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February 7, 2013

Council to proceed with Manor sale

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — A plan designed to spare the Otsego Manor from being privatized never got out of the starting gate, as a majority of the Otsego County Board of Representatives opted Wednesday to instead proceed with the effort to sell the heavily subsidized nursing home.

The board effectively killed the plan — calling for allowing county residents to be surveyed on a proposed increase in the sales tax rate from 8 percent to 8.25 percent — after a parade of citizens urged the representatives to do whatever was necessary to keep the nursing home as a public facility.

In an unusual convergence of unrelated interests at a county board meeting, dozens of supporters of gun rights also streamed into the county courthouse to urge the representatives to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of the new state “SAFE Act” law. That measure, pushed through by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was slammed by gun enthusiasts as a violation of their constitutional rights and an attempt by the governor to position himself for a run for the White House in 2016.

While the board did not discuss the new state gun law, Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, said later he would initiate a proposed resolution opposing the gun law when he convenes the next meeting of the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee.

The Manor plan, teed up by Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, was spiked after a lengthy discussion over the feasibility of conducting an online poll to measure public opinion regarding a possible sales tax increase.

The board’s chairwoman, Rep. Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, and Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, both said the sales tax component of the plan was doomed because both Cuomo and the state Legislature are adverse to allowing local governments to increase the local sales tax rate.

Kosmer had said that permitting the .25 percent increase would generate $1.6 million — money that could be used to offset what has now grown to an annual public subsidy of more than $5 million for the facility.

Along with Kosmer, five representatives — Rich Murphy, D-town of Oneonta; Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester; Pauline Koren-R-Milford; Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta; and Keith McCarty, R-Springfield — voted to allow the plan to move forward. The other eight representatives argued the plan was vague. They also contended the sales tax push was a pointless exercise, given the indications that state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, would not carry a bill calling for a local sales tax increase.

Rep. Edwin Frazier Jr., R-Unadilla, said even if a higher sales tax was implemented, the Manor deficit could continue to grow.

Powers, among those who rejected the Kosmer plan, said pursuing a path of keeping the Manor a public home would damage the simultaneous effort of trying to find a new owner.

Kosmer said later he had no regrets for constructing the plan, and suggested the board was not accustomed to being presented with a proposal that allowed for significant elasticity in how an ultimate goal could be achieved. “I did the best I could to demonstrate that I was willing to seek all paths, and they did not have the appetite,” he said.

Among those speaking out against privatization was CSEA representative Karen Carpenter, who warned that the quality of care at nursing homes “frequently” declines after they are sold to for-profit operators.

Prior to taking up the Kosmer plan, gun enthusiasts, several of whom identified themselves as military veterans and former police officers, urged the board to make a statement against the gun law implemented in Albany last month.

“Our constitutional rights are now being grotesquely violated by our governor and many Democratic and Republican senators alike,” said Joe Marmorato of Hartwick, a retired New York City police officer and a local GOP activist. He and other speakers argued that a well armed citizenry helps to keep crime in check.