This editorial in favor of extending the hospital parcel tax originally ran in February, but the argument, and our support, remain strong for the June 6 special election.
Our local Sonoma Valley Hospital continues to need financial support from the public. This support comes in the form of a parcel tax, added to each year’s property tax bill. For the past five years, each parcel owner within the Hospital District boundary has been paying an annual parcel tax of $195, and this year the Hospital Board is asking the public to renew this funding. In March, ballot Measure “B” will increase payment to $250 per parcel annually for the next five years, and we support that request.
We don’t have to tell you that health care in America is complicated and challenging, and by the look of things, it will continue to be that way for a while. Hospital finance is particularly challenging, and hospitals like ours – independent and classified by Medicare as “rural” – are the most challenged of all. For example, a procedure conducted at Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa receives a higher Medicare payment than the exact same procedure conducted at Sonoma Valley Hospital.
The increase in the parcel tax payment from $195 to $250 will generate an additional $850,000 yearly. Offering competitive pay, for example, means a 3 percent payroll increase for hospital employees equals about $750,000; accordingly, an $850,000 revenue increase seems paltry. One might ask why the increase is not larger, but the answer is that consultant research indicates an annual increase to $250 is what the public will support. It seems little to ask to insure our hospital continues to be able to serve the public.
The Hospital Bond measure that passed several years ago was directed to capital expenses only — construction, structural improvements and equipment — not operations. That bond money has all been spent as intended. The parcel tax, on the other hand, is used for operational purposes only, not capital expenses.
At present, the hospital is looking into selling the large, residentially-zoned parcel of land bordering on MacArthur Street it acquired several years ago. If the decision to sell the land is made, its sale will provide capital funds to the hospital, but not revenues to support operations.
The hospital has no endowment fund. Endowment funds are generally the result of gifts and bequests made upon the death of a donor. It would certainly seem prudent that efforts be made to create and sustain an endowment fund. Fund-raising for the hospital is conducted by its Hospital Foundation, and such funds have been very helpful in acquiring new equipment and supporting various programs, but donations are variable and subject to economic conditions. The parcel tax, on the other hand, is reliable, predictable and regular.
It would be best if local hospitals like ours did not have to overcome such unpredictable financial challenges, but that’s not the way it is. For those of us who have rushed to the emergency room with chest pain or severely congested lungs, having a local hospital is more than just a convenience, it can be a lifesaver.
For all the reasons above, and in hope that our community will continue to be served by our local hospital for many years to come, we support the renewal of the parcel tax, which as noted will appear on the ballot in March as Measure B. We ask for your support as well.
— Sun Editorial Board