By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, went down swinging Tuesday after going to bat for the second time in a week for his plan to keep the Otsego Manor nursing home as a public facility.
Kosmer’s fellow members of the Manor Committee opted to stay on the path to privatization.
The committee voted, 3 to 1, with Kosmer the lone dissenter, to send the full Board of Representatives a resolution authorizing the sale of the 174-bed Manor. The board initially voted in September to sell it, but that decision was voided last week by a state judge who held the representatives violated the state Open Meeting Law by being vague on what topics they were going to discuss in a closed-door meeting.
Kosmer said he sees no point in trying to convince the full board in March to reconsider his plan, since it was rejected last week and spurned again Tuesday by the board’s Manor Committee, headed by Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta.
“There is a difference between advocating for something and trying to beat a dead horse,” he said.
He told his fellow committee members that it “looks hypocritical” for them to say on one hand that they are open to alternatives to selling the Manor after refusing to take up his proposal while moving forward towards the goal of privatization.
Stuligross said later: “We’re open to other ideas, but we’re rejecting his. I don’t know what other ideas might come before us.”
The Kosmer plan called for renegotiating the contract the county has with the Civil Service Employees Association — the union representing more than 200 Manor workers — and boosting the total sales tax from 8 percent to 8.25 percent. He also advocated for county representatives to poll their constituents to determine if most county residents favor retaining or selling the Manor.
Advocates for keeping the deficit-plagued Manor a public facility mounted a petition drive, with some 1,800 people indicating they oppose privatization. But there has been no scientific survey determining how widespread public support is for keeping the Manor in the county’s portfolio of assets.
To better explain the privatization plan to the public, the Manor Committee will hold a series of “informational meetings” across the county.
The first will be held March 16 in Worcester. That will be followed by meetings in Cooperstown on March 23 and in Oneonta on March 30. All of the 90-minute sessions will begin at 1:30 p.m. Exact locations for the forums have not been selected yet.
Additional meetings will be held in April, and the schedule for those will be announced once dates and locations are determined, Stuligross said.
While the meetings will not be conducted as public hearings, Kosmer said county representatives should expect to get an earful from people who want to share ideas for streamlining the Manor operations in ways that could make it affordable to keep.
Rep. Don Lindberg, R-Worcester, said he sees no viable alternative to privatization.
“The county is going to go broke if we keep it,” he said, predicting most citizens will support privatization once they see how the cost of managing the facility will continue to spiral higher.
Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, who is not a member of the Manor Committee but attended its meeting Tuesday, said he was disappointed the panel snuffed out Kosmer’s plan.
“It responds to people who have asked us over and over again to find alternatives to selling the Manor,” Koutnik said. “It’s a good faith response. Secondly, it will bring the realities to light, and it will be the realities making it clear to everybody that it can’t be done, if that’s the case, not us saying we don’t want to try it because it will probably fail. That’s not the way I like to operate.”
Stuligross said she believes the vast majority of her constituents understand the complex forces that have made the continued operation of the Manor financially unsustainable for county government. “I’m not getting the complaints that a lot of other board members are because my constituents read the paper,” she said.
County lawmakers have been exploring privatizing the Manor since June, when county Treasurer Dan Crowell said the county’s subsidy for the facility was expected to grow rapidly, because of a lower Medicaid reimbursement rate while the costs for labor, supplies and materials are all escalating.