Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 | midnight
With just days to go before the election, the fate of a tax to support Boulder City Hospital is now in the hands of the city's voters.
The arguments for and against have been made, and hospital officials say they are not planning any special push in the final hours before Tuesday to try to convince voters. They canceled the final town hall meeting that had been scheduled for last Thursday, saying the previous two forums had just turned into an opportunity for opponents to make their arguments on BCTV.
In fact, the campaign all along has been low-key, and even the staunchest supporters of the tax for the last several weeks have said that the tax initiative is in trouble.
The hospital's chief executive officer, Tom Maher, first waved the white flag a month ago, saying the initiative, which would raise about $750,000 a year to help the facility meet its operating expenses, seemed destined to fail.
And just last week, Boulder City Hospital Director of Development Craig Bailey didn't offer a much more encouraging prognosis.
"We're hopeful that it will be successful but, being realistic, we're planning that it won't be," he said.
The ballot question, which would authorize a tax of 15 cents per $100 assessed home value, faltered from the start.
Hospital officials calculated it would raise $1.08 million a year and allow the hospital to undertake an ambitious plan to expand and renovate, steps backers said were vital to the hospital's long-term viability.
But even before the first town forum to sell the tax was held, the hospital's top brass had to admit an embarrassing mistake: They had failed to take into account property tax caps and overestimated how much the tax would generate by $330,000.
Instead of a way to improve and expand, the initiative was suddenly being pitched as a necessity to keep the hospital doors open past 2012.
"We're treating this as the 11th hour, Maher said in July, after the error was discovered. "The emphasis has become more and more about keeping the hospital open. It's less and less about improving the facility."
Now a crisis in the financial sector has the public worried, and municipalities around the state are cutting their budgets because of lower-than-expected tax revenue.
That has changed the outlook for the hospital, Bailey said.
"We know people are thinking more with their wallets than they usually do with economic times as they are," he said.
In interviews with residents, the Boulder City News found support for the city having its own hospital, especially given the city's large senior population and the number of recreational visitors. But many people disliked the notion of a property tax to retain emergency services. The Boulder City News is a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.
W.J. Perlmutter, 57, counted himself a staunch proponent of both the hospital and the levy.
"Times are tough, the economy's bad and another tax is not wanted," he said. "But this is a good tax. This is not a luxury tax."
He likened the hospital levy to one for schools.
"The hospital is an essential service," Perlmutter said. "The alternative would be to have the hospital close."
Tina Coleman, 30, who was undecided on the issue, said she usually does not use Boulder City Hospital, because the co-pays were higher than when she traveled to Las Vegas or Henderson for medical care.
"It's easier for me to go into town," she said. "Anything I need the hospital for, I go to St. Rose."
However, she added, people probably need the hospital to remain in Boulder City for emergencies.
In the event the levy does not pass, officials are preparing for another attempt in 2010.
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].