Avalon voters to decide on special transportation, mooring tax to fund CIMC replacement

A petition proposing a special tax on passengers traveling to Avalon and boaters renting city moorings to help fund the replacement of the Catalina Island Medical Center garnered enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

AVALON—Avalon voters in November will vote on a revised measure proposing a tax on cross channel passengers and boaters renting harbor moorings. The special transportation tax would help fund the replacement of the Catalina Island Medical Center (CIMC).

Verification of sufficient signatures for a petition entitled “Initiative Measure Imposing a Special Tax on Passengers Traveling to the City of Avalon and on the Mooring of Vessels Within the City of Avalon for the Purpose of Funding Costs Relating to the Improvement or Replacement of the Catalina Island Medical Center” was on the Aug. 4 City Council agenda. Catalina Island Medical Center Foundation Board of Directors member Shannon Hill said despite Covid-19 challenges, they were able to get enough signatures for the measure to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“We were really pleasantly surprised by the support that we found in gathering the signatures,” Hill said on the phone.

The measure was written by the Catalina Island Medical Center Foundation with the help of local community leaders. If passed, it would place a fee on passengers on all cross channel carriers – ferries, cruise ships and aircrafts. It would also impose a $1 per day, per vessel visitor fee for those using harbor moorings. Due to the current economic climate, the tax wouldn’t start until 2022. The fee for cross channel traffic would be phased in, starting at 50 cents round trip in 2022, increasing to $1 round trip in 2023 and capping at $2 round trip in 2024. 

“We wanted to be very careful that we weren’t trying to impose a tax on people who are really hurting right now,” Hill said.

The new measure also includes a sunset clause, stating the special tax would end in 40 years or whenever the construction costs are paid off, whichever happens sooner.

In the April 2018 election, Avalon voters defeated a similar measure, Measure T. The measure proposed a $1 round trip tax on all passengers arriving or departing from Avalon via cruise ship, ferry or aircraft.

The measure only got the support of 36 percent of voters, while 55 percent voted against the measure, according to numbers from the city. 

“We definitely heard the community’s response to that ballot measure,” Hill said. “There was a lot of feedback and input given to us and some things we need to change and fix.”

Hill said they have worked with the community to address concerns from the first ballot measure, which resulted in the addition of the special tax on boaters and sunset clause.

“We also heard from the community in 2018 that we weren’t charging anything to all the visitors that come and stay in the harbor and so we wanted to be very cognizant of that as well,” Hill said.

CIMC must build a new hospital in order to comply with the California Hospital Association Seismic Safety mandate, whereby all California hospitals must operate from facilities that are deemed earthquake-safe by 2030, or be ordered to close. Hill said they are not able to retrofit the current hospital because the cost would be too high and there’s not enough space to do it. 

“The hospital is going to be forced to close its door because it does not meet the earthquake requirements in California,” Hill said.

The new facility would also provide more space to meet the needs of residents and visitors. The island’s population and number of visitors have quadrupled since the hospital opened in 1960, according to CIMC. The initial project cost is projected to be about $60 million, according to the CIMC website. 

“I think with Covid-19 people have realized how important it is to have healthcare on the island and there’s a lot of community support around the hospital right now,” Hill said.

Since 2018, when the first measure was defeated, CIMC has secured a location for the new hospital. In June 2019, the Catalina Island Company donated 2.5 acres of land, valued at approximately $4 million, near Quail Canyon to CIMC for the new facility. 

According to CIMC, the common solution many communities use to raise funds such as this is an increase in property taxes or sales tax. 

“Since both visitors and locals use the hospital in our community, we felt it wasn’t fair for locals to have to carry the full burden of replacing the hospital,” CIMC said on their website. “We believe it is best to share the burden among all who use the hospital, including visitors.”

The special transportation tax won’t cover the entire cost of construction, CIMC will also rely on fundraising efforts and donors. 

“If we can prove that with this ballot measure, yes Avalon cares and they’re willing to pay $1 each way on their boat if it means having healthcare on the island then that in turn is going to bring in some of those big donors,” Hill said.
Hill said they are planning several virtual town halls to address any questions related to the proposed measure. Hill encouraged boaters to attend. The Log will provide details on those town halls as information becomes available.

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