SAN PABLO -- The only ones who can save Doctors Medical Center are the voters of the health care district that owns the hospital.
The question is whether they will be willing to tack another special tax onto their already lengthy list of property assessments, to the tune of about $20 million annually.
"There is clearly voter tax fatigue in West County," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who plans to campaign hard for a new tax to save the hospital. "We have our work cut out for us."
The West Contra Costa Healthcare District board of directors, which owns and operates the hospital, voted last week to ask district voters to approve a parcel tax of 14 cents a square foot. That works out to $168 annually for a 1,200-square-foot house and $280 for a 2,000-square-foot home, and it would come on top of the $99 per year that property owners already pay in parcel taxes to fund the hospital. The tax requires two-thirds voter approval.
The tax would expire only if the hospital and its emergency room are closed, according to the resolution the health care district passed authorizing the measure.
Without the tax, DMC officials say the hospital will close, depriving West County of its largest emergency room and drastically increasing wait times at other area hospitals.
"I believe that voters will support the tax measure if they understand that the option is (hospital) closure and the consequences that come with that," Gioia said.
While taxes vary across the roughly 250,000-resident West Contra Costa Healthcare District, years of voter-approved taxes have added up.
On a 1,200-square-foot house in Richmond assessed at $210,000, for example, a homeowner faces about $4,100 in various taxes annually.
On top of the 1 percent of assessed value countywide tax, or $2,100, the example homeowner pays nearly $2,000 in special taxes and other local assessments.
The biggest single source of taxes is the West Contra Costa Unified School District, which gets more than $700 annually from the owner of the $210,000 house thanks to a series of bonds and parcel taxes passed since 2000, mostly to fund new school construction.
Parcel taxes approved in 2004 and 2011 already generate nearly $11 million annually for the health care district. Including the district's share of the county's value-based property tax, district property owners provide about $13.8 million in total funding annually to DMC, according to figures provided by hospital spokeswoman Remy Goldsmith.
Goldsmith said the district had hoped the 2011 parcel tax would lead to a partnership that would close the remainder of its $20 million budget gap, but those talks led nowhere.
"... it was made clear to us that no other hospital or hospital system would affiliate with DMC if it meant assuming a large annual deficit," Goldsmith said in an email.
Contra Costa County is the fourth-highest property tax county by percentage in California, according to Propertytax101.org, a watchdog website, and West County might even be higher than the county average.
"Independent districts that tax are really numerous in Contra Costa County," said Alex Aliferis, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. "The average homeowner is feeling the pinch."
Aliferis said his group was still researching the proposed Doctors Medical Center tax and had not made a decision whether to endorse or oppose it.
But the latest proposal, whose fate will be decided in a mail-in ballot to be sent out 30 days before a May 6 election, dwarfs the previous taxes passed.
The tax, as written, would amount to 14 cents per square foot of all developed structures, excluding residential car ports, and would generate almost twice as much as the two previous hospital parcel taxes combined.
In previous campaigns for DMC parcel taxes, pro-tax forces have relied on Kaiser Permanente and John Muir Medical Center to fund political communication. Gioia said those groups will be appealed to again this time.