The regular Clarkfield City Council meeting (which normally only attracts a small handful of local residents) was packed Tuesday night as concerned citizens showed-up to share their anxiety about the future of the Care Center. In recent months, the council has begun to look at ways to improve the financial situation at the senior care facility, and in the process, has floated the possibility of selling the facility outright.

This discussion raised serious concerns among employees of the Care Center and other community members who feel the council isn’t being transparent. The previous evening, department heads at the Care Center held a public meeting to discuss a possible sale of the Care Center. Roughly 40 people attended the event, which was also attended by the families of current residents and other community members.

The employees raised several concerns which they feel the council is not properly addressing, including a lack of transparency with Care Center employees and department heads. They also criticized the council for only looking at the situation financially while ignoring, in their view, the positive contribution the facility brings to Clarkfield. Several department heads also questioned the numbers being used by the council, and have requested internal numbers from Ecumen to back up their case. Additionally, attendees expressed their anxieties about the economic impact losing the Care Center would have on the community.

While the council insists that it is only weighing the options, Care Center employees feel that the city isn’t considering alternative plans. They point out that the facility is a 5-star care center, and as such, is an important asset to the city. Employees are also worried about what might happen to their Public Employee Retirement Accounts (which they would lose access to in the advent of privatization) and other benefits they receive through the current management company, Ecumen.

Citizens too, seemed especially worried. Former Mayor Jeff Lobdell stressed the economic benefits that the Care Center brings to the community, saying, “As a taxpayer, if we have to float a business that is so critical to our community, I would do that.” Other citizens expressed their frustration that the council is also exploring renovation options at the old high school, with one resident saying simply, “Something is just not right. We need to regroup and figure out our priorities.”

In other news:

As part of the normal budget process, the Council held a ‘Truth-in-Taxation’ meeting at the start of the meeting. The city provided an overview of the 2018 budget and was available to answer questions from the community. After originally projecting a levy increase, the city is now informing residents that their city taxes will actually fall for the first time in 6 years. City Administrator Amanda Luepke expects the levy to decrease by 1.7% over last year. The total money being levied for the upcoming year is $384,750.

Care Center Director Shari McNamara gave her regular report to the council. She noted that residency was up in October, which she said helped boost earnings. Operating expenses were slightly higher than expected, but McNamara explained that this was due to higher benefit payouts resulting from a recently terminated employee.

McNamara also informed the council that the Care Center is in preliminary talks to open a permanent clinic at the facility. The Care Center currently uses the Montevideo clinic, and any new Clarkfield clinic would be open to all residents. McNamara asked the council to meet later this month to discuss the options in more detail, and the council agreed.

City Administrator Luepke asked that the council move the next meeting from Tuesday, December 19, to Monday, December 18 to accommodate the school choir concert. The council unanimously approved the date change.

Capping off several months of work, the council will formally adopt the Minnesota Basic Code on January 2, 2018. The city currently has its own zoning code, but is adopting the state-wide code to help update certain regulations. A zoning hearing is schedule for the December 18 council meeting to discuss some of the new changes Clarkfield residents might see.