New County Budget Leaves Nursing Home Future Undecided

Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch receives a hug from County Board member Diane Michaels.

Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch gets a retirement gift and a hug from County Board member Diane Michaels (R-rural Rantoul).

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign County Board voted 13-8 (with one member absent) Tuesday night to approve a nearly $129.7 million budget for Fiscal Year 2018. But officials say the budget is likely to be amended to deal with the county’s financially strapped nursing home.

The budget plan, supported by the county board’s ten Republicans plus three Democrats, spells out just six months of expenditures for the nursing home. But it avoids cuts to programs and staff that might have been necessary across county government, had a full year of supplementary funding been identified for the facility.

The Champaign County Board remains divided, mostly along party lines, over whether the county should put the nursing home up for sale, or give a recently-hired management firm more time to improve its finances.

The county board failed to pass a resolution last month to issue an RFP (Request For Proposals) from potential buyers of the nursing home, even though it’s hired a broker to facilitate the sale. Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke (District 6) says publicity over any impending sale actually hurts the public’s faith in the nursing home.

“Because when that RFP releases, it again sends the signal to the community that it’s for sale, and that kills our ability to up head count and keep good employees,” said Hartke. “And that’s been proven by the fact that it’s all been turned around when we stopped the RFP.”

Champaign County Administrator Rick Snider says the nursing home census has risen to the high 130’s in recent weeks. The most recent number was 138. But Snider says that’s still less than the county’s daily census goal for the nursing home of 144.

County Board member Jim McGuire (District 4) has a different view about seeking proposals from potential buyers of the nursing home. The Champaign Republican argues that selling the nursing home is the best way to preserve it, because he considers continued county subsidies of the facility to be unaffordable. McGuire says at the very least, calling for Requests For Proposals from potential buyers would give the county a sense of the nursing home’s market value.

In recent weeks, the two sides in the Champaign County Board’s nursing home debate have been at a stalemate. Democrats blocked the October proposal to seek proposals from potential buyers. And last week, Republicans with the support of Democrat Pattsi Petrie blocked attempts to lessen the pressure on the nursing to pay back money it owes the county government. For either side to make progress, a few county board members will have to change their minds. It’s something that McGuire thinks is possible.

“Everybody wants to see both the nursing home do well, and the county budget do well on this board,” said McGuire. “And while we may disagree on some issues, we’re trying to serve the public well.”

New County Officers Chosen

Tuesday’s Champaign County Board meeting was the final one for County Administrator Rick Snider. With the county poised to elect its first County Executive in 2018, Snider is leaving at the end of November to become the village administrator in Rantoul. County Board members voted Tuesday night to hire retired county administrator Deb Busey to serve as a part-time interim administrator for one year, beginning December 1. Busey will be paid $80 an hour for up to 599 hours. After her year is up, the new County Executive will decide what sort of administrative staff Champaign County should have.

The Champaign County Board also voted to appoint Republican County Auditor John Farney to take over as County Treasurer from Dan Welch, who is retiring about eleven months shy of his fifth term in the office.  The switch means the Champaign County Board will also have to appoint an interim auditor.

Story source: WILL