Health care district in election crosshairs

A long-running debate over whether the Sequoia Healthcare District should continue to dole out millions of taxpayer funds to nonprofits and other agencies will play out again on the November ballot as seven candidates compete for three spots on the board.

Three candidates — incumbent Jack Hickey and newcomers Michael Stogner and Frederick Graham — say the district should stop collecting taxes because it no longer serves its original purpose of funding Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.

But other candidates, led by three-term incumbent Arthur Faro, say the $9 million in grants the district gives to health-related programs provides a crucial benefit.

“There’s a lot of good agencies out there doing good work, and many of them, because of the economy, are underfunded and people just don’t come up with enough charity money to support them,” Faro said.

Faro, business owner Alpio Barbara and physician and former board member Jerry Sheffren are all running to keep the district going and supporting each other’s campaigns. A seventh candidate, Ruth West-Gorrin, works for the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County and also supports continuing the grant program.

The district, which was formed in 1947 to fund Sequoia Hospital, began giving out grants in the mid-1990s when Catholic Healthcare West took over managing the hospital. Hickey said those programs should be paid for privately.

If Hickey, Stogner and Graham are elected, they would vote to stop collecting the roughly $7.4 million in property taxes that go to the district. Eventually, Hickey said they’d like to disband the district completely, which would take an election.

“These organizations should be supported by natural philanthropy, contributions from people’s pockets,” Hickey said.

The district, covering about 250,000 residents in cities from Belmont to Portola Valley, also gets $2.5 million through a profit-sharing agreement with CHW, said district CEO Lee Michelson.

If the district were disbanded, the property taxes would continue to be collected and would be redistributed to other agencies, Michelson said.

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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