Allegheny County Council yesterday approved a request by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to refinance more than $1 billion in bonds through the county's hospital development authority.
Though faced with a group of angry residents from Braddock and other parts of the Mon Valley who urged council to reject the hospital system's request because of UPMC's plan to close its facility in Braddock, council members approved legislation to float $1.175 billion in low-interest bonds for UPMC in an 11-1 vote.
Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, airing the sentiment of residents who for more than three hours challenged council to turn down UPMC's request, was the lone "no" vote, following a debate that saw a group of residents and one council member storm out of the meeting.
"UPMC already has its name on a lot of buildings all over the county. Why don't we just change the name of this county to UPMC," said Mr. Ellenbogen.
Chuck McCullough, R-Upper St. Clair, stormed out of the meeting after council failed to table the bond request that UPMC filed with the county Hospital Development Authority on Nov. 6.
The protesters had hoped to convince council members to use UPMC's bond request as leverage to try to keep UPMC Braddock from closing on Jan. 31.
"If you vote for this bond, you are proving that you have no power and therefore, we the citizens you represent have no power," Jan McManamus of North Braddock, one of some 30 speakers, said.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Braddock Council President Jesse Brown urged County Council not to approve the low-interest bond request for UPMC, at least not without the condition that UPMC "give Braddock a little more time," before it closes down the hospital.
"I am going back to Braddock and I am going to have to raise taxes by 21?2 mills because of what [UPMC] is doing," said Mr. Brown.
But County Council members argued that not only did council have no authority to attach conditions to bond issues, but that the closing of UPMC Braddock and the bond request are two separate things.
Allegheny County generates revenue from the fees associated with floating the bonds. Roughly 10 percent of the $3.5 million annual budget for the county's Department of Economic Development comes from revenue generated by fees assessed on UPMC for its bonds. With this new bond issue, that contribution will climb by $40,000 a year.