Voters will decide on hospital bond

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2003

A proposed $49.9 million bond package needed to fund a major expansion project proposed for Central Peninsula General Hospital is now in the hands of the hospital service area voters.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday night to put the bond measure on the Oct. 7 municipal ballot.

The project would renovate more than 52,100 square feet of the aging facility and expand it by 74,500 square feet. Construction would include a two-story addition and relocation of the operating room-recovery area and other facilities.

Site preparation is expected to cost about $900,000, followed by new construction costing an estimated $32.4 million, and a renovation phase of $16.6 million.

If Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area voters approve the bond sale, property owners would pay approximately $50 a year for each $100,000 in assessed real and personal property value (or .5 mills), according to estimates. That is based on assumptions by hospital officials that the hospital will generate a significant percentage of the money needed to pay off the bonds and interest.

According to the enabling Ordinance 2003-27, which puts the measure on the ballot, without the revenue generated by hospital services, property owners could pay as much as $121 per $100,000. The actual mill rate will be set by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly when it writes its annual budget.

Hospital officials said the improvements would add desperately needed clinical space, allow the hospital to offer more services, entice patients to seek medical help on the peninsula rather than in Anchorage or Outside, and keep medical care spending in the local economy.

"I think this confirms what our elected officials and the general public believe is the direction we need to take our hospital and the need to modernize to meet the need of a growing and aging population," said David Gilbreath, chief executive officer of the hospital.

The ordinance was introduced in June, but it was the culmination of more than five years of effort, he said, adding that he is confident voters will approve the bond measure.

"It validates studies in the past that identified a need for a larger and more modern hospital," he said. "Recent polls of the community have shown a majority want to receive their health care locally. This will provide that opportunity."

Gilbreath said he would continue to inform voters, but noted that the hospital itself cannot spend money to promote the ballot measure.

Susan Caswell gave birth to two babies at the hospital in the 1980s. One daughter wasn't breathing when she was born, she said, but staff there brought her to life.

"If I hadn't been at this hospital, I wouldn't have my daughter today," she said. "She's 17 years old, she's an honor student, and one minute would have changed her life and made it something entirely different."

Caswell said since her children were born, the hospital has added just one small wing. It is seriously cramped for space, a condition that is not conducive to efficient delivery of health care, she said.

"You can't apply 'Be it ever so humble' to a hospital," she said. "We need to have a state of the art facility."

In other business, the assembly voted 5-4 to create the Kenai Peninsula Borough Trails Service Area and add a proposition on the Oct. 7 ballot seeking voter approval in the service area, which would encompass borough territory outside the cities. An effort by Superman to exclude the territory of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area failed, but the assembly did approve an amendment making it clear there was to be coordination between the trails service area and the NPRSA to avoid duplication of services. A mill levy of one-tenth mill is anticipated.

The assembly also unanimously approved creation of the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area for a region around and in Seward. A ballot measure seeking approval from service area voters will be added to the Oct. 7 ballot. A mill levy of .5 mills is anticipated.

A move to send a proposition to voters asking whether they wanted to repeal the borough's transportation powers failed on a split 4-4 vote. Five affirmative votes are required. Assembly member Betty Glick, of Kenai, had sought to bring the issue to the voters saying transportation powers had the potential to get very expensive. Other members said the assembly has control over how much it spends on any transportation service or system and that the public would have ample opportunity to testify on any expenditure. Currently, the borough spends $50,000 to support the CARTS program.

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