04 August 2010

Measure B

Quincy needs a new hospital, and we overwhelmingly voted to build one two years ago. Then some folks got a higher-than-expected tax bill and said, "No, wait, you mean we have to pay this much to build a hospital!? You mean the cost estimates were actually estimates, not a maximum!? You fooled me with your slick ad campaign; you lied."

So instead of enlisting to help find a better approach, as community leaders have done in the past when confronted with difficult situations, they decided to 'just say no' and to divide the community against itself with a so-called 'Cap the Tax' ballot measure. No solutions were brought forward, only an arbitrary, nice affordable-sounding, small rate cap; and with that they got enough signatures to force a vote. They said they were sure that it was enough to improve/maintain the hospital. Never mind that the rate cap in the ballot measure is smaller than most estimates done previously or since, and ignores the fact that bond buyers want security not risk.

Hindsight unquestionably shows that after the original vote, the hospital board and management interpreted the poll results as an overwhelming mandate to proceed without the bother of further involvement from the public. They did not involve or even communicate with the general community in planning and evaluating alternatives before proceeding. Even after the tax bills were sent, they did not come forward with a clear accounting of the alternatives explored and the reasons supporting the approach taken. Later, after the ballot initiative was underway, when a better potential lending source was identified that had not been available originally, they appeared to assume a defensive stance rather than one open to community input and discussion. However, that is water under the bridge.

Capping the tax sounds appealing, especially to those struggling in these tough financial times. Uncertainty is after all, uncertain; certainty is more comfortable, more certain. Furthermore, everyone agrees that lower taxes are better than higher taxes. The proponents however want to have their cake and eat it too; they want a better hospital but don't want to pay for it. They are riding the prevalent anti-government anti-any-tax sentiments. Sadly they don't seem to realize that in this situation, they [we] are the government. They seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot, cut off their noses to spite their faces, or somehow punish the community at large to vent their anger and distrust. They say that they want to start the process over, but unlike some computer applications, there is no Undo-button in the real world. The low-cost loan [stimulus] money identified will not be available a couple years from now, and the current lower-than-usual construction costs will not remain when the economy revives.

Unfortunately, if passed, the 'Cap the Tax' measure would make it impossible to build the needed hospital, and it would eliminate any hope to qualify for the low-cost (or any other) funds. The monies from construction bonds cannot be used for remodeling or repair or any other purposes. The existing hospital cannot accommodate modern medical equipment and procedures, and is operating under a waiver of current building standards. As a result, new doctors cannot be recruited. Without a new hospital on the horizon, local health care will rapidly spiral downward until there is essentially none. Every emergency will become an 80-mile $15,000 helicopter ride. Babies won't be born here, except by accident. Those who would have moved here to retire will not. New business will not want to locate here, and those that are here will find their benefit costs climbing too high to survive. More young families will leave because, besides no jobs, there will be no doctors. Unless we decide that the roads and bridges that we currently have are good enough and will no longer need repairs or replacement, tourists will probably still come, but heaven help them if they need medical care.

The alternative is to invest in the future:

Save our Hospital.
Vote NO on measure B.