By JESSE BURKHARDT
Just days after voters in the Skyline Hospital district rejected a levy lid lift, members of the Skyline Board of Commissioners decided to try again in August.
In a special meeting on May 5, the commissioners who were present voted unanimously to ask voters to reconsider their rejection of a levy lid lift.
The measure that will be on the ballot in August will be identical to the one presented to voters last month. It will request approval for a levy lid lift of seven cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That would bring the overall property value total for the hospital district to 35 cents per $1,000 for 2012-2013.
Final, unofficial results from the special election on April 26 showed voters saying "No" to the original levy. In the latest figures, updated on May 5 by the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, the tally was 1,377 in favor of the levy lid lift (46.6 percent) and 1,577 against (53.4 percent).
The wording of the levy as it is expected to appear on the Aug. 16 primary election ballot will be as follows: "If approved, this proposition would provide funding for the operation, development, and expansion of the district's health care facilities and services, including the funding of an electronic medical records system. It authorizes a maximum regular property levy rate in 2012 of $0.35/$1,000 assessed value (which is $0.07 greater than the 2011 levy rate). The 2012 levy amount will be used to calculate subsequent levy limits in subsequent years. Should this proposition be Approved or Rejected?"
"This levy covers our needs. It's important for the hospital and for the community," said Skyline CEO Mike Madden.
Before taking the vote on retrying the levy measure, Madden advised the board members that the levy was essential to the hospital's operations.
"If this doesn't pass, come 2016 Skyline Hospital will face a serious, 20 percent cutback in jobs and operations. If this levy goes away, OB (obstetrics/gynecology) and ambulance services are in jeopardy," Madden said. "We've expanded services almost everywhere and need to keep that momentum going."
The board acted so quickly because there is a May 25 filing deadline to get the measure on the Aug. 16 primary election ballot.
Madden pointed out that hospital officials did not expect to go back to the voters so soon, but believed timing the election for August made the most sense given the options.
"We weren't thinking of doing it this quickly, but there is not another levy on the August ballot, and this would be better than being on the general election ballot when there are a lot of other things on the ballot," Madden said.
Don Schaack, chair of the Skyline Board of Commissioners, said before the April 26 election that he believed the levy would be approved.
"I most certainly was very optimistic about this levy," Schaack explained. "I didn't think we'd need to have to go out and work hard. I was wrong. We need to get better organized."
"We need to do a lot more education of the voters," said commission member Les Dewey.
Board member Howard Kreps added that the hospital levy measure struggled because overall economic conditions are so poor.
"We're battling economics," Kreps said. "We're bucking a system right now. People are facing $5 a gallon gas prices. They are frustrated and are going to vote their pocketbooks. It's a tough time."
Kreps added that he did not believe the vote was a slap at the hospital, but simply an economic move.
"I have a hard time thinking it's a negative vote toward the hospital," Kreps said. "There are a lot of variables, but people are not negative toward the hospital."
Kreps made a motion to place the levy lid lift on the Aug. 16 ballot.
"We need to do this in August," Kreps said.
The motion was approved 3-0, with commissioners Kreps, Schaack, and Dewey voting in favor. Commissioners Charles Hogue and Dave Elkins were not present for the special meeting.