Wednesday, May 26, 2010

County sets Blaine Manor levy amount

Voters will be asked to approve two-year, $1.9 million levy override


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

A special election is set for Aug. 3 to determine whether a two-year levy should be assessed to help fund the Blaine Manor skilled-nursing facility in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday set the final levy amount that local voters will consider during a special election on Aug. 3 to help fund operations of the county-owned Blaine Manor skilled-nursing facility.

In a unanimous 3-to-0 vote, the commissioners set the amount of the temporary, two-year levy at $1,990,000, or $995,000 per year. For county taxpayers, that would translate into an estimated $9.40 in extra taxes for each $100,000 in assessed property value.

Approval of the temporary levy will require a simple majority.

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. The override to the county's property tax levy rate is meant to eliminate that deficit in county spending by covering the $600,000 subsidy the county has paid during recent years to support Blaine Manor's operating expenses.

The commissioners chose to ask for more than $1.2 million—the estimated figure needed to cover the annual subsidy for two years—because the extra amount could be used to cover funding shortfalls at Blaine Manor in a third year.

The county could not levy extra property taxes in a third year.

Funds raised by the levy—should voters ultimately approve it—would be used to cover operating expenses, including building maintenance and repairs. According to information provided by Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, the levy amount plans for $630,000 for 2011 operating expenses at the facility in Hailey.

The information states that the levy amount takes into consideration an estimated $680,000 in expenses during the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.

During previous discussions, the commissioners have all agreed that the county cannot continue to support the annual subsidy indefinitely without an additional source of revenue.

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Over the past nine years, Blaine County has spent an average of $597,269 on Blaine Manor's operating expenses.

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.

In past weeks, 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," foundation President Jeanne Cassell said in late April.

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 have 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," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said during a recent meeting.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com




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