Wednesday, April 28, 2010

County sets Blaine Manor levy vote

Property tax override would help fund Hailey senior care facility

Express Staff Writer

This August, Blaine County voters will go to the polls to determine the future of the Blaine Manor assisted-living facility in Hailey.

In a 2-to-1 decision Tuesday, the Blaine County Commissioners approved an Aug. 3 election date for a proposed temporary, two-year levy to help fund operations at the popular senior care facility. Voting for the special election were commissioners Larry Schoen and Tom Bowman.

Commissioner Angenie McCleary voted against holding the vote in August, saying she'd prefer to hold off on the ballot measure until May 2011. McCleary said she'd like to see the county first avail itself of the maximum 3 percent annual increase in property taxes that's allowed by the state.

Schoen and Bowman said they'd prefer to gauge voter support through a levy vote.

McCleary assured everyone that her desire to delay the levy vote should not be construed as opposition to its passage.

"That couldn't be farther from the truth," McCleary said.

The crux of the issue is a projected $558,000 budget deficit the county is expected to incur during the current 2010 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Though no dollar amount for the levy has been determined, the property tax override is meant to eliminate that deficit in county spending by covering the $600,000 annual subsidy the county has paid for the past nine years to support Blaine Manor's operating expenses.

The commissioners all agreed that's an expense the county cannot continue supporting indefinitely without an additional source of revenue.

"We want the whole community to be focused on senior care," Schoen said. "This (vote) affords them that."

Approval of the temporary levy will require a simple majority. In the past, commissioners have mentioned the possibility of a $700,000 to $1 million levy. A $700,000 levy would translate to county property owners' paying an additional $6.34 per $100,000 in property value annually.

The commissioners have until early June to determine the ballot's language as well as the dollar amount of the levy.

The funding woes surrounding Blaine Manor are separate from the fundraising efforts of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation. The nonprofit foundation is trying to raise funds for construction of a private, continuing-care retirement community west of Hailey in Croy Canyon.

If Croy Canyon Ranch is built, all residents from Blaine Manor will be relocated to the new facility.

In May 2007, county residents voted to sell Blaine Manor and use the proceeds to fund a portion of the costs of the Croy Canyon Ranch facility. But harsh economic times and other realities have prevented the foundation from raising funds as quickly as had been hoped.

Speakers from the foundation cautioned the commissioners against putting the levy to a vote in August, saying confusion over the levy may harm their own fundraising efforts.

"We want to be out there raising the money," said foundation President Jeanne Cassell.

The county's consideration of the Blaine Manor levy is the result of a new style of annual budgeting intended to involve the public more during annual budgeting discussions. The new budgeting process—called "outcome-based budgeting"—gives more weight to the goals and priorities for county government.

A looming question—and one that the commissioners all acknowledged—is what will happen should the levy vote fail. Such an outcome could bring about significant changes to the county's funding priorities, including for Blaine Manor.

"We will have those tough choices," Schoen said.

Jason Kauffman:

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