Another $1 billion tax increase could be on the ballot

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. -- County leaders want a new hospital and could be asking taxpayers to pony up the nearly $1 billion needed to pay for it.

Leaders overseeing the Maricopa County Integrated Health Care System are planning to talk Friday about taking the issue to the ballot.

If the five-member Maricopa County Special Health Care District Board approves the ballot question, it would go before voters in November.

Should the measure pass, Valley property owners would have to carry the weight. According to county officials, the $950 million bond would add about $25 in property taxes for a $154,000 home.

Local healthcare officials, at the very least, want to move out of the 42-year-old Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix that they described as a "decrepit facility."

Michael Murphy, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Health Care System, said this would be the first time the board referred a tax increase to the ballot.

Murphy also said it was "getting hard to function" in the current hospital that was built in 1970. He described a hospital that frequently battles overcrowding and other problems.

The current medical center, according to Murphy, has issues related to asbestos and costs taxpayers $30 million a year in maintenance costs. Last year, the hospital treated about 2,000 traumatic injuries and about 1,800 burn patients.

The addition of another ballot question will cost about $387,000, according to county officials. Three of the five board members are up for election and that's costing about $551,000.

If the board votes Friday to put the measure on the ballot,  voters will most likely have another tax increase to think about.

 A statewide proposal to hike the sales tax rate by a penny will probably be on the ballot despite the effots of Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who tried blocking the move over a clerical error.

But a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that the measure can go on the ballot as long as the rest of the initiative’s paper work checks out.