2012 ballot tax initiative possible
Providing better care for Gunnison Valley’s senior citizens resurfaced at a recent meeting between the Gunnison Valley Health (GVH) board of trustees and the Board of County Commissioners. Last April, the commissioners ruffled a few feathers on the board of trustees when they decided not to support a 2011 ballot initiative to fund a new, $11.3 million senior care center facility.
At the time, the commissioners stressed the need to prioritize the library expansion already on the ballot and conduct more public education and research. At Tuesday’s meeting, senior care center administrator Wade Baker told Commissioners Phil Chamberland and Hap Channell (Paula Swenson was away on business) that GVH will consider a ballot initiative for 2012. But first, they plan to involve key stakeholders in the planning process.
“Our goal today is to share an update on the process we’re taking, not to do another presentation on the need. The board and the executive team remain convinced that there is a financial need, operational need, and a quality of life need to replace the existing senior care center, but we do understand there are many ways to do that,” Baker said.
Before considering a ballot initiative, Baker and the GVH board are seeking input on their original plan to combine the senior care center and the assisted living facility, which they believe would create a positive cash flow for both. Gunnison Valley Health CEO Randy Phelps has said that historically, the Willows assisted living facility has operated at a loss of $100,000 a year. They’ve seen a reprieve from that loss in 2011, but believe long-term stability would be gained from the new facility.
According to Bob Brickman, GVH board chairman, the first stakeholder meeting with the Gunnison Home Association proved to be insightful.
“We should have had this meeting three years ago,” Brickman said. “They asked a lot of questions that anybody in the community would ask. If we build all private rooms, will they be priced out of the income level of the people in this county? If we make a big fancy place and charge a lot of money for it, are people going to be able to pay for it?”
Baker added, “Part of our strategy now is that we want to have our plans challenged. By going to other stakeholders, we’re going to get ideas we haven’t considered.”
He said they plan to meet with groups like the family councils for both the senior care center and the assisted living facility, Boomers and Beyond, and AARP throughout February and March. They’ll then go back to the drawing board and revise their plans before meeting with the commissioners in April or May.
“Is it premature, or have you determined if the ballot initiative would be the same you proposed before?” asked Commissioner Hap Channell.
“We’re hesitant to say. We need to evaluate how much cash we have, what the financial advisors think the interest rate is,” said Phelps. “So I think if you would grant us time, we would try to have that pencil sharpened by April.”
“If the project is going to change, and the design is going to change, you have no way of knowing that yet,” Commissioner Chamberland said. “Is the ballot for construction, or is it dual purpose for construction and operations?”
“The vision is that the ballot would be a debt service for a replacement facility and that would be all. Then it would sunset, and our thinking has been that the historic support we’ve gotten for the senior care center from property taxes would continue in the same fashion it has been,” Phelps said.
The board of trustees and the commissioners agreed that if the board of trustees moves forward with a ballot initiative to build a new senior care center, there will still be a need for a more comprehensive public education campaign.
“The ultimate challenge will be to make people who don’t consider themselves stakeholders to feel like stakeholders. It’s a community asset for everybody. You never know when somebody is going to use it,” Channell said.