On this November’s ballot, Referendum 1A will appear asking Kiowa County voters if they wish to extend—not increase, but extend—the 3.82 mill levy that currently provides financial support to Prairie Pines Assisted Living. Specifically, the referendum will appear on the ballot as follows:
SHALL THE EXISTING KIOWA COUNTY, COLORADO MILL LEVY BE EXTENDED WITHOUT INCREASING TO REMAIN AT 3.82 MILLS AS A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE COMMENCING IN FISCAL YEAR 2018 AND CONTINUING FOR TWENTY YEARS THEREAFTER TO PROVIDE FOR DEBT RETIREMENT AND OPERATING EXPENSE FOR THE PRAIRIE PINES ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY AND SHALL THE REVENUE FROM SUCH TAXES AND ANY EARNINGS THEREON BE SPENT FOR SAID PURPOSES AND CONSTITUTE VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGES WITHIN THE MEANING OF ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION AND AN EXCEPTION TO THE LIMITATIONS SET FORTH IN SECTION 29-1-301 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUES?
Recently, Pam Weirich, Administrator of Prairie Pines Assisted Living, and Mike Lening, Chairman of the Board, have taken the language of the referendum and their appeal to extend the mill levy for the facility directly to the voters.
During the senior citizens’ luncheon on the 19th, Weirich and Lening addressed a packed room at the Senior Citizens Center in Eads. That evening, a similar presentation was made in Haswell. Earlier this week, they made a presentation at Plainview. A fourth presentation was held on October 1st at Prairie Pines. In each setting, Weirich and Lening boiled down the situation to its basic elements, from the clear benefits the facility brings to the county to the sobering consequences to both residents and the surrounding community should the mill levy fail.
Weirich started off her presentation by describing the expenditures involved in operating Prairie Pines, which includes resident care, payroll, monthly expenditures required to provide comfortable living and accommodations for up to 20 people per month, debt reduction and general maintenance and repairs.
She then moved to the economic benefits Prairie Pines provides to the community. First topic, job creation; Prairie Pines is responsible for the creation of a total of 16 professional and paraprofessional jobs, 14 of which are held by local residents. In some cases, provide a much needed second income. In the case of employees who are local residents, much of those wages are spent at local businesses.
With very rare exceptions, Prairie Pines also purchases all of its supplies directly from local businesses. “That’s a really big contribution to the county,” Weirich stated. “Purchasing enough food to provide three full meals for sixteen to twenty people each and every day plus cleaning and maintenance supplies to keep the facility clean and well maintained totals thousands of dollars in purchases each month.” Weirich went on to add that those expenditures are indirectly responsible for the creation of at least several additional jobs in the community.
Last year, Prairie Pines received roughly $165,000 in funding through the mill levy. In comparision, the facility spent roughly $90,000 on operational supplies and paid out more than $300,000 in salaries. That is a return of almost two and a half times what was received in tax revenue. Not a bad ratio.
She went on to state that Prairie Pines provides vital benefits to the community as residents age. In her words, the facility serves as “a bridge from home to extended care in Weisbrod Hospital”, allowing people to be in familiar surroundings and close to family members throughout the transition.
Finally, she discussed the ways in which the facility contributes to general quality of life issues by, for example, providing access to a year round indoor swimming pool plus serving as a meeting place for the community.
Weirich and Lening both addressed Prairie Pines’ financial situation. Weirich listed the sources of revenue which stems primarily from resident payment—both private pay and Medicaid—and the mill levy. Additional sources include fundraisers, donations and grants.
Despite running an extremely “tight ship” with a close watch on all expenditures, both Weirich and Lening are clear about one thing: if voters do not approve the extension of the mill levy for Prairie Pines, the facility will be forced to either close its doors or allow a private company to take over management.
“WHAT IF”…AIN’T GOOD.
Under current management, one of the main priorities is to create an environment for residents that is as close to “home like” as possible, including comfortable furnishings; well trained, adequate and attentive staffing; and meals that are similar in quality to what residents might have enjoyed in their homes.
Should a private company assume management, it can be safely assumed that several big changes would be made.
A recent study conducted and published by the Center for Medicare Advocacy compared for-profit assisted living facilities to non-profit or tax supported facilities. The results were “overwhelming”, “clear” and “consistent among multiple facilities”: in assisted facilities run by private, for-profit companies, distinctly fewer resources (less money) were devoted to resident care which translated in a measurably lower quality of life in terms of number of staff on duty at one time, maintenance and appearance of facility and quality/variety of food.
Marketing efforts changed from reaching out to local residents to appealing to “potential customers” with the ability to pay higher amounts each month, with increases averaging $1800 to $2000 per month. Residents unable to pay higher amounts were given 30 days to find new accommodations.
Ancillary services, such as transportation to medical appointments or group “outings” were noticeably reduced with responsibilities for those services transferred to family members.
In other words, from the perspective of the people currently living at Prairie Pines, those who were able to continue living there would receive less care and attention from staff members, living conditions that were of a lower quality with food that is purchased and prepared with a primary focus on cost versus quality.
Those people who could not afford the higher monthly payment would have a month to leave. At the very least, those folks would no longer be in the community where they had lived independently and, given the scarcity of facilities, would very likely be forced to move a significant distance away making contact with family a more difficult proposition.
From the perspective of the community at large, it’s highly doubtful that buying local would be a priority for the company and finding the lowest price would become the goal. Also, it’s a good bet that staffing would be cut.
If Prairie Pines were to close, imagine something similar to “the domino effect” where one consequence leads to another. First, there would immediately be a loss of 16 jobs. It’s not unreasonable to assume that some of those employees would have to move to local towns where employment opportunities are more abundant, which would mean not just removing those wages from the local economy but, possibly, fewer kids in school. Local businesses would lose a significant amount of revenue, making it feasible (if not probable) that additional jobs would either be reduced or lost altogether.
And…there would be one more vacant building in town.
A FINAL COMMENT FROM THE EDITOR
According to a recent study, a dollar spent in Kiowa County circulates to seven different people.
Consider the following hypothetical situation: a man spends a dollar buying gas; that dollar is then given in change to a woman who goes to the grocery store and uses it to buy milk; that dollar is then given in change to the next woman in line who goes to the pharmacy and uses it to buy vitamins for her kids; the person at the pharmacy gives that dollar in change to someone going to the café who leaves the dollar as a tip for the waitress; she then spends that dollar at the movie theater that night; the person at the theater gives that dollar in change to a teenager who uses it to buy a cup of coffee the next morning; that dollar is given in change to a man who spends it filling up his truck at the gas station. Take that one dollar out of circulation—in other words, that dollar doesn’t get earned or spent in Kiowa County—and businesses are impacted all the way down the line.
This is a small community. People—whether they own a business or patronize a business or both—are interconnected; the success of one individual, the continuation of a business, cannot be completely separated from those who live or do business around them.
Of course, no one likes to pay taxes. But the taxes generated by a mill levy do not go to some unknown governmental entity somewhere; these taxes are paid and stay in Kiowa County and go toward keeping people employed and stores open and—most important of all—people, many of whom are longtime friends and neighbors, in a place that feels not so different from home.
Supporting the mill levy is supporting the community. And there is simply no way to put a price tag on that.