Friday, March 5, 2010

Blaine Manor levy debate intensifies

Commission could consider August election date


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Blaine Manor offers a variety of care services to Wood River Valley residents. Photo by Mountain Express

The Blaine County Commission could get a reprieve on having to make a decision about bringing before voters a levy that would help fund the Blaine Manor senior care facility in Hailey.

The debate, which has been ramping up over the past week, took a significant turn Thursday morning when County Clerk JoLynn Drage informed the commissioners that a special interim election could be held in August. Previously, the commission was considering putting the levy on a May 25 ballot, with a decision to do so required by March 15.

Though no dollar amount has been set for the potential levy, the commissioners have said it would likely fall between $700,000 and $1 million. A $700,000 levy would translate to property owners' paying $6.34 per $100,000 in property value annually.

The county has spent an average of about $600,000 annually for the past nine years to support Blaine Manor's operating expenses.

This funding is needed because Blaine Manor charges an average of $218 per day per bed, while the cost of operating the 25 beds in the facility is $265 per bed per day.

The county has had concerns about funding the facility for a number of years, made clear from a 2003 report. The county's current financial situation has pushed the issue to the forefront in the run-up to the 2010-11 fiscal year budgeting process.

At a meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Tom Bowman said the three sources of county revenue most severely impacted by the recession are fees received through the Planning and Zoning Department, a sharp drop in the return on county financial investments and a decline in the county's portion of shared state revenue.

With the commissioners facing the prospect of dipping further into reserves in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, a number of important questions surrounding Blaine Manor have arisen.

"A big turning point in this discussion is properly focusing the community conversation on how we are going to support seniors," Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview.

That echoes a sentiment all three commissioners have expressed at meetings this week about whether the county should be involved in financially supporting an assisted care facility at all.

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About 25 members of the public attended a special meeting on the subject Wednesday. Most urged the county to continue its funding.

"This is hard because [a levy] politicized the issue because it's about taxes, and I don't know how we get around that," said Anita McCann, campaign chair of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation. "Senior care is the biggest issue facing the county."

The Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation's planned senior care facility west of Hailey, slated to replace Blaine Manor as soon as mid-2012, is having an impact on the levy discussion.

While asking the county to continue its support of Blaine Manor, several members of the foundation also requested that the county defer the levy for at least a year to better educate the public about its importance and to continue raising funds for the new facility.

The foundation is maintaining that even an August election date would be too short a timeline.

"In order for something like this to be successful, it's going to take a serious campaign," said Jed Gray, a member of the foundation's board of directors, in an interview. "The foundation just ramped up our own [fundraising] campaign and would then have to ramp it back down to take [the campaign levy] on."

Along with questions about the amount and date of the levy, it's also unclear what Blaine Manor's situation would be if the commission decides not hold the election or if voters reject the levy.

"I think we could find money in the budget to fund it for another year," Bowman said Wednesday. "But there's going to be pain if we don't pass the levy."

Bowman pointed out that if the county commits to paying another $700,000 for Blaine Manor, it would likely have to cut funding for other services not mandated by the state. Those could include the Senior Connection, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, the nonprofit Hunger Coalition and the Advocates, a nonprofit group that offers services to victims of abuse and sexual assault.

"If we cut the other programs, they're going to pack this room too," Bowman said.

The commission was scheduled to hold another special meeting on the issue Thursday afternoon to garner more public input.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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