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To Overhaul Skyline

Hospital district eyes $10 million bond levy in November

Klickitat County Hospital District No. 2 is planning to run a $10 million bond issue in November that, if approved by district voters, will be used to upgrade Skyline Hospital's patient-care facilities and retire existing bonded debtedness of almost $2 million.

The proposed 25-year bond levy would cost each taxpayer--of a district that includes the communities of Bingen, White Salmon, Trout Lake, Glenwood, Lyle and Dallesport--89 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. (Actual cost of the bond is $1.15/$1,000 but the district plans to use 26 cents from its general property tax levy to make up the difference.)

That equates to an annual tax bill (for the bond levy only) of $178 for the owner of property valued at $200,000 by the Klickitat County Assessor's Office.

Forty percent of voters who participated in the 2003 general election must cast levy votes in November in order for the hospital measure to achieve validation. And of those, a super-majority of 60 percent must vote Yes for the levy to pass.

"I know $10 million is a lot of money," said hospital administrator Mike Madden. "But, on average, most of the older hospitals being updated to meet the new standards are spending twice that. We think we can spend less than that and get just as good a product."

An outdated facility

Skyline Hospital was built in 1952 and considered "an ultra-modern facility" for that era, Madden noted.

But, over the past 52 years, codes for hospital construction have changed, as have the rules governing hospital operations and patients right to privacy.

Madden said Skyline's board of directors has been told by the state Department of Health, which licenses the hospital, it needs to improve the facility's patient-care areas "if you want to stay in business for the next generation."

The only way to do that, Madden explained, is to give the hospital a complete overhaul.

A preliminary design report prepared by CTA Architects Engineers of Boise, Idaho, calls for three phases of work in which 23,000 square feet of new space will be built to:

house the radiology and imaging department, a central nurses station, the obstetrics ward, and nine modern acute-care patient rooms with private showers/bathrooms.

expand the laboratory.

create a new emergency room entry and waiting area and a hallway linking the ER and the main lobby.

renovate the pre-operation and recovery area.

relocate the respiratory therapy department, pharmacy and business office.

and demolish an existing 5,507-square-foot wing that currently houses patient rooms and the respiratory therapy department.

In the final issue, the hospital will increase in size from 26,615 square feet to 44,108 square feet (including a 7,780-square-foot basement for storage and a conference room) but become more efficient and user-friendly in providing treatment to patients.

Additional remodeling will be done with general funds, using hospital maintenance staff.

"We've scaled the proposal down so that we're only spending taxpayer dollars on those areas critical to patient care," Madden said. "Tax dollars won't be used for anything but patient-care costs of modernization, except to retire the bond that we're currently paying off at a higher interest rate."

One debt for another

In May 1996, the hospital district's board of directors approved the issuance and selling of approximately $2.25 million in limited tax general obligations bonds to "improve and equip Skyline Hospital."

Roughly $1.9 million of that debt--incurred to finance construction of a new emergency room and surgery, update and remodel areas for outpatient services, buy a new ambulance and build an ambulance shed--is still owed bond-holders.

Currently, the hospital is using proceeds from a 48 cents/$1,000 general property tax levy to pay off those bonds.

It, like other taxing districts, had its statutory ability to adjust the levy rate for inflation curtailed in 2000 when voters approved a statewide property tax limitation initiative.

Madden said passage of the proposed $10 million bond levy would enable the hospital district to get out from under its existing financial burden and free up tax levy money for other purposes and projects.

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