A listening session was held in Tomah Monday to inform citizens of Monroe County about the upcoming Rolling Hills Rehab Center referendum question.

On April 2 voters will be asked in an advisory referendum question if they favor construction of a new senior care facility at an estimated cost of $20 million with a repayment schedule of $1.5 million over a 20-year period.

Supervisors originally voted in favor of a $16 million facility to be constructed across the road from the existing Rolling Hills complex on Hwy. B in Sparta. However, the plans were halted when a majority of supervisors voted to move the facility to Tomah after questions arose whether the city of Sparta was willing to provide sewer and water service.

The Tomah facility would be constructed on the new Tomah Health campus. The city of Tomah offered the county $500,000 worth of incentives to bring Rolling Hills to Tomah.

At the listening session Monroe County administrator Jim Bialecki said the reason the county is having the referendum is to let residents know that the facility will cost more than planned, and supervisors want to know if they have their support.

“At this time the county has opted to stay in the nursing home business and construct a new one,” he said. “When the action was taken, it was with the understanding that we’d build a $16 million facility. We’re letting you know that that facility as proposed is not going to cost $16 million, but at this time upward of $20 million. The resolution authorizing the $16 million was put forward with the understanding we stay within state-imposed levy limits. In other words it can’t exceed that. But the amount of $20 million is going to have to go beyond that.”

Monroe County finance director Tina Osterberg, explained what the $20 million bonding would mean to property owners and how it would show up on their tax bills.

In 2019, the nursing home mill rate is 33 cents. For a home valued at $100,000, county residents paid $33.32.

Based on the current tax levy of $18,650,687 and adding the $1.5 million bond payment, the tax levy would be $20,099,806. For a home valued at $100,000, residents would pay $45.63, an additional $12.31 per year until the loan is paid off.

Rolling Hills executive director Linda Smith said once the debt is paid off, the nursing home would be almost self-sustaining and the need for tax support from Monroe County citizens would nearly be eliminated.

Smith said a new facility needs to be built because the existing facility is failing — infrastructure such as plumbing, heating, windows, flooring are well past their life expectancies. Also some of the bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways are not handicapped accessible, and they do not meet current ADA standards.

“Why we want to do another project vs. remodeling our current building ... is the estimate we had from a company that came in to look at upgrading our current facility was $22 million,” she said. “That was in 2016, so the costs there are considerable.”

Not only is the cost higher to remodel, but according to state codes, once substantial money is put into one aspect of an old building, it would have to meet the updated 2012 code requirements, Smith said, which would raise the cost of the remodel even more.

The proposed new facility would include: 50 skilled nursing home beds including 16 beds dedicated to short-term rehab; 24 community based residential facility (assisted living) beds for frail elderly and memory care; and 24 apartments for independent living and assisted living services.

Seventy-seven percent of Rolling Hills residents are on Medicaid, the shared federal/state program that provides health care for the medically indigent.

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Meghan Flynn can be reached at meghan.flynn@lee.net.

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