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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Did Sharon cut sweetheart deal with JFK?

Trenton's approach to its vacant hospital property
was radically different from Plainfield's

 Since Solaris Health System (now JFK Health) was allowed to close Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in August 2008, the Muhlenberg campus has continued to have the tax-exempt privileges originally granted it on the basis of being a acute-care hospital serving the community.

The question now arises whether Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs knowingly crafted an agreement with JFK to allow the tax-exempt status to continue unimpeded despite the hospital's closure.

Yesterday, a friend and I traveled down to Trenton for an open house hosted by the new owners of the former Capital Health Medical Center's Bellevue Avenue campus.

It was a very interesting and worthwhile visit indeed. The 650,000 square foot complex sits on a campus that is larger than Muhlenberg's but is otherwise quite similar in age and construction. The facility was a 325-bed acute care hospital which the state allowed Capital Health to close in November 2011 after building a new campus in Hopewell.

That new campus was in a more upscale, suburban setting beyond the city's borders and was intended to target 'a better payer mix of more affluent, insured patients' according to a story in the Times of Trenton (see here).

Upon chatting with one of the principals of the firm which bought the Medical Center, we learned that the City of Trenton played a most interesting role in resolving the question of uses for and sale of the former Medical Center.

It seems that the City of Trenton was quite anxious that a health-related use be found for the former hospital, and as quickly as possible.

By way of incentivizing Capital Health to seek a speedy resolution and sale, I was told that the City agreed to a one year grace period on full tax assessment, but that if the hospital property was not sold -- and the sale closed -- by the end of year two (which would mean October 31, 2013), Capital Health would be liable at once for payment of a full year's assessment.This fact, according to my interlocutor, gave Capital Health a reason to want to resolve issues and close a deal in a timely fashion.

How different from Plainfield, where Robinson-Briggs has not so much as whispered a revocation of JFK's tax exemption privileges on the Muhlenberg Campus.

One thing we know for sure, though, and that is that January will bring a new mayor and a new way of looking at the outstanding issues with the Muhlenberg Campus.

Can't come soon enough for me.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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