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Board rejects closing county nursing home at New Richmond

The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors rejected a move to close its nursing home facility in New Richmond and passed a resolution to build a new one in a marathon meeting Tuesday.

Supervisors Daryl Standafer, Tim Hood, Fred Yoerg, Buck Malick, Chris Kilber, Richard Ottino and Tom Hawksford voted to close the facility but the resolution passed by a 12-7 margin.

Options left before the board included building a new nursing home or maintaining the status quo with expense reductions.

The option to build a new facility passed on a 10-8 vote. Supervisor Buck Malick had left to attend a prior engagement.

Supervisor Fred Horne proposed to restructure the order of proposals to place closing or selling the old facility at the top of the list for consideration.

The action followed both an extensive public comment segment and discussion by supervisors.

Supervisor Hood said, "Don't shoot the messenger. Just looking at the numbers, this is a business plan that doesn't make sense. As a county we can't just print money."

Supervisor Hawksford said the current nursing home was "projected to cost the county over 22 million in next 10 years."

Supervisor Horne said, "Nursing home employees are willing to work with us, why don't we continue to work with them?" in support of the facility.

Nearly the entire board meeting was devoted to the issue. The board room was packed to standing room only with spectators and went from opening gavel at 9 a.m. to final action about 1:15 p.m.

Public discussion preceded the board's action. Some 15 citizens addressed the board following a request from Board Chair Standafer for "civility and decorum."

Most of the public discussion was in favor of keeping the nursing home in operation.

Phil Park, Baldwin, said, "It's easy to get rid of something that is troubling us, it's hard to fix things. Let's get back to doing the work of the people."

Buzz Marzolf, former board member from the town of Troy who spent time at the nursing home while recovering from a hip replacement, said, "We are a government of, by and for the people. The same people who elected you (board members) voted to support the home with their property tax dollars."

Two prior non-binding referendums put to the voters to maintain the nursing home passed by two-thirds margins.

Steve Hermsen, former board member from the town of Troy, said, "The median income in New Richmond was $39,000. The people who will be hurting the most, can least afford it."

Tom Irwin, Hudson, a former board member, said, "Deliberate, willful denial of the truth has been going on for years at the nursing home. Government by its nature is inefficient, without a profit motive. The nursing home will close...The question is when not if.

James Mayer said, "The people of St. Croix County own and pay for the nursing home. The people are willing to support it with their tax dollars. It is not a business, it is a service."

Larry Lester, a nursing home industry consultant, followed the public comment with an hour's worth of an exhaustive amount of data detailing the options before the board.

County Board Notes

--The next regular meeting of the county board is set for Monday, Nov. 5 to avoid a conflict with Election Day Tuesday Nov. 6.

--Tony Rambo of River Community Church in Houlton gave the invocation.

--All 19 supervisors were on hand for the initial nursing home vote. Buck Malick left after the initial vote to sell or close the nursing home as he has a prior commitment to speak at 1 p.m. to the garden club.

--The board voted 18-1 to suspend rules and bylaws to make it easier for comments from the public on the main nursing home issue. Supervisor Malick was the lone dissenter

--Written requests to speak were shuffled by vice-chair Roger Larson to assure random choice of public opinion.

--The board issued a proclamation recognizing the 100th anniversary of the 4-H established in 1912 in Wisconsin and declaring St. Croix County- UW extension centennial week. Ambassadors Mark Jacobson and Shelby Liddle addressed the board on what 4-H means to them.

--Administrator Pat Thompson said a balanced budget would be ready for the Oct. 23 committee of the whole meeting.