Tom Kacich: Privately commissioned poll claims tide turning against nursing home

Tom Kacich: Privately commissioned poll claims tide turning against nursing home

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Democrats on the Champaign County Board have been saying for months that they felt justified in opposing the sale of the county nursing home because their constituents in the county's urban core opposed it in a ballot question last April.

But County Clerk Gordy Hulten says public opinion has shifted, and he commissioned a poll — using his own campaign funds — to prove it.

First, some background: Last April's consolidated election featured this advisory question countywide: "Shall the Champaign County Board be authorized to sell or dispose of the Champaign County Nursing Home?"

The issue passed overwhelmingly in areas outside of Champaign-Urbana — those represented exclusively be Republicans — about 67 percent to 33 percent.

But in Champaign and Urbana — those districts represented by Democrats — the question lost by a big majority, particularly in Urbana where it went down, 69 percent to 31 percent.

That was April, though, and public opinion has moved over the last seven months as the nursing home's finances have worsened and there have been health and safety issues at the county-owned institution.

In a telephone poll done only within the six county board districts represented by Democrats (out of 11 districts), about 53 percent said they would support the sale of the nursing home in order to solve the county's financial problems, while 29 percent opposed the sale. About 18 percent said they were undecided.

The single polling question asked was: "As you may know from published reports, the Champaign County Nursing Home is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and two residents died this year due to alleged negligence. To remedy the situation, the county board must now decide between cutting services — such as laying off police officers and eliminating some early voting locations — or selling the home to a privately funded company prepared to provide better care. We'd like to know whether you support or oppose the sale of the Champaign County Nursing Home in an effort to solve the problems?"

Selling the nursing home was supported not only overall in the Champaign-Urbana districts but among women (54 percent to 27 percent), men (51 percent to 31 percent) and in every one of the six districts (ranging from 61 percent to 24 percent in County Board District 6 in central Champaign to 41 percent to 31 percent in District 11 in northern Champaign-Urbana).

The poll was done by We Ask America, which is owned by a longtime Hulten friend, Gregg Durham. They worked together on the Illinois House Republican staff many years ago. The poll was of 514 registered voters with landlines only, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.32 percent.

Durham said the poll is "100 percent legitimate" and that it may even have understated the support for selling the nursing home.

"People who are older are the people who still have landlines," he said. "So that's more likely to be people who have supported the nursing home or who have loved ones in it or who have been in it. I told Gordy that it's a group that would skew against what he wants to do."

Hulten, who has an interest in the nursing home issue because he is running to be elected the county's first county executive next year, said he would pay for the poll out of his campaign funds.

He wanted to do the poll, he said, to show supporters of the nursing home that public opinion has flipped.

"Things have changed since the referenda. We've had not a good summer at the Champaign County Nursing Home in terms of the quality of care we provide and in terms of the continued financial deterioration," Hulten said. "And, secondly, this question is asked in a way that puts into context the consequences of not selling the nursing home, and the referendum question did not.

"This lays before voters a clearer choice of, if we want to continue to operate the nursing home, we will have to undergo significant cuts to services; given those cuts in services, do you support cutting the nursing home?"

County board members this week will begin looking at budget options for the overall county budget, given that the county board voted last month against placing the nursing home on the market.

County Board Chairman C. Pius Weibel, a Champaign Democrat who last month voted against the sale, acknowledged that any budget option would include laying off 20 to 25 county employees during 2018.

"We are having conversations with county board members, and some members are being very thoughtful about their approach to the nursing home and they are saying — some of them — that their districts are absolutely opposed to considering the sale of the nursing home," Hulten said. "I wanted to investigate and see whether or not that was true. So I arranged with a pollster to run a one-question survey in the county board districts that are represented by Democrats and posed the question in the way that we did so that the sale of the nursing home was contrasted with the other proposed budgetary solutions that would be necessary to keep it open.

"We asked a very long question in an attempt to give respondents a choice because selling the nursing home is not a desirable thing. Nobody takes any triumph in selling the nursing home."

But not selling it has consequences, Hulten said.

"If we choose to continue to stay in the nursing home business we have to make sacrifices in other places," he said. "So we asked voters, what's your preference? Do you want to make those sacrifices or would you prefer to solve these financial problems by moving forward with the sale of the nursing home?"

Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke, the leading supporter of the nursing home on the county board, quickly dismissed Hulten's poll, saying "it has no validity as far as I'm concerned."

"If polls were what counted, Hillary Clinton would be president of the United States," Hartke said. "But we had an election (in April) where it was quite, even in a municipal turnout which is notoriously bad for progressive votes, we had in my district (District 6) over 60 percent support for the nursing home. And my district of all the Democratic districts was the least support for the nursing home.

"And that was an election that Gordy ran. So if he would rather trust a poll he paid for versus an election he actually ran, then I have concerns about whether he should be a county executive."

Hartke added, "In my district it was quite clear that people supported the nursing home and I'm going to continue to take that stand."

New county treasurer

John Farney, currently the Champaign County auditor, appears to be a lock to become the next county treasurer when Dan Welch steps down on Dec. 31.

He's the only person to apply to the Republican central committee to take Welch's place, and it's the Republican central committee that will choose the replacement because Welch is a Republican.

The GOP central committee will interview Farney on Monday night before making its recommendation for appointment to the position. The county board will have to act on that recommendation.

Next up for the central committee: appointing a person to replace Farney until the general election next November.

Kloeppel endorsement

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin has endorsed Darlene Kloeppel to be the first Champaign County executive.

Kloeppel, also an Urbana Democrat, likely will oppose Hulten for the position next year. They are the only announced candidates from either party.

"Darlene has the experience, common sense and vision required of a county executive," Marlin said. "I agree with her proposal to sell the downtown jail and utilize some of the funds to renovate the satellite jail and fund pre-trial and mental health services for those arrested. It makes no sense for the county to operate two jails.

"I also support her plan to combine the county recorder's functions with the county clerk's office and eliminate the office of recorder at the next election."

Harold money

Urbana Republican Erika Harold, the only announced Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general, last week reported $11,500 in campaign contributions including $1,000 each from three GOP state senators: Dale Righter of Mattoon, Jil Tracy of Quincy and Jim Oberweis of North Aurora. There also was a $2,500 contribution from the Illinois Manufacturers Association PAC.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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EdRyan wrote on November 12, 2017 at 8:11 am

"The poll was of 514 registered voters with landlines only"  To support the argument that the poll is "100 % legitimate," the methodolgy (well, actually the entire methodolgy) used to account for the fact that large numbers of registered voters no longer have land lines has to be disclosed.  I would expect that a random sample of those 514 would skew significantly older and more conservative than the population of registered voters in C-U.  These days, even those of us in the 60+ demographic no longer have landlines.

   

pattsi wrote on November 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

Here is some acutual data from the April 2017 referenda results. Since the N-G offers no mechanism to do attachments if anyone would like to see the excel file containing the results, please email me and I will distribute the file.

As for district 6, here is the data--there are 13429 registered voters for that election; 2058 voted on that day, which is 15.3%. This percentage is the 4th lowest turn out in the 11 county districts. The numbers for the property tax increase are: yes--1146 no--853, which is 57.3%. The numbers for the permission/atuthorization are: yes--826; no--1208, which is 40.6%. Remember these numbers are based on a 15.3% registered voter turn out.

CptJustice wrote on November 12, 2017 at 9:11 am
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Yo Gordy, where in the county board deliberations did they say they would be laying off police officers?

pattsi wrote on November 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

The sheriff has made such a statement publicly at county board meetings. I believe the sheriff is being invited to the Dec. facility mtg to talk about issues. Sheriff Walsh i very accessible. If you want more details, just ask the sheriff.

787 wrote on November 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

After all of the past indignation from the democrats, when the topic of reducing the number of polling places has been brought up... I for one, just can't wait for the democrats to actually suggest doing it.

If the republicans on the County Board have any spine left, they should quickly remind the democrats of their past position on the topic.

Since he feels so strongly about the Nursing Home, when is Josh Hartke going to write a sizable personal check to the nursing home, to help them pay their bills?   He can then get in line and wait for his loan to be repaid.

The County Board democrats are going to push this county to the very edge of the cliff, and then finally back away... once the ledge starts crumbling under their feet.   But will it be too late at that point?   The level of stubborness in this bunch is shocking.

rsp wrote on November 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

The democrats on the board have tried things in the past to save money and the republicans have refused to go along because they are so against the nursing home they would rather sink the county. The last meeting I attended they mentioned paying credit card interest on debt. I asked after the meeting why it isn't being refinanced to save money. Because the republicans refused to agree. They would rather pay the high interest. Of course it's not their money.

Sometimes people would rather fight than do anything. Any compromise.

scott_tapley wrote on November 13, 2017 at 8:11 am

False.

787 wrote on November 12, 2017 at 11:11 am

And... are these democrats actually trying to save the nursing home... or are they really trying to save the union jobs at the nursing home, that would very likely be phased out with a sale?   Are the speculated 20-25 County layoffs in 2018 that Chirman Weibel speaks of, are those union or non-union positions?

 

rsp wrote on November 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

Just about the question itself. I was one of the people called. I happen to know a bit about surveys. The wording is designed to get an answer they want, not to find an opinion. You cannot preface a question with two deaths and and then ask do you support this place. (OMG do they kill people there?) Even people who do support it will feel uncomfortable saying they do unless they realize they are being manipulated.

Just for the record, one of the deaths was a suicide. The alleged negligence was in not preventing it.

So if Gordy gets elected is this how he plans to run county government? Trying to manipulate people?

BruckJr wrote on November 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

It doesn't happen often but I agree with you rsp on the phrasing of the survey question.  It was a quite different question than was asked during the election and likely accounts for much of the noted 'change' in opinion.  I would guess that there were some folks who answered this question, as well as the original question, without fulling understanding the issue.  Some of the folks who voted in the consolidated election were there to vote for their candidates and hadn't put any thought into the advisory question.  Had you asked them if the county should sell the court house, or county parks or jail, the natural inclination would have been to have said no.  So too, the nursing home.

pattsi wrote on November 12, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Not trying to get into an argument about survey research methodology. That stated the comments made about the phone survey probably apply to the election results in that it is not a random sample of the voters who voted so one might then argue what isthe merit of the voting outcome. Those who choose to vote are a very biased sample in particular when the turnout in district 6, as an example is 15.3% of the then registered voters. As to the wording of the question a similar argument can be applied to the wording of the regerendum, which had to be taken from the statute.

We would have to do random sampling and probably stratify the county first and then take the random sample to get closer to finding out the tenor of the county voters.

One last reminder note--we would not have a new nursing home and thus not be in this quandry if there had not been a whole lot of lying by omission at the time of the 2002 referenda as to the financial state of the old nursing home and that the then administrator was a gatekeeper keeping Medicaid at 35% and still the old home was in financial trouble plus there was much less competition during that time.

rsp wrote on November 12, 2017 at 5:11 pm

The state of the old home was only part of the issue. The county is starved for cash with or without the nursing home. Even without it there is no money to maintain the other buildings and provide needed services. And the county board has been very negligent in communicating that to the community.

There are people who believe that selling the nursing home will magically solve all the money issues. It won't even come close. The county needs millions just to replace roofs. If the nursing home was sold tommorrow it doesn't mean we are done with it. We still have debts for it. Selling it won't cover those debts.

The last referendum the county board was almost silent on explaining what the needs were. None of those needs have changed. Still no maintenance plan? There's no money for that.

It's a disgrace that this county has one person for property maintenance issues and is instructed to focus on structures that are unsafe. Scottswood is just around the corner from the county offices and is full of children.

Every morning cars fly up Washington and cut through there to get to Main St as children are walking to school. In the streets as there are no sidewalks. Cars are speeding through there in the morning. Every morning. They see the garbage piled up around them like they are living in a garbage dump.

Are children garbage?

pattsi wrote on November 13, 2017 at 12:11 am

Let me address the issues RSP has mentioned.

The county on many occasions has pointed out the financial needs. One being the fact that there is a long term (10 years) building maintenance plan. The projected cost is 4.5M/annually for the decade, give or take that amount, which we can argue about. This maintenance amount does not include any new building, just maintenance. As I have on many occasions mentioned had the facility sales tax referendum passed November 2016, right now there would be an additional 4.5M/each year and 40% of the generated monies would have come via people not CC citizens, but visiting and spending here for whatever reason. Further the10 year plan is set as pay as you go to make the most efficient use of the addition tax dollars, but for any work on the jails.

Just the discussions about the jails alone should have made the public well aware of the building maintenance issues. But also the referendum that I shepherd with CB approval on to that ballot was campaigned against by CB members. Thus positioning the board in the position today whereas there are no, at this time, means to generate more tax dollars into the general fund. So the board will continue to work within the present financial parameters.

It is hare to totally judge about the passage of any referendum, but a group of us worked hard to pass the facility sales tax "ask."

About the issue of county staffing--if one looks at the monthly CB packet, one can see the many county positions not filled for many years. And now the CB is pressed with similar decisions. For 4 years or more each budget time, I have lobbied to increase the staff level in Planning and Zoning. Within the 2018 budget, an increase has been included, but the question is will this survive the upcoming budget discussions.

Now to the back log of property nuiance issues. Unfortunately, the front page N-G article today did not include that last Thursday during the ELUC meeting there was a long discussion about the grant application that Mr. Hall and staff have prepared to ask for $87,000 plus to help cover 5 major demolition projects that have been on the list for several years. The first $75,000 does not need a match. The difference will need a 1:1 match. Only time will tell if the grant application is funded. Even though there is uncertainty, ELUC voted a recommendation of $8100 to demolish one of the properties. Very hard financial decisions that impinge on those citizens. One can look at the ELUC packet on the county web site, along with watch the meeting video posted on the County Clerk's web site.

Just for clarification, included in the RFP for selling the nursing home is a base bid of 11M. If the RFP is approve for launch, then it will be discovered if there is any interest, as the broker has indicated there is. For argument sake if the home sells for the base bid, this is enough to cover the present 7.5M aggregated debt. This potentially leaves 3M to move toward other projects. The property tax subsidy to pay off the bonds will continue until the bonds are retired. The SA is being consulted as to the other property tax subsidy--does it discontinue or continue.

If there is a nursing home sale, this will enable the CB to move onward to discuss the moving of the sheriff's office to some space on the county campus. Depending on how that discussion proceeds, the next issue is what to do with the downtown jail by March 2018by providing a plan to DOJ. The discussion probably will focus on the cost to meet the DOJ ADA requirements as applied to the downtown jail, along with major maintenance issues, such as roof, exterior walls, safety locking system, maybe some interior adjustments vs expanding space and surfaces at the Satelitte Jail. Those facts and figures have not been generated, but again will be on the December facility committee meeting agenda. If the choice by the board is to close the downtown jail, this will open the possibility of repurposing the building and land. This might work well with what Urbana is planning for that downtown area and generate monies for the county. All of this is a 5-year plan, probably.

If there are more questions, just ask.

rsp wrote on November 13, 2017 at 8:11 am

But also the referendum that I shepherd with CB approval on to that ballot was campaigned against by CB members.

County board members acting against the interests of the county in spite of knowing the condition of the county. Maybe you should talk to them about raising property taxes. If the republicans don't want to raise sales taxes and the county needs the money in a bad way, maybe it's time to talk about a county-wide property tax increase. That should go over well.

pattsi wrote on November 13, 2017 at 10:11 am

A quick clarification-it was not R's that opposed; it was D's. After a summer of much discussion, the R's understood the effective efficiency of asking for the facility sales tax as compared to asking for a property tax increase because Unit 4 was doing this type of "ask."

scott_tapley wrote on November 13, 2017 at 8:11 am

The shift in Gordy's poll results could have been due to wording, but some it may have been due to a basic respect for the democratic process.  This isn't the first such case in Champaign County's history...

When the referendum creating the Champaign County Health District passed, Republicans who occupied the majority of board seats, were in a situation analogous to Democrats now with the CCNH referenda.  All of the Republicans represented districts that overwhelmingly opposed the referendum.

When Republican CB members briefly entertained ideas for thwarting the county-wide vote that they and their constituents did not support, those Republicans were accused of being undemocratic, despotic, and worse, by Democrat elected officials and voters.

In the end, the Republicans did the right thing.  They carried out the wishes of the majority of county voters, even though they disagreed with them.

Regardless of your reasons for wanting to keep CCNH under county ownership, the following facts are paramount:

1)  CCNH has lost money for decades, its cash position has deteriorated by $7 million ($2 million cash reserve depleted, $2 million in bailouts from general fund, and another $4+ million outstanding bills today) since the 2002 referenda passed, and it is effectively bankrupt.

2)  The County budget has already been gutted to bare bones because of the 2008-09 economic downturn and prior budget cuts to CCNH.  The only cuts that can be made now will cost jobs, disrupt families and reduce county services.

3)  A solid majority of county voters have rejected 2 tax increases to further subsidize CCNH and also authorized you to sell it--a clear indication of what they expect you to do as a faithful public servant.

The County Board Democrats need to stop prolonging the agony at CCNH, stop dithering over what to do, and proceed with selling CCNH to a responsible entity that can take better care of the residents than Champaign County has demonstrated it is capable of doing.