With a new $1-billion hospital patient tower listed as a potential future expense, Nanaimo Regional Hospital District’s board debated tax increases that could provide funding for the project.
A 2021 district provisional draft budget went before the board at its Dec. 8 meeting, and an Island Health draft capital plan estimates $2.6 billion in projects through 2035. Among the tax requisition options listed were raising the rate, currently $16.13 per $100,000 of assessed value, to $21.15, $35 per or $50.
The replacement tower was listed as a priority investment funding item for 2026, with the district on the hook for $420 million. Leanne Salter, Coombs-area director, said she couldn’t support an increase to $50. She noted that a previous estimate for a patient tower was $450 million, and said that kind of fluctuation should concern board members.
“We have fiduciary responsibility as elected people, and I think in that regard, we need to take a lot of care while making these decisions…” she said. “It isn’t saying that we don’t need health care, we obviously know we do, but there’s changes that also need to occur and picking it up at the local level over and over, especially these kinds of numbers, are a little disconcerting for me.”
Leonard Krog, Nanaimo mayor and director, said he favoured the $50 per option, saying it’s better to begin saving now.
“I think we have to demonstrate the political courage to acknowledge this money is going to have to be raised in due course and I would rather wear the political heat for it then pass it on to some future members of the regional district board,” said Krog. “The need for health care is not going to diminish. COVID-19 has shown how quickly we can reach the limits of our hospital and I just think it’s the right thing to do for a whole series of reasons.”
Ed Mayne, Parksville mayor and director, voiced concern that none of the projects had been approved, and were “a wish list from Island Health.”
Sheryl Armstrong, Nanaimo director, said the costs should be borne by the province.
“There’s very many cities that don’t pay into the hospitals,” said Armstrong. “That’s what we have the provincial and federal taxes for. Health under the constitution is responsibility of the province and once again, they’ve dumped it down to municipalities and regional districts to bail them out … for me, I don’t think we should be putting any dollars into the hospitals and let the province do what they’re paid to do, which is support the hospitals 100 per cent.”
The board approved a provisional budget with an increase to $21.15 per $100,000, which the Regional District of Nanaimo said in a press release is an increase equivalent to $113.52 for an average home.
An RDN press release noted that the provincial govermment covers 60 per cent of capital projects in the health district, with the region covering the other 40 per cent.
Among other potential major items on the capital project list are a high-acuity unit for 2023, with a total estimated price tag of $15 million, of which the hospital district’s share would be $6 million. For 2021, long-term care beds estimated at $122 million is a notable item, with the district on the hook for about $50 million of that.
The provisional budget will be reviewed on Feb. 23 by a hospital district committee, with board adoption scheduled for March 9, said the RDN.
While the Nanaimo Regional Hospital District board is comprised of RDN directors, it is a separate body and provides annual capital money to Island Health, the RDN said in the release.