Mountain Vote Would Permanentize Hospital Augmentation Assessments

A measure on the March 3, 2020 Primary Election ballot to be voted upon by the residents of the western San Bernardino Mountain communities will make the current parcel assessment collected there to augment operations at the Mountains Community Community Hospital a permanent one.
The property tax override was put into place in 1989 as a means of staving off the closure of the hospital. Residents of the mountain communities agreed to impose on themselves a $40 per year assessment for vacant lots, $80 for homeowners, and $200 for commercial properties. As presented, the assessment regime was to be renewed every four years. Given the value the mountain communities place on having the hospital immediately available, as the closest hospital otherwise is St. Bernardine Hospital in San Bernardino some 35 minutes distant under ideal driving conditions, each successive measure has passed. Each of those votes has perpetuated the $40/$80/$200 yearly assessment. No increase in the tax to sustain the hospital has been made.
In the upcoming election, advocates for the hospital are asking for two things: the elimination of the four year renewal requirement, such that the assessment will remain in place into perpetuity, along with an annual increase in the assessment that is tied to the Consumer Price Index, pursuant to a 3 percent cap.
Hospital advocates maintain that eliminating the four-year renewal requirement will save the cost of having to pay for the elections and adjust the assessment to cover the continual increases in medical service provision costs.
Initially, at least, the assessment increase will be relatively light, as three percent times $80 translates into an assessment increase of $2.40.
Advocates for the increase point out that last year there were 6,800 patient visits to the hospital of all type, a record for the hospital’s 68-year history.
A press release put out by Mountains Community Hospital quoted Charles Harrison, the hospital’s CEO, as stating, “Our patient volume is up and we are seeing people with increasingly severe and complex conditions. Our cost to provide essential healthcare services has increased by more than 56 percent in just the past 10 years, but the tax has not gone up – ever. Approval of this ballot measure will ensure the hospital can continue to meet the needs of our community, today and in the years to come, as well as complete $40 million to $50 million worth of necessary improvements.”
Taxpayer advocates, however, point out that the current arrangement by which the community’s residents are given the ability to monitor on a continuing basis the degree to which the hospital has proven responsive to community needs and then has the option of renewing the subsidization of its operations by participating in a vote is preferable to granting the hospital an entitlement that is not subject to any future accountability or performance criteria. Moreover, taxpayer advocates point out, if the measure passes, by 2050 the mandatory assessment will have grown to $218.55 per household, without any mechanism for the homeowners to protest or limit the amount of money taken from them by the hospital.

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