Hospital to consider a bond-ballot bid |

Hospital to consider a bond-ballot bid

Directors of the Tahoe Forest Hospital District will decide Tuesday whether to put into motion a plan to raise nearly $100 million for earthquake retrofitting and other improvements to the Truckee hospital.

A vote in the affirmative, which is likely, will position the district to issue a general obligation bond to raise $98 million. The unknown, however, is whether the bond ballot will be approved by two-thirds of the registered voters in the hospital district in eastern Nevada and Placer counties.

Spurring the board’s decision is a California law passed in 1994 following the Northridge earthquake. SB 1953 mandated all hospitals in the state be upgraded to better withstand earthquakes. Tahoe Forest Hospital has until 2013 to comply with the law, said Maia Schneider, executive director of the Tahoe Forest Hospital Foundation.

“It’s one of those beautiful unfunded mandates,” Schneider said.

If the funding plan is approved by the board Tuesday, a special mail ballot and information packet will be sent out to voters for a Sept. 25 decision. If registered voters in the district support the measure, property owners would pay $9 per $100,000 of their home’s assessed value per year. The assessment would last for 30 years.

While the hospital has completed its self-funded western addition, that project ” originally budgeted at $28 million ” ultimately cost $44 million due to spiraling construction costs. The district, Schneider said, issued revenue bonds to cover cost overruns.

But taking on more debt, she said, isn’t the direction the board wants to go.

“They feel they’ve maxed out their lending limit,” Schneider said, adding that the current proposal is the first time in 60 years the district has increased taxes. “We’ve been fiscally conservative, but this challenge is just too big…”

In addition to the seismic work, Schneider said the district has identified improvements to the hospital that would dovetail with the upgrades, such as a new emergency room, long-term care and cancer facilities.

“If the bond doesn’t pass, the district board had a lot of homework to do to decide what programs are preserved and what we have to cut,” Schneider said.

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