OBSERVER Staff Report
Although a handful of municipalities in southern Chautauqua County have felt the urge to make their opinions known on selling the Chautauqua County Home, most municipalities in the northern end of the county want the legislature to make their decision without any additional input.
In the southern end of the county, the Ellicott Town Board, the Carroll Town Board, the Kiantone Town Board and the Lakewood Village Board have all passed motions supporting the sale of the County Home, which is located in the town of Dunkirk.
The OBSERVER contacted a number of municipalities in northern Chautauqua County. None have passed resolutions either supporting or opposing the sale of the skilled nursing facility.
Only the Stockton Town Board has talked about taking an official stance. The boards that have not taken an official opinion and are not expected to include Arkwright, Brocton, Cassadaga, Charlotte, the city of Dunkirk, the town of Dunkirk, Fredonia, Hanover, Pomfret, Portland, Ripley, Silver Creek and Sinclairville.
Chautauqua County Legislature Chairman Frank "Jay" Gould, R-Busti, has called for a special meeting on Oct. 18. The only item on the agenda is the potential sale of the County Home to Altitude Health Services, Inc., which has offered $16.5 million in cash for the facility.
"My personal opinion is we shouldn't pass a resolution. We should not be telling another entity what to do. I don't want other entities telling me how Arkwright should act," said Arkwright Town Supervisor Frederic Norton.
Charlotte Town Supervisor Kenneth Bochmann agrees with Norton. "My personal opinion is that it is a county matter," he said.
The Dunkirk Town Board stands the most likely to benefit financially should the County Home be sold to Altitude Health Services, Inc. because the skilled nursing home would return to the property tax rolls.
But Dunkirk Town Supervisor Richard Purol said the town board has not spoken about the decision to keep or sell the County Home. Personally, though, he does not want to see is sold.
"In my personal opinion I would like to keep it. The County Home is in our town and they have been a real good neighbor and I would like to see them stay. They do a good deed taking care of our seniors," he said.
But ultimately Purol said it is up to the county legislature to decide what to do with the County Home. Purol added he has told his county legislator, Robert Duff, his opinion of the matter.
Duff said he does not support selling the facility. "The County Home should not be sold based on passed references on many, many, many people who are no longer with us," he said.
Members of the city's Common Council have decided to stay out of the County Home controversy at least officially. Council members were asked via email if a resolution was planned to state their position.
Second Ward Councilman William Rivera replied that council was not going to speak on the home publicly. He did state he would speak for himself and perhaps captured the essence of the issue.
"In my position I can understand the situation from two sides," Rivera stated. "Understanding budget deficits and the cost of things is one side of the dilemma. Obviously, we're trying to alleviate responsibility of the County Home from the taxpayers' shoulders. The other side of the situation is that if the sale goes through people fear the quality of care that is given at the facility currently will suffer, as well as the pay and the benefits that are provided to the employees.
"In a perfect world if I could know that those two things would not suffer, the sale of the County Home would be much easier to digest."
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala replied that council has differing opinions on the issue.
"I am not in favor of a resolution supporting or not supporting the county home sale and its many issues," she stated. "I know council has differences in opinions in this matter."
Third Ward Councilman Adelino Gonzalez worries county officials are short-sited on the matter.
"The way that I feel, when they sell the Home they are going to take that money and spend it like if it was Christmas Day, and a few months down the road, they will ask what happened to that money and blame one another as to who spends the money," he stated. "Meanwhile, the employees at the Home will see their jobs, little by little, being cut and given to other workers to do in an effort to make money at the expense of others. This is what these companies do. Then what you are going to have is a lot of very angry people saying 'I told you so,' while the county will be looking to see what else they can sell off to make money for the next budget.
"I think that the union and the county can come up with something before they make or take this big decision that's going to effect a whole lot of people and eventually end up in the same boat, but up the river with no paddle," he concluded.
Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak also replied.
"I don't know where everyone stands with that," she stated. " I don't know what the official position on this is, either from the council or mayor."
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce said he was not taking an official position on the County Home outcome.
Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe said the village board had not discussed plans to enact a resolution regarding the Home, and did not expect to do so.
On his own thoughts regarding the Home, Keefe, a former county legislator, said he's in favor of keeping it in public hands.
"I had one of the signs (in support of keeping it as county property) in my front yard, until it disappeared. It didn't make it through the winter," he said, adding "I don't understand why some take an attack against the workforce," noting the well-paid employees at the home help the local economy as they spend their earnings.
Keefe said during his nine years as a county legislator until 2009, there were occasions the county would borrow against the Home to help cover other expenses. He said he did not know if the current problems were due to cuts by the state, the economic downturn, increases in health care costs, mismanagement or other reasons. "When I was a county legislator, it was never an issue," he said.
Pomfret Town Supervisor Don Steger said like Fredonia, they haven't discussed such a resolution and doesn't know how other board members feel about a potential sale.
Personally Steger said he is "kind of on the fence" and "can see both sides of it," but said, if pressed, "I'm not ready to sell it just yet."
Steger said many questions were unanswered, including what, if anything, the Home actually costs individual tax payers. "Is it a dollar per $1,000 assessed value? Is it $10? I don't know what I actually pay," he said, adding that he feels the answer to that question should be made clear to taxpayers.
Steger also noted the home does not run entirely on subsidies. "It's not like (anyone) goes there for free. People pay to go into the Home," he explained. "I'm concerned about the employees, the workforce and what happens to them," he said, but added he also understand the concerns. "I'm all for reducing costs and I think it's really important to look for ways to save money, but I don't necessarily think shrinking the government is always the answer to every problem."
The Stockton Town Board is the only area municipality that have talked about voicing an opinion.
"We have discussed the idea of a resolution and are contemplating it, but no decision has been made," said Supervisor David Wilson. "If we did it, it would be introduced at the next board meeting (Oct. 9 )."
OTHER AREA OFFICIALS
For Brocton Mayor David Hazelton, the issue is very close to his heart. "I stress this is my own personal opinion. I feel that the County Home is very much needed in this end of the county. My sister was in the County Home," he said.
Silver Creek Trustee Nick Piccolo admits it's a complicated issue. "All you have to look at is will it affect our area? Yes it would, but the more you read about it the more selling seems beneficial. But then you read about the CSEA contract and you wonder how much are you really saving? It's a hard situation and the price of health care just keep going up," he said.
Ripley Town Supervisor Douglas Bowen said the board has not discussed the matter.
"I have not discussed it with the town board members," he said. "I'm still undecided personally."
Compiled by OBSERVER Managing Editor Gregory Bacon. Contributing to this report were staff members Gib Snyder, Nicole Gugino, Shirley Pulawski, Samantha McDonnell and Diane Chodan. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org