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May vote could put residents into new tax area

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By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Voters in rural areas north of Enumclaw will be asked next month to start paying taxes to support the hospital in Renton.

It became public knowledge last week that Valley Medical Center/King County Public Hospital District No. 1 will put an annexation request on the May 16 ballot. The area under consideration includes all of Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Covington and Maple Valley, but stops short of the Enumclaw city limits.

Some living just a few minutes from town are inside the annexation boundaries, though.

The vote could means hundreds of extra dollars annually in the way of property taxes for mostly rural residents. If the annexation proposal passes, those living inside the hospital district would assume the same tax burden shared by those living in the current district. The district now taxes at a rate of 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, meaning the owners of property valued at $300,000 would see their tax bill climb by $177.

Residents of the hospital district had been paying just 9 cents per $1,000, but voted in April 2005 to increase the rate to the present 59 cents.

There are approximately 50,000 registered voters in the area considered for annexation and they are the ones who will decide the issue - those presently living in the hospital district will not vote. A simple majority is needed for passage.

Officials at the Renton hospital say the annexation maneuver is simply a way of reaching out to those who live in their service area.

Dennis Popp has heard otherwise. As executive director of Enumclaw Regional Hospital, he started getting phone calls from area residents who were receiving phone calls about the coming annexation vote.

He questions both the need for Valley Medical Center to be making such a move as well as the way the annexation mission has been handled.

“Hospitals should cooperate with each other,” Popp said, noting the Enumclaw operation was never briefed about the Renton hospital's plan.

Further, Popp isn't sure why the annexation borders are extending so far south. “It seems wrong that a person has to pay taxes when they can go to any hospital they want,” he said.

Hospital use is shaped by working relationships between doctors and hospitals, and Popp is hearing from rural residents who use Enumclaw doctors and Enumclaw Regional Hospital. If the May ballot issue passes, he said, those folks will be paying tax dollars to support a hospital they will never visit.

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

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