Nanaimo Regional Hospital District 2021 taxes are expected to increase by $5 per $100,000 of assessed value, from $16.13 in 2020 to $21.15. The provisional budget, which was passed by the NRHD board of directors on Dec. 10 and will go to a final vote March 9, departs from the staff recommendation, which was for an increase to $50 per $100,000, a 214 per cent hike from the 2020 rate.
The NRHD covers 40 per cent of any capital equipment and projects undertaken by Island Health; the province covers the remaining 60 per cent. For 2021, Island Health says they intend to apply for provincial approval for four projects: $122 million for long-term care beds, $2.7 million for a SPECT-CT system, $3 million for a chemotherapy clinic and pharmacy expansion and $3 million for their electronic health record bridging plan. Island Health’s long-term capital plan through 2030 proposes $2.6 billion of total capital funding for 20 projects, which includes $1.05 billion for replacing a patient tower at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
While the staff report warned choosing any increase lower than the recommendation would result in higher tax increases in future years due additional borrowing being required, several NRHD board members expressed discomfort with approving such a steep increase in one year, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when many people are financially stressed.
“I’m concerned about raising this amount in this particular year,” said Vanessa Craig, director for Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy). “It’s a significant jump in a year when there’s a lot of pressure on our residents already.”
Director Ed Mayne, mayor of Parksville, was frustrated with the lack of certainty around whether Island Health’s proposed projects would receive provincial approval and called them a “wish list.”
“This doesn’t have any consensus from the provincial government at this time and yet we’re going to go out and ask people to increase their taxes not just a little bit, but a substantial amount,” he said. He and others said they would not support any increase because they see health care expenses as a “download” from the province.
Director Leonard Krog, mayor of Nanaimo, said he was in favour of the 214-per-cent increase, saying directors “have to demonstrate the political courage that this money is going to have to be raised in due course.”
Scott McCartin, representing the health authority, said Island Health’s long-term capital projects are uncertain and represent a “rough estimate,” between minus-40 and plus-75 per cent, provided by request from the NRHD board. He said the health authority would need provincial government and treasury board approval before being able to spend the time and money necessary to narrow in on the business case of each project.
The provisional budget represents a 32.9 per cent increase in the tax rate. Due to the way NRHD taxes are requisitioned, the complete amount Area B would contribute is not exact, but staff estimate it to be around $360,000 out of over $24.7 million to be collected through the entire district. Approximately $4.2 million of that will go toward paying down NRHD’s $26.6 million in outstanding debt, which help fund past projects including the Oceanside Health Centre in Parksville as well as the emergency room, an MRI replacement and electrical energy plan upgrades at NRGH.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder