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Whidbey General Hospital gets closer to its $50-million bond proposal

It’s seeming more and more likely that Whidbey Island residents will be facing a $50-million bond proposal on a ballot next year, possibly as soon as spring.

Following a July vote that gave Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino the green light to launch a public education campaign concerning the hospital’s need for a major expansion project, the board of commissioners took another formal step Monday evening when it approved Tomasino’s request to begin nailing down the details of the prospective bond, such as when it can run, how much it will cost, and the exact amount that will be sought from taxpayers.

Before making a motion to move ahead, Commissioner Grethe Cammermeyer said she had been hesitant to pursue the bond measure, but that her opinion was swayed at a board retreat earlier this month when concerns about timing and cost were addressed.

“I was a little reluctant to make a move forward but ... it seems to be a real necessity,” Cammermeyer said. “I’m hoping that the community will recognize how important it is that the physical structure is as good as the personnel.”

The vote was unanimous with commissioners Cammermeyer, Ron Wallin, Anne Tarrant, Paul Zaveruha and Roger Case all voting to support this next step in the process. The board will have to vote again before any measure can be placed on a ballot.

The proposal is to build a new wing on the south end of the facility that would replace the oldest part of the hospital, the existing medical surgical wing. It’s suffering from deteriorating infrastructure and is so small that patients are often forced to bunk two to a room. The 40-room addition would be used for medical surgical, critical care and impatient services.

Although no one from the public addressed the bond proposal during Monday’s meeting, several doctors and hospital employees were in attendance. Emergency Department Medical Director Mark Borden, who also works at Jefferson General Hospital in Port Townsend, said the buildings there are much newer by comparison. Island Hospital in Anacortes also recently underwent a major upgrade.

“We’re surrounded by hospitals that have a better physical plant than we do,” he said. “I think it’s important that we also provide the best for our community.”

But getting the public to endorse such a large bond measure during a recession may be a hard sell. Island County’s Proposition 1, a measure that sought a 16-cent property tax hike to fill a $2 million budget shortfall, was wrought with controversy and failed overwhelmingly during the August primary.

While it’s not yet clear exactly how much the hospital bond will cost tax- payers if the commissioners decide to move forward, its estimated that it will be between 25 cents and 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Tomasino is optimistic about the bond’s chance of success at the polls. Since July, he said he has spoken to more than 10 civic organizations and groups about the hospital’s need for the expansion and that the general response has been positive.

“This community has always supported health care,” Tomasino said.

The information campaign is only just beginning however, and may accelerate once the commissioners make a final decision. Tomasino said he hopes to have a resolution before the board by March and that the bond measure could be before voters on the May ballot.

Community Events, April 2014

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