Friday, August 7, 2009

County: Levy needed to save Blaine Manor

Care facility draining budget

Express Staff Writer

Next May, voters could be asked to approve an override of the county's property tax levy rate to fund the Blaine Manor senior care facility in Hailey. If the facility is not granted more funding soon, it might be closed, county leaders said this week.

County Commissioner Larry Schoen made the surprise announcement late in the day Tuesday during a discussion of the county's budget for the coming 2010 fiscal year. Schoen explained his reasoning for announcing the proposed vote so early has to do with the fact that the county has been engaged in deficit spending for a number of years. For the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the county will spend about $700,000 more than what it takes in, commissioners said. At Tuesday's meeting, the commissioners set the 2010 budget at $22.7 million.

The deficit spending remains even though commissioners cut $1.2 million in spending compared to the previous year's budget. But even with those cuts, the county's current spending levels are not sustainable, Schoen said, without "additional taxpayer support." He said the county must wean itself off deficit spending soon.

"You can only go so far with expenses exceeding revenues," he said.

In the past, this deficit spending—required for things like the Blaine County Annex Building and Sarah Johnson murder trial—more or less worked because the county had a sizeable cash reserve to tap. That all changed in the past year as the economy tanked and the amount of revenue coming into the county dropped precipitously.

Schoen said much of the county's expenses are for state-mandated programs all counties must provide. But there are other programs Blaine County has funded that are not required by law.

Perhaps the largest of these is the county's subsidization of Blaine Manor. Since 2000, the county has paid for a portion of the nursing facility's budget not covered by fees and other revenue. For 2010, the county is funding just under $625,000 of the facility's budget.

Within the next few years, officials hope to see the county's responsibility for funding a portion of Blaine Manor's operations cease. Back in May 2007, county voters approved the sale of the facility with the stipulation that proceeds of the sale be given to the nonprofit Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation to help fund construction of a multi-million dollar continuing care facility in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey. The organization is currently working to raise money for the facility from private donors.

This fall, the organization will update the county on its fundraising efforts. In the meantime, the only such facility is Blaine Manor.

Commissioners said the levy vote is directly tied to Blaine Manor.

"The county can no longer afford that subsidy," Schoen said.

Officials said the proposed levy vote—which hasn't been officially decided—in no way reflects on the work done by Blaine Manor staff.

"It's not Blaine Manor's fault that we have a $700,000 deficit," said Commissioner Angenie McCleary.

The levy override would only last for two years, commissioners said. McCleary said the average taxpayer would pay an extra $7 per $100,000 in assessed property value under the levy.

Jason Kauffman:

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