MAYVILLE - Is there enough support in the legislature to sell the Chautauqua County Home? Not so, says legislator John Runkle, R-Stockton.
Lawmakers last week heard a much-anticipated viability report by Don Pryor of the Center for Governmental Research. The $80,000 report, which is now available on the county's website, was given during a special legislative session.
"In my opinion we will have to go to Plan B," Runkle said of current support to sell the County Home. "There has to be alternatives and there has to be concessions.
"These savings suggested (in the report) have to be looked at. To simply want to sell it is not good enough."
For the County Home to be sold, a two-thirds supermajority (17 yes votes) would be needed. Runkle said he doesn't expect a vote to come next month - noting that his ad-hoc committee will meet within the "next couple of weeks" to discuss their options.
Pryor pointed to at least a half-dozen cost-cutting measures that could save the home $2.3 million annually. That would require the implementation of electronic medical record keeping and limits on salaries and benefits to union workers. Hooking up a gas well on the County Home's property could also generate savings, the report states.
"We have to look at both sides of the coin," Runkle said. "We need to look at these options."
Two qualified bids have been received for the County Home. Absolut Care, which operates two nursing facilities in Chautauqua County, submitted an offer of $1.6 million a year with a purchase option of $16 million. Altitude Health offered $16.5 million in cash for the facility.
Although the immediate future of the home remains murky at best, County Executive Greg Edwards is making it crystal clear how he feels.
"The only way for us to save the home for residents and the jobs offered by this 200-plus-bed long-term care facility is to sell it," Edwards said in his Monday Morning Memo.
"This report is over 120 pages long and is full of graphs, appendices, facts, figures - and most of all - assumptions," the county executive said.
"The report confirms in very stark terms what I have been saying for almost a year: We can either sell or lease the County Home, or we can retain ownership for at least three years while immediately implementing cost-saving measures and revenue enhancements. The options in this study mirror the suggestions given by an ad hoc committee which was completed in 2009."
The viability report essentially outlined two options regarding the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility: Sell or lease it to a reputable buyer or retain it for at least three years while enhancing revenues and slashing costs.
For the latter to occur, Pryor said concessions from County Home workers, members of CSEA Unit 6300, would need to be negotiated. David Fagerstrom, Unit 6300 president, said his members have always been willing to sit down at the table, and pointed out that the county has thrown out every proposal they have put forward.
Regardless, Edwards said county taxpayers can no longer foot the bill to keep the home open. To stay solvent, it is expected that $2.6 million in government subsidies will be needed, most notably in the form of intergovernmental transfers.
In the last five years the county has contributed $6.6 million in local IGT funding, netting the home a $14.9 million revenue boost.
"The taxpayers of our county cannot afford us taking $2.6 million of their hard earned dollars every year to subsidize 250 government jobs," Edwards said.
He added: "The CGR report assumes that Federal IGT money will continue and that New York state will not cut our Medicaid and Medicare rates. The trend across not only the state by the country is that counties are getting out of the business of county homes.
"As more counties face the same difficult decision we are facing more and more will be looking to sell their facilities which may drive the value of our home down."
But it's not just Edwards that is taking a stand on the home. Runkle, who also chairs the ad hoc committee that tapped CGR for its report, said the final say will come down to the County Legislature, not the county executive.
"To be blunt, the decision to sell the home is not up to the county executive but up to the legislature," he said.