Editorial: Valley Hi Nursing Home rebate plan should be approved

For McHenry County taxpayers, the time has arrived to have tax money returned.

On Tuesday, the McHenry County Board will get its opportunity to vote on doing just that. If you live in the county, now is the time to tell your County Board representatives that you want in.

In 2002, taxpayers in the county built a new Valley Hi Nursing Home by approving a $16 million tax increase referendum. Now the nursing home is in a position to run on its own. No further tax money needs to be paid if separate votes to increase private pay fees and patient mix are approved Tuesday. The nursing home is sitting on about $40 million in reserves.

That leaves the county with a unique opportunity to give some of those tax dollars back to residents without risking the future of the home. That fiscal prudence is something that we approve.

Rather than spend down the reserves unnecessarily, rebate the unneeded funds back to the taxpayers who provided them. Reward the taxpayers who have paid with their just dividends.

The terms are simple. If you paid county property taxes on your primary residence last year, then you’re eligible. It’s estimated that that includes 88,000 county taxpayers. Then, after filing paperwork that could be included in tax bills when they are sent out in mid-May, those residents would receive a refund check.

Eligible homeowners who paid $500 in property taxes to the county last year could get about $150 – or about 30% of what they paid to the county in 2017.

The County Board cannot use the Valley Hi reserves for other budgets or move the funds to something such as fixing roads, per state statute, but those funds can be returned to the members of the public who supported the nursing home for years.

More taxing entities should remember that this isn’t their money – money they should hold and earn interest on or spend – this is the taxpayers’ money that they should return if it goes unused.

An important point in the measure is that it still would leave Valley Hi with at least $25 million in reserves. That number could be higher, depending on the number of residents who actually file for the refund.

That means items such as an $8.5 million dementia wing, if deemed necessary, still would be well within the nursing home’s available reserves.

To put the current level of reserves in perspective, of the 18 other similar county-run nursing homes in the state, DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center is the one with the highest level of reserves with $5 million.

None have a financial situation comparable with Valley Hi.

The plan moving forward is to run Valley Hi with a balanced budget on its own accord going forward, after running at an estimated
$1 million loss last year.

That seems like a sensible plan for both patients and taxpayers, running a home that helps without making it a large taxpayer burden. It’s time to return the reserves.