April ballot to have two questions on nursing home
URBANA — Champaign County voters will face two county-board-generated questions on the April 4 ballot: whether they would favor selling or disposing of the financially troubled county nursing home and whether they'd favor a higher property-tax rate to support its continued operation.
The special county board meeting Tuesday night on nursing-home issues ran for more than four hours.
The board initially voted 11-9 not to put the sale or disposal of the nursing home on the April 4 ballot. The majority included 11 of the board's 12 Democrats — all except former Chairwoman Pattsi Petrie. Two of the board's 10 Republicans, Diane Michaels and John Jay, were absent.
But later, board Chairman C. Pius Weibel, a Champaign Democrat, moved to reconsider the original vote. On that second try, it passed, 12-8.
Even if voters favor selling the nursing home, Democrats noted, county board members would have to approve the issue — and an extraordinary majority of the board, 15 votes, would be required.
The board also voted down, 20-0, a proposal to impose a half-cent sales tax for all county facilities improvements, including the nursing home. A similar tax-increase question was defeated by the county's voters in November by 70 percent to 30 percent.
Before the full board meeting, Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke told his party's caucus that a number of groups — the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, North End Breakfast Club, Rep. Carol Ammons' campaign, Build Programs Not Jails and the county's Young Democrats — have already pledged to support a property-tax increase but would oppose the sales tax.
The board then voted on a 12-8 party-line roll call to ask voters for an increase in property taxes, from the existing 3.25-cent rate to nearly 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
If OK'd by voters, the cost to a taxpayer with a home with a market value of $150,000 would be about $30 a year, said county Administrator Rick Snider. The higher tax rate would yield about $2.5 million annually, Snider said.
Board members said they hoped the revenue could be used on deferred maintenance, to build up a cash balance and to pay down what is currently a $4 million bill backlog.
"Right out here are a number of activists who are waiting to work for this referendum," Hartke said, nodding toward the audience.
But Champaign Republican Jon Rector predicted, "People don't want taxes raised right now."
Board members said voters needed a choice at the April 4 vote.
"All we're trying to do here is let the voters say what they want to do," said Ogden-area Republican Stan Harper.
"We have to give the voters a choice on this, because without the choice, we're denying them a voice," said Rantoul Republican Jack Anderson.
"We need to go to the public and find out, are they ready to help us get more money to sustain that home or not. And if they say no, then we have no options, and I don't like the fact that we have no options," said Petrie, a Champaign Democrat. "I don't want to see that home sold or disposed of, but we're painting ourselves into a corner if we don't put that option out there and hear from the public."
County Treasurer Dan Welch reviewed past financial connections between the nursing home and the county's general fund and concluded that the nursing home is "a negative impact."
He said the county's dwindling fund balance isn't sufficient to help subsidize the nursing home.
"I can't be more clear that the fund balance is important. We've worked hard to get it back, and I would be the first in line to say that if we had it, let's help the nursing home. But that's not the case," Welch said.
He acknowledged that most of the nursing home's problems could be traced to delayed payments by the state of Illinois.
"It's not their fault that the state isn't paying the Medicaid," Welch said.