Northwest taxpayers will pay no more than $113.7 million as their share to build the new Mills Memorial Hospital under an agreement reached with the provincial government.
The figure is based on regional taxpayers paying 30 per cent and the province 70 per cent of the cost which is projected to be in the $380 million range. Last week, North West Regional Hospital District chair Harry Nyce said the important part of the agreement is the cap on what regional taxpayers will contribute.
“The 30 per cent is more than we had previously offered to pay but the benefits to the region will be substantial. The capped contribution will provide protection for our taxpayers,” he said.
Bulkley Valley taxpayers help pay 30% cost
The standard financing formula for hospital construction calls for regional taxpayers to pay 4o per cent and the Province 60 per cent but the hospital district, which takes in the area from Haida Gwaii to Houston, had been arguing for a 80/20 split citing the impact on regional taxpayers of a project the size of the new Mills.
“This agreement reached with the Province for funding the replacement of Mills Memorial was years in the making and I am very pleased with the end result,” said Nyce. “This was a fair compromise with the Province that will allow the level of health care and health services in the Northwest to increase.”
As is the case with local governments, the hospital district is financed through property taxes with the cost of the new Mills placed at $31.15 per $100,000 of assessed value. Repaying the money the regional hospital district will borrow for its share will take place over 30 years.
Information provided by the regional hospital district indicates it increased its tax rate last year in anticipation of the new Mills project and as of Jan. 1 has $13 million already tucked away.
Although the new Mills cost is increasing property taxes within the region, that impact will be eased somewhat as other projects such as the hospital and health centre in Kitimat and the new hospital on Haida Gwaii are paid for over the years.
The projected cost of the new Mills includes equipment as well as construction with the understanding that some of the newer equipment at the current Mills, such as the recently-installed MRI machine, can be moved over.
Nyce said the financing agreement was reached after considerable debate and discussion.
“I am proud of the [regional hospital district] board who wrestled with this issue, and then after much debate, made a unified decision to support this project at 30 per cent,” he said.
For his part, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix said he was “delighted” an agreement had been reached.
“It’s great news,” he said.
Dix had hinted there would be relief for northwestern taxpayers when he came to Terrace Feb. 9 to announce the province had accepted the concept plan for a new Mills. A concept plan lays out a project in broad outlines and in this case is now to be followed by a business plan to define size, services and costs.
The Northern Health Authority, which runs Mills Memorial, spent close to $1 million on a first concept plan sent to the Province in 2014. It languished in Victoria until sustained public pressure caused B.C. Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong to come to Terrace in February 2017 to announce the project was going ahead.
The health authority then spent approximately $60,000 to update its 2014 plan and it was this new one that was accepted by the new NDP government.
A business plan could take up to 18 months to complete, meaning that actual construction is still some years away.
New hospital doubles size
Dix declined to release the new concept plan in full but, in broad terms, the new Mills, which will be built at the same location as the current Mills, is to be approximately twice the size of the current 11,600-square-metre facility.
The new Mills is to be designated as a Level III trauma centre, vastly increasing its capability to treat badly injured people within the immediate area and from throughout the Northwest.
What that exactly means is to be defined in the business plan, said the health ministry in a provided statement, but it did indicate “Level III trauma centre requirements require the site to provide orthopaedic surgery and to provide 14/7/365 general surgery coverage.”
Mills will be just the second northern hospital to have a Level III designation; the other is the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George.
This new Mills will also reflect the regional Indigenous population as to what services will be provided.
“What this means in terms of specifics will be determined in the business plan but could include items such as larger birthing rooms to allow family participation, healing rooms, all nations sacred space, First Nations art and other components to create a culturally safe space,” indicated the ministry statement.
“This is the direction this government is moving towards and will continue to implement wherever possible.”