The new Campbell River Hospital construction progresses as the community debates the issue of paying for parking at the facility.

Tax in lieu of free parking proposed

HOSPITAL: PARKING TAX PROPOSED

The Strathcona Regional District board on is considering levying a property tax in exchange for free parking at the new Campbell River hospital.

A tax requisition would be used to generate roughly $1 million – the amount Island Health says it would accumulate through pay parking at new hospitals in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.

The proposal was recently brought forward by the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board – which is comprised of directors from the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts – to gauge the level of support.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Area D Director Brenda Leigh put forward a motion to advise the Hospital Board that the Strathcona Regional District supports free parking at the hospital and that the issue of taxation be put to the public, either through a referendum or alternate approval process.

Campbell River Director Andy Adams said while he appreciated Leigh being proactive, he couldn’t support a motion sprung on the board without notice or the time to digest.

“I am getting concerned having motions brought to the floor without directors having an opportunity to see them in advance,” said Adams. “I think it would be more appropriate to have these brought forward as notices of motion for the next meeting.”

Campbell River Director Larry Samson suggested directors hold off on making any decisions until the next board meeting which would give staff the time to put the proposal into context. Directors agreed with Samson’s recommendation and voted to defer the issue until its July 28 board meeting.

The proposal has come out of a June 16 Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital board meeting. Directors at that meeting approved a motion to approach regional districts, municipalities and stakeholders within the catch basin for both the Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals to find out if there is an appetite to participate in a tax requisition to cover the costs of operating a free parking lot at both new hospitals once they open in the fall of 2017.

Debra Oakman, CAO for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) which coordinates hospital board meetings, said that $627,104 and $372,896 would need to be collected from Comox Valley and Strathcona regional district residents, respectively, each year through taxation while $250,823 would need to come from Campbell River residents. Joe Murphy, vice president of planning and operations support for Island Health, told the CVRD that Island Health anticipates gross revenues of between $900,000 and $1.2 million from pay parking and net revenues of no greater than $850,000.

Murphy said Island Health has “yet to determine the exact parking rates at each location” but is committed “to providing the lowest of the rates at either St. Joseph’s or Nanaimo hospital.”

St. Joseph’s parking rates are $1.50 for one hour, $2.25 for two hours, $7 daily and $25 for a weekly permit.

Nanaimo Regional’s rates are $2.25 for the first two hours, $1.25 per hour thereafter with a weekly permit costing $26.75. Revenue generated by pay parking is intended to go towards overall facility maintenance, which the health authority said will cost approximately $8.9 million annually.

Island Health, as well as B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake have steadfastly said that without some of that funding coming from pay parking, it would fall to other areas, namely patient care, to pick up the slack.

“Both (Island Health) and the MoH (minister of health) recommend the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board consider supporting the user pay parking system to partially fund the annual operations and maintenance costs of the North Island hospital facilities,” Oakman wrote in a letter to the Strathcona Regional District. “It is clear that any option the (hospital board) wants to advance will need to consider funding impacts on health care if user pay parking is eliminated, as this would result in (Island Health) diverting health care funds to meet the annual facility maintenance and operations costs of approximately $8.9 million.”

Both Island Health and Lake have stressed that if pay parking does go ahead, there will be exemptions for hospital volunteers, hospital auxiliary members, spiritual/pastoral care providers, renal patients and family caregivers.

Hardship provisions will be in place to waive or reduce parking fees where they pose a genuine financial challenge to patients and families.

Meanwhile, City of Campbell River staff – as directed by city council in April – are investigating the feasibility of prohibiting pay parking at the hospital, similar to what the municipality of Delta did in 2004.