The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District (CSRHD) board made a decision earlier this year to keep the local requisition level at $17 million for the year.
The CSRHD district raises money from both the Comox and Strathcona Regional District areas for capital projects in health. In light of the recent financial picture for the new hospitals for the Comox Valley and Campbell River, the district considered reducing the tax requisition from property owners but decided to maintain the level and direct the money to reserves. The board, itself, is made up of directors from municipal governments and regional districts to oversee raising the local portion for capital projects in the health sector.
The question now is how best to use that money. At the most recent board meeting, held in Campbell River on April 11, Andy Adams, Campbell River’s mayor and one of the board members, suggested the CSRHD look at ways to better invest the revenue to a better return. The board’s choice, at meetings earlier this year, had been to drop taxes or raise revenue at the same rate for reserves.
With the move toward maintaining the requisition to fund reserves, Adams said the aim is to look for better investment opportunities for the revenue.
“What this is doing is then maximizing the investment opportunities for us,” he said.
With the financing for the hospitals coming through the province’s Municipal Finance Authority, the district is set to pay off the debt by 2028, earlier than planned when the hospitals were being constructed, but the hospital district will be obligated to pay the interest, meaning there is no incentive to pay off the debt early.
There was some question about whether the board should delve into the subject at the meeting, with Bob Wells, Courtenay’s mayor and a board, suggesting the topic was best suited for a day fully devoted to a hospital district meeting. Most of the board members were also slated to have a Comox Strathcona Waste Management board meeting the same day.
CSRHD Board chair Charlie Cornfield said he wanted the issue resolved by the time the board goes into strategic planning, suggesting the best time for it to settle the question of how best to raise funds for the future is in the present.
“If the debt is paid off, the time to plan for that is now,” he said. “The end of it is not appropriate. We need to do it now.”
Cornfield said he would try to schedule a meeting that fit every member’s schedule.
Brenda Leigh, who represents Area D with the SRD and sits on the hospital board, said the two new hospitals were built too small, with too few beds for the existing population. She expects that with an aging population and more people moving to the area, the problem will only worsen.
Adams called for a point of order, saying the issue on the table was a motion to look for opportunities concerning use of the $17 million requisition.
Cornfield said he appreciated Leigh’s comments but that this would form part of the future discussion on the topic.
Jim Abram, the SRD’s Area C Director and a board member, agreed the topic needed discussion soon but added he could not support the motion, citing the current tax burden.
“Is it this generation’s responsibility for 50 years down the road, or should everybody contribute?” he said. “I think we need to have that conversation.”
Adams again stressed the motion was not to pay down debt early, as that is not an option with the MFA financing.
“What it’s doing is keeping the same requisition that we have and taking the surplus and investing it so that we increase our investment on that,” he said.
He also clarified this was not about looking for additional money.
“It’s not an increase to any individual whatsoever,” he said, following a question from David Frisch, a Courtenay city council representative, about average requisitions on homes.
Wells later echoed Leigh’s comments about hospital expansion and made a motion that the board write a letter to Island Health to begin a conversation with the health authority about expansion at the North Island Hospital locations.
At the end of discussion, the hospital district board passed Adams’s motion to maintain the $17 million requisition and contribute excess funds to a reserve while exploring investment options through the Municipal Finance Authority in order to determine a purpose for such funds. It also passed Wells’s motion to contact Island Health about expansion.