Editorial | More tax dollars down the drain

Editorial | More tax dollars down the drain

The Champaign County Nursing Home's horror story gets more frightening by the month.

When it comes to the Champaign County Nursing Home, there are two kinds of news — bad and worse.

That's why the county hasn't closed the sale yet (bad news) and, as a consequence, must keep throwing away more tax dollars (worse news).

The latest unforced error came on Tuesday, when the county board forgave old loans to the nursing home ($500,000) and approved new loans to cover payroll and bills for services.

"At what point is this going to end?" said one board member in understandable frustration.

Well, perhaps sooner than later. But it won't end nearly as soon as it would and should have if board members had confronted the nursing home problem when it was an obvious problem instead of waiting until the 11th hour to make the decision to sell.

Meanwhile, this money pit keeps consuming tax dollars at a ferocious rate.

Because the nursing home is not generating sufficient revenue to pay its bills, the board approved two resolutions authorizing transfers of funds from the county's general revenue fund to the nursing home.

One resolution called for loaning the nursing home up to $200,000 a month from November through February 2019 to cover the difference between what the nursing home can pay and the bills it runs up for services. Assuming the matter goes the distance, that adds up to a maximum of $800,000.

The second resolution requires the county to provide the difference between what the nursing home can cover in payroll and the total payroll. There was no estimate as to the cost.

There also were a couple of other nursing home business matters — the settlement of legal claims related to two deaths. One settlement was for$1 million, and the other $175,000.

Even if Champaign County had unlimited financial resources, this kind of management of taxpayer funds would border on the unforgiveable. Considering the county faces a cash crunch, like most units of government in Illinois, it is unforgiveable.

The reason that it's unforgiveable is because it was so foreseeable.

When a public or a private nursing home is in deep financial trouble, tough decisions, which include the wisdom of closing or selling, must be made.

Everyone knows the county board made its best effort to keep the nursing home afloat. But when turning the facility into a self-supporting entity proved unrealistic, it was time to let go.

That's when some board members got stubborn and, for reasons totally at odds with financial common sense, refused to entertain the possibility.

They apparently were planning on a miracle to save the nursing home.

Unfortunately, problems that are ignored only rarely go away, They, most frequently, get even worse, and that's what the county taxpayers confronted then and now.

The board voted to put the facility up for sale but only reluctantly approved the sale to the sole bidder. Now the county is stuck with niggling details that, so far at least, have prevented the sale from closing.

County Administrator Deb Busey speculates the sale could close by the end of December. Board member Pattsi Petrie suggested it could go beyond February.

Would the board members who insisted the nursing home be saved at all costs have been willing to bet their own money on a turnaround? Most certainly not.

But they were willing to foolishly bet the public's money, and the increasingly ugly results are there for all to see.

That's a bad way of doing the public's business. What's even worse is that the sums that continue to be expended are huge and could have gone for other important services.

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