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Our View: Two county questions will impact everyone

Voters in St. Croix County will face two important referendum questions in the Nov. 4 general election. There has been plenty of discussion about the proposed library referendum questions, but the county questions are also very critical for the future of county residents.

The questions involve the fate of the county nursing home and the size of the county board.

First, the nursing home.

The debate of whether or not the county should be in the nursing home business has been going on for about 20 years. Voters will have the opportunity to advise the county board as to the direction citizens prefer.

Last year it appeared that the nursing home would likely be sold, but employees and supporters of the home lobbied hard and delayed the decision. In recent months the county has swung the other direction and decided to get estimates on building a new nursing home and remodeling the current home, reducing it from a 72-bed home to a 50-bed home.

The bottom line is that the county cannot operate a nursing home that will operate in the black. It will always be necessary to have taxpayers subsidize a county-owned home. Next year the county expects to use $1.2 million of tax money to run the existing home.

We've already covered this discussion several times, but county employees get much higher pay and much better benefits than people who work for privately owned nursing homes. Supporters of the county home will argue that the care is not as good in privately owned facilities. Opponents will argue that private care is just fine and it is inappropriate for the government to be competing in a field/industry that, for the most part, is operated in the private sector.

The county board will face essentially two choices:

1) Get out of the nursing home business and lower taxes, or apply the tax subsidy in areas where governments should be involved.

2) Commit to the nursing home business, compete with private business and live with the tax subsidy.

The vote in November could go a long way in determining the county's decisions about the fate of the nursing home.

Second, the size of the county board.

A law passed two years ago allows citizens to force a binding referendum on county board sizes.

The St. Croix County Board has 31 members and has internally considered reducing the size of the board several times, but has never had the heart to reduce the number.

A group of former supervisors and volunteers have collected the necessary signatures, and a binding referendum vote is scheduled Nov. 4. If the referendum were to succeed, the size of the board would be reduced from 31 to 19.

Opponents of the change claim downsizing will not save money and claim that smaller county boards dilute representation and may discourage individuals from serving on a board because of the time commitment.

Proponents of the change say supervisors often run without competition in elections. This spring, for instance, there were races in only four of St. Croix County's 31 districts. They also argue that a smaller board can operate much more efficiently.

Although these issues are not as glamorous as a new library, they both will have big impacts on all citizens in terms of tax dollars and service.