MAYVILLE – For the third time this year, the effort to privatize the Chautauqua County Home has been defeated.
Wednesday Night the Chautauqua County Legislature voted to sell the county home to VestraCare at a cost of $16.5 million. The final vote was 16 to 9, which was one vote short of the 17 that is required for a property sale under the county charter.
Prior to the vote, legislators spent an hour discussing the sale. Legislator Tim Hoyer (D-Jamestown) said he was opposed to the sale because he felt the county needs the skilled nursing facility in order to ensure its residents will be properly taken care of.
“When we own our own county nursing home, we can take care of our family. We can take them in, not needing a means test to see if they can help turn a profit,” Hoyer said. “When we own our county home, we can act with compassion for each and promise to provide for each others’ common needs because of our county home. There is no worry about whether or not we will be accepted, only if there is a bed available. That promise of care is what we are being asked to sell tonight.”
However, several lawmakers disagreed with Hoyer, saying that if the county doesn’t privatize the home, it risks being closed down in the near future. Legislator and Republican county executive candidate Vince Horrigan (R-Bemus Point) said that selling the county home shouldn’t be considered a loss, but rather an opportunity.
“If we do not seize this opportunity, if we just continue like in 1987 until now to kick this down the road, I truly believe there will come a time when we will not talking about a buyer, at lest not this quality buyer. We’ll have to face the consequences that could be something much less than the opportunity to privatize. None of us want that.”
Legislator and minority leader Bob Whitney (D-Jamestown) said he was opposed to the sale because he didn’t feel legislators were given enough time to research VestraCare. He accused the process of being rushed for political reasons…
“You can slice it anyway you want but his is not a vote tonight to sell the county home. It’s a vote so one political party can try to make this election about the sale of the county home. Not about the record on job loss, tax increases and political gerrymandering of legislature lines,” Whitney said. “They control the agenda so they are going to use the legislative process in an attempt to influence the election…. you would have to be a fool to think the timing of this vote was just by chance.”
Besides Whitney and Hoyer, the other Legislators voting against sale were: Keith Ahlstrom (D-Dunkirk), Lori Cornell (D-Jamestown), Billy Coughlin (D-Fredonia), Tom DeJoe (D-Brocton), Bob Duff (R-Sheridan), Shaun Heenan (D-Dunkirk) and Bob Scudder (R-Fredonia).
LISTEN TO LEGISLATORS COMMENTS AND REACTION FROM COUNTY EXECUTIVE
OVER A DOZEN SPEAK OUT AGAINST SELLING THE HOME
Prior to the legislature discussing the sale of the county home, members of the public were given an opportunity to offer their thoughts on the proposed sale.In all, 15 people spoke, including County Home Resident Joe Carrus, who serves as the president of the home’s resident’s council and made an impassioned plea to the lawmakers.
“Can’t you hear that the sick and old and employees are calling out to you, the county legislator? Can’t you hear their cries?” Carrus asked. “Will you grasp their outstretched hands or let them cry in vain when you cast your vote for the buyers? Please don’t cast that vote for the buyers! You did not do enough research to begin with.”
Another who spoke out against the sale was Dunkirk resident Frank Gawronski, who said that several lawmakers have said selling the home will help reduce taxes. Something he doesn’t believe.
“My county taxes come out to about $400 a year. How much are you going to save me by selling the county home? You might save me five buck. It’s not worth the five bucks you’re going to save me to do what you’ve done. You’ll further divide this county into north and south with the false promises of a tax deduction that we’re never going to see.”
Several members of the CSEA Unit 6300 also where on hand and spoke out against the sale.
Of the 15 speakers, only one spoke out in favor of selling the county home, and that was Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce president Todd Tranum, who said that if the county doesn’t sell the home soon, it will risk having to close the facility down. He also said that a sale would benefit more residents than it would hurt.
“For some here tonight, voting ‘yes’ to sell the county home may be a difficult decision,” Tranum said. “However, if you look at it from the framework of saving jobs, saving important services for our elderly, saving an asset, doing what is fiscally and financially right to do, and doing what is right for the taxpayers of Chautauqua County, then it really should not be that hard of a decision.”
EDWARDS PREDICTS VOTERS WILL SHOW DISPLEASURE WITH FAILED SALE
Following the failed vote, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards admitted that the result was what he had anticipated, although he also said that he was still disappointed. He also said that when he contacts VestraCare, he will let them know that the decision was not based on how they run their operations.
“I’m going to compliment them on the fact that despite immense efforts by people opposed to the [the sale] of trying to find something bad VestraCare, not one single negative word was mentioned about the performance of VestraCare,” Edwards stated. “So he should be taking this vote as a compliment, in the sense that not a single person could say anything bad, just not enough people could recognize the value and the opportunity that he proposed.”
Edwards believes that the sale of the home will happen at some point in the near future, and that’s because voters will not re-elect those who voted against the sale.
I’m confident that on Tuesday, voters are going to vote at the polling places with a clear agenda on their minds. That they are going to look to replace those legislators who voted in opposition to their wishes and that their going to put people in those spots that are going to do what they are hired to do, and that is to represent the majority of the people in Chautauqua County.”
As for the buyer of the home, VestraCare co-owner Edward Farbenblum told WRFA earlier this month that if the sale was voted down, he would reconsider submitting another proposal, although there’s no guarantee because he was also looking into purchasing another similar facility, and stated that it would be one or the other, but not both.