By SVERRE BAKKE
Voter approval of a $7.9 million bond levy in November will give Klickitat County Hospital District No. 2 the money it needs to renovate 52-year-old Skyline Hospital's patient care areas.
The 25-year general obligation bonds, if authorized by general election voters, could be sold before the end of the year to finance design work, preparation of plans and bid documents, then actual construction starting next summer, Skyline Administrator Mike Madden said last week.
The plan, dubbed "Skyline Hospital: Next Generation," calls for "expanding, equipping and modernizing the following facilities and services of Skyline Hospital: patient rooms to include private bathrooms, radiology, obstetrics, labor and delivery, laboratory, respiratory therapy, and other patient care areas" to bring them into conformance with the latest hospital regulations and construction codes.
A supermajority of voters -- 60 percent -- casting ballots for the bond levy must vote Yes for its passage. There are 7,394 registered voters in the hospital district, according to the Klickitat County Auditor's Office.
Moreover, the proposal must meet the statutory validation requirement of 40 percent of voters who participated in the 2003 general election. The Auditor's Office reported 1,386 voters residing within the hospital district took part in the last general election.
Madden said achieving the 40 percent validation threshold -- 554 votes -- "should be easy" because of the expected turnout for the presidential election.
Gaining approval from a supermajority for a new local tax, he conceded, won't be, though he said he hopes voters will consider the proposal in the broader context of what's good for them and their communities.
"I really hope people don't look at this (levy) as just a tax issue," Madden said. "I hope they look at it as an issue of their personal health, the health of their family and the economic health of their community."
Under the bond proposal, the hospital district would levy an excess tax of up to 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on all real property within the district's boundaries.
For each property assessed at $100,000, the annual tax bill would come to $74; at $200,000, $148; at $300,000, $222.
"We're limited in bonding only for the amount needed to do the project," Madden pointed out.
Originally, the hospital district's board of commissioners planned to request voter authorization of a $10 million bond issue to help retire an existing bond debt of $2.2 million.
However, after consultations with its levy advisory committee, the board decided to drop retirement of the 1996 bonds -- which were enacted by a vote of hospital commissioners -- from the latest bond proposal.
"We're going to deal with that (debt) separately, because including it only confuses the issue we want voters to focus on," Madden said. "We've reworded the ballot title to say that we only need $7.9 million to do the work that's necessary to modernize the hospital."