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For new hospitals, Tulare, Visalia look to bond measures

A new hospital tower in Tulare is partly complete. If voters approve a new bond measure, there would be new funds to complete the work.
A new hospital tower in Tulare is partly complete. If voters approve a new bond measure, there would be new funds to complete the work. Tulare Local Health Care District

Two South Valley health care districts are putting bond measures on the ballot to pay for hospitals that will hold up in earthquakes.

In Visalia, the Kaweah Delta Health Care District Board of Trustees approved a $327 million bond measure to be voted on May 3 via mail-in ballot.

In Tulare, the Tulare Local Health Care District board in December approved going to the voters, but didn’t set a date or amount. Officials say it probably will be $55 million and the vote will take place in spring or summer, also by mail.

Mail-in ballot proposals are considered more likely to hurdle the high bar of two-thirds voter approval.

The Kaweah Delta Health Care District needs a new hospital to replace the current one that is decades old, said Lindsay Mann, chief executive officer. Kaweah Delta has 273 beds in its Mineral King wing, the main part of the hospital.

“It’s about compliance with law,” Mann said. “It is about making sure that vital, lifesaving services are available to the community.”

Under state law, hospitals must be seismically strengthened by 2030. The law requiring earthquake-safe hospitals was passed after the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

If passed, the bond would pay for construction of a six-story hospital on the campus in downtown Visalia. The old building still would be used for some medical needs.

The proposed bond is $375 million, while a new hospital is estimated to cost $550 million. The rest would come from revenue bonds, cash reserves, fundraising and grants.

Funds also would build out the fifth and sixth floors of the Acequia wing used for cardiac care.

To get the bond passed, a “Friends of Kaweah Delta” committee will mount a campaign.

It is about making sure that vital lifesaving services are available to the community.

Lindsay Mann, CEO of Kaweah Delta Health Care District

Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said he realizes that the hospital faces the 2030 deadline, but worries that the public may vote no when the city seeks a sales tax increase.

The city is considering putting a half-cent sales tax question on the November ballot, the state might seek voter approval to extend a sales tax, and the Visalia Unified School District will sooner or later propose a bond measure for a new high school, he said.

Mann said the hospital is acting now to avoid conflicts with other public entities.

In Tulare, Dr. Benny Benzeevi, chairman of HealthCare Conglomerate Associates, the private company that manages the hospital for the Tulare Local Health Care District, said the hospital has an inspiring story to tell.

“When HCCA took over two years ago, the hospital was losing $1 million a month, with 30 days cash on hand,” he said. “We have had 20 straight months with net positive margins. The hospital is strong and economically viable.”

In 2010, a new hospital tower was started and must be finished, he said. After it is built, the Tulare hospital will have 112 beds.

The board considered seeking a parcel tax to fund completion, but is moving toward a general obligation bond.

When people ask why another $55 million is needed after voters in 2005 approved an $85 million bond, Benzeevi said “the initial report (supporting a new hospital tower) always envisioned an additional bond.”

There’s no question that the stalled tower project took a toll on goodwill, but the hospital is serving the community, said board president Sherrie Bell.

“I completely understand people’s misgivings,” she said. “There comes a point when you have to put the past behind and move forward.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Kaweah Delta Health Care District’s proposed bond measure was $357 million.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

Kaweah Delta Health Care District proposed bond assessment

If the $375 million bond passes, the tax would be $48.70 per year per $100,000 assessed valuation. For a $175,000 property, the average assessed valuation in the district, the average tax would be $85.23 per year.

Source: Kaweah Delta Health Care District

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