St. Francis council tables district’s request for a clinic

by Tammy Sakry
Staff Writer

The St. Francis School District 15’s plan to open an on-site clinic at St. Francis High School has stalled.

When the St. Francis City Council was asked Feb. 21 for an ordinance amendment, the council had concerns and unanimously tabled the request.

Councilmember Jeff Sandoval was absent from the meeting.

The operation of the proposed medical clinic, which is for employee use, is not currently allowed by the ordinance because the high school is in a residential zoning district, said Nate Sparks, city planner.

While schools and other public uses are allowed in residential districts, the clinic is considered a commercial use, he said.

If the council does consider the proposal, it would have to be done as a conditional use to address parking and other issues, Sparks said.

The planning commission had discussed the district’s proposal Feb. 12, but did not make a recommendation.

While Councilmember Tim Brown said the concept of the clinic is good to keep the school district’s costs down, he has concerns about the zoning as well as how the district followed the process.

The district has been planning this for a while and it was supposed to be operational a few weeks ago, but it was only brought to the planning commission a couple of weeks ago, Brown said.

The district approved a contract with NeoPath to operate the clinic Dec. 12, 2011 and began working with the group in January on what it would need for space, according to the timeline kept by the district human resources director David Lindberg.

On Jan. 11, district representatives met with city staff and applied for the ordinance amendment Feb. 1.

Brown said he is afraid the council will start hearing about the “good ol’ boys club” again if the council approves it now because there is an impression that the district is above the rules as it did not seek the ordinance amendment in a timely manner.

“The clinic is probably a good idea,” but he questions whether the city can allow a for-profit clinic and pharmacy on the school’s tax exempt property, he said.

That would create an unfair advantage for this company and it would hurt the other clinics and pharmacy in town, Brown said.

“It would be bad business to allow that,” he said.

While Councilmembers Steve Kane and Chris McClish agreed with Brown, Mayor Jerry Tveit asked them to consider the concept.

“In this day and age, government is going broke and things have to change,” he said.

As government evolves, it will do things that were unheard of 10 to 15 years ago, Tveit said.

“We need to look at this for the long term. It is a government (agency) trying to change and now there is another government holding it back,” he said.

Some of these suggestions have merit but there are some things that need to be ironed out, he said.

First, the city needs to know if the area of the school with the clinic will be taxed or still tax-exempt, Tveit said.

“I don’t think the city should be subsidizing the district,” he said.

Brown said before he could vote for proposed ordinance amendment, he needs the tax-exempt question answered and to find how the district was able to open the clinic in Bethel in mid-February.

According to the city of Bethel, the district was given a business licence to open the clinic at the Sandhill for the Arts building. No discussion took place on whether the business was tax-exempt or for-profit.

Tammy Sakry is at tammy.sakry@ecm-inc.com

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