MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has given its approval for the privatization of the county home in Dunkirk.
Lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve the sale of the 216-bed skilled nursing facility to VestraCare with a price tag of $16 Million. The final vote was 13 to 5, with all lawmakers representing the Dunkirk and Fredonia areas voting against the sale. Thirteen votes were needed for the sale to go through, with County Legislature Chairman Jay Gould absent due to illness. The successful vote comes only after three previous failed attempts in 2013 to sell the facility.
SALE WAS INEVITABLE
The legislature spent 20 minutes discussing the sale prior to voting. Dunkirk Legislator Terry Niebel pleaded with his colleagues to hold off on selling, saying that the property was worth a lot more than the $16 million that was being offered.
“the only valuation that we have is from 1997 and that was a full valuation…. and that valued the county home at $23.9 million,” Niebel explained, adding, “That was actually six years before the $18 million renovation. And even since then, we’ve put $400,000 into a gas well and another $800,000 into a boiler and air conditioning system.”
Niebel suggested that lawmakers take the time to due a new valuation of the property to have an up-to-date assessment, saying that in the meantime, the county home could still operate for another two years without any additional taxpayer money.
Despite Niebel’s reasoning, Jamestown legislator Fred Larson explained that the sale of the county home would be inevitable and, considering the current offer from VestraCare would expire at the end of this month, failure to act now means the county would only be flushing money down the drain.
“If the county home is not sold tonight, it will be sold next month, probably for another $500,000 less,” Larson explained. “The buyer knows that next month there will be 13 votes in favor of selling for $15.5 million. There is simply no point to dragging this agony out and costing the taxpayers another half million dollars by waiting until next month or the month after to sell.”
CUTTING THE SAFETY NET
Prior to the vote, the legislature spent nearly 45 minutes listening to comments from the 14 members of the public, which were overwhelmingly against selling the facility.
Among those who spoke was Jamestown resident and former legislator Timothy Hoyer, who said that the county home provides a safety net for many senior residents who have no where else to go and that by selling the home, the county would be turning its back on those who are most in need of help.
Jamestown resident and local CSEA president Steve Skidmore also commented, saying that workers at the home have always been willing to make concessions. “Over and over I saw it reported in the paper that the CSEA wouldn’t come to the bargaining table to try and do our part and do what [the CGR study] said we can do with the county,” Skidmore said. ” It was patently untrue. We sent letter after letter to the county executive and he just ignored them.”
North county resident Joanne Niebel also was against the sale, saying the county home not only supports residents who need senior care and may not get it anywhere else, but also provides quality jobs that contribute to the local economy. “We have people in the community gleeful that these people are going to lose their paychecks and benefits, when they’re the ones who support the communities in the north, when we have nothing else. I mean, you couldn’t even keep a cookie factory in Silver Creek.”
The lone person to express his support for selling the facility was County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Tranum. “Failure to vote ‘yes’ and proceed with the sale, as many of you know, is just kicking the hard decision down the road. You do not want a situation – where many of you may still be in this room – two or three years from now having to make the difficult decision that other county’s have had to make to close the county home.”