A group of Bodega Bay residents took the first step to remove area properties from the tax district supporting the financially struggling Sonoma West Medical Center.
The group last week officially notified the county of its intent to circulate a voter petition supporting the detachment of several hundred properties from the Palm Drive Health Care District, which levies an annual tax of $155 per parcel.
“It’s a fabulous facility, but I think it’s past its time with the medical arena that we have now,” said Liz Martin, one of up to eight Bodega Bay residents pushing the detachment effort.
Martin said the medical center has been poorly managed for years and simply can’t compete with Sonoma County’s largest health care providers, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and St. Joseph Health.
She said the Palm Drive health district’s newest plan to have Modesto-based American Advanced Management Group operate the Sonoma medical center would result in the elimination of the emergency medical department. That would run counter to the reason the hospital district was formed in the first place, she said. in 2004, voters in the health care district approved “Measure W,” increasing the parcel tax to $155 and stating the need for emergency care, Martin said.
Dennis Colthurst, president of the Palm Drive health district board, said Monday he had not seen the detachment notice but disagreed with any premise the hospital was not serving coastal residents.
“We definitely serve people in the coastal areas,” he said, adding that a large share of Sonoma West hospital’s patients come from coastal communities like Bodega Bay.
The hospital district was approved during a special election in 2000 by voters in nine west county school districts that encompass roughly 200 square miles.
Martin and her group are asking the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which oversees special taxing districts, to approve detachment of a territory defined by the Bodega Bay Fire Protection district. The fire district, however, is not a party to the request for detachment.
Two years ago, the commission unanimously approved a similar request that led to the detachment of property owners in three school districts in the Russian River area. That effort also was launched with a voter petition drive.
The Bodega Bay fire district has 971 registered voters and Martin’s group would only have to get 25 percent of them to sign the petition. Martin said the group would try to get up to 300 signatures.
That’s a much smaller figure than the more than 3,000 signatures obtained during the Russian River detachment campaign.
Gary and Carolyn Harris of Guerneville, who in that campaign headed a group called Taxpayers Against Unfair Taxes, said they would provide advice and guidance to the Bodega Bay group.
Gary Harris said one of the things his group learned early is the need to verify the validity of signatures obtained during the detachment campaign. He said the Russian River effort cost about $5,000 but required many more signatures.
The loss of the emergency department at the Sonoma West hospital, he said, would be reason enough for detachment.
Mark Bramfitt, executive officer of LAFCO, said Martin’s group has six months to gather the required number of signatures.