Regional District of Central Okanagan chair Robert Hobson and chief administrative officer Harold Reay spoke to West Kelowna council Tuesday about two major ongoing projects.
Initiated in 2007, the Ambulatory Care Project and the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre have been massive undertakings with potentially huge rewards.
A key objective for the Ambulatory Care Project is to improve outpatient care and single-day treatment service on the Kelowna General Hospital and Vernon Jublilee Hospital sites and to improve health service delivery and patient flow.
According to the Interior Health website, the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre, along with the cardiac revascularization program, will save lives by providing timely, life-saving therapies and surgeries to residents of the Southern Interior who previously would have had to be transported to the coast.
Hobson also gave council some background information about the spending patterns of the Regional District of Central Okanagan.
In 1999, the district decided to move from long-term borrowing toward a pay-as-you-go approach to capital projects.
“The intention there really was to reduce the reliance on debt. The board at that time wanted to have a relatively stable tax rate,” Hobson said.
“That went along reasonably well until we got to two very large projects: The Ambulatory Care Project and the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre, each of which had a local contribution of almost $100 million.”
Hobson said that the two large projects took precedence over the pay-as-you-go mentality.
“The board felt that those were very significant projects and wanted to see them go ahead, so it supported them, but then, as required, (we changed our) financial plan, which has a certain amount of borrowing,” Hobson explained.
“So we have a blend of borrowing and pay-as-you-go for these projects.”
Reay explained the plan to tackle the debt from the Ambulatory Care Project and the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.
“When the projects are done in 2017, we will have funded $48 million of the $190 million from current tax revenues and we’ll end up with a debt of $142 million, which requires, right now, payments of $11 million per year,” Reay said.
“In the year 2017, what we’re projecting is that the average home will be paying $164 in taxes towards the hospital district projects. We will be able to make our $11 million payments and the board will have $6 million annually left over to fund current capital projects.”
Reay explained that the key is not burdening the taxpayers too much while still managing to avoid a situation of insurmountable debt.
“These are major projects. When we started these projects in 2007 the average tax rate was around $130 per year and when this is completed, the tax rate will be at $164, but we will have two very big health centres that are probably well worth the while,” Reay said
“With regards to the Heart and Surgical Centre, people don’t have to go to Vancouver, they can get their care right in this area.”
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said he felt that the financing for the projects has been done very well.
“I think that this is a really good performance that the regional district has delivered,” Findlater said.
“We would not have the major facilities that we have in this area if we had not indicated an interest and cooperation with (the Interior Health Authority) and the province to do this.”
But Findlater also mentioned that he has not given up on the idea of bringing a Westside Urgent Care Centre to West Kelowna.
“We’re stalled, but I won’t give up on it. We’ve had extensive discussion with IHA, both in-camera and here. There’s no money provincially, period, for infrastructure capital projects. It’s well down on the priority list.”