Lincoln County board approves Pine Crest sale

Supervisors cap nearly two-year saga with 15-6 vote

By Tina L. Scott

MMC Staff

Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

MERRILL – During a nearly four-hour Lincoln County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, prior to which members of the People for Pine Crest held a press conference to share their objections to the proposed sale of Pine Crest Nursing Home in Merrill and urge Supervisors to postpone the vote, 15 of the 21 Supervisors who were present voted in favor of a resolution approving the sale.

The resolution instructed Board Chair and District 9 Supervisor Don Friske and County Clerk Chris Marlowe to sign the Asset Purchase Agreement on behalf of the county, and they did so immediately following the meeting.

Pine Crest Nursing Home will be sold to Merrill Campus LLC and Senior Management Inc., with the closing set for June 30 and the new ownership to take effect July 1.

Prior to the item being considered on the board’s agenda, however, the board heard from 22 individuals who spoke during the public comment period. The vast majority asked the board to stop the sale or postpone the vote, questioning various aspects of the proposed Asset Purchase Agreement, in addition to their general objections to the nursing home becoming privately owned rather than county-owned.

Two of the speakers, however, spoke in support of the sale and cited the financial necessity of the sale.

Also prior to the vote, District 3 Supervisor Elizabeth McCrank introduced a motion to amend the proposed resolution on the agenda, suggesting the addition of language that would provide that if the purchaser ceased to operate Pine Crest as a skilled nursing home, or declared an intent to cease to operate it as such, within five years, the property and improvements would revert back to the county. District 7 Supervisor Greta Rusch seconded the motion, but after discussion, the motion to amend failed on a voice vote. Some said that type of language would effectively kill any prospects for a sale.

Lincoln County Corporation Counsel Karry Johnson outlined the proposed Asset Purchase Agreement before District 12 Supervisor Julie DePasse made a motion to approve the resolution calling for the Approval of the Asset Purchase Agreement between Lincoln County and purchaser Merrill Campus LLC and Senior Management Inc. District 21 Supervisor Gene Simon seconded the motion.

After some discussion, during which numerous Supervisors shared their confidence in the proposed buyers and the process that had vetted this buyer as one who would continue to operate Pine Crest Nursing Home as a skilled nursing facility and ensure its viability going forward, along with maintaining the current staff and level of Medicaid patients, it came time for the vote.

District 19 Supervisor Julie Allen was absent from the meeting due to traveling. The other 21 Supervisors voted, and the resolution passed on a 15-6 roll call vote.

Voting in favor were Friske, DePasse, Simon, District 4 Supervisor Steve Osness Jr., District 5 Supervisor Don Wendorf, District 8 Supervisor Laurie Thiel, District 10 Supervisor and Board Vice-Chair Jesse Boyd, District 11 Supervisor Randy Detert, District 13 Supervisor George Brixius, District 15 Supervisor Marty Lemke, District 16 Supervisor Dana Miller, District 17 Supervisor James Meunier, District 18 Supervisor Ken Wickham, District 20 Supervisor Angela Cummings and District 22 Supervisor Greg Hartwig.

Voting against were McCrank, Rusch, District 1 Supervisor William Bialecki, District 2 Supervisor Lori Anderson-Malm, District 6 Supervisor Norbert Ashbeck and District 14 Supervisor Brian Hafeman.

Taking a look back at the Pine Crest saga

The board’s approval of the Pine Crest sale marks the end of a nearly two-year saga regarding the facility.

In June 2022, an ad hoc committee was formed and tasked with coming up with actions Lincoln County could take regarding the future of Pine Crest, which had experienced millions of dollars in financial losses over previous years.

The committee completed its Pine Crest report in March 2023 and provided the board with several ways the county could potentially proceed, including seeking ways to cut costs and create additional revenues at Pine Crest, downsizing or finding alternative uses for the facility, selling the property and/or holding a referendum to allow Lincoln County voters to decide whether or not the county should continue its operation of Pine Crest.

In May 2023, the board voted 15-6 to direct the county’s Administrative and Legislative (A&L) Committee to begin the process of securing the services of a broker to put Pine Crest up for sale.

A group calling itself “People for Pine Crest,” in June 2023, gathered more than 650 signatures on a petition asking the board not to sell the facility. That same month, the A&L Committee voted to select the firm Marcus & Millichap as the county’s broker for a potential Pine Crest sale.

A resolution seeking to place a binding referendum related to Pine Crest funding on 2024 Spring Election ballots was rejected by a 13-9 board vote in Aug. 2023. Under the proposed referendum, if it had made it onto April ballots and had been approved by voters, Lincoln County would have been allowed to exceed levy limits by $3 million per year for ten years to fund operations and maintenance at Pine Crest. The referendum would have had a tax impact of $85.14 per $100,000.00 of equalized value of private property, according to the resolution.

In Sept. 2023, the Tomahawk Leader and the Merrill Foto News conducted a community survey for Lincoln County residents in an effort to gather public opinion on Pine Crest. The results of the survey were published the following month, and more than 80% of the survey’s nearly 800 respondents indicated that they wanted Lincoln County to continue its ownership of the facility, even if it meant an increase in residents’ property taxes, and that the county should not explore a Pine Crest sale.

After months of negotiations, the A&L Committee gave the thumbs up to the purchase agreement on Monday, Feb. 12, and the county board approved it one week later.

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