Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blaine Manor levy vote set for Tuesday

Property tax increase would fund shortfall


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine Manor is partially funded by Blaine County. The county is aiming to get out of the business of funding a care facility, leaving that instead to a private foundation.

After months of heated debate, Blaine County residents will decide Tuesday, Aug. 3, if they are willing to help the county continue to fund the Blaine Manor skilled-nursing facility in Hailey.

The ballot for the special election will ask voters if the county should add a temporary levy to county property taxes, raising a total of $1,990,000 to cover expenses for the facility. For the first year, this would add an estimated $9.40 in extra taxes for each $100,000 in assessed property value.

The levy amount is more than the average estimated $600,000 per year that Blaine County has spent to cover the manor's operating deficit since 2001, even exceeding the manor's possible $631,000 shortfall for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

However, the county can only add a levy to property taxes for two years. Levy funds raised are meant to keep the facility open until early 2014, when a private tiered-care facility, Croy Canyon Ranch, is projected to open west of Hailey. The county could not issue the levy for a third year.

If the entire amount of funding is not needed, the levy can be reduced or cut for the second year. County Clerk JoLynn Drage said property owners would notice a change in their tax assessments as early as December if the levy were approved.

Should the levy pass, funds can only be used for Blaine Manor and cannot cover any other county shortfalls. It would, however, allow the county to reduce its deficit spending, as the county has been dipping into its reserves to subsidize the facility.

Levy revenue would be applied to the manor's budget for the 2011 fiscal year, and would be used for building repairs, staffing and other general expenses.

Blaine County voters will be asked to vote "in favor of" or "against" the two-year levy, in an amount not to exceed $995,000 per year. Voters who wish to allow the county to issue the levy should check the first box; those opposed should check the second. A sample ballot is available on the county's website, www.co.blaine.id.us.

Approval of the levy requires a simple majority.

There has been a steady increase in Blaine Manor's expenses over the past few years, mainly due to the rising cost of utilities and employee health insurance. Stephanie Jaskowski, the manor's finance director, anticipates about $1.8 million in revenues for fiscal year 2011, with expenses projected to exceed $2.4 million.

Employee salaries and benefits make up almost 80 percent of the manor's expenses, but staffing numbers are strictly regulated by state and federal guidelines and cannot be cut arbitrarily. Jaskowski said employee benefits must remain competitive with St. Luke's Medical Center and local clinics in order to minimize employee turnover.

Blaine Manor's operating losses can be attributed to the difference between the average cost of patient care and the facility's current room charge of $222 a day.

According to the Met Life Mature Market Institute, the average daily rate for a private room in senior-care centers in Boise is $221, though that includes larger facilities and centers with attached assisted- and independent-living facilities, where revenue is higher and expenses lower.

These types of facilities, which connect three levels of care, follow the preferred senior-care model. The cost for residents who do not require skilled nursing is much lower, and the revenue from those patients helps cover the expenses of skilled nursing.

The proposed Croy Canyon Ranch would follow the tiered model. Kathleen Eder, executive director of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation funding the project, said the ranch is still on track to open in January 2014. All Blaine Manor residents would be transferred to the new facility, and the old building would be sold to help fund the ranch.

If the levy doesn't pass, the county has a number of options to consider. Commissioners could try to find another way to balance the deficit by cutting other expenses, though Drage stated in a budget discussion Thursday that even with major cuts, the county's deficit would likely not drop below $500,000.

The county may also hold another levy election in May 2011 or work to develop a strategy for closing Blaine Manor.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Where and when to vote

Absentee voting for the election is currently open and will remain so until Aug. 3. Blaine County residents can vote in person at the Old Blaine County Courthouse, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Regular voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3. Voters should report to their respective polling places as follows:

· Sun Valley (Precincts 5 and 13): Hemingway Elementary School.

· Ketchum (Precincts 1-4): Hemingway Elementary School.

· Hailey (Precincts 6-8 and 14): Community Campus.

· Bellevue (Precinct 10): Bellevue City Hall.

· Picabo/Gannet (Precinct 11): Silver Creek Convenience Store.

· Carey (Precinct 12): Carey City Hall.

State law requires all voters to show a photo ID.




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