Proposed tax on PeaceHealth back before Bellingham council

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 7, 2014 

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is located at 2901 Squalicum Parkway in Bellingham.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - A $1.2 million new city tax bill proposed for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is back on the City Council agenda for Monday, June 9.

The council is scheduled to discuss the measure during a committee session scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

The issue last came before the council on May 19, when hospital executives and employees, along with other supporters, packed the council chambers to express opposition to a measure that would remove PeaceHealth's existing exemption to the city's business and occupation tax - an exemption now limited to "religious" health organizations. PeaceHealth is affiliated with the Catholic Church.

PeaceHealth officials say they understand the city's move to abolish an exemption based on religion, but they have urged the city to adopt an alternative taxing plan that would reduce the impact.

According to that plan, supported by Mayor Kelli Linville, PeaceHealth revenue from both the hospital and outpatient clinics would be taxed, but the rate would be lowered to ease the tax hit on the hospital while recovering the $350,000 per year in lost city tax revenue resulting from the PeaceHealth takeover of Madrona Medical in 2007 and North Cascade Cardiology in 2011.

PeaceHealth executives worked out that proposal in earlier negotiations with Linville and her staff.

At the hearing, PeaceHealth backers argued that the nonprofit hospital's programs would come under financial pressure if the full $1.2 million annual tax were imposed. The pressure might be hardest on programs such as mental health services that return little revenue to PeaceHealth, they said.

No formal vote is scheduled on the tax issue Monday.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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