Lincoln County Board discusses options for Pine Crest, approves raise for Correctional Officers and Sergeants
BY TINA L. SCOTT
The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors met the morning of April 18, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. Highlights from the meeting included an in depth discussion of the various options presented in the Ad Hoc Committee on Pine Crest report, appointment of a new Director of Emergency Management, approval of $1.00 per hour raise for most Lincoln County Correctional Officers and Sergeants, and acceptance of $100,000 of funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Pine Crest options and alternatives discussed
Board Chair Don Friske presented the list of options and alternatives found in the Ad Hoc Committee’s report (NOTE: the full Report of Nursing Home Review and Possible Alternatives is available on the Lincoln County website) and opened the floor for discussion and questions, and each option was discussed in considerable detail. While no formal action took place regarding any of the options, in-depth discussions led the Board to effectively remove some of the options from further consideration.
The three over-riding options presented in the Ad Hoc Committee’s report were that:
- Lincoln County continues to operate Pine Crest as a county-owned nursing home;
- Lincoln County ceases operating Pine Crest as a county-owned nursing home; or
- They hold referenda to allow the voters of Lincoln County to decide whether Lincoln County should continue to operate, fund and/or maintain Pine Crest Nursing Home.
Under the first option whereby Lincoln County would continue to operate Pine Crest as a county-owned nursing home, four alternatives for effectively doing so were examined: generate additional revenues, decrease expenses, pursue new management arrangement for operating Pine Crest, or demolish the existing Pine Crest facility and rebuild a new facility of appropriate size.
The Committee’s seven different ideas for generating additional revenue were discussed at length. The options for renting rooms in unused wings to Pine Crest employees for living quarters and creating an assisted living wing would require some considerable renovations and expense and a cost/benefit analysis would need to be conducted to determine the viability of those options, Board members agreed. It was also a concern that, since Pine Crest is currently experiencing staffing issues that limits the number of residents, this staffing issue would also limit use as an assisted living facility. Staffing is a big concern.
The option to add a daycare for Pine Crest employees or community daycare was effectively removed from consideration, as the logistics would be a big challenge and Bill Bialecki said there are a number of other community projects underway hoping to address that challenge. It was also noted Trinity’s existing child care facility needs additional employees, so staffing would be an issue, as well.
The option to create a space for foster care needs was also effectively dismissed because the Department of Health Services (DHS) would not likely approve the use in proximity to nursing home use.
Adding dialysis treatment capabilities would require some adaptation of the space and partnering with an agency to provide that service but could work.
Adding additional dementia treatment capabilities could be feasible. While a new wall and door would need to be added, Pine Crest currently has 20 beds in the existing dementia unit, and there is always a wait list, so there is a need for this.
One option was to ask North Central Health Care (NCHC), which currently manages Pine Crest, to explore additional means to increase the current census and address staffing shortages. The Board asked NCHC to put together a list of what they are doing currently for their review.
A final option to increase revenue by means of adjusting the County tax levy to cover the cost of Pine Crest debt service was discussed but Board members agreed they did not like this option because it would increase the cost to tax payers without their input and they don’t want to go that route.
Six options for decreasing expenses for operating and/or maintaining Pine Crest were presented in the Ad Hoc Committee’s report, and several of those were also discussed in detail. It was agreed establishing a replacement reserve fund to pay for major maintenance/repair needs made logical sense.
The option to sell or lease parts of the Pine Crest building for other uses was ruled out since any use in that close of proximity to a nursing home facility must be compatible with licensing.
Downsizing the facility permanently or demolishing currently unused wings to decrease maintenance and operations costs also didn’t seem feasible to the Board since they would still be left with the same debt on the building, so those options were effectively eliminated.
None of the Board members favored pursuing a new management arrangement for operating Pine Crest at this time, as they have been pleased with how NCHC is managing the facility.
Relocating Pine Crest to another existing facility didn’t seem feasible or beneficial to Board members.
Likewise, demolishing the facility entirely and building a new, smaller facility was eliminated because again, the County would still be left with the existing debt.
The Board then turned to discussing the various options under the option of ceasing to operate Pine Crest as a county-owned nursing home. As previously discussed, the Board didn’t feel demolishing the building was a viable option. However, selling the Pine Crest facility with the stipulation that it must continue to be operated as a nursing home was a viable option to at least consider, Board members agreed. They said the highest and best use of the facility is as a nursing home, and this meets a need in the community. There appears to be little value in it as an empty building based on what they’ve seen in other communities, so they wouldn’t favor that. But a nursing home facility the size of Pine Crest is marketable, Board members have been told. They may wish to get an appraisal on the facility in the future and have additional discussions with the appropriate parties to consider this option further.
Another option in the report was to sell the Pine Crest and Social Services facilities together, in light of their close proximity to one another on the property. The Board discussed that, should an appropriate buyer for the nursing home be found who wishes to do that and then lease the Social Services facilities back to the County, that might be an option to consider, as well.
The final option to hold referenda to allow the voters of Lincoln County to decide whether Lincoln County should continue to operate, fund, and/or maintain Pine Crest Nursing Home is definitely still one the Board is considering, as well. As they weigh all the options, however, Board members stressed that they would consider the results of such a referendum to be a clear and definitive direction from the voters, which they would then follow, so they would want to ensure they’ve done their homework and provided voters all of the detail and facts necessary to inform their vote if they pursue this option.
Board Supervisor and State Representative Calvin Callahan mentioned that he and State Senator Mary Felzkowski plan to introduce a budget motion to direct DHS to pay nursing homes their supplemental payment for 2022 from the budget surplus by Sept. 30, 2023, to address the unexpected shortage now facing Lincoln County (as previously reported). He is hopeful that will move forward to make Lincoln County and other nursing homes in the state whole for 2022.
Chair Friske asked Supervisors to come to next month’s Board meeting prepared to tell which option(s) they favor for moving forward and why and said he hopes they will be able to move closer to making actual decisions on the future of Pine Crest at that time.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, John Greenwood, Mike Ravn, and Kevin Stevenson all spoke in support of the Board’s approach to addressing the Pine Crest matter and said they appreciated the Town Hall meetings and how those meetings were conducted to seek input from Lincoln County residents.
Resolutions passed without issue
The County Board approved the appointment of Tyler Verhasselt as the new Director of Emergency Management as a part-time exempt employee by a unanimous voice vote.
They also unanimously (voice vote) approved a resolution to accept $100,000 of Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (LATCF) funding ($50,000 in 2022 and $50,000 in 2023) from the American Rescue Plan, to be used to offset current expenditures in the general fund.
Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division wage adjustment resolution
A resolution to address a staffing crisis at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) in the Corrections Division (having lost 25% of their experienced personnel in the last year), citing low wage and fringes compared to other agencies and private sector as their reason for leaving, approved a pay incentive request by the LCSO to address the issue by reducing the number of Correctional Officers and Corrections Sergeants from the current authorized and budgeted 21 to 20 and then using the dollars saved from the elimination of one Correctional Officer position to move both Correctional Officers and Corrections Sergeants up two steps on the current pay scale, not to exceed the maximum step on the grade, was carried by a voice vote (one nay vote, the rest in favor). Prior to the vote, Sheriff Ken Schneider indicated he did not support the passage of the resolution because his staff did not support it. He said his original intent was to give everyone on his staff a $1.50 per hour increase, but the current resolution provided a $1.00 per hour raise for most, but not all, of his staff. During discussion, the Board suggested there might be other options, such as a one-time bonus, to help compensate those staff members who do not receive an increase in their hourly wage under this resolution but this resolution would at least address some of the concerns and help to recruit employees at this time and Schneider could propose that to the Board in the future.
Resolution to fully fund UW-Extension
While there was a resolution to fully fund the UW-Extension on the Agenda for the meeting, brought forth by Supervisor Julie Allen and co-sponsored by Supervisors Mike Loka, Greta Rusch, and Brian Hafeman, Chair Friske ruled the resolution was improperly brought before the Board, citing it was substantially similar to resolutions already discussed, debated, and deliberated. Allen made a motion to appeal the Chair’s ruling, seconded by Hafeman. A roll call vote on whether Friske’s ruling should stand was taken. A majority of those present at the time voted in favor of the Chair’s ruling (12-4 with Supervisors Rusch, Hafeman, Loka, and Allen dissenting), so this resolution was not discussed.
Resolution for Advisory Referendum on Pine Crest
A resolution for an advisory referendum to determine a course of action for the County Board to pursue concerning the future of Pine Crest Nursing Home authored by Supervisor Elizabeth McCrank (who was not present) and co-sponsored by Supervisor Allen was not discussed. A motion to lay over the resolution to next month was unanimously approved.