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Hospital On Life Support… As Nuclear Plant Fights Tax Bill

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By | Senior Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr. & CBS11 Reporter Jason Allen

GLEN ROSE (CBS11 I-TEAM) – There are more than 8,000 people who count on the Glen Rose Medical Center as their only local hospital.

But the hospital counts heavily on one major taxpayer to keep the doors open – the Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant.

For a rural town, Glen Rose Medical Center is almost a luxury: a full-service hospital, handling everything from ankle sprains to x-rays.

But right now, it’s the hospital that’s in pain.

The hospital district in Somervell County, 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, says it’s missing $2.5 million in taxes for 2015 from the billion-dollar company that owns the nuclear plant.

“I think the worst-case scenario is the hospital ceases to operate,” hospital CEO Ray Reynolds said, in an interview with CBS 11’s I-Team.

“I think they’re being greedy. I think that they’re being a bully,” Reynolds said.

The power plant is owned by Energy Future Holdings and its subsidiary, Luminant, which are appealing what the county says Comanche Peak is worth.

“We care about Somervell County …we want the best for Somervell County,” Luminant spokesman Brad Watson told the I-Team.

Watson said the plant’s taxable value – down 85 percent from the nearly $2 billion assessed value in 2014 – is due to plunging energy prices in the market, driven primarily by natural gas and wind generation.

“Market forces in Texas are forcing down power prices. And because of that, we have to respond as a company to try and get a fair taxable value for our plant,” Watson said.

The other nuclear plant in the state, the South Texas Project Electric Generation Station near Bay City, was assessed this year at nearly $2 billion, without dispute.

But Luminant has continued to fight the 2015 assessed value of Comanche Peak, losing first before a county appeals board, then losing in district court. It is now pending in a state appellate court in Waco.

Luminant’s spokesman, Watson, told the I-Team that while it disputes Comanche Peak’s assessed value, it has paid $16 million in undisputed taxes for 2015, shared by the hospital district, schools, police and fire departments, the water district and road maintenance.

Reynolds told the I-Team it’s not enough.

In the meantime, the Glen Rose Medical Center has warned employees this summer that it has started eliminating positions, cancelling pay raises and closing some departments at night.

“I can’t sit here today and tell you that if Luminant continues to not pay us, that we’ll be in business a year from now,” said Reynolds, the hospital’s CEO.

That worries Glen Rose resident Bill Cullen, who was recently treated at the hospital.

“It’s just a big ordeal in my opinion,” Cullen said, adding that if the medical center closes down, he will need to travel at least 20 minutes further next time he needs a hospital.

“Whenever you have something close enough that is good …Why go somewhere else?” Cullen asked.

If you want to reach CBS 11′s Senior Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at jdouglas@cbs.com. If you want to reach CBS 11′s Jason Allen, you can email him at jmallen@cbs.com.

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