Whidbey hospital bond may sprout in spring

Although the number is preliminary and could be overstated, a bond levy for a Whidbey General Hospital construction project could equate to around a 33 cent increase per $1,000 for Island County property owners.

The hospital board discussed the anticipated bond election at a meeting Monday. In the face of potentially rising interest rates and increasing construction costs, the board is considering running the bond proposal on an earlier ballot.

The levy, for a large-scale construction project slated to begin in 2009, was tentatively planned for fall 2008. Scott Rhine, chief executive officer, suggested looking at the spring instead, to lock into the lower interest rates.

Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said an election date is available in May. That date could be preferable, as she predicted a lower voter turnout in February and March.

The hospital would have to file by March 28 for the May election.

“It’s only about three months earlier than we had planned,” Rhine said.

Doug Bishop, hospital chief financial officer, structured the bond to have the interest paid through 2011 and then the principal kick in and paid off. Bishop said he used a liberal 33 cents per $1,000 estimate to factor in higher predicted interest rates and other fluctuating cost factors. The total bond value has been estimated at between $28 and $30 million, depending on the scope and costs of the project.

“There are lots of services involved,” Rhine said. “It’s really too early to make that statement.”

The project will entail adding to the east wing of the hospital private inpatient and observation rooms, additional private rooms for outpatient surgery, and support areas for the services.

If the levy were run and failed, the hospital could jump onto the next election. Chris Bibby, hospital chief of staff, said cost-wise, trying the earlier election first would be a sound decision. Other board members worried that consecutive elections could alienate voters.

The board will pick up the discussion again at a future meeting.

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