County Home Sale Vote Fails

MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Home will continue to be a taxpayer-funded facility following a third failed vote to privatize.

Sixteen legislators voted in favor of selling the home Wednesday night in the Legislative Chambers of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.

Nine voted against the sale of the county-owned skilled nursing facility located in Dunkirk.

The supermajority vote required 17 in order for the home to be sold to VestraCare, who offered $16.5 million for its purchase, which breaks down to $80,000 per bed.

Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown voted against the sale and spoke heatedly.

“You’d have to be a fool to think the timing of this vote was a coincidence,” he said, adding, “This is rushed to meet the political deadline,” referring to Election Day, Tuesday.

George Borrello, R-Irving, voted in favor and said, “This is hardly the Republican plot Mr. Whitney has made it out to be. There is no doubt, we have had plenty of time (to decide).”

Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown did not speak during the open session for legislators. She voted not to sell the home. However, at a meet the candidates session hosted by the League of Women Voters on Oct. 24, she said it was because of the potential buyers.

Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk said after the vote, “The majority of residents in my district are against it (the sale). I would caution everybody that there will come a time that some of the legislators are correct, that it will not be a sustainable function.”

Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point, said, “We’ve come a long way,” of the extensive process of the proposed sale of the home. The sustainability has been a hot topic since 2009 when a committee of the legislature was created to review the facility.

Horrigan voted in favor of the sale and spoke of it positively.

“The problem that I see is doing nothing. It does not seem to be getting us the benefit we need. I think we need to be straight. This (the sale) is not a loss. It’s an opportunity,” he said.

He spoke of the benefits of selling the home to VestraCare, saying the company has been cited for innovative solutions and would bring additional levels of care to the county.

“If we just continue, I believe there will come a time where we’ll have to face the consequence of something much less than the opportunity to privatize,” Horrigan said.

Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown, provided the audience with a lengthy explanation of why he is against the sale.

“It is an argument about whether or not we should take care of our elderly. It is our roll to take care of our neighbor,” he said, continuing with, “The sale of the County Home goes against our care of one another.”

Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown who voted in favor of the sale, addressed Hoyer with, “Be the voice of your constituents. Your beliefs must be set aside because you were elected to represent them.”

County Executive Greg Edwards (who included the sale in his 2013 budget presentation) said, “I wasn’t surprised by the vote, but disappointed in the legislators who, as constituents, had expressed clearly they would like the opportunity (to sell). The reality is that the value of the county nursing home is decreasing significantly. Studies prove that county homes will continue to cost tax dollars.”

Edwards said there will most likely be other offers in the future, but noted that VestraCare “was one of the best potential operators” and hopes they will “keep the Chautauqua County Home on their radar.”

Members of the community spoke out against the sale of the facility, urging legislators to “make the right choice,” and consider the home, its residents and their “displacement” if the county home were to be privatized.

Several of the same people have been present at the last two voting sessions, wearing bright yellow T-shirts that say, “Save our County Home.”

“I know the dollars mean a lot, but we also have been given a mission,” said Carol Steger, admission coordinator for the home. “In a private sector, dollars are the bottom line. I wish it would be more about what our true responsibilities are.”

On the other hand, Todd Tranum, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce president, spoke in favor of the sale and told legislators, “Put yourself in the position of closing in two years. What if you have to close rather than sell?”

The legislature will downsize from 25 to 19 in January, which could change the outcome of any future votes to sell. In order for the home to be sold, the supermajority vote would require a two-thirds vote in order to sell real property owned by the county.

In addition to Borrello, Horrigan and DeJoy, other legislators who voted in favor of selling the home were: Larry Barmore; R-Gerry; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Victoria James, D-Jamestown; Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; Rod Rodgers, G-Forestville; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Bob Stewart, R-Ellington, Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Paul Wendel, R-Lakewood; Jay Gould, R-Ashville.

In favor of keeping the home along with Whitney, Cornell, Ahlstrom and Hoyer, were William Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia.