County gets Oak Hill update

Oak Hill Care Center recently added a respiratory therapist to its staff, the Monroe County Board learned during its meeting on Tuesday.

In addition to offering a new level of care to its current residents, the new position makes the elder care facility more attractive to future families seeking a place for loved ones, Oak Hill Administrator Kim Keckritz told commissioners.

Keckritz noted a side benefit of such enhancements is care.  She said that as the Affordable Medical Care Act takes hold, hospitals are focusing more and more on follow-up care after patients are discharged.  Under new regulations, patients that must be returned for the same medical problems within 30 days will cause fines to be levied through Medicare. Thus, the better care nursing and rehabilitation facilities can offer, the less likely a patient will have to be readmitted.

“We are marketing these new capabilities to area hospitals so they know our capabilities,” she said. “They will then be more likely to recommend us to families and we will be offering better care. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Also on Tuesday, Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein informed that the county is continuing plans for a possible reissuance of bonds for Oak Hill. Plans call for

competitive bidding by bond underwriters.  The bonds would be reissued in 2014.

The commissioners are concurrently exploring ways to possibly reduce the overall bonded debt while taking advantage of interest rates that are lower now than when the bonds were issued.

County Engineer Aaron Metzger reported that bids for aggregate – gravel and chip material for road maintenance – are in for the coming year and prices have remained relatively stable. This has been true for the past two years, he said.

Metzger also updated progress on transferring county property to the state for upcoming improvements to the Route 3-Illinois Avenue intersection in Waterloo. He indicated the state will purchase right-of-way on the corner of the County Annex Building from the county for $14,300. An additional $1,700 will accrue to the county for temporary easements during construction.

Monroe County Ambulance Director Carla Heise reported on efforts to reduce unnecessary overtime in the service.  She said they are exploring a change to two shift changes a day, with one shift changing at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the other rotating at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Heise said she is employing a combination of analyzing how ambulance runs are distributed on a typical day, and surveying crew inputs to develop the new plan.

She agreed with board members that while cost savings are desirable, maintaining best care is imperative.

Real estate tax auctions

Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon recently pleaded guilty to rigging bids at that county’s real estate tax auctions in past years.

The Republic-Times asked Koenigstein, who oversees the auctions here, about this process. Koenigstein explained the purpose of the auctions is to help the county administer property tax payments.

“The county government and schools budget each year based on an expected flow of tax revenues. When persons or firms bid on unpaid tax assessments, they pay those taxes and then are able to collect that amount plus their bid interest rate from the tax payer.  In the meantime, the county and schools have their funds to meet their needs.”

He said rates may vary from 18 percent down to nothing.

“It is more probable the highest rates will focus on smaller assessments – for example, a $100 tax bill for a small undeveloped property,” he said.

Homes and business structures will be competitively bid downward from there, with the prevailing opportunity investors can get in CDs and other solid investments driving the market.

That is where the process in the two counties diverged widely. While the auction here is carried out openly and publicly, it was rigged for several years before the fact in Madison County.  Individuals who made the greatest contributions to Bathon’s re-election coffers were given seats closest to the auctioneer. And in almost all cases, theirs were the only bids recognized.

Virtually all of the rigged bids came in at 18 percent, ensuring an extreme burden for a person already in arrears on property taxes — which often led to them losing a home or business.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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