Natrona County Has $115 Million; Now It Needs a Plan
As problems go, it's not a bad one to have.
Natrona County has received about $115 million in cash from Banner Health after the Arizona-based non-profit acquired the Wyoming Medical Center last year.
The county owned the physical plant that the non-profit Wyoming Medical Center leased, and the $157 million deal included paying off the hospital's bond debt with the rest of it going to the county's coffers.
During a Natrona County Commission work session on Tuesday, commissioners and County Attorney Eric Nelson and County Treasurer Tom Doyle floated some ideas about what to do with the windfall.
In some ways, the commission can't do much and will sit on the cash deposited in First Interstate Bank for the time being.
Commission Chairman Paul Bertoglio said he's heard recommendations to keep the corpus in cash because interest rates continue to be extremely low.
The state also has strict rules about what counties can do with their money, Bertoglio added.
Nelson said he's talked with representatives of WYO-STAR, the Wyoming State Treasurer's investment pool for counties, municipalities, school districts and other local governments.
WYO-STAR I is a cash account for short-term investments, and is extremely liquid.
The newer WYO-STAR II program is a long-term investment pool in which its monies are co-mingled for investment purposes in corporate bonds, and funds must be invested for a minimum term of three months, Nelson said.
Doyle said his office is sorting out investment opportunities, but wants flexibility in handling the money doesn't want any commitments yet. "Liquidity is number one."
But the possibilities for the county are numerous.
Commissioner Jim Milne recommended earmarking certain funds for specific projects.
For example, Bertoglio said the county could set aside $5 million for a new library and plow the interest back into the principal.
Depending on how the county eventually invests the money, the commission could allocate funding to understaffed departments or set aside interest earnings for the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, he said.
Bertoglio also anticipates the Legislature will cut funding to local governments, and interest from the $115 million could soften that financial blow.
Whatever else happens, commissioner Rob Hendry wants the county to remain as frugal as possible.
"We should try to get all we can out of every dollar we've got," Hendry said.
While Banner Health now owns the Wyoming Medical Center, the following briefly outlines the hospital's history and former legal relationship to Natrona County:
The nonprofit Wyoming Medical Center Inc., was formed in 1986.
Until then, it was known as the Memorial Hospital of Natrona County, which was owned and operated by Natrona County. After the creation of the WMC, the county continued to own the physical plant of the hospital. The WMC leased the property from the county to perform health care. The WMC's rent, in effect, was to maintain the value of the physical plant and provide care for the indigent and prisoners at the county jail.
A five-member board of trustees -- called the Memorial Hospital of Natrona County -- was appointed by the Natrona County Commission to oversee the WMC's lease of the county's property.
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