Approval of sales tax triggers planning stage

Measures cover ice rink, hospital and other city operations

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2000

Now that voters have agreed to pay for hospital improvements and an ice rink, organizers of those projects have a lot of work to do before the construction season.

Planning of a $40 million expansion to Bartlett Regional Hospital will start in earnest this week in order to have architectural drawings ready for a spring groundbreaking, said Dr. Bob Urata, chairman of the hospital board of directors. The project is half-funded with $20 million from a 1 percent sales tax voters approved Tuesday. The 1 percent tax also pays for school repairs and part of an ice rink.

"We're quite grateful for the voter support. I thought it was going to be close," Urata said.

Voters were more than willing to pay for city services, hospital improvements and an ice rink through sales taxes. More than twice as many people voted for propositions 1 and 2, to levy separate 3 percent and 1 percent sales taxes, as opposed them. The 3 percent tax will replace the current tax that runs out June 30, 2002, paying for basic city services such as schools, police and fire protection, roads, and drainage until 2007.

The 1 percent sales tax also lasts five years, ending about the same time the hospital's Project 2005 is completed. Project 2005 will add bed space in several hospital units, expand the waiting areas for emergency, radiology and pediatrics, bring the pharmacy into compliance with national standards and improve traffic flow between departments. The hospital will raise the second $20 million by upping rates 5 percent.

The project will be done in phases so the hospital can continue to function around it, Urata said. When finished, he said, the improved hospital will attract more nurses and physicians and provide room for additional services. "We just have to get the project done and then we can start seeing what we can attract and also what we need."

Ice rink organizers still have some fund-raising to do, though the overwhelmingly positive vote may help them draw grant money.

"We're not done here yet," said Rich Poor, president of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, which started the project in 1997. "We're still working on other avenues of funding to make sure that when we start next winter we'll have a full facility."

Poor thinks the $1.1 million from the sales tax combined with $300,000 the Fourth of July Committee already raised should be enough to build the first phase of a bare-bones ice rink. But Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer said another $2 million will be needed for even the most basic facility. She's pursuing grants from the federal Land Water Conservation Fund and the National Hockey League. Tuesday's vote demonstrates the community support needed to get those grants, she said.

If the grants come through, the ice could be ready late next winter, Kiefer said. The seasonal rink will be open for skating eight to nine months of the year, Kiefer said. In the summer it will be used for basketball, tennis or roller-blading, Poor said.

"The public will dictate how it's used," Poor said.



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