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$1.74 billion bond measure would bring much needed upgrades, new 10-story tower to Harborview

(Image: UW Medicine)

There are some big decisions to make this election year. In November, King County voters may face a vote on a $1.74 billion bond to renovate and expand Harborview Medical Center.

The hospital, situated on First Hill, is owned by King County, but staffed and operated by the University of Washington. As a publicly owned and operated hospital, Harborview serves many people who need healthcare and would not be able to pay for it including, but not limited to, the area homeless population.

In addition, Harborview serves as the Level 1 trauma center for the states of Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. It is the disaster preparedness and control hospital for Seattle and King County. In short, if you find yourself there, something very, very bad has likely happened.

The hospital has 413 beds, 40 of which are in single rooms, and 20 of those 40 are reserved for patients in need of psychiatric care. The hospital says that typically, 50 beds in double rooms can’t be used because of infection protocols. According to the King County Executive’s office, it had more than 16,000 admissions last year. All this adds up to a hospital that routinely has more patients than it has places to put them.

To address this, the county convened a working group in 2018 to search for possible solutions. The group’s report, released earlier this month, calls for a series of changes and expansions to the campus.

The biggest ticket item would be a new, $952 million tower on what is now open space behind the hospital. The 10-story building would create space for 360 single occupant rooms. It would help allow for better disaster preparedness, and allow the building to better meet privacy and infection control standards.  It would also reconfigure the emergency department, and have a helipad placed on top, with a direct connection to the emergency department.

(Image: UW Medicine)

Another $79 million would go toward a new behavioral health building, focusing on patients with psychiatric or substance abuse problems. The behavioral health clinics at Harborview have a combined 51,000 visits per year.

Most of the rest of the funds would go toward other renovations and seismic upgrades in the existing buildings. The plan also calls for demolishing the “East Clinic” on 9th Avenue and Alder Street to create new open space. Lumped in with the Harborview main campus renovations would be renovations and seismic improvements to the Pioneer Square Clinic at Third and Washington (also operated by Harborview).

Harborview is home to an enhanced shelter for homeless people. The proposal calls for maintain that either at Harborview Hall, its current location, “or the most appropriate location.”

Harborview was last renovated in 2000, and that upgrade was paid through 20-year bonds which are expiring. Most of the cost of this new project would likely be paid by county (not just Seattle) property owners.

The other states served by the hospital are not likely to help with the capital costs. The county executive’s office notes that those out-of-state residents pay for their services, the same as anyone else. The office also said that only about 200 of last year’s trauma patients were from out of state, a fraction of the total.

For the King County residents footing the bill, if the entire cost is paid through bonds, it would add about 17 or 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to property taxes. For the median county homeowner (a $580,000 house) that translates into $95-105 per year. The expiring bond costs about $18 per year, leaving the net impact at $77 to $87 per year, according to the County Executive’s office.

On Capitol Hill, where our median home value is closer to $1 million, it would mean about $170 or $180 per year, which translates to a net increase of about $140 per year.

Those are the highest the numbers could go. The county may ask the state to pick up some of the tab, and if it does, the direct cost to county residents will go down (though we’ll still be paying, since, you know, the state still gets a good bit of its money from us). And the hospital is planning to seek donations from private philanthropists, which may reduce the number further.

Right now, the proposal has to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops. Including approval by the County Executive and King County Council, neither of which has to approve the plan as presented. If things go according to schedule, a version of the proposal would come before the County Council in April, which could then place the measure on the November ballot. As a bond measure, it would require 60% approval by county voters.


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19 thoughts on “$1.74 billion bond measure would bring much needed upgrades, new 10-story tower to Harborview” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I was admitted to Harborview in 2000, via US army helicopter, after a hiking accident. The treatment was great. The place was crowded then, but everything worked.
    The helipad on top will be a bonus: present system involves transfer to an ambulance for a trip round the corner.
    They both treat and research: I’m still in a study for survivors of traumatic brain injury.
    Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: please vote for thelevy.

    • Yeah, my property tax bill went up by half this year. I will be reluctant. I do like that it’s a county wide tax. I’d like it better if it was a regional tax. Harborview serves a large area, including Alaska sometimes.

  2. Seattle: “We need housing affordability!”

    Also Seattle: Approves every single effing property tax levy proposal.

    Here’s an idea, King County should sell Harborview to a real healthcare provider and use the profits for housing affordability and homelessness.

    • It’s managed by UW Medical Care. What would be a more realistic healthcare provider than that? Being the regional trauma center, an epicenter in a regional disaster, a service for low-income, and the provider for the county jail, a for-profit company would be a public disservice.

      • It’s “Managed by” UW. Owned by King County taxpayers.

        So, sell it. Maybe UW will buy it. Or maybe a private company. Who cares? There’s plenty of successful hospitals that aren’t owned by the government…

      • UW doesn’t have taxing authority. Again, Harborview provides services for low income. This includes waving charges for those who can’t afford it, assisting in finding low cost medical coverage, and even finding housing for some. What incentive would a private company have for this? A private company wouldn’t have the resources, or the stimulus, to serve the regional role or disaster relief that Harborview does now.

  3. What we need is something that shows the property tax increase in % for each one of these. Education was 13% for 2020. With most of Seattle renting, the system is just broken. Vote for levy then want rent control…

  4. This is what you get when you don’t have an income tax. You get either property tax increases (on houses or car tabs) or income tax increases. Even though our property taxes look high compared to other states (which often have all 3 taxing sources available), WA residents total tax burden is in the middle of all 50 states.

    • The lack of an income tax is insane here. The other tax levies mainly hurt those with less income (econ 101); while an income tax would be fair due to it being based on a person’s income level. This whole BS about our constitution stopping this is ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to see this play out in such a supposedly “progressive” area.

      • The persistent myth is that income tax is progressive. The opposite is true. The more money I make, the smaller the percentage I pay in tax.
        Another million, and you-all taxpayers will be paying ME.
        Sure, on paper, income tax is supposed to be regressive, if all you look at is the tax tables. But only people who earn 100% of their income from employment pay tax according to the tables. Once you start earning money from small business, equities, real estate, etc. the percentage of tax you pay goes down.
        And who earns 100% of their money from employment? Not rich people.

  5. Given that Harborview serves 4 states and many Washington residents outside King county, this levy needs to go before the whole state at the very least. It should seek federal dollars as well.

    Regional trauma center is basic infrastructure and cost needs to be shared regionally! Not just on the back of KC property owners! This dependence on property tax for revenues is not sustainable. Big developers find ways to dodge taxes with loopholes (city, state and federal tax). Once again it’s the squeezed middle class that bears the burden.

    This type of tax dependency increases inequality as people can no longer afford to live in KC.

  6. Wow I find myself in a real difficult position. On one hand I worked at HMC for 43 years having started in ’71 right after UW took over staffing and mng. I know what a great service they perform for the community and the state. They have a national/international reputation for excellent care. on the other hand as a retired property owner I’m tired of the yearly property tax increases I’m expected to absorb. I think the county needs to look for additional funding sources. And to the person who said it should be turned over to a real healthcare provider, you mean UW Medicine isn’t? lol

  7. Despite tax fatigue this is an easy yes for me. The service and level of care that Harborview provides is 2nd to none and I know several people who’ve had life saving procedures and care there.

  8. This looks like it will fill many important needs, such as infection controls that would be needed for a pandemic and the psychiatric and respite beds that will help providers support the homeless. Also, it sounds pretty important to still have a functioning facility after an earthquake. I’ll be supporting this levy.

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