Updated: Jul 22
MOUND CITY – On a 2-1 split vote, the Linn County Commission on Monday, April 4, took the stance that it would no longer discuss county investment in a former nursing home in Prescott until the owner presented the commission with a petition to form a new hospital district.
The discussion about the nursing home exposed a decided split between commissioners. Commissioner Danny McCullough, who represents the Pleasanton and Prescott areas, was visibly angry with his fellow commissioners, but urged them to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to help rehabilitate the building.
Jesse Willard, owner of the former nursing facility, has had numerous visits with the county commission seeking county money to help renovate the building and reopen it as a nursing facility. And after being rebuffed by the commission several times, he returned once again to talk with commissioners on Monday.
“It think it just really boils down to, you know, we’re pushing different directions and stuff, and I’d like to see if we couldn’t just get something on the ballot to see what the people might think,” Willard told the commissioners.
Commissioner Rick James reminded Willard that in the fall, the commission and Willard had a long discussion about how to get something on the ballot and what was required of Willard to do that. The commission told Willard he needed to get 51 percent of the registered voters signatures on a petition. These would be voters in the area that were going to pay for the tax.
Willard did not try to get the signatures. Willard did say that he went to the Lincoln-Scott Township Hospital District board last fall to see if they would be willing to put some of their funds toward the rest of the county. At that time, they declined to do so.
Commission Chair Jim Johnson and James said that that district had worked very hard to get what they have up there.
County Counselor Gary Thompson said that at one time there was the Prescott Hospital District, and the rest of the county had a hospital district that included everything but the Prescott Hospital District, including Lincoln and Scott townships.
That district had a couple of clinics, Thompson said. There was a lot of opposition to that district in the county. There was a lot of problems with that whole process, the district was having a lot of problems keeping doctors, keeping billing done, and collecting for patient services.
Thompson said told commissioners that medical providers typically collect about 50 percent of outstanding medical charges, so there were a lot of problems with the district, and because of that, people wanted to disband the hospital district.
In order to get rid of the district, he continued, the county needed to be able to hand those clinics off to someone else because they did not want to abandon the clinics. So a discussion was held with Olathe Health system, and an agreement was reached that if the county did away with the hospital district, Olathe Health would take over those clinics.
The county had an advisory election, and as Thompson recalled, about 70 percent of the voters approved of disbanding the district. The county made an agreement with Olathe Health and it began providing health services.
Once the district was disbanded, people from the Mound City area got busy to gather some money and build a clinic. That’s when the folks in Lincoln and Scott townships decided they wanted a new clinic as well, so they did a petition drive which involved getting 51 percent of the registered voters in those two townships to sign a petition to create a hospital board.
Willard then asked the commissioners to put a vote on the ballot for a tax.
He said that he and McCullough had contacted county insurer K Camp, and representatives from that agency said that there is a Kansas Torts Law that prevents the commissioners from being sued for liability for the nursing home. In case a lawsuit was filed, though, there is a maximum amount of $500,000, but K Camp has a policy that would only cost the county $1,650 per year that would cover that.
McCullough pointed to the Lincoln-Scott Township Hospital District board’s current reserve balance of $1.4 million. “It’s hard for me to see $1.4 million not being used and we’re still taxing people,” he said angrily.
James pointed out that how that money is used is up to that hospital board. “It’s their money, they went to the effort, they can do what they want,” he said.
By closing down the old hospital district, the commissioners just opened up the opportunity for the Lincoln-Scott hospital board to trap the money up from the power plant, Willard said.
If they would be open just to share it, we could start a non-profit, said Willard.
James suggested that the Lincoln-Scott board may have their own plans for that money. He also said he didn’t foresee the citizens of Linn County voting on a tax to reopen the Prescott building.
James went on to charge that the only reason that Willard wanted the vote was so the county would invest the money in his building.
McCullough angrily charged that the other two commissioners had been leading Willard on. “Let’s put it on the damn ballot,” he said. Let’s give him a fair opportunity, because if I was sitting here doing what he did, I would probably knock the podium over and throw it out the door.
“The dude has spent his entire life’s savings trying to do this. Give him the opportunity. We have ARPA funds. Let’s give him a little bit of money. Let the people make the decision on what they want.”
But Johnson held firm, telling Willard to bring the commission a petition with 51 percent of the voters in the area, and they would put the issue on the ballot.
“I don’t want to go out to the public and say, ‘I am charging you three times as much because Johnson doesn’t want to put it on the ballot,’” said Willard.
Willard was referring to an estimate that it would take a tax levy of 3 mills for the townships without Lincoln and Scott for a hospital district to make enough money for the funding as compared to a one mill levy if the Lincoln-Scott district was included due to the valuation of the power plant.
A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Kansas has a statewide assessment percentage of 11.5 percent, so a house with an appraised market value of $100,000 would have a tax assessment value of $11,500. If the tax rate on that residence is one mill, the tax levied would be $11.50.
Johnson made a motion that until they received a petition from Willard with 51 percent of registered voters asking to form a hospital district, he was done talking about it.
James seconded the motion. He recommended that Willard go do something else with the building. The vote was 2 to 1 with McCullough voting against it.
Willard wanted to clarify what that meant before he left, so I am not going to come in here and talk about anything else with the nursing home building?
Johnson said not unless Willard brought a petition to them.
Willard said he would not mount a petition drive.
Willard went on to tell the commissioners that the county’s process is broken because commissioners do not put major issues like the airport, the nursing home and School Resource Officers (SRO) program on a ballot to be voted on.
He said there is a need for elderly care in the county, and ask commissioners to pray about it and put it on their hearts.
“I’m not going to charge people three times the amount,” Willard said. “That’s not the kind of guy I am. I’m the guy who finds the best way to do it, and that’s how I do it.”
McCullough thanked Willard for all the effort he had put into the proposal.
It takes a lot for somebody in the community to care enough to come up and speak to the commissioners, let alone see how the commissioners argue and treat people, Willard said.