Medical facility scheme disputed

HANCOCK – Candidates from the three contested Houghton County Board races answered questions at last week’s Copper Country League of Women Voters forum.

Speakers included Board Chairman Al Koskela, the Republican incumbent from District 2, and Democratic challenger Valorie Troesch; Vice Chairman Tim Palosaari, the Republican incumbent from District 5, and Democratic challenger George Rajala; and Tom Tikkanen, the Republican candidate from District 1. Tikkanen’s opponent, Democratic candidate Rick Kasprzak, came to the forum but had to leave before the board segment because of a family emergency.

Tikkanen said the most important issue facing the board was protecting elder care in the community, particularly because of the area’s large percentage of seniors.

“Many of us probably recall those days when we were forced to send loved ones sometimes hundreds of miles away for elder care,” he said. “I believe that’s something we have to continue to guard against occurring again.”

Rajala said he would try to improve the board, which he said people he knows on the board have told him is not functioning properly. He also pledged to preserve the Houghton County Medical Care Facility.

The board approved placing a six-year millage on the ballot this year. Some board members had floated the idea at meetings of reducing the length and size of the millage; Commissioner Anton Pintar said some had privately discussed privatizing the facility, which other board members denied. Voters approved the millage renewal in August with an 80 percent majority.

“That medical care facility will not be privatized when I’m elected, and I will be,” Rajala said.

Koskela said the increasing drug use in the county is the biggest problem. Not only does it increase the burden on the county jail, he said, it also strains the capacity of Copper Country Mental Health and adds overtime costs to the Sheriff’s Department, which transports mental health patients to facilities in Marquette and downstate.

“These are not reimbursable,” he said. “These are all taken out of the general budget, and our budget keeps on shrinking because of those matters.”

Troesch said if elected she’d like the board to develop a process to determine what issues are most important, and how it will fund addressing those issues.

“There isn’t that kind of systematic, strategic kind of planning that’s in place,” she said.

Palosaari said by keeping a conservative budget and setting money aside every year, the county will be able to make improvements to the jail without seeking a millage.

“I believe we don’t need to build a whole new Taj Mahal,” he said. “We can do something a little simpler and more cost-effective.”

Another issue for the county, he said, will be the county’s health insurance costs, which recently increased by 25 percent.