Friday, March 19, 2010

Blaine Manor levy vote delayed

Commissioners say vote in August is still possible


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

County leaders are deciding whether to ask voters to approve a levy to help fund operations at Blaine Manor in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Blaine County Commission's decision to hold off on a May primary vote on a temporary, two-year levy to help fund the Blaine Manor assisted-living facility in Hailey sets the stage for a possible vote later this summer.

The commissioners based their unanimous decision Tuesday in part on the limited amount of time such a vote would give the county to mount a public education campaign prior to the election. The next possible date the county can now hold a vote on a Blaine Manor levy is Aug. 3.

Speaking about the possibility of the vote, Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said he believes the voting public will recognize the value in providing extra funding to keep Blaine Manor open. He pointed to a successful vote in 1996 in which Blaine County citizens approved the sale of assets of the joint county- and Sun Valley-run hospital to St. Luke's for the construction of the new, privately run hospital south of Ketchum.

The Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation's planned assisted-living facility west of Hailey, slated to replace Blaine Manor as soon as mid-2012, is at the center of the levy discussion. Bowman expressed confidence that county voters would support a Blaine Manor levy vote to keep the facility running until the foundation is able to come up with the funds to construct the privately run facility.

"I believe the public will say 'yes,'" he said.

Though no dollar amount has been set for the potential levy, the commissioners have previously said it would likely fall between $700,000 and $1 million. A $700,000 levy would translate to county 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.

In May 2007, Blaine County citizens voted to sell Blaine Manor and use proceeds to build the Croy Canyon Ranch continuing care retirement community in Croy Canyon. When Croy Canyon Ranch is built, all residents from Blaine Manor would be relocated to the new facility.

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Waiting until Aug. 3 will give county officials the opportunity to develop a more accurate levy that recognizes the financial needs faced by the county should they end up proceeding with the vote. Waiting until after that date to hold a levy vote would mean the county couldn't benefit from the additional funds during the 2011 fiscal year, should county voters approve the ballot measure.

The county's consideration of the possible Blaine Manor levy is an outgrowth of a new style of annual budgeting the county commissioners are pursuing. In the past, county department heads went before the commission with their expected needs for the coming fiscal year. That, combined with figures from the previous year's budget, was used to craft the next year's budget.

Now, commissioners want to involve the public more during budgeting discussions. The new process—called "outcome-based budgeting"—gives more weight to the goals and priorities for county government.

County Commissioner Larry Schoen said the public's help will come in handy—especially in lean economic times like now—by helping county leaders weigh different funding priorities against each other. The new outcome-based budgeting will also rely on performance standards to weigh how successfully programs are and whether continued investments of county funds are worthwhile.

The commission's next workshop to discuss strategic goals and the new outcome-based budgeting is set for 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 22.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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