MAYVILLE - With a possible sale of the Chautauqua County Home back on the table, will any legislators change their votes?
In January, nine legislators voted against selling the County Home to William (Avi) Rothner and Altitude Health Services. Six said they would not vote to sell the home to anyone.
When Rothner's offer - which was for a $16.5 million cash purchase of the home - was being discussed, legislators questioned his homes and family connections before ultimately making the decision not to sell. In order to sell the home, 17 votes were required, due to a local law requiring the supermajority of the vote in order to sell real property owned by Chautauqua County. The final vote was 16 legislators in favor of selling the home; nine opposed.
Voting against the sale in January were Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; William Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Thomas DeJoe, D-Brocton; Robert Duff, R-Sheridan; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; and Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown.
The 16 legislators who voted in favor of selling the home were: Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; George Borrello, R-Irving; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; Victoria James, D-Jamestown; Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; Rod Rogers, G-Forestville; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Robert Stewart, R-Ellington; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Paul Wendel, R-Lakewood; and legislative Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville.
Following the January vote, legislators then divulged their intent to sell. Of the 25 legislators, 18 said they would be interested in selling the home to a different purchaser if one came along.
Ahlstrom, Coughlin, DeJoe, Heenan, Hoyer and Scudder held firm on their decision not to sell the Home. Cornell and Whitney said they are for the sale of the Home. Duff had left the meeting before the resolution was called.
County Executive Greg Edwards announced Wednesday there is a new potential purchaser for the County Home. Richard Platschek of 10836 Temple Realty LLC and Chautauqua Restorative and Nursing Center LLC, like Rothner, has offered $16.5 million cash. Additionally, Platschek has offered a $1.65 million good faith deposit to the county.
A SWING VOTE?
The OBSERVER reached out to the nine legislators who previously voted against selling the Home to Rothner to see if any had changed their mind about selling. Of the nine, four responded Thursday.
Ahlstrom's view on the subject of the sale has not changed over the last several months.
"The County Home is located within my legislative district," he said. "I believe that I am representing the wishes of the majority of the people within my legislative district by voting not to sell."
However, Ahlstrom said that although he does not anticipate changing his vote, he will still be doing due diligence on Platschek to see who he is as a buyer, what his previous experiences in buying homes have been and looking at his previous results.
"Certainly, I'm still going to pay close attention to the situation," Ahlstrom said.
Like Ahlstrom, Hoyer is opposed to selling the home. According to Hoyer, there are no benefits to the county if the County Home is sold, and no recognizable tax savings.
"Mostly, it's the difference between a public, us, running the County Home, or a corporation running the County Home," Hoyer said. "Corporations go for profit. If this buyer wants to make a profit, how is he going to do that when the County Home loses money and he will lose Intergovernmental Transfer, IGT, payments? Unless he shows us how he is going to have a budget that balances, or a budget that he is willing to lose money on, we cannot sell the home responsibly."
Even if Platschek is able to demonstrate a balanced budget, Hoyer said it will not sway him to vote in favor of selling the Home.
"I don't like the fact that also he becomes in charge of wages and benefits, and he takes away the status of the union to bargain for wages," Hoyer said. "He does not offer the same benefits package, he only offers us something similar."
Additionally, Hoyer does not like that Platschek has two limited liability companies.
"Will the owner, the purchaser who will own it, does he make money?" Hoyer asked. "And, if so, why does he make money on something he's not even running? Two, why a limited liability company? Does he not care to be responsible for the people? He's just using law to limit his exposure to care for the people. History shows that when you have one person that owns it and another to run it, you can't hold anybody accountable. That's another reason not to sell it."
DeJoe said Edwards is not looking at the human side of the Home, only looking at the numbers.
"The home is very important in the north county," DeJoe said.
He also argued that if the County Home were sold, the county would be losing a substantial amount of money.
"Over the past 50 plus years, the County Home has purchased services from the county instead of outside sources," DeJoe said. "By doing this, the County Home has paid the county probably over $10 million, which has been used to reduce county taxes during that time. Last year alone, the County Home paid over $560,000 to the county for services. ... My heels are dug in even deeper now to do all in my power to keep the County Home open, for it to continue to provide care to those that are unable to care for themselves."
Additionally, DeJoe said he has received phone calls from his constituents already, urging him to look into Platschek's other homes and potential unconfirmed connections to Rothner.
Whitney had said in January he would be willing to sell the Home, just not to Rothner. When questioned Thursday, Whitney said he would still be willing to sell the Home.
"Nothing has changed, but I just got the information (Wednesday)," he told the OBSERVER. "The Republicans knew about it two weeks ago. I just found out (Wednesday), and it's in the paper (Thursday), so I didn't get much lead time on it."
Whitney said he hopes the legislature will be able to interview Platschek as it did Rothner in October 2012. His decision, Whitney said, boils down to the benefits that will be offered employees. According to County Attorney Steve Abdella, the benefits Platschek has offered are similar to what employees are currently offered.
"I want to know what his similar benefits are," Whitney stated. "I want to know what the benefit packages are, I want to know retirement, everything, health, what he's planning on doing with wages. I want to look into all that stuff."
Phone calls to five legislators went unreturned Thursday. However, whether their votes will change may lie in their voting history.
Duff has repeatedly expressed his opinion that the County Home is not for sale. In December 2011, the legislature voted 13-11 to begin marketing the Home for sale with assistance from Marcus & Millichap. Duff was one of the 11 opposed to marketing the Home.
In September 2012, Duff reaffirmed his position to the OBSERVER, stating in a straw poll he would not be willing to sell the County Home. And, when legislators had the opportunity to sell the Home earlier this year, Duff was adamant in his vote to not sell.
Coughlin, Heenan and Scudder seem to be listening to the wishes of their north county constituents in their repeated votes to not sell the Home. The three also said they would not be willing to sell the Home, regardless of the circumstances.
Coughlin has repeatedly voted in favor of keeping the Home. In April 2012, Coughlin co-sponsored legislation supporting the increase of the county share of the fund balance to help support the County Home. He also spoke as a part of the Prendergast Library's critical discussion series in January.
"The questions I present are two-fold," Coughlin said. "Number one, do we want to sell the Home? Do they have the votes necessary to sell the Home? That's the first vote they needed to take. Now, the next vote if you're going to sell the Home, is 'Do you want to sell it to William Avi Rothner?' There are two separate issues."
In January and February, Coughlin presented resounding "no" votes on the issue of selling the Home.
Like Duff, Heenan also voted against marketing the Home in December 2011. His "no" votes in January and February of this year reflect his opposition to the sale of the Home.
Scudder, another north county legislator, also opposed marketing the home in 2011. However, when it came to a straw poll by the OBSERVER in September 2012, Scudder said he was undecided as to how he would vote when the time came. When the legislature voted on whether to sell the Home to Rothner, Scudder proved to be a no vote in January and February.
Although Lori Cornell was opposed to marketing the home in December 2011, she said in January of this year she would be interested in selling the Home if a different purchaser came along.
When Rothner was named as a potential purchaser, Cornell had no qualms about speaking out against him.
"I'm not here to argue whether or not to sell the County Home," Cornell said in January. "The question before us that we can really hone in on is whether or not this is the appropriate buyer. If we are going to sell the Home, is this the gentleman who we want to sell our County Home to?"
Cornell also wrote a commentary to the OBSERVER in January, expressing her thoughts about Rothner and expressing her concerns.
"Sure, selling the County Home to Avi Rothner, as planned by the county executive for (February), would well-handle the county's property status," Cornell wrote. "But as county legislators, we are challenged to think beyond property transactions and take responsibility for the safety, well-being, and future stability of some of the most vulnerable citizens among us. Their lives have literally been entrusted to us."
Currently, Cornell has given no indication of her thoughts with the current purchaser, as a phone call to her went unreturned.
According to Gould, a special meeting for Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. has been called for legislators to meet with Platschek. Gould said he does not anticipate committees discussing the purchase this month, but they likely will be in September.
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