Public forum set on Vermilion County ballot questions

Public forum set on Vermilion County ballot questions

DANVILLE — Two Vermilion County Board members and a candidate are inviting the public to an open meeting Thursday where residents can ask questions about two countywide referendums on Nov. 6, one seeking voters' permission to sell Vermilion Manor Nursing Home and another seeking approval for a countywide electric aggregation program.

County board member John Alexander, R-District 6, said he has heard plenty of questions on both topics.

"And this is an opportunity to answer questions in a collective manner," Alexander said. "We are hopeful people will be in attendance. There's not an intent where we are trying to influence votes, but we want some candid questions, and we will try to answer those as best as we can."

Alexander and fellow Republican District 6 board member Bob Fox, along with Dennis Miller, a Republican candidate for District 6, are inviting all county residents to the forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at First Church of the Nazarene, 2212 N. Vermilion St. The forum will be in the northside community room, which seats 150 people.

Fox said Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon and county attorney Bill Donahue will both be there to answer questions as well.

"We want to make sure the facts are out there," Fox said.

Alexander said there may be a presentation on the nursing home, and Fox said an official with Integrys, the company the county has chosen to provide an electric aggregation program, will be in attendance.

Alexander said the nursing-home PowerPoint presentation is a nice visual that tries to explain the issue while making it clear that the referendum doesn't mean the facility will automatically be sold.

"It just empowers the county board to sell if it becomes a terrible burden on us," Alexander said. "This isn't a minor issue, and it's certainly one that could come to a very critical head in the next few months."

Financial concerns are driving the board to ask voters for the authority to sell the county-owned nursing home on Catlin-Tilton Road just west of Tilton.

Several years ago, the county had to subsidize operation of the nursing home, pulling hundreds of thousands of dollars out of its general fund to keep it in the black. But the nursing home recovered and had been doing well, even paying back the county. But in 2011, it ran into a cash crunch when Medicaid reimbursement payments from the state slowed drastically, putting it in jeopardy of not making payroll. The slow reimbursements continue, county officials said, and now the facility faces Medicaid cuts and other issues that could negatively affect its bottom line.

The county board is also asking voters if they want an opt-out electric aggregation program. If voters approve, every eligible Ameren customer in the county will automatically be included in the program that promises lower prices on the electric portion of power bills. The county has agreed to let Integrys negotiate a bulk electricity rate on behalf of county Ameren customers eligible for the program.

The opt-out program would be in addition to the opt-in program offered to county Ameren customers this summer. The county signed a deal with Integrys allowing it to offer the voluntary program, which can be done without a referendum. The county and Integrys sent letters to eligible Ameren customers inviting them to sign up at the Integrys rate of 4.49 cents per kilowatt hour for residential customers — a savings of about 26 to 27 percent over Ameren's rate of 6.13 to 6.18 cents per kilowatt hour.

Integrys and county officials hope to negotiate an even lower rate for the opt-out program. So far, about 2,300 people have signed up for the voluntary program, and if the referendum is successful and Integrys negotiates a lower rate, the 2,300 who already signed up will automatically get the lower rate.