Counties seek voter support to pay for nursing homes

Joel Sherman, a resident at Dane County-owned Badger Prairie Health Care Center in Verona, is greeted by Leopold Elementary School first-grader Duncan Royalty in 2017. In Green and Portage counties, voters will take up referendums next month to financially support their county-run nursing homes.

Voters in Green and Portage counties on Nov. 6 will decide whether to exceed state property tax limits to help pay for county-run nursing homes.

Thirty-one of the state’s 72 counties own nursing homes, with Dunn County operating three and La Crosse, Trempealeau and Wood counties each having two, said Sarah Diedrick-Kasdorf, deputy director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Many of the counties subsidize their nursing homes, but only a few have sought voter approval to increase levy limits to help pay for the facilities, said John Sauer, CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, which represents nursing homes. A few counties have held advisory referendums on whether to keep operating nursing homes.

Dane County, which runs Badger Prairie Health Care Center in Verona, has not considered a referendum to help pay for the facility, said Lynn Green, human services director. This year, the county is paying $12.9 million of the facility’s $22.4 million budget, Green said.

After Jefferson and Shawano county voters turned down referendums to fund their nursing homes in 2009, the counties sold the facilities.

In Green County, this is the third time officials have sought voter support for expenses at Pleasant View Nursing Home in Monroe. Voters approved $890,000 a year in 2009 and $790,000 a year in 2014, with more than 73 percent passing both measures.

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This year, voters are being asked to continue the $790,000 a year for the 110-bed nursing home. The money is needed to make up for a shortfall in payments from Medicaid, which insures two-thirds of residents, said Cindy Miller, the facility’s life enrichment supervisor.

Portage County is asking voters for up to $1.4 million a year, for four years, for the Portage County Health Center in Stevens Point. It’s the first such referendum in the county, said County Executive Chris Holman.

School district referendums have become commonplace since state limits were created in 1993. But referendums by counties and municipalities, which have been under the limits since 2005, haven’t been widespread.

But more counties are considering referendums for various purposes, said Kyle Christianson, government affairs director for the counties association.

In August, Ashland County voters rejected a referendum seeking about $1 million for its health and human services department, mainly for increasing costs related to drug abuse.

“It is something we’re probably going to get more and more of,” Christianson said.

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