Whidbey Island crowd shows little interest in hospital bond

Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino gives a presentation to Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce members on the hospital’s $50 million bond proposal. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino gives a presentation to Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce members on the hospital’s $50 million bond proposal.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor’s business community got its first in-depth look at Whidbey General Hospital’s proposal for a $50 million expansion this week.

Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino gave a 30-minute presentation on the need for the new 40-room addition at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon Thursday. But with just three questions from a crowd that easily numbered over 100 people, it’s difficult to tell just how the businessmen and women feel about one of the biggest bond proposals ever to go before Island County voters.

Chamber director Jill Johnson said she believes their silence can only mean one of two things. Either people have already made up their minds to support or reject the proposal, or the quality of the presentation was such that they just felt like they didn’t have anything to ask.

“It was hard to question the presentation in terms of need,” Johnson said.

“But what I don’t know is if that translates into whether they think they can afford it,” she said.

Tomasino, who has been making presentations to various groups and associations for months, addressed in detail why the hospital is seeking the expansion, covering everything from the condition of the existing building and the potential benefits expected from a new wing to a comparison of tax rates with neighboring public hospital districts.

The proposal is to build an entirely new wing on the south end of the facility that would replace the oldest part of the hospital, the existing medical surgical wing. Completed in 1970, it’s suffering from dilapidating infrastructure and is so small that patients bunk two to a room.

The 40-room addition would be used for in-patient services and would support all the latest technology.

Robert Young, president of Tradewinds Insurance, Inc., said he thought the presentation was extremely informative. The comparison of tax rates with neighboring public hospital districts, along with the fact that only 2 percent of hospital revenues come from taxpayers, was particularly enlightening.

“Those were the numbers that were eye opening to me,” Young said.

According to Tomasino’s presentation, Whidbey General Hospital’s existing total levy is $2.15 million, compared to $2.92 million for Island Hospital in Anacortes and $3.63 million for Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon.

But while Whidbey Island taxpayers may be paying less than neighboring communities, Young said he’ll need more information before he’s convinced. Although he’d heard talk of the hospital bond, he only learned that it was moving forward at the chamber luncheon.

He speculated that he may not be alone and that’s why people aren’t asking questions or really taking about the bond, which will be decided in the May 17 special election.

“We haven’t even had time to formulate questions because we didn’t know it was on the ballot,” Young said.

While Tomasino has been giving presentations for months, they will ramp up in intensity between now and election time. Two public forums are scheduled for next week, one in Freeland and the other in Oak Harbor.

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