Health care center referendum to go before County Board
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — Yet another step was taken by county officials to keep the Portage County Health Care Center alive and kicking.
A joint meeting of Executive/Operations, Finance, and Health Care Committees was held on Monday afternoon, and with it an approval of a resolution that would place the question of increasing property taxes in order to save the center on the November ballot.
Portage County Corporation Counsel David Ray explained exactly what this referendum means in more detail.
“What the referendum does is it gives the legal authority to the county board to exceed the levy limit and then whatever dollar amount or percentage, or combination of both, is put in the referendum,” said Ray. “…that’s the maximum up to which the county board can go or exceed the levy limit.”
The referendum will ask residents if the health care center is worth increasing property taxes by approximately $1.4 million a year from 2019-2022, for a total of four years. This would result in a 5.43 percent increase over the allowable levy by the state. An amendment was made to the initial proposal which sees this increase for only four years, as opposed to five. This came after an amendment of six years was voted down.
According to most county officials, this gives the county additional time to find a long-term solution for center funding, but not too much time in order to find a solution quickly to avoid “kicking the can”.
“The five years was meant to be a trigger to finally get action — I don’t like inaction,” said District 3 County Board representative Meleesa Johnson.
Built in 1931, the aging facility has been deemed inefficient by county officials, which requires continual repairs. With this, the need for elderly and mental health care continues, leaving the board to make an ultimate decision on raising the tax levy in order to maintain costs of care.
The vote passed almost unanimously, with the exception of Chair Al Haga, who voted against.
Information will eventually be sent out to the public further detailing what the referendum means for the Portage County Health Care Center, how it may affect taxpayers, and the possible effects if it were to fail. The final vote will be decided at County Board on Aug. 15.