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County hopes to cut pay for nursing home workers

St. Croix County Board members voted unanimously last week to renegotiate wages and fringe benefits with Health Center workers in an effort to cut costs.

Board Chairman Daryl Standafer warned supervisors to be careful their comments didn't step into the area of negotiations, and the resolution was adopted without discussion May 3.

"Be advised this is not a bargaining session," said Standafer. "Bargaining must be done in closed session."

A recent review by LarsonAllen Accounting Firm shows that average wages and benefits at the St. Croix Health Center nursing home are higher than those at other comparable government-run facilities.

The resolution adopted May 3 noted that the Health and Human Services Board has reviewed strategic and business plans for the future operation of the center and all of the multiple scenarios in the most recent business plan require property-tax funding beyond the year 2015.

Last month HHS board members hoped for, but did not get, a feel for whether a majority of County Board members want to stay in the nursing home business. In the past a number of supervisors have suggested the county get out of the business because the current facility requires tax funding to continue operations.

In April Supervisor Roger Larson, Star Prairie, said if the current facility is to remain as is, wage and benefit concessions would have to total more than 15 percent to take the nursing home off the county tax levy.

He predicted employees won't give that level of concessions.

Larson said the only way to make the nursing home a viable business is to build a more efficient complex soon.

Emergency repairs

The board voted 17-1 to spend up to $70,000 to replace the water heater system at the Health Center immediately if the existing system fails before normal replacement procedures can be followed.

Wentz said the HHS board was informed April 20 that there was a problem with the heater, which uses hot water from heating boilers to heat water for the nursing home sinks, baths and kitchen. At that time Building Services Director Art Tobin said he was getting bids to replace the heater.

During the last week of March, workers realized there was a leak inside the heater, said Building Service Technician David Best, but the leak was fairly small.

"It was small, manageable," said Best. "We could deal with it."

But, he said, by April 29, the leak had increased dramatically.

"It's not spraying all over the place," said Best. He said the heater won't explode, but the situation has worsened and now there isn't time to go through the normal process.

"Obviously we can't go without hot water at the Health Center," said Standafer.

He said county workers have arranged to rent a heater that could be moved in until the county has time to get bids for a system that is properly engineered and has back-up capabilities.

He said the resolution adopted May 3 "could be our insurance policy."

The Administration Committee will look at different accounts to find the money to pay for the work, said Chairwoman Sharon Norton-Bauman.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.