In the company of a standing room only audience of nearly 60 community members Wednesday evening, the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors voted 16-5 (Supervisors Loretta Baughan (District10), Kirby Crosby (District 13), Carl Vander Sanden (District 20), Bill Zeitz (District 9) and Mike Loka (District 16) opposing), to render initial authorization for bonding of a proposed $9.6 million expansion and renovation to Pine Crest Nursing Home.
Passage required 75% of the 21-member board to vote in support of the measure, meaning a sixth “no” vote would have defeated the measure and nullified the proposed expansion.
County supervisors render favoring vote and Pine Crest Administrator Lisa Gervais discusses the upcoming expansion
Prior to the commencement of discussion on the matter, county Finance Director Dan Leydet advised the board would only be giving initial authorization for moving forward with the bonding Wednesday night-with final approval to come at a later date-once the bonding process has concluded and bonds have been issued.
Also present on Wednesday was Brad Viegut-Bond Consultant with Wausau-based RW Baird Inc.
Viegut advised if the bonding were to be approved, the amount would be a maximum of the $9.6 million cost of the project with a 25-year repayment schedule. Estimated annual payment for the bonds would be $635,000, paid for by an estimated $720,000 paid annually by the Medical Assistance Reimbursement Formula.
“100% of this amount will be paid for by the Medical Assistance Reimbursement Formula,” he stated.
“Zero dollars of this funding will fall to the responsibility of county tax payers.”
During discussion lasting over an hour, the board appeared evenly divided in terms of opposing or supporting the proposal.
Zeitz spoke in opposition, citing the debt to be incurred by the project, as well as an ongoing issue he has had with the installation of a water purification system at the facility.
“The cost with the original idea of expansion was around $6 million,” he stated.
“Now it has jumped to $9.6 million. At that time I made the comment; ‘If I were to support this, I would like to see a water purification system installed for residents of Pine Crest. Then we could assure they will have the highest quality of drinking water we can possibly give them. I received no support from the board and when I presented this idea to board of trustees I received no support.
“I know there are citizens in the City of Merrill who have put in their own water purification systems due to the municipal water system. That is a big issue for me. My other issue is the debt.”
Baughan also cited concern for the total cost of the project, as well as other repairs the facility will require.
“I’m not comfortable with potential to have an $18 million project when all is said and done,” she explained.
“I am disappointed this has been presented to the community in a way that if we don’t do this, we will have to sell Pine Crest or we will lose it. I feel that’s manipulative!
“The cost of the proposal alone is $9 million for proposal and will be $15 million with interest. Then there will be another $2 million which we know will be coming in cost of improvements such as a roof and a boiler. Those improvements are not included in the expansion. I just don’t feel it is good stewardship to perform such a large project, when we could just add one additional wing with 50 private rooms.”
“My concern has never been about the care at Pine Crest,” echoed VanderSanden
“My concern is with dollars. I’m just not sure if we need to borrow 3 million dollars more than originally planned, just because we can, especially when we had to move $700,000 from the tax levy to keep Pine Crest in the black. That’s a huge chunk of change.”
11th District Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser argued in favor of the project.
“To vote in favor of this makes all the sense in the world,” he said.
“I know there are no guarantees when it comes to debt but this proposal is about as solid and bulletproof as it can get and I credit the Pine Crest administration for that.
“If we don’t go forward with this bonding and modernize, then who’s not to say we won’t be sitting here 5 years from now with an irrelevant building. Tim Meehean (former facility administrator) and Lisa Gervais (current administrator) have made their careers working for Pine Crest. These are people who know the industry, know the county and see the big picture.”
Kevin Koth of the 17th District spoke in favor, citing his feelings of the quality of the facility.
“We have a state of the art facility in Pine Crest. For us to back out or sell Pine Crest, or whatever others are proposing, is completely wrong. All of us could one day end up in this facility. Now we are looking at a $9.6 million improvement which comes at zero cost to tax payers. I can’t understand why anyone would not want to approve this. If you vote no tonight on this resolution, I hope to god you don’t end up at one of these private facilities. This is a state of the art operation and we should support it.”
2nd District Supervisor and board vice-chairman Robert Weaver favored the proposal for its possibility of creating jobs (200 in his remarks) and making much needed infrastructure improvements.
In the wake of the approval Wednesday, Kurt Berner of Samuels Group-the chosen construction manager for the project-advised the project plans are set to move forward immediately.
Current plans call for additions to the facility to begin first and once 50% completed, renovations would begin.
According to Gervais, following the procedure Berner mentioned will make it easier for the project to progress within the budgetary guidelines set forth.
As of Wednesday morning, Gervais indicated being contacted by Samuels Group and was advised the project launch is awaiting the building permit process and could begin as early as next month, with an estimated completion date of next fall.