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Hospital pushes for ER service tax on concert tickets sold at Gorge Amphitheatre

by caprecord

Update: Grant County Commissioner Richard Stevens on Wednesday told TVW he “questions the need” for an admissions tax to pay for emergency services during concerts and wants to handle the matter on a local level. If passed, the bill would require a vote from Grant County to impose the surcharge.

A Grant County hospital wants the Gorge Amphitheatre to charge concert-goers more to pay for emergency medical care. Staffing costs and unpaid medical bills, they say, are a burden for nearby healthcare providers.

Concert-goers at the Gorge could pay more for emergency medical services.

Quincy Valley Medical Care says it lost more than $500,000 during concerts in 2013. One in particular – the Gorge’s Paradiso Festival – forced the hospital to convert its three-bed emergency room to support 120 patients in one weekend.

More than 25,000 people went to two-day electronic music festival that year. One person died from methamphetamine overdose. Hospital officials say many patients were suffering from drug and alcohol abuse during the weekend with temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

Senate Bill 5000, sponsored by Wenatchee Republican Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, would add a $1 admissions tax to Gorge Amphitheatre tickets to pay for emergency services at this annual festival and other events.

Gorge general manager Danny Wilde told a Senate operations committee on Monday the surcharge would discourage ticket sales and could keep acts from performing. “Artists are a fickle bunch,” he said. “There’s potential for an artist to say ‘we don’t want to be there, you are penalizing our fans’.”

The amphitheater’s 380,000 annual customers generate $56 million in revenue for local businesses and $4.6 million in state and local taxes, a spokesperson for Gorge operator Live Nation said. That revenue may not be possible with a surcharge, Wilde said.

Mehdi Merred, superintendent of the Quincy hospital, told lawmakers the facility cannot afford the additional costs to expand its emergency room and hire additional staff during concerts without the surcharge.

Gorge operators, he said, don’t do enough to prevent the drug and alcohol use that sends concert-goers to nearby emergency rooms. “Do I feel like the infrastructure at the Gorge enables behaviors? Absolutely,” Merred told committee members.

The Grant County Commissioner’s Office does not support the admissions tax, according to a letter read during Monday’s hearing. “It’s strange to me to pass a bill out of (committee) … knowing the only people it would affect in the entire state of Washington would turn it down,” Sen. Brian Dansel said.

Both Senate Bill 5000 and companion House Bill 1009 await further committee action.

This story has been updated to include comment from the Grant County Commissioner.