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Country View care center in Waterloo.

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County has hired a local attorney and a national real estate broker to find a buyer for the Country View care center.

Members of the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday to retain Chicago-based Marcus & Millichap to help sell the county-owned nursing and mental health care facility on Dunkerton Road.

Waterloo attorney Eric Johnson also has been hired on the recommendation of County Attorney Brian Williams to assist the county in a potential sale process.

The action reversed a vote two days earlier to reject looking at the sale. Supervisors Craig White and Tom Little changed their minds and joined Frank Magsamen and Linda Laylin in hiring the brokerage, which would only be paid from a commission if the sale takes place.

“We’re going to keep Country View open no matter what, but we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and look at all the options out there,” White said. “It’s hard to do, but I’m looking out for the patients too.”

Country View, which is more reliant on Medicaid reimbursements than most private care centers, is projected to run a $2 million budget deficit this year and a $3 million loss in the next fiscal year.

“It’s going to be a continuing spiral, and we’ve got to do something to stop it,” said White, noting the supervisors can reject any sale if the buyer is not willing to meet stipulations placed on the deal by the county to protect residents and staff.

Laylin said the board had been told previously private companies would not be interested in buying Country View. But the county has received an inquiry, and representatives from Marcus & Millichap said they’ve helped close sales on similar facilities.

“I think we owe it to the residents out there as well as the taxpayers,” Laylin said. “We are trying to do something for the staff as well.

“We’ve been trying to do everything we can to not close it,” she added. “If there’s an opportunity for us to make it a better facility and assist more people with it … I think we have to take a look at that responsibly.”

Supervisor Chris Schwartz voted against hiring the broker in favor of looking at other options to control costs and reduce the budget deficit.

“Country View is, by and large, a mental health facility, and everyone’s constantly saying we’ve got to do more to provide mental health facilities,” Schwartz said. “If there’s going to be an investment in mental health it doesn’t come from anyone but us. For me, it doesn’t come from selling off Country View.”

Two residents with family members at Country View urged the supervisors to keep the facility in county ownership and search for ways locally to keep it open.

“We have enough brains in this community that we can work out something,” said Dolly Fortier, whose daughter has lived at Country View for more than 30 years.

“These are people who are vulnerable,” she said. “Other people in our community need to speak for those who cannot.”

Former state Rep. Bill Witt, a Western Home Communities board member whose sister lives at Country View, also urged the supervisors to engage local experts in finding a working model that works financially.

“(My sister) is finally at a place where she has stability; she has great care,” Witt said. “If Country View went into private ownership you would lose that. That would be the first big cost that those new owners would cut: the salaries and benefits for the people right now who are compensated well for doing an important job well.

“Please give yourselves some time … to see what kind of input you can get before you take the leap,” he added.

Magsamen said he would welcome the input from the Western Home and other agencies, noting the supervisors could nix a future sale if a better plan was put forth.

Board members are still trying to determine how much money to budget for Country View in the fiscal year starting July 1, noting a sale may not take place that quickly and the county needed to be covered should a sale fall through.

A majority of board members Thursday said they favored a $2 million tax subsidy for Country View instead of the projected $3 million shortfall.

“That will put the pressure on us to find other solutions,” Magsamen said.

Without funding for Country View, a homeowner would have realized a reduction in the county share of their property tax bill next year. With $2 million for Country View, that would be closer to a 5 percent increase.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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