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Hospital foes get added support

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By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Battle lines have been drawn and the fight continues.

On one side is the Renton-based Valley Medical Center, a growing operation that is seeking to expand its influence throughout Maple Valley, Black Diamond and into the rural areas that creep to within minutes of the Enumclaw city limits.

Battling back are property owners who want nothing to do with the Renton hospital and, more important, don't want to be forced into paying hundreds of dollars annually in taxes to support an operation they say they'll never use.

It has been roughly three weeks since news broke about Valley Medical's plan to put a ballot measure before voters May 16. If it passes, the measure will expand the hospital district's boundaries considerably, and everyone in the newly-annexed portion will pay taxes at the same rate as those in the original district. That means an additional 59 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value, which equates to $177 annually on a $300,000 parcel (land and home).

The measure has no “sunset clause,” so it's assumed the tax dollars would be collected forever.

Valley Medical officials say they're simply trying to expand their boundaries to reflect the area they serve. Many opponents counter with the fact that they live within a few minutes of the Enumclaw or Auburn hospital and it's perhaps a 40-minute drive to the Renton facility.

Valley Medical is one of just a few hospitals collecting money through a tax district. Hospitals closer to Plateau residents - like Enumclaw Regional Hospital, Auburn Regional Medical Center and Good Samaritan in Puyallup - do not collect tax dollars.

During the past week, anti-Valley Medical forces have become further united, continue to raise money for the fight and have sought to spread the word.

Leading the way is a new political action committee, Citizens Against Unfair Taxes. The group is headed by state Sen. Pam Roach, with Maple Valley Mayor Laurie Iddings serving as co-chair. Enumclaw businessman Alan Gamblin is the group's treasurer and Alan Predmore is deputy treasurer.

Other recent developments include:

€ The city of Black Diamond, which sits partially inside the existing hospital district boundaries and partially in the proposed annexation area, took a bold stand against Valley Medical last week. Members of the City Council voted to oppose the annexation move and, further, are exploring the idea of requesting that areas now in the district by “annexed out.” Mayor Howard Botts said city officials aren't sure if that's legally possible, but research is being done.

€ The Enumclaw Area Chamber of Commerce followed the lead of local cities and officially opposed Valley Medical Center's plan. (The chamber letter is printed in full on page A5.)

€ An April 17 public hearing, offered as part of a work session of the Maple Valley City Council, gave residents of the region an opportunity to voice their opinion. Many chose to do so and, among a long list of speakers, only one talked in favor of the Valley Medical plan. Roach, Gamblin and political activist Chris Clifford presented the anti-VMC opinion.

€ Earlier on April 17, opposition forces had won a major court battle when King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum ruled Valley Medical Center's original ballot language was inadequate. The hospital had written a ballot question, which had been approved by King County Elections, that made no mention of the annexation effort including a tax. Lum added a line of his own, so voters will know they'll be taxed 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation if the measure passes.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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