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Hospital considers bond issue for this fall

"Commissioners at Whidbey General Hospital are hoping voters will see a need to expand patient services at the hospital this Sept. 19.That's when they plan to put a bond issue on the ballot to help pay for it.If approved, money from the bond will help finance a planned $4.5 to $5 million patient services expansion project slated to begin in early 2001.Money for the bond will be derived from property taxes, hospital chief financial officer Doug Bishop said. If approved, property owners would pay between 26 and 27 cents for each $1,000 of assessed value, or about $39 per year on a $150,000 home.The tax would replace two existing hospital bond issues, Bishop said; one that was paid off in 1999 and the second, scheduled to be paid off in 2001. So the total amount of property taxes would not go up from what homeowners currently pay, Bishop said.The need for expanding several departments in the hospital is being driven by a growing island and patient population, said Rhine.And in fact, the hospital has been growing steadily - both in the number of offices, patient care centers and medical services across the island. In addition, administrators have recruited a number of new doctors to Whidbey Island.But administrators have also recently required more money from island residents.Last December, fearing that the passage of Initiative 695 would cripple the hospital's ability to raise rates and manage resources, hospital commissioners approved raising rates for most services at Whidbey General, and added about $5 per year to both its maintenance and operations levy and its Emergency Medical Services levy.Rhine said he doesn't think those recent increases would hurt the chances for the upcoming bond issue because it would be dedicated solely to treating customers. We're not asking the voters to approve a bond issue for office areas or other support areas, Rhine said. But for needed patient services.Services, Rhine added, that are required by an ever-growing number of patients.We have increasingly seen the growth in needed patient services and the need for more privacy for patients using those services, Rhine said. This major service expansion should provide needed areas for growth and be sensitive to individual patient needs over the next eight to 10 years.Hospital records support Rhine's claims of growth.Between 1995 and 1998, visits to the medical ambulatory care unit almost doubled, from 2,519 to 4,371. During the same time frame, visits to the cardiac rehabilitation department - which shares space with the physical therapy department - more than doubled, from 757 to 1,896.According to staff in the county's planning office, Island County had about 27,011 residents when Whidbey General opened in 1970. By 1999, the population was estimated at 73,300.Rhine said the commissioners are not actually asking for a tax increase; more of an extension of two bond levies currently in existence.According to Bishop, Whidbey General is receiving about $1.2 million annually in property taxes from a combination of two bond issues, passed in 1985 and 1989. The new bond issue, if approved on Sept. 19, would continue to provide that same amount through 2011.As the population of Island County grows, so does the need for increased patient services"

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