Voters will be deciding once again whether to increase the maximum amount Hospital District No. 2, consisting of Skyline Health’s facilities, can levy at the General Election in November. According to the proposition filed with the Klickitat County Auditor, it would further fund upgrades to Skyline Health’s infrastructure, equipment, and services if approved by voters. The proposal is identical to the one which failed by a slim margin in the election last year.
The bid proposes a lift on maximum allowable property taxes levied by the district in 2021, from $.30 per $1,000 of assessed value, to $.68 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a house in the district with an assessed value of $350,000, the levy increase of approximately
$0.38 per $1,000 of assessed value would result in an estimated increase of $133 annually. The proposed 2021 levy amount would be used for the purpose of computing the limitations for levies in years following, according to the proposition document. The levy increase would raise around $500,000 for maintenance and operations of the hospital district, according to Skyline Health CEO Robb Kimmes.
The bid marks one of two proposals filed with the Klickitat County Auditor in the upcoming General Election. Both propose monetary support for county residents’ public hospital districts; the other, through Klickitat Valley Health and Hospital District No. 1, proposes the sale of $14.3 million in general obligation tax bonds to fund an extension of the hospital’s facilities. The bonds would then be paid back through excess property taxes levied by the district, according to the proposal document filed with the county.
If approved, Skyline Health’s newfound levying power would allow for funds to replace and upgrade district medical equipment and facilities, including infrastructure improvements, and expand health care services, according to the proposal document filed with the county.
Skyline Health’s proposed lift equals more than double the current rate, or over 100 percent more than what is presently being raised by the district. Under the Revised Code of Washington, such an increase is subject to voter approval.
Unlike previous lid lifts approved by voters in the district, this proposition provides no affixed end-date.
The hospital district had been operating under a 20-year levy plan that raised a maximum of $.50 per $1,000 of assessed value but had expired in 2016. That year, voters approved a continuation of the hospital district’s effective regular tax rate at $.34 per $1,000 of assessed value. This levy plan is set to expire in 2036.
In an email exchange with Columbia Gorge News, Kimmes backed up the proposal by noting that no such increase to property taxes through the district has occurred in 20 years; meanwhile, the hospital “has strived to grow its healthcare services to the local communities without additional tax support.”
Kimmes also shared that the hospital district “does not even break even on reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid,” which amounts to around 70 percent of the district’s patients, he asserted. He also argued the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a financial strain on the hospital, which is an independently owned enterprise and does not receive support from a larger health system.
Last year, district voters rejected an identical proposal by a margin of 182 votes. While the communities of Bingen and While Salmon approved the measure by clear majorities, the proposal had a tougher time winning over voters in the more rural areas of the district. Nearly double the voters rejected the proposal than approved it in the Dallesport precinct, for example.
Asked why he believes the proposal failed last year, Kimmes said, “Although we can’t be certain, we believe we could have done a better job communicating about the levy to the voters in the hospital district.
“We will be doing a better job of communicating about the levy proposal. The Skyline Foundation has created a levy campaign committee that will be leading the communication efforts. Extra communication efforts will take place in the outlying areas of the district where the proposal failed,” Kimmes said.
“The campaign committee will also be informing the community of all the things Skyline Health and its staff did to prepare for the COVID pandemic and to care for the community during this difficult time,” he continued.