In mid-October, when voters in Kiowa County receive their ballots in the mail for this year’s general election, they will see a referendum asking voters to approve extending the current 3.82 mill levy for the purposes of keeping Prairie Pines in operation and, ultimately, retiring the debt accrued in the construction and operation of the facility.
“The mill levy is important to the survival of Prairie Pines,” states Administrator Pam Weirich. “We run a tight ship and are good stewards of our financial resources, but the mill levy is needed to provide funding for debt reduction and operational revenue to fill in the gap with resident census fluctuations. It enables Prairie Pines to continue to be a place people call home and a place Kiowa County can be proud of.”
It should be emphasized that the referendum does not involve an increase in taxes; it simply extends the mill levy that is currently in place for an additional period of time.
Even so, according to some members of the board as well as Prairie Pines’ administrator, the consequences of failing to extend the mill levy are clear: if voters do not approve the referendum, the assisted living facility will not be able to stay in operation.
If Prairie Pines is forced to close its doors, one of several scenarios will occur. The most likely scenario involves the employees being laid off and all of the individuals currently residing at Prairie Pines being forced to move to another facility. Given the very reasonable rates that Prairie Pines charges plus the scarcity of assisted living facilities in the area, it is highly likely that those individuals will end up living a significant distance from family and friends in a place that has a lower standard of accommodations and care.
The other possible outcome is that Prairie Pines would be sold to a private company who would take over management. Takeovers typically involve total focus on the “bottom line” which results in, among other things, laying off staff, cutting amenities and reducing overhead expenses.
In this case, it’s also a strong likelihood that a private company would change the rate structure and types of payment they accept. In that case, the results would be, at least to some degree, the same as if Prairie Pines closed its doors: some of the residents would be forced to move. It’s also a strong likelihood that some current residents of Eads who had plans to move into Prairie Pines at some point in the future would no longer be able or eligible to do so, meaning they, too, would have to be far from home.
However, Prairie Pines is far from asking for a handout.
“People don’t realize all that Prairie Pines does for this community,” states Weirich. “For example, we employ 17 people, which puts us in the top 5 largest employers in the county. Most of our employees also live in Kiowa County. Prairie Pines has an annual payroll of $312,000. That’s $312,000 in wages that Prairie Pines puts directly into the local economy.”
Weirich goes on to state that, in terms of purchases, Prairie Pines spends approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per month on operational expenses including, but not limited to, food, electricity, water, maintenance supplies, natural gas and other necessities involved in operating a 24/7 residential facility. That’s an additional $100,000—more or less—all spent in the local area.
Those 2 figures total roughly $400,000 that is pumped directly into the local economy and supporting local businesses on an annual basis. In other words, the loss of Prairie Pines is a great deal more than the loss of a much needed residential facility for aging individuals in the area—and that loss is enormous on its own. Equally important, the loss of Prairie Pines would translate into a significant decrease in revenue for other businesses, potentially impacting additional jobs, as well.
It should also be stated that the staff of Prairie Pines, including both the administrator and the board, are not passively waiting for the financial relief the mill levy provides. Throughout the year, staff are attempting to create additional revenue streams through various fundraisers and grants, both on their own and in conjunction with stakeholders in the community.
“One fundraiser is going on right now,” states Weirich. “Prairie Pines is holding another raffle where a percentage of the proceeds will be returned to ticket holders in the form of cash prizes. It was very successful last year, and we’re hoping to create that again.”
Voters will be receiving additional information on the referendum as the general election draws near. In the meantime, if anyone has any questions they would like answered, Prairie Pines will have a booth at the Kiowa County Fair and Rodeo where they’ll not only be selling raffle tickets but will be happy to discuss the future of this vital asset to the community in greater depth.