County board OKs eminent domain, drops nursing home ballot questions
URBANA — Champaign County Board members voted 17-9 Tuesday night to authorize the use of eminent domain for the purchase of property related to the long-discussed Olympian Drive construction project north of Urbana.
The issue now moves to an anticipated full county board vote later this month.
Eight of the board's 12 Republicans and one of its 14 Democrats present voted against the use of eminent domain. They include Republicans Diane Michaels, Steve Moser, Steve O'Connor, Ron Bensyl, Aaron Esry, Stephanie Holderfield, Stan James and John Jay, and Democrat Pattsi Petrie. The only board member missing from Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting was Democrat Carol Ammons.
Also Tuesday, board members who had endorsed placing two county nursing home-related items on the Nov. 6 general election ballot decided not to pursue the issue in the face of opposition from the public and from most of the board's Democratic members.
One of the items would have asked voters for a property tax increase to support the nursing home, which has lost money in several recent months and may face more financial difficulties if state and federal reimbursements are reduced. The other item would have given the county board the power to sell the nursing home if the tax increase failed.
"It's more than just not having the votes," said Urbana Democrat Chris Alix, one of a handful of referendum supporters on the board. "I think we recognized that there were some very good comments made in our caucus, and that members of the public raised some legitimate substantive and procedural objections, in terms of the way we approached the referenda.
"I think we took their comments to heart and recognized that there's probably a better way to ensure the long-term security of the nursing home."
Alix said, "we want to ensure the safety and security of the nursing home, and that was really the objective of this from the beginning. We don't want to privatize the nursing home. We don't want to raise taxes if we don't have to, but the worst possible outcome would be to lose that asset to the community."
Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessey, chairwoman of the nursing home advisory board, told the board the nursing home is attempting to identify other revenue streams, and that the facility's management is working with state officials to expedite payments to county nursing homes.
"We take the majority of Medicare and Medicaid patients and they need to put us first in line when they make those payments," she said.
She implored the county board to continue to support the nursing home.
"These are farmers, these are farmer's wives, these are architects, these are audiologists, thes are people ... who live long enough and have no resources," O'Shaunessey said. "That could be you and me. And private nursing homes will not take them. They helped build our community and I think at some level we need to make as much effort as we can to keep the nursing home going."
The Olympian Drive vote followed an hourlong executive session in which board members learned that negotiations have become stymied with two of the three landowners along the Lincoln Avenue portion of the Olympian Drive project. The landowners were identified on documents as the Squire Farms tract and the Judy K. Heimburger tract.
The resolution approved by the board, according to Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher, "would allow the county engineer to institute eminent domain proceedings if he is unable to reach an agreement with the affected property owners" by Sept. 15.
The county has been negotiating with the property owners since early February, said County Engineer Jeff Blue.
"If I don't come to a negotiated settlement by September 15 we're going to proceed with eminent domain," Blue said.
There is some urgency, Blue said, because by next April the county and the city of Urbana have to certify that the right-of-way for the project has been acquired.