Another $2 million will be added to a capital reserve this year for major health care upgrades in the West Kootenay Boundary, even as hospital taxes drop.
The regional hospital district board, which pays 40 per cent of capital improvements, chose that amount last week over three other options presented by treasurer Stuart Horn: zero, $500,000, or $1 million, each of which would result in a tax decrease because Interior Health is asking for about $900,000 less this year. The option endorsed by the board will mean a 16.4 per cent tax break.
The reserve is revisited annually. The board also set aside $2 million last year, bringing the total to $5.7 million.
East Shore director Garry Jackman, who made both the original motion to create the reserve three years ago and the motion last week to maintain the same contribution said it’s intended to “respond to any unexpected requests to partner in a major planning process for the future of acute care in this hospital district. It’s a message to the province: if they want to put up money and do something for us in the long term, we’re ready.”
Interior Health says such a planning process is at least two to three years away (see related story).
But Jackman said he also wants to look at paying down debt, as the East Kootenay hospital district has done. Its tax base is now able to support major renovations and expansions without needing to borrow, he said.
He added that while they could reduce taxes even more by placing less in reserves, the hospital district has a responsibility to consider long-term needs
“While I’d like to leave as much money in the public’s pocket, we are so far behind on the big picture that this is a decision we need to take. We’re telling people you will pay now or you will pay much more later,” he said.
The lone voice of opposition came from Trail director Robert Cacchioni, who argued the reserve has grown large enough. However, others including rural Slocan Valley director Walter Popoff and New Denver’s Henning Von Krogh said they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to maximize reserves without increasing taxes.
The reserve is capped at $10 million. Once it reaches that point, the board would have to pass a resolution if it wanted to add more.
The hospital district’s annual budget is about $7 million.