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Boundary Checkup: Assembly Considers Moving Hospital Service Areas

Courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering changing the boundary between the southern and central peninsula hospital services area. The move would save Ninilchik residents on their tax bills, but could be a taxing hit to the finances of the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area.

If you live in Ninilchik and need medical services, you’re a 30-mile drive away from Soldotna and 50 miles from Homer. In that regard, it seems like simple math to decide between Central and South Peninsula Hospitals.

But the line between Soldotna and Homer on this issue is a little blurry. Currently, all Kenai Peninsula Borough property owners south of about Mile 119 of the Sterling Highway, at the Clam Gulch tower, are part of the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area — and pay taxes accordingly, 2.3 mills. Property owners north of the tower are part of the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area and pay next to nothing in taxes — 0.01 mill.

As the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has been hearing, most Ninilchik and Clam Gulch residents choose Soldotna for medical care, and aren’t too happy about paying a higher mill rate to support the Homer hospital when they don’t use it.

“Everyone I talk to uses Soldotna as their hospital, as their emergency. It’s closer, it’s easier for us to get to,” said Michelle Ogren, a Clam Gulch resident and executive director of the Ninilchik Senior Center. “We talk about even grocery shopping, and the drive is to Soldotna. Everybody goes to Soldotna. This is our home, we’re just a neighborhood a long way down the road.”

The boundary between the service areas was set in 1969, before the hospital in Soldotna even opened. Now the assembly is considering moving the boundary south. At the assembly meeting June 7, 19 people submitted written comments supporting a boundary move. Another 10 people showed up in person to speak in favor of the change, including Linda Hawkins, who lives at Corea Bend.

“When you’re paying a great amount of money for services you won’t use, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us. You know, with that huge diversity in cost — $230 compared to a dollar? Hmm. It just doesn’t seem to balance out very well,” Hawkins said.

There are a couple of ideas. One is to redraw the boundary at the highway midpoint between Soldotna and Homer, near Barbara Drive, about a mile and a quarter north of the Ninilchik River Bridge. That’s 14.5 miles south of the current boundary. Another is Tim Avenue, about 10 miles south of the midpoint. It’s on a township line, making it easy to draw a boundary without bisecting property parcels. And it’s closer to the southern end of the area Ninilchik Emergency Services covers. The vast majority of Ninilchik ambulance runs are taken to Soldotna.

But the farther away the boundary is drawn from South Peninsula Hospital, the more of a financial hit that service area will take. Central Peninsula Hospital is on better financial footing — hence the lower service area mill rate. Drawing the line at Tim Avenue would mean about a $300,000 loss to the South Peninsula Service Area a year.

A third option is to combine the service areas and balance out the mill rate. Debbie Carey, of Ninilchik, favors that idea.

“To me that seems fair. Nobody’s losing money, you’ve got the same amount of income coming in, but everybody’s paying the same rate,” Carey said.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for the July 26 assembly meeting.

Jenny reports on the Kenai Peninsula Borough and other stories in the Central Kenai Peninsula for KBBI.
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