A Letter From Fred Larson

Elections have consequences.

Last November’s election was turned into a referendum on the County Home.

As a result of that referendum, this body of 13 Republicans to 6 Democrats is the most one-sided legislature since “one man, one vote” became the law of Chautauqua County in 1971.

This Legislature and this Executive will sell the County Home. That is the result a clear majority of the voters of Chautauqua County voted for just three months ago.

The current offer by VestraCare to buy the County Home is already $500,000 less than its last offer. If the County Home is not sold tonight before that offer expires, it will be sold next month, probably for another $500,000 less. The private buyer knows that, next month, there will be 13 votes in favor of selling for $15,500,000.

There is simply no point to dragging this agony out and costing the taxpayers another half-million dollars by waiting until next month or April to sell.

There is plenty of blame to go around for our County’s current, regrettable posture on this issue.

The truth is that the County Home has lost about $1,000,000 per year for at least the last two years. Some of those involved, however, chose to portray the cost to the County taxpayers as over $3,000,000 per year (or $9,000 per day).

The first proposed buyer who came before the County Legislature probably was a bad choice to operate this large and important nursing home for the people of northern Chautauqua County. The second proposed buyer, called by some “the ideal buyer,” failed to make his required down payment. The third and current proposed buyer seems the best of the three.

The buyer tonight has publicly acknowledged that the CSEA union will continue to represent the employees at the privately owned County Home. This buyer is not here in Chautauqua County as a “union buster.”

When the Republican-controlled County Board of Supervisors built the County Home in the Town of Dunkirk in 1960, our country had not yet created Medicare and Medicaid to pay for the nursing home care of our elderly citizens. The creation and operation of the County Home in 1960 was a legitimate function of County government. In 2014, it would still be legitimate for this County to own and run a nursing home, but because of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 to provide for the health care needs of our elderly, it is no longer essential for the County to be in the nursing home business.

Through no fault of the CSEA, the workers at the County Home or the County administration, the NYS retirement system requires the County to pay about 18% of wages and salaries into the State retirement system. On an $8,500,000 annual payroll the taxpayers pay about $1,500,000 into the retirement system. The private buyer will contribute 3% or 4% into a 401(k) type retirement plan, instantly saving about $1,100,000 per year compared to the County’s mandated retirement cost.

The sale of the County Home is not a public policy decision taken in isolation. This decision should enable the County to move forward in important ways in economic development. I understand that funds remaining after the sale of the nursing home must be used on capital projects. Those capital funds should be targeted at creating START-UP NY opportunities for new or expanding businesses and the jobs they will bring to our citizens (not dissipated on routine highway and bridge work).

It is personally difficult and painful for me to be the deciding vote tonight. During this last election, some good public servants were vilified, slandered and libeled simply because they had the nerve to suggest that keeping the County Home and doing a better job running it could be a legitimate alternative to selling it.

In closing, a clear majority of the voters of Chautauqua County want the County Home sold. Tonight, in our representative democracy, the majority gets its wish. Mine will be the deciding vote tonight only because failure means flushing money down the drain.

Fred Larson

county legislator, D-Jamestown