Commissioners open three spots for new officials

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Red Willow County road superintendent Gary Dicenta explains bridge inspections to commissioner Vesta Dack during a commissioners' meeting Monday morning. (Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Gazette)

McCook, Neb. -- Some things stayed the same and others -- not so much -- during the Red Willow County commissioners' first meeting of the new year at the courthouse Monday morning.

Earl McNutt will remain chairman of the board of commissioners, Gary Dicenta will continue as the county's road supervisor and Carol Schlegel will still be the county's tourism director. But commissioners did not reappoint two members of the Hillcrest Nursing Home board of trustees and they did not renew the contract for the county's zoning administrator Darcy Patterson.

The appointments of Randy Dean, Jim Howard and Ann Barger to the board of trustees of the county-owned nursing home expired Dec. 31. Commissioners Monday morning reappointed Barger, who has served only two years on the board. They declined, however, to reappoint Dean and Howard, explaining that perhaps "new eyes" and "new blood" will help the nursing home get a handle on ongoing financial troubles.

Howard has been on the board since 2001, and Dean since 2009.

Until cash flow and reimbursement and billing problems started surfacing in February 2012, Hillcrest paid its way without county tax funding. At low points in early 2012, Hillcrest had not billed Medicare for reimbursement of about $675,000; and it was owed $608,000 by private-pay residents whose payments were late/unpaid and by residents whose Social Security and/or Medicare/Medicaid benefits weren't covering the cost of services. Nat all of those funds were ever collected, and the nursing home was having trouble paying its bills.

Colinda Nappa was hired as the new administrator in August 2012, to replace the former administrator who resigned unexpectedly in May 2012.

To address the financial problems, Hillcrest upped its efforts to collect for services, stiffened admission requirements, trimmed its budget, reduced over-staffing, cashed in certificates of deposit, sold bed licenses, raised room rates and became a contracted nursing facility for the U.S. Veterans Administration. To help, the county (which owns the nursing home and is ultimately responsible for it) has transferred money from its inheritance fund to Hillcrest, borrowed $1 million from McCook National Bank and made bond payments on Hillcrest construction projects.

In September 2016, commissioners asked for, but voters rejected, a budget process that would have raised $254,000 to repair Hillcrest's leaking roof.

Monday morning, commissioners said the nursing home's financial situation doesn't seem to be improving. In explaining why she supports new faces on the board of trustees, commissioner Vesta Dack said, "Some solutions have to come from somewhere, and it's not happening."

McNutt said he had hoped to have found two new board members by Monday's meeting. "But, I guess I wasn't aggressive enough through the holidays to find replacements," he said. McNutt and Dack each said that the possible replacements they talked to were more concerned with the time commitment that the board work would require, rather than the specter of the nursing home's financial trouble.

McNutt said that county attorney Paul Wood indicated the five-member board of trustees can operate legally with three members, so commissioners reappointed Barger Monday morning. Dack said that both Dean and Howard had indicated they would accept reappointment to the board.

Commissioners will try to have candidates for the two other positions by their next meeting, on Jan. 23. Commissioners will not meet Jan. 16, which commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday morning, commissioners told Darcy (Eckhardt) Patterson, the county's zoning administration, that they plan to place the responsibilities of zoning administrator within the office of the county assessor.

Patterson has held the position since December 2002, a year after the county adopted its zoning regulations and Sue Doak served as interim administrator.

McNutt said having the position within the courthouse during regular courthouse hours will make it easier for the public to access zoning information and apply for permits. Dack is hoping that a set routine for the quarterly meetings required by the board's bylaws will motivate planning commission members to attend meetings.

Although Patterson had presented commissioners with her contract (renewable Jan. 1) -- $5,000 a year or $416.66 a month, the same as last year -- she told them that she is moving from McCook.

McNutt said that one employee in the assessor's office will be compensated for taking on zoning administrator responsibilities.

Commissioners renewed a contract with Miller & Associates and Gary Dicenta to provide road supervision for 2017 at $500 a month/$6,000 a year. The Nebraska Department of Roads reimburses Red Willow County for the $6,000 to help with the cost of the state's unfunded mandates, such as submitting road budget work and the one- and six-year plan.

Dicenta told commissioners that the closing of railroad tracks through the Beaver Valley means the county needs only five, not 16, advance railroad crossing signs.

The advance signs will be installed at the Perry elevator crossing (1 sign on the south), at the C&K location (1 on the south ), the Red Willow elevator crossing (2 signs, 1 each north and south) and at Bartley (1 on the south).

Dicenta also presented inspections of county bridges, explaining that none are critical, but several are showing signs of wear and tear: one northwest of Danbury, some rotting on the piles and some washing; one northeast of Lebanon, some stringers show evidence of crushing on the top. Another bridge northeast of Lebanon, near the county line, is a bridge that McNutt wants to replace.

One bridge, on the St. Ann road northwest of McCook, needs some rip-rap to reduce washing.

Dicenta told commissioners that if road crews do any maintenance or repair on any bridge, they have to report the repair on a repair form.

Dicenta said that the two-year inspection rotation of the county's bridges started 20 years ago.

Commissioners renewed the contract with County Tourism Director Carol Schlegel for 2017. Schlegel's contract pays her $3,166.67 each month, or $38,000 a year. This contract was recommended to commissioners by the County Visitors Committee, and is the same as it was in 2016.

McNutt pointed out that Schlegel's salary is paid with lodging taxes collected by motels and hotels in Red Willow County, and not paid with county taxes.

Commissioners approved an $80,310 grant request from the Nebraska Crime Commission to Lutheran Family Services' McCook office. The grant is matched by $8,925 in local funds spread over the six counties that Lutheran Family Services serves in Southwest Nebraska: Red Willow, Hitchcock, Dundy, Chase, Hayes and Furnas.

Lutheran Family Services provides the counties with a youth diversion program. LFS director Chris Berry said that 55 clients successfully completed the program in 2016 and five failed the program: three did not complete the requirements and two others received additional citations and were taken to court.

Following action during the board's yearly reorganization, McNutt will remain as chairman and Dack will continue as vice-chairman. Steve Downer and McNutt will act again as chairman and vice chairman of the board of equalization.

McNutt and Downer will be chairman and vice chairman of the noxious weed control authority.

In other reorganization action, commissioners:

-- Appointed Sheriff Alan Kotschwar as the county's emergency manager, with an annual salary of $7,200, the same as last year.

-- Designated the McCook Gazette as the official county newspaper, with the Red Willow County Website as an additional method of providing notice of meetings.

-- Adopted a resolution designating these banks as depositories for Red Willow County for 2017: Wells Fargo, McCook National Bank, AmFirst Bank, Horizon Bank, First Central Bank, Adams Bank and Trust of Indianola, State Bank of Bartley and the Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust (NPAIT).

Commissioners also designated appointments of commissioners to various committees, eliminating the McCook Economic Development Corp. board of directors and the West Central Nebraska Development District administrative board and alternate:

Downer: E911, RC&D board, Region II governing board, County Visitors Committee, Fair Board, County Planning Commission..

Dack: Work Ethic Camp Community Involvement Committee, Hillcrest Nursing Home board, Veterans Service Committee and County Health Board.

McNutt: City/County Cooperation Committee, Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department board of trustees and REWARD board of directors.

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  • The county commissioners are the final

    "Overseer" of Hillcrest. The responsibility of the future of the needed facility lies at their feet. I hope they find people that have experience in managing fiscal accounts in a conservative manner or experience in health care as replacements. Public officials with the position of just raising taxes to fix problems...and I am not saying Dean or Howard falls into that catagory... need to be replaced.

    -- Posted by dennis on Tue, Jan 10, 2017, at 5:51 PM
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