It is difficult to understand or even comprehend the unwillingness of a number of Chautauqua County legislators to approve a sale of the County Home.
At a time of economic distress, increasing costs for everything from health care to gasoline, why is it that there are a number of politicians in Mayville who can't see their way clear to authorize a sale of the County Home to private interests and save county taxpayers a minimum of $3,000,000 a year and more in the future?
What is it that so constrains them from doing the right thing for the benefit of the taxpayers they represent ? Need they be reminded that government exists to provide services which the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide ?
As a result of onerous New York State mandates for the funding of public assistance, Medicaid and the like, the county has very little room by way of discretionary spending in which to reduce expenditures. Public Safety, DPW and the County Home are the only major areas of spending that the county has the ability to control.
Of these three major areas only the County Home is unnecessary as the private sector has demonstrated the ability to deliver this service to those in need. While the county is unable to deliver this service at a profit, the public sector clearly does and does so efficiently and in the face of government subsidized competition in the form of the County Home.
The reasons for this disparity are easily explained.
As a result of public pension costs, at least 12 paid vacation days, generous health insurance benefits and other public employee benefits, our sacred County Home costs taxpayers 20 cents of every dollar more than does that same dollar in the private sector.
That translates into about $800,000 more per year just to cover public employee benefits at the County Home. I cannot think of a single reason why we, the taxpayers, need to continue financial support to what clearly should be a privately operated institution.
A sale of the County Home would not put the patients there out on the street and most if not all of the employees would not lose their jobs. They would no longer be public employees represented by a public employee union, but would soon be protected by an new private sector labor organization once the sale was finalized. Quality patient care would continue and in many cases be enhanced by the delivery of new services which the county is legally constrained from providing.
Most importantly the taxpayers would be relieved of the financial burden of at least $3,000,000 per year to give 219 county residents nursing home care. There are at least 10 or 12 other private sector facilities in the county at this moment, none of which receive financial assistance from the county and all of which are financially stable and all of which provide comparable patient care. Why then do we the taxpayers need to spend public money to the tune of $3,000,000 annually to provide a private sector service to 219 individuals ?
The answer is simple.
A number of our legislators - most of whom are Democrats - fear the political wrath of the CSEA more than they fear or respect the wishes of the taxpayers. Just look at who shows up to legislature meetings to make sure our representatives get the message. It is not you or me the taxpayer. On whose lawns are the "Save Our Home" placards placed. Not the lawns of the private sector working stiff.
Keep in mind that the number one job of a politician is to get re-elected. Thus holding a seat on the County Legislature becomes more important than serving the best interests of the people they were elected to represent. Without the support of the special interests in the form of the CSEA, they fear a loss at the next election.
So what if property taxes become so onerous the voters begin losing their homes. So long as they can keep their precious seat on the County Legislature it does not matter. Who cares if services enjoyed by all the people- such as snow removal, quality roads and police protection - must be sacrificed through budget cuts. We must keep the public employees and the CSEA happy at all costs.
And it goes beyond that. The County Home in Dunkirk has been a traditional vestige of political patronage and there are certain legislators who want to keep it that way. After all, doing favors and getting public jobs for certain well-connected people is part of the legislative process.
If some of those beholden county legislators could offer one cogent, logical, informed and educated reason why the County Home should continue in public hands, I would be happy to listen. If they could even explain why we should spend $3,000,000 and more annually to benefit 219 county residents - that's $13,698 dollars of public money per patient per year, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer - when the private sector is perfectly able to provide the same service at no county taxpayer expense, perhaps my opinion would change.
The fact is there is utterly no justifiable humanitarian, economic, patient care or public benefit rationale for keeping this facility under county management and control. There are however some very good political reasons for doing so, which is undoubtedly why an insufficient number of legislators will vote to rid the county of this financial albatros.
Sadly, doing the right thing for the taxpayer will be trumped by doing the wrong thing to guarantee retention of that precious, ego-gratifying seat on the County Legislature.
Enough is enough.
How about just once choosing the more difficult right over the easier wrong, sell the County Home and give the long suffering taxpayer a small break for a change.
Richard L Sotir Jr. lives in Jamestown.