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Dunn County facing decision on subsidizing The Neighbors for $925,000

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  The Dunn County Board of Supervisors will soon have to make a decision regarding the $925,000 deficit in the 2016 budget for The Neighbors of Dunn County.

Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax, asked at the September 16 meeting whether the county board would have a plan from The Neighbors for correcting the $925,000 deficit before the county board votes on the 2016 budget in November.

“Probably not,” replied Gene Smith, county manager.

Bjork posed the question during the report of the county manager.

Smith said there have been meetings with administrators from The Neighbors about the budget deficit.

This spring, Neighbors administrators were asked to prepare a report about whether the nursing home could be operating with a positive cash flow by the end of 2015, Smith said.

County officials were told The Neighbors “could not grant the assurance,” he said.

The county board needs to be in a position to make decisions about the continued operation of The Neighbors, Smith said.

Tony Manzella, administrator of The Neighbors, has a report drafted that explains how The Neighbors arrived at a $925,000 operating deficit, he said.

The report is expected to be released soon, Smith said.

The Neighbors has been in operation for 23 months. “Things are getting better,” and the gap between the revenue and the expenses is tightening up, he said.

“The board needs to be brought up to speed on the issue and what needs to be done,” Smith said.

Options

The Dunn County Board has several options regarding The Neighbors, Smith said.

County board supervisors could decide to get out of the nursing home business and sell The Neighbors, he said.

Another option would be for the county board to continue subsidizing The Neighbors’ operating losses, Smith said.

A third option would be to find out if there could be a business plan for The Neighbors that would allow the facility to operate without a public subsidy, he said.

Business plan

While a new business plan for The Neighbors would be both desirable and necessary, writing a new business plan would take time.

A new business plan cannot be prepared by the second Tuesday in November when the Dunn County Board will consider approving the 2016 budget, Smith told the county board.

“It would be easier if we had a plan to appropriate the money,” Bjork said.

“I do not think it can be done in the next month,” Smith said.

The Neighbors will need a revised long-range strategic plan and a new business plan, and specialized advisors are needed to rebuild the plan, he said.

A long-range plan will help county board members to know whether The Neighbors can reach a point where it will not need to be subsidized or whether the county board will have to plan on subsidizing the facility long-term, Smith said.

Dunn County has had a commitment for over a century to providing long-term care, he said.

The county board will now have to decide if continuing long-term care has value or whether there is value in subsidizing The Neighbors, Smith said.

“I cannot promise you what the business plan will say … I wish I could give you a different message,” he said.

2016 budget

The proposed 2016 budget is within $200,000 of being a balanced budget, Smith told the county board.

At this time in the process, the county is in a better position with the budget and the levy than it has been in the past few years, he said.

“We’re typically farther apart at this point,” Smith said.

Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax, asked if the $200,000 includes the $900,000 subsidy for The Neighbors.

Yes — the $200,000 does include the $900,000, Smith said.

Public comment

Doug Larson of Menomonie addressed the county board during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Four or five years ago, the county board chair and the county manager went around the county talking about the plans for a new health care center, he said.

“It would be a sweet deal,” Larson said, adding that the claim the new health care center would return money to the taxpayers “was a crock.”

Larson said there was “no excuse” for The Neighbors losing money and said the administrators were not doing their jobs.

Larson urged county board members not to provide a subsidy for The Neighbors and not to approve any budget transfers for the facility.

“It’s ridiculous for the taxpayers of Dunn County … (The Neighbors) should sink or swim,” he said.

Dunn County should get out of the nursing home business, Larson said.

In 2010, Larson made an offer to the Dunn County Board to purchase the Dunn County Health Care Center (now The Neighbors) for $2.5 million to operate it at as a private facility.

At that time, DCHCC had an annual operating budget of $10 million.

The Neighbors of Dunn County cost $23 million to build.

Other business

In other business, the Dunn County Board of Supervisors:

• Appointed to the Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment Mike Kneer (Menomonie) to succeed Diane Morehouse; Lisa Hurlburt (Colfax) to succeed Dorothy Enger. Patrick McCoy (Town of Menomonie) to succeed Robert Fitzwilliam.

• Appointed to the solid waste board Russell Hitz (Wheeler) to succeed Jeff Gasteyer; reappointed Rebecca Kilde.

• Reappointed to the Dunn County Fair Board Deb Gotlibson and Joel Carr, and appointed Tom Bauer (new to the fair board).

• Approved a resolution recognizing Dennis Ziehme for 25 years of service in the highway division of the public works department.

• Approved a resolution to sell an easement to Excel Energy for $6,216.21. The easement runs through the Dunn County Recreation Park and is needed for underground electrical distribution facilities. The location is immediately adjacent to an existing easement for utilities servicing the Dancing Oaks.

• Approved a resolution of support for the effort to establish a library in Ridgeland.

• Approved a resolution to amend the 2015 budget by $800 for revenue and expenses to cover a grant from the Dunn Energy Cooperative to be used for purchasing 25 fire extinguishers for the First Responders and approved a budget amendment for $19,894 for revenue and expenses to cover a lake planning grant for shoreland restoration.