Delegates approve $23.5 million building project
December 03, 2009
OSSIPEE — Local seniors will be getting a state of the art nursing home because the Carroll County Legislative Delegation approved up to $23.5 million for construction on Monday morning.
The delegation voted 11 to 3 in favor of the proposal in front of a large gathering of mostly seniors at the Mountain View Nursing Home. Delegates Christopher Ahlgren (R-Wolfeboro), Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge), and Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) voted against the spending. The delegation is made up of 14 state representatives.
Prior to the vote, delegation Chair Betsey Patten (R-Moultonborough) clarified the delegation was going to approve money for the project but question was how much they were going to spend. The County Commissioners had been pushing hard for a $23.5 million facility, which would house 103 seniors in a home-like setting. But weeks prior to the vote Wolfeboro businessman Paul Zimmerman, of Tuftonboro, urged officials to slash the cost to about $14 million.
Zimmerman's wish for a lower price for the project did come true. Commissioner Chip Albee announced that the construction manger Bonnette, Page and Stone, of Laconia, agreed to a fixed maximum price of $23,234,466. The project could cost even less when the bidding process begins, officials said. Commissioners estimated the project would cost taxpayers 14 to 16 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value. That figure would vary by town. The nursing home is to be built near the existing Mountain View Nursing home in Ossipee.
Commission Chairman David Sorensen explained the commissioners have been finding ways to trim the price over the past year. Some of the changes were made because of advice from the public. Some examples included changing the roofline, removing bathroom windows, removing decorative cupolas, and eliminating the bricks along the bottom of the building.
Delegate Stanley Stevens (R-Wolfeboro) made the motion to allow the commission to bond the $23.5 million. He said the commission and building committee worked hard on the plan but the decision wasn't easy. Stevens noted he "prayed for guidance" before casting his vote.
"The commission (and the building committee) has worked hard on this to bring forward a plan," said Stevens. "Every step of the way we said 'yes, this is what we want to do."
Further, Stevens said he's received communications from many constituents who are both for and against the project. Not all of them were friendly.
"I've been threatened, 'If you vote for that, we'll vote you out of office,'" said Stevens quoting some messages from opponents of the project. "That means I'll learn earn about $100 less."
The remarks earned Stevens some laughs. State representatives are only paid $100 per year, he said.
Delegate John Roberts said he's received similar "threats" trying to intimidate him into voting for one position or another. Roberts said he has been in support of the project the whole time and would not change his position.
"If you don't agree with me, you can vote me out of office," said Roberts.
Throughout the meeting, several people in the audience complained they couldn't hear the proceedings. The few microphones available worked intermittently. The microphone attached to Patten's lapel made her louder but more difficult to understand.
"Can't we have a better PA system," one man shouted. "We can't hear a word you're saying."
Other people in the audience were murmuring words like "unbelievable" and "incompetence" in regards to the faulty sound system. There was also a lack of microphones at commission's meeting with Zimmerman on Nov. 18. At that meeting several people complained about not being able to hear.
At the end of Monday's meeting Albany resident Sandy Stowell approached the delegation waving her checkbook in the air while offering to pay for a new sound system for the county. Stowell, a former nurse, came to the meeting to support the nursing home project.
"There's a big difference between a home and warehousing," said Stowell.
Commission Chairman David Sorensen apologized for the difficulty with the microphone and said there was no excuse for the failure.
Although they may not have heard each other, residents, delegates, and commissioners had plenty to say about the new nursing home. The majority of speakers from the audience seemed to be in favor of constructing the building at $23.5 million. At that price, the county home would give each resident a private bedroom and bathroom. Clusters of rooms would surround a small kitchen and living room. These clusters are called households. Currently, two residents share a room and four residents share a bathroom. The hallways are long and staff has to spend time and energy moving residents from place to place.
Conway resident Don Litchko said the new nursing home's design would create $350,000 in efficiencies per year because Mountain View staff won't have to move the nursing home residents as far as they do in the current facility. The figure was based on counting 70 employees at a rate of $15 per hour.
"If you go over the life of the home, just the (saved) footsteps would take care of nearly half of what you are preparing to spend on the home," he said.
Several other residents like Sherry Bryant, of Brookfield, urged the delegation to support the commission's plan to give nursing home residents a dignified place to live. Bryant said residents want to live in a place where they can have visitors. At the new home, the cramped conditions make that hard, said Bryant.
"The first time I came to visit my friend here, I couldn't sit down and play a game of Scrabble, I was blocking the door way to the room I was blocking the doorway to the bathroom that had to be shared by four people," she said.
One nursing home resident was so excited after the vote that he asked when he can expect to see bull dozers working from the dining room window.
Cindy White, of Conway, said although it's getting harder and harder to pay the taxes in town, she would be willing to pay for the commission's proposed new home.
Tamworth Selectman Willie Farnum urged the delegation not to cut corners. Getting cheaper hardware would mean more expense later.
"Don't build as cheap as you can today because it will cost you a lot more tomorrow to maintain it," said Farnum.
However, there were some residents that were concerned about the upfront cost the facility, including another Tamworth resident, Don Mcgarriety, who called on delegates not to let taxes push residents out of their homes. Mcgarriety also said he was hospitalized recently and having to share a room with another person isn't bad.
"Don't tax us so high now that we can enjoy our life now so that in 20 years we can have a private room," he said. "Just think about the taxes we're all paying now."
Brookfield resident Gary Ciccarone, a builder from Connecticut, came to reiterate a point made last month by Zimmerman's attorney, Randy Walker, who estimated the new home's per bed cost to be $270,000.
"For the square footage cost you could construct for each bed one house on its own lot, with three bedrooms, a kitchen, all the handicapped accoutrements, a well, a septic, a driveway, and an attached garage," said Ciccarone. "What's being done here is extremely exorbitant."
He said there were usually three reasons why a building project gets that expensive. Those reasons are: the land requires enormous investment to become build-able, the design is too complicated, or there is waste or fraud. Ciccarone stressed he wasn't accusing anyone of fraud. However, he estimated an attractive facility could be built for two thirds of the cost commissioners proposed.
Last month, Walker said private nursing home in Erie, Pa., cost $140,000 per bed. But delegate Robert Bridgham (D-Eaton Center) said that facility was built to provide short-term care and rehabilitation services, which make money. Carroll County's nursing home would provide long term care to people who are Medicaid eligible. Medicaid pays less money than private insurance.
Ahlgren said the high cost per bed was one reason why he was reluctant to support the project. He said the Merrimack County's nursing home cost $167,000 per bed.
In other county news:
Sorensen announced the commissioners are proposing an operating budget that will not increase the county taxes next year.
"With the budget we sent out to Concord on Friday, the taxpayers are not going to pay any more in county taxes than they have in the past," said Sorensen. "In fact it's a little bit less."
The delegation will hold a public hearing on the budget on Monday, Dec. 14 at 9 a.m. in the county administration room. A copy of the 2010 budget can be viewed online by clicking on a link provided at www.carrollcountynh.net/.
Sorensen said a major reason for that is nursing home administrator Sandra McKenzie has generated a substantial amount of revenue. The total appropriation for fiscal year 2010 is $23,369,425, which is up about 2.2 percent. The tax impact from the new nursing home will occur in 2011, the anticipated year of its completion.
The commission spent $300,000 of 2009 surplus on preliminary site work for the nursing home. The commission will recoup that money through the $23.5 million bond, officials said.
The budget includes 1 percent raises for employees to help them deal with increases in their insurance premiums.