By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Kern River Valley residents took to the airwaves to voice their concerns and ask questions about Measure C at a live town hall broadcast on 102.5 FM radio last Thursday, May 4. On hand to answer questions were executive staff members from the Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD); the session was moderated by Charlie Busch, a member of its Board of Directors.
Over 8,200 residents received sample ballots and other mailers last week in preparation for voting for or against Measure C, the $98/year parcel tax to fund the remodel of the Kern Valley Hospital and its emergency room. Emotions tend to run high on any matter related to taxes or medical care, and with the combination of both issues in this one ballot measure, it has created significant controversy.
KVHD continues to create opportunities for public education and debate on this issue, but time is running out, since voting begins this week by mail and ends June 6 at the polls. Another live radio town hall session will be held on Thursday evening, May 11, so voters can ask additional questions before votes are cast.
Questions asked by callers during the first radio forum primarily centered around the tax mechanism itself and how the funds would be used.
There is frustration and anger about using a flat tax on each land parcel within the district boundaries without regard to the value of the land or any improvements on the parcels. KVHD CEO Tim McGlew explained that all financial mechanisms were reviewed, and the parcel tax gave the most benefit to the taxpayers.
McGlew stated that the amount of funds generated from a sales tax would be unreliable in economic downturns, the funds would go into the County general fund causing delays in disbursement, and the measure would be voted on by all voters in Kern County rather than just the residents within the KVHD district who are most affected by the vote.
Many residents prefer general obligation (G.O.) bonds, McGlew said, but the law restricts use of G.O. funds solely for construction and large structural equipment, which covers only 80 percent of the total remodel cost. Parcel tax funds can be used for both construction and the 20 percent additional cost for equipment (such as for the new radiology department) and furnishings for the remodeled and expanded spaces.
Other KVHD staff explained that the funds will be used to remodel the spaces within the hospital that are not up to California code. For instance, the hospital emergency room (ER) is currently only about 2,000 square feet in size, but code now requires a minimum of 8,000 square feet. The hospital remodel will be built just to minimum code requirements in order to keep the cost to taxpayers as low as possible. The $98/year is a flat property tax that will never be raised over time.
Chief Nursing Officer Mark Gordon stated that an updated ER will not only offer safety for District residents who need fast, quality services within the valley, but the remodeled facility itself will attract professional medical staff without having to use tax dollars to attract them. None of the Measure C funds can be used for salaries or to pay down any other debts.
The radio town hall was the first in a series of three planned call-in forums. The next session will be held on Thursday, May 11, beginning at 6:00 p.m. on 102.5 FM radio, and the public is encouraged to call in with their questions. These radio events are sponsored by the “Friends of Kern Valley Hospital – Yes on C 2017” organization. Additional information about Measure C can be found at www.FriendsOfKern ValleyHospital.org.