Ventura County hospital officials plan to sell $51 million in certificates of participation early next year, following approval this month of a disputed construction financing program.

The sale, approved Nov. 15 by the county Board of Supervisors, has been heavily criticized by local taxpayer groups as an unwise move because of county budget problems and uncertainty in the health care industry.

The supervisors plan to use the COP issue to finance the construction of a new ambulatory care center and a parking garage behind the Ventura County Medical Center.

CS First Boston has signed on as underwriter and the law firm O'Melveny & Myers will act as bond counsel, said Tom Mahon, the hospital's auditor-controller.

No pricing date has been selected yet, Mahon said, but the hospital expects to go forward with the negotiated issue by late February or early March.

"Part of our problem is figuring out what the heck' s going to happen to the market," said Mahon. "I would like to have issued them six months ago."

The county will pay back the COPs over 15 years, with 70% of the money coming from state hospital improvement grants, Mabon said. The rest will come from hospital revenues and the county's general fund.

The hospital currently has slightly less than $7 million of debt outstanding from previous COP issues.

The city and county of San Francisco may buy out the local power supplier, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., under a proposal being studied by the board of supervisors.

A newly created public power committee will meet for the first time on Dec. 14 and is expected to submit a formal proposal to the board within a year, said Jerry Windley, a legislative aide to board president Angela Alioto.

"It's been approximated that we could generate $50 million for our general fund," Windley said. "So we figure let's cut out the middle man ."

If San Francisco makes an offer, analysts believe it would be one of the largest municipal utility buyout proposals in the nation, second only to New York State's $9 billion plan.

However, no cost estimate is available for the potential buyout. Coming up with that figure will be a top priority for the committee, Windley said.

The committee is made up of three members of the 11-member board of supervisors, which governs both the city and the county of San Francisco.

Pacific Gas representatives have said they are committed to maintaining their operations.

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