Local government

Pioneer Place faces tough questioning from commissioners over $1.1 million ask

VALE – The Malheur County Court wants more information regarding a $1.1 million request from Pioneer Place to cover repairs and a new roof.

About 20 people – online and in person – were on hand in the court chambers Wednesday, Sept. 20, when Corey Crismon, Pioneer Place administrator, requested the county funds.

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Jim Mendiola and Ron Jacobs asked a number of questions regarding the request but gave no indication whether the request would be approved.

Instead, Joyce delegated Mendiola to meet with Pioneer Place officials to review pricing on repair projects and establish whether the Vale nursing facility is likely to remain in operation after any county investment.

The publicly-owned facility has been operating at a loss but is projected to finish its current year with a profit of $140,000, Crismon explained

Crismon told the court 12 items at the facility – the only nursing home in Malheur County – need critical repairs.

The big-ticket items include $400,000 for a new roof, $300,000 for 10 new rooftop air conditioners, $100,000 to remodel shower rooms and $100,000 to update the facility’s kitchen.

Another $87,000 is needed to replace plumbing while $30,000 is needed to replace 60 obsolete smoke detectors.

“This would help so much more to get our building in the right direction,” Crismon told the court.

“If the building is in disrepair would you want to send your family member there?”

–Corey Crismon, Pioneer Place administrator

He noted that without the upgrades, the Vale building would continue to fall into disrepair, making it even more difficult to attract new residents.

Malheur County is sitting on about $10 million in extra federal funds but county officials made clear they spend some on the county’s own infrastructure needs.

Jacobs led sharp questioning of Pioneer Place officials, pressing them to explain the facility’s troubles.

He asked Crismon if the facility would be sustainable if the county agreed to the $1.1 million request.

Jacobs noted that Pioneer Place has struggled with a low occupancy rates, which impacts how much money the facility takes in every month.

“That is a big concern for us. We need to be assured Pioneer Place can sustain itself. Can you budget enough in the future?” he said.

Crismon replied that Pioneer Place does budget to cover costs and then some.

John Nalivka, Pioneer Place board member, said the need now was to “get over this hurdle of capital expenses.”

“Many of these things have to be done shortly,” he said.

The court also asked about a proposal by the Pioneer Place board to expand its health district. The Pioneer Place Health District covers 3,600 voters in nine voting precincts. The tax rate on the existing Pioneer Health District is 47.74 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The Pioneer Place Board wants to develop a ballot initiative to annex certain portions of the county into its existing health district to generate more money for the facility.

That plan, though, is still in the developmental stage but Crismon said a ballot initiative to expand the district probably will not be before county voters until 2024. Even if approved, Pioneer Place wouldn’t see additional money until 2025.

That health district expansion is aimed to pull in funds from the Ontario area. About 44% of Pioneer Place residents come from Ontario, said Crismon.

Mendiola asked if it was possible for those who live outside the health district to be charged more. Crismon said that wasn’t possible.

“If we discriminate based on locality we will lose our Medicaid license,” he said.

Jacobs asked if Pioneer Place had sought federal or state grants to help it with its funding woes.

Crismon said the board recently submitted a grant application to the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board.

Nalivka said, based on comments from U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Oregon, at a town hall meeting in August, there was no chance of federal help.

The condition of the building, Crismon said, is crucial to attract more residents.

“If the building is in disrepair would you want to send your family member there?” he said.

Jacobs said his biggest concerns was “all these capital projects were not taken care in the past.”

“Are you going to be able to sufficiently sustain that?” he said.

Crismon said “that is the hope.”
“I am a little concerned about the past because it hasn’t paid for itself,” said Jacobs.

Nalivka said the focus should be on the future.

“We can all go back and say, woulda, coulda, shoulda. Let’s move forward,” he said.

Mendiola asked about the price for new plumbing.

Crismon said the $87,000 earmarked to replace a sewer line was “pretty expensive.”

“There are a lot of zeros in this,” Mendiola said of the funding request.

After the meeting, Mendiola said “$87,000 is a lot for a sewer pipe.”

Mendiola also said he did not understand why Pioneer Place needed to replace 10 air conditioning units at once.

“I don’t see why they couldn’t budget for two AC units a year for five years,” he said.

Mendiola said the court needs more information before it can decide.

“They need to do some more research,” he said.

The discussion at the meeting was in stark contrast to other funding decisions made by the county court in the past.

In July, the court elected to pay off a $1.3 million balance on a credit line used by the Malheur County Development Corporation for the beleaguered Treasure Valley Reload Center.

The $1.3 million payoff amount wasn’t in the county’s proposed budget for the new year that started July 1 and it wasn’t in the budget approved by the Malheur County Budget Committee. The budget adopted by the county court, though, included the payoff. The payoff amount was pulled from the county’s contingency – or emergency – fund.

Jacobs said at the time the payoff decision on the credit line was necessary because “we felt like we were going to be responsible for it regardless of what happened.”

Shawna Peterson, the development company’s executive director, said in July the county will be reimbursed for that outlay when funds held in reserve by the state Transportation Department for the project are released.

Yet that apparent disparity raised a question from Lexie Browning, a registered nurse and director of nursing services at Pioneer Place, in an email to the Enterprise after the meeting.

“They have no issues giving large sums of money to help a struggling ‘business’ that has not proven their sustainability and has poorly – put lightly – planned their budget for basic construction but they are unwilling to help Pioneer Place,” Browning wrote.

Browning wrote it is “very apparent they are looking for any and all excuses not to help our facility, but have no issue funding a project that is no more than a money pit.”

Mendiola and Jacobs said they do not want to see Pioneer Place close.

Nalivka said he was optimistic after the meeting.

“We’ve created a greater opportunity to get this done than all the other times we’ve been here,” said Navlika.

Pioneer Place officials have sought assistance from the county at least nine times during the past few years.

More than a dozen local residents crowded into the Malheur County Court chambers, Wednesday, Sept. 20, to hear a request from Pioneer Place to the court for $1.1 million. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
John Nalivka, Pioneer Place board member, talks to the county court during a meeting, Wedensday, Sept. 20. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

News tip? Contact Reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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