DANVILLE — By a sizeable margin, Vermilion County voters said yes in Tuesday's referendum to granting the county board the authority to sell Vermilion Manor Nursing Home.
The question passed by several thousand votes — 15,677 yes votes to 9,207 no, according to unofficial totals, which do not include about 3,000 early votes still being tabulated.
The Vermilion County Board now has the ability to sell the financially vulnerable, county-owned facility on Catlin-Tilton Road that employs about 250 and houses more than 150 residents, who are mostly on Medicaid. Illinois statutes required voter approval for the county to sell the nursing home that's been in financial jeopardy for more than a year, because the state has continually been more than $1 million behind in Medicaid reimbursements. That's caused a cash crunch that almost became a crisis late last year when the facility was on the brink of not making its payroll of about $250,000.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said he was not surprised that the question passed overwhelmingly. He said he has been saying from the beginning that if you trust the state, vote no, and if you don't trust the state, vote yes.
"I think, overwhelmingly, the people don't trust the state of Illinois to keep current on bills," said McMahon, who has also said from the beginning that granting the county the authority doesn't mean it will sell the nursing home.
McMahon said that if he is board chairman after the county board reorganizes next month, his first move would be to start talks with firms that have shown an interest in buying the facility in the past and see what interest they may or may not have now.
"You wouldn't be selling it under stress, so you're in the driver's seat at this point," he said.
The margin was closer in the city of Danville than the rest of the county. In the city, 4,758 voted yes to sell the nursing home, and 3,344 voted no, while out in the county, 10,919 voted yes, and 5,863 voted no.
It was in June of this year that the county board overwhelmingly voted in favor of putting a question on the Nov. 6 ballot, asking voters for the ability to sell.
Since then, county board members have continually emphasized that selling could mean saving the nursing home, because the county could be forced to close the facility if it runs out of money.
The outcome of Tuesday's referendum was much different than eight years ago, when Vermilion County voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly chose a property tax increase for the long-term care facility rather than selling it.
County officials had considered posing the same choice this time — a tax increase or the authority to sell — until they learned that state law prohibits the county from increasing the nursing home property tax levy beyond its current level.