HEPPNER - The Morrow County Health District will ask tvoters to decide just how important the services provided by the district are when it proposes a property tax levy in November.

Passage of the levy would allow the district to overcome its monthly losses and maintain services.

The district will place a measure on the ballot that would raise about $275,000 a year for three years through a tax rate of 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $39 a year.

The Morrow County Health District faces an average monthly loss of $20,000, said health district Manager Victor Vander Does. There simply aren't enough patients using the hospital in Heppner, clinics in Boardman and Irrigon and the countywide ambulance service to cover the cost of providing those services, he noted.

If the November levy does not pass, Vander Does said the district could be looking at drastic consequences.

"There will be a serious degradation of services across the board" if the measure fails, Vander Does said. The district has streamlined and cut as much as possible without reducing services, he added.

If voters approve the measure, the $275,000 revenue boost would be enough to offset the monthly losses and maintain the status quo in the district, Vander Does said.

"We believe that will be enough to maintain the existing services, and that is the whole point," he stressed.

The district already receives about $600,000 in tax support from the county. But that amount was established in the 1990s and can't be increased, Vander Does said.

The district board hopes that at the end of three years the district will be in a better financial position and wouldn't need to seek another three-year levy.

The district has tried to avoid seeking additional tax support, but once the nursing home at Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Heppner closed last November, there was little doubt the district would have to go to the voters for help, Vander Does said.

It will take a strong voter turnout to pass the levy, Vander Does predicted. Voters in the north end of the county could be critical, he added, because many of those residents travel to Hermiston and Good Shepherd Medical Center for their medical needs.

"I believe everything is local and this is as local as you can get," Vander Does said.

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