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County gets estimates on new home

St. Croix County Board members got estimates last week on the cost of building a brand new nursing home in New Richmond, but still weren't ready to make a decision to either stay in or drop out of the business.

In the motion that ended discussion Jan. 15, the Health and Human Services Committee was directed to get estimates on the cost of remodeling the current 72-bed facility to a 50-bed home on the existing building's first floor.

The Board hasn't normally met in February, but the committee was asked to report back in February. Baldwin Supervisor Gerald Peterson, who made the motion, suggested that meeting be devoted totally to this topic.

Larry Lester of Wipfli CPAs and Consultants estimates the county would need to levy $1.2 million a year to pay for a new 72-bed replacement nursing home or $992,000 a year to support a new 50-bed nursing home.

This year the county expects to use $793,000 of tax money to run the existing home.

"My concern is that we are still skirting around the core issue that somehow at some point we need to decide," said Supervisor Daryl Standafer, North Hudson. He said the Board needs to determine if it is going to stay in the nursing home business.

If the Board decides to continue operating the nursing home, it can then talk about cost, said Standafer.

Peterson disagreed. He said the Board needs to know the costs before it can make a decision.

In December, after hearing reports on preliminary proposals from private businesses, supervisors agreed to get estimates on the cost of building a new county-owned nursing home and assisted living facility.

Lester reported last week that a 72-bed facility would cost about $11 million to build and furnish. He said after applying additional Medicaid and insurance income, the new building would cost county taxpayers about $1.2 million a year.

He figured it would cost more than $7.8 million to build and furnish a 50-bed home. Because the county would get extra Medicaid funding for converting to a smaller facility, and because operational costs could be cut, Lester estimated the 50-bed home would cost county taxpayers $992,000 a year.

The consultant figured it would cost $2.846 million to build a 20-unit community-based residential facility which, he said, could operate without county tax dollars by charging rent of $1,900 per month per resident.

The residential facility would be staffed by four personal care workers, not nurses. It would have no kitchen equipment, but food would be prepared and served by nursing home staff.

While other supervisors argued against eliminating this service to the elderly, Hudson Supervisor Ron Troyer questioned taxing residents from all parts of the county to provide a nursing home that will logically be used only by people living within a 15-mile radius of New Richmond.

The county nursing home isn't full, nor are local private homes, and business people are planning to build more, said River Falls area Supervisor Chuck Struemke. The elderly wouldn't go without services, rather those services would be provided by private businesses, he said.

"Our nursing home residents are not commodities to be traded like stocks in a portfolio," complained Supervisor Buzz Marzolf, town of Troy. "They are human beings. They need us, and they need our unequivocal support."

Seven years ago the County Board voted to build a new nursing home, but it still hasn't done that, he said.

He urged the Board to build and build it right, taking advantage of the county's bond rating to limit costs.

"The Board needs an active discussion of its priorities," said Supervisor Ron Raymond, town of Hudson.

He said before making a decision on building new, remodeling or keeping the nursing home, the Board must decide how it's going to pay for it and how that will impact other county services.