County accepts VA study, deadline looms

By: 
AUSTIN LOTT
Star Staff Writer

The Custer County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday accepted a study that will help them to decide if they will accept ownership of the former veterans hospital in Miles City.

Commissioners have only accepted the completed study, and have not yet decided if they will accept or reject the property from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Accepting the study was a procedural move for the County, allowing grant writers to file for reimbursement from the two $25,000 grants acquired for the study. The finished study gives the Commissioners most of the information they need to make a decision on the complex.

In the years since the facility ceased operating as a medical center in 1997, the VA has continued to operate a clinic and an extended-care facility in a portion of the building, services that the agency has indicated it will continue to provide.

What commissioners say they need to know in order to reach a decision is how much space the VA will lease from the county, and for how long, if ownership is transferred. That information is now being prepared by the VA.

The revised deadline set by the VA for the county to decide is Dec. 29. However, commissioners indicated they’ll need more time for the data to arrive from the VA, and to give the public the chance to comment on the proposal. They also need time to review the feasibility study, which provides various options based on the terms of the lease agreement with the VA.

Commissioners said Tuesday they will decide by mid-December if they will request another six-month extension to make a decision, and indicated that any request would likely be granted.

Commissioner Keith Holmlund noted that from the beginning of the current talks the VA has been open to granting extensions to the county if they have a reasonable request. He said he believes the VA will grant another extension if asked.

Commissioners Jason Strouf and Kevin Krausz agreed that the board should request an extension. Strouf said “a decision of this magnitude should have public input on the information [in the feasibility study] we’re using to make a decision.”

The 85-page feasibility study produced by Stevenson Design of Miles City lays out the pros and cons of five possible options Custer County could take regarding the property.

If the commissioners decline to accept the property, the complex will be put up for public auction by the federal General Services Administration, a process that could take two to three years.

The proposed gift of the VA complex was made possible by a law passed by Congress in 2000 allowing smaller abandoned or partially abandoned VA medical centers to be transferred to the counties in which they are located. 

The local VA complex was the smallest hospital in the VA system when it opened in 1952. In addition to the remaining VA services the facility’s occupants include the Miles City Police Department, the Miles City Food Bank and Soup Kitchen, Victory Insurance and the oneHealth Community Health Center.

(Contact Austin Lott at mcstarreporter@gmail.com or 406-234-0450.)

 

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