new colonoscope and much more equipment.

"These are things the hospital needs to serve its patients," said Supervisor Larry Rotelli. "I'm hoping that there are at least three people on the board that see the glass as half full."