By Sharon Salyer and Melissa Slager Herald Writers
Voters in east Snohomish County appeared on Tuesday night to be strongly backing a proposal to double their annual financial support of Valley General Hospital in Monroe.
And a bond proposal to build a new civic center in Mountlake Terrace looked like it was doomed for failure for a third time.
About 58 percent of voters in Monroe, Snohomish, Maltby and the U.S. 2 towns of Sultan, Gold Bar and Index had cast ballots in favor of increasing their support for the hospital. It was far ahead of the simple majority needed to pass.
In Mountlake Terrace, about 53 percent of voters had cast ballots in favor of the measure of the new civic center. But that was falling far short of the 60 percent supermajority it needed to pass.
The two issues were the only measures on Tuesday’s special election. Ballots are expected to trickle in over the next several days.
Valley General officials say they need the levy increase to continue to provide the hospital’s current health care services, including emergency room and in-patient hospital care. Under the measure, a homeowner would pay $46 more or a total of $74 a year for property valued at $200,000.
The increased tax rate would bring in an additional $2.4 million at a hospital where financial losses hit about $4.5 million last year.
Eric Jensen, the hospital’s chief executive, said earlier this month that if the tax increase isn’t approved, there will be cuts in essential services.
The cuts would affect every area of the hospital, he said, and could mean closing in-patient services.
Patients who were treated at the hospital’s emergency room and needed to be hospitalized probably would be sent to hospitals 30 to 45 minutes away in Everett or Kirkland, Jensen said.
The emergency room itself could be at stake, Jensen said. The cost of running the hospital’s emergency department is about $2.6 million a year, or roughly 6.5 percent of the hospital’s $40 million budget.
Valley General has struggled financially for years, in part because of the large number of patients it treats who don’t have health insurance or who are Medicaid patients, a federal-state health care program which typically pays hospitals, clinics and physicians far less than the full costs of providing medical care.
With the first round of ballot counting, 10,285 people voted in favor of the tax levy and 7,311 were opposed.
This is the third time in the past three years that Mountlake Terrace city officials have asked for voters to support a $25 million civic center. Voters rejected an identical package in August and a larger measure in 2010. The most recent attempt fell short of the required 60 percent supermajority by just 124 votes.
City leaders for years have batted around the idea of a new civic center, a place of one-stop shopping for city services as well as a gathering point for community programs and events. Then the old City Hall was demolished in 2010 following a ceiling collapse in 2008. The campus, at 232nd Street SW and 58th Avenue W., as a whole is seen as under-used piece of property. The site also houses Fire Station 19, the police station and the library.
Mountlake Terrace resident Leonard French, who opposes the measure, said that residents already have voted down the Civic Center proposal twice already and that the city employed “scare tactics” by creating a false choice.
He said the city has other choices for many of those needs. For example, French noted the recently closed municipal golf course at Ballinger Lake — now slated to become a park — has a clubhouse, which he says would be suitable as a senior center.
Tuesday’s results showed that 1,964 people voted in favor of the measure with 1,729 voting against.