Forum offers small audience answers on nursing home, electric aggregration

DANVILLE — John Dewey of Penfield would rather not see Vermilion County sell its nursing home, Vermilion Manor, but after county officials answered some of his financial questions, he understands how it may be the county's only choice at some point.

"I can see why it will work if we sell it," said Dewey, who was one of about 20 people, including county officials, who attended a public forum Thursday night on the two upcoming countywide referendums.

The forum at First Church of the Nazarene, 2212 N. Vermilion St., Danville, was open to the public and gave county officials the opportunity to highlight the reasons why the county board decided earlier this year to ask voters for the authority to sell Vermilion Manor Nursing Home on Catlin-Tilton Road just west of Tilton. It also gave county officials a chance to put out facts concerning the second referendum that will also be on the Nov. 6 ballot, asking county voters if they want a county electric aggregation program.

County officials had prepared a room for more than 100, and although the turnout was not nearly as much as they had hoped, those residents who did attend, like Dewey, had many questions about the issues surrounding both referendums. And Dewey said he got his questions answered on both topics.

The forum was hosted by county board members John Alexander, R-District 6, and Bob Fox, R-District 6. Alexander gave a presentation on the nursing home situation, and county board members, including Chairman Jim McMahon, fielded questions.

Alexander explained that the county has not already decided to sell the nursing home but is asking voters for the authority to do so, because of the difficult financial situation the facility faces in light of the state's lagging Medicaid payments and upcoming Medicaid cuts. Alexander said the state owes the nursing home $1.5 million in Medicaid reimbursements, and future cuts to those reimbursement rates could be as much as 6 percent. He said the county needs to supplement the nursing home income by about $2 million a year, but the county cannot increase local property tax revenue to the facility.

That was an earlier plan, but county officials learned that by state law, the county is not allowed to increase the levy beyond its current 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Despite the state funding problems, Alexander said, the county should finish the current fiscal year $300,000 in the black, and McMahon said the nursing home has about $1.2 million in the bank right now. But long term, the math doesn't work. He said that's only enough to cover about five payrolls, which are about $200,000 every two weeks. Other expenses, in the last two weeks, total another $500,000.

"We have a mathematical problem, and it may not be today or tomorrow, but sometime in the future, the nursing home will be out of money," said McMahon, who told the audience that part of the reason a private company could make it work is more flexibility with cash flow.

McMahon said the county has had inquiries from entities interested in buying the facility, but would not elaborate except to say that the county would not negotiate or discuss a sale until voters give their authority in the upcoming referendum.

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