One of several possible newcomers opposes plan to invest in senior living campus
An Ozaukee County Board poised to vote on a multi-million-dollar spending plan seen as vital to the future of its senior living campus will do so with at least five, possibly six, new members chosen in the Tuesday, April 1, election.
There are other issues in play — county spending and taxes, public transportation, even road maintenance — but the proposal to invest roughly $10 million in the Lasata Senior Living Campus in Cedarburg is the most immediate and perhaps most controversial in an election that features four contested races and two in which newcomers are running unopposed.
The importance of the Lasata issue is not lost on Robert Wardlow, a management consultant from the Town of Cedarburg, who is running against Tom Grabow, a Town of Grafton supervisor, for the District 9 seat being vacated by Daniel Buntrock.
“Personally, when it comes to Lasata, I have a problem with the county competing against private business,” Wardlow, 50, said in an interview this week.
On the table is a plan to borrow about $3 million to build a community-based residential facility (CBRF) for the frail elderly and those with dementia, as well as invest $7 million in the aging Lasata Care Center nursing home.
The proposal, its supporters say, is in keeping with the county’s commitment to maintaining the senior living campus as a source of affordable housing and care for the elderly, and would be another step toward ensuring it remains financially viable. Like the campus’ independent living and assisted living facilities, the CBRF is intended to generate revenue to offset the losses of the nursing home and keep the campus off the tax levy.
A vote on the proposal had been expected before the election, but the County Board opted to delay the decision until designs could be drafted and firm cost estimates established. In order to pass, a borrowing resolution needs the support of three-quarters of board members, or 20 of the 26 supervisors.
Wardlow said he opposes the proposed investment in the Lasata Care Center and thinks the county should get out of the senior living and care business.
“I would be in favor of finding an exit plan,” he said. “The county should be out of the business of providing long-term care for its citizens. There are multiple private care facilities in our county that do that.”
However, Wardlow said, he realizes that a number of Lasata residents rely on Lasata for care, so the county’s withdrawal from the business should be gradual and well planned.
Grabow, 67, said he doesn’t know enough about the proposed investment in the Lasata campus to comment on it. When asked if he thinks the county should continue to maintain the campus, he said, “Yes, for right now.”
County spending and taxes are the issue for Grabow.
“The county budget — that’s why I’m running,” he said. “Their budget has increased 22.4% over the last 11 years and they’re not doing a thing about it.”
Since he has not carefully examined the budget yet, Grabow said, he does not have any specific spending cuts in mind. But, if elected, he would study the budget closely and scrutinize projects to find savings, just as he has done in the Town of Grafton.
“For the last four years, I’ve saved us money by looking at each and every line item in the budget,” Grabow said. “You can’t just go to a meeting for a couple of hours and say you’ve done your job and continue to rubber stamp tax increases. You have to do your due diligence to understand each and every project and figure out where money can be saved.”
Another issue, Grabow said, is the guaranteed work contract the county requires towns to sign if they want to hire the county to do road maintenance and snow and ice removal.
“The county should meet with and negotiate each contract with towns individually,” Grabow said. “If we (towns) have to guarantee the county a certain amount of money, and I understand the need for a certain amount of guaranteed work, then we (towns) need a guarantee that the work will get done when it is supposed to. We don’t need the grass cut along our roads in November.”
Wardlow describes himself as a constitutional libertarian who is “very conservative fiscally.”
He said his background in mechanical engineering and work as a consultant makes him well-suited to tackling the challenges facing county government.
“My particular expertise is efficiency improvements done through non-traditional ways of solving problems, typically without capital investments,” Wardlow said. “We need more of that in this county.”
For instance, Wardlow referred to a recent spike in shared-taxi ridership following the demise of a private taxi business in Port Washington. Instead of increasing the property tax burden on residents to pay for the increasing demand, the businesses that benefit from service — for instance health care clinics and grocery stores — should contribute financially to the service, he said.
The other contested County Board races are:
• In District 17, Richard Dieffenbach and James Konowalski, both of Cedarburg, are vying for the seat being vacated by longtime Supr. James Uselding.
• In District 21, Robert Walerstein, a former county supervisor, and Justin Strom, both of Mequon, are competing for the seat being vacated by Nancy Sharp Szatkowski.
• In District 26, incumbent Jennifer Rothstein is being challenged by Bruce Sipiora. Both are from Mequon.
Newcomers to the board running unopposed are David Larson, a City of Port Washington alderman who will succeed Joe Dean in District 8, and Steven Scott Rishel of Grafton, who will succeed Jacob Curtis in District 14.
Supervisors are elected to two-year terms.
A sample ballot can be found in this issue of Ozaukee Press.