Nanaimo district hospital board votes for tax increase to support facility improvements

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The Nanaimo Regional Hospital District (NRHD) board approved its 2021 provisional budget in support of capital improvements for local healthcare facilities. The funding for new capital projects is shared between the NRHD (40 per cent) and the province (60 per cent) — the hospital district funds come in part from tax requisition.

The board voted to increase the tax requisition rate, which will total $113.52 per average home for 2021 — an increase of 30 per cent.

“We understand this is a challenging time for residents and the decision to increase the tax rate was not made lightly. The increase will help ensure our healthcare facilities can better meet the growing demands of our region,” said Ian Thorpe, NRHD board chair.

A draft, long-term capital plan from Island Health identified a potential of $2.6 billion of capital funding through the next 15 years for several projects, including a possible new patient tower at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Official funding requests have not been received from Island Health, according to a news release from the NRHD. Specific project approvals are prioritized annually based funding availability from the ministry of health, NRHD and other funding sources. 

Staff presented the board with three options — the smallest tax increase was chosen, but some directors did not support an increase at all and criticized the province for not taking full responsibility of healthcare in the region.

“Health under the constitution is the responsibility of the province and once again they have dumped it down to municipalities and regional districts to bail them out,” said director Sheryl Armstrong. “It’s not all the taxpayers that are paying either, it is only the property owners.”

The long-term capital plan is preliminary and may change — as projects are formally approved, the NRHD receives requests for funding from Island Health, according to the release.

“I understand we do have to look at some sort of increase, but I want to know what it is for. I want something hard and fast. I want to know if it is a brick building or a piece of equipment. I want to know these things before I vote to raise my citizens taxes,” said director Ed Mayne, who did not support any of the options laid out by staff.

The draft plan also includes capital projects for 2021, including long-term care beds ($122 million);  replacement equipment for medical Imaging ($2.6 million); electronic health records expansion ($3 million) and a chemotherapy/pharmacy expansion ($3 million). 

The staff report presented to the board said the option taken will result in higher increases required in future years.

“I think we have to demonstrate the political courage to acknowledge that this money has to be raised in due course and I would rather wear the political heat for it than pass it on to some future members of the regional district board,” said director Leonard Krog. “The need for healthcare is not going to diminish. COVID has shown how quickly we can reach the limits of our hospital and I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Krog was in favour of the staff recommended increase which would total $181.75 for the average homeowner in 2021. This option would result in lower rates in the future as compared to the chosen option, according to staff.

The NRHD’s tax requisition rate continues to remain one of the lowest of the hospital districts on Vancouver Island, according to the press release. The rate is reviewed annually by the NRHD Board and adjusted to respond to healthcare needs in the region through capital project funding.

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