County okays using Heritage Manor for COVID-19 overflow

Former Heritage Manor at 19 W. Newton St., Rice Lake.

In the interest of taking care of its residents, the Barron County Board of Supervisors, which met Tuesday morning, approved use of the former Heritage Manor nursing home should county hospitals reach their capacity in this first wave or future waves of COVID-19.

The County Board also authorized a delay in property tax payments from July 31 to Oct. 1.

The board meeting was livestreamed with County Administrator Jeff French, County Chair Louie Okey and a few supervisors in the board room but most, including clerk DeeAnn Cook, connected  remotely from their homes or offices.

Before any discussion or actions, as a new  2-year term began, Judge Jim Babler asked all of the supervisors to stand wherever they were at, raise their right hands, and recite after him the oath of office. New supervisors, Stacey Wenzel and Tod Gerland, were welcomed by Okey and asked to introduce themselves. (See separate story.)

The board voted to temporary elect the existing board chair, vice chairs and Highway Committee positions until the board’s next in-person meeting.

The use of the former Heritage Manor as a potential isolation hospital for COVOD-19 patients was approved with a cost not to exceed $45,000.

The agreement with the City of Rice Lake states there would not be a monthly charge to Barron County, however the county would be responsible to pay/reimburse the city for utilities and other costs related to having the facility cleaned, inspected and prepared for use.

Barron County would also be responsible for the essentials of the operation including, but not limited to, medical supplies and beds.

Okey said he hopes the county will not need to use it, but the facility is available if needed.

A $30,000 reserve fund was also approved for the purpose of purchasing emergency medical supplies. Okey said emergency services director Mike Judy has already purchased some supplies at a reasonable price that will be of use, whether or not needed to combat the virus.

Tax payment delay  OK’d

Okey said the authorization enabling taxing districts  in the county to waive interest and penalties on property tax installations was brought to the County Board because some people have been asking for a deferral.

The board chair said the state’s Safer at Home order has not had much of an affect on some and for others it has been devastating.

Okey said economic development director Dave Armstrong has told him that  several county business owners have told him they don’t know if their businesses will come out of this alive.

“There’s a lot of hardship and pain out there,” Okey said.

With unanimous board approval,  property tax installment payments normally due July 31 will have a 2-month extension, now due Oct. 1.

French clarified that the county’s authorization is contingent upon taxation districts, which are the municipalities, adopting a resolution in similar form and content to the county’s resolution.

Municipal clerks, along with the general public, are encouraged to contact county treasurer Yvonne Ritchie, for more information.

Supervisor Bob Rogers asked for a report from the treasurer on not who, but how many, took advantage of the deferment when it is over. Ritchie agreed to provide that information.

In other news, the board chair said the April 27 meeting on the highway shop expansion has been cancelled. The project has been put on hold until normal operating business in the state resumes.  

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