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November 29, 2012

Otsego board grilled on Manor, job cuts

COOPERSTOWN — An Otsego County staffer who helps the elderly with questions about their medical benefits and Public Defender Richard “Otto” Rothermel were among a parade of people who urged county lawmakers Wednesday night to reconsider planned job cuts included in the tentative budget.

Fighting for his job and supported by about two dozen people who flocked to the Otsego County Courthouse for a public hearing on the spending plan, David Polley, an Office for the Aging benefits specialist, said services to the aged population “will suffer dramatically” if his position is eliminated.

Numerous senior citizens and John Imperato Sr., the president of the county’s Civil Service Employees Association local union, asked the board to keep Polley on the job.

“Why are we attacking our elderly?” asked Imperato, who also criticized the Board of Representatives’ decision earlier this year to seek a private operator for the 174-bed Otsego Manor nursing home.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Clark, R-Otego noted the board is facing tough choices heading into 2013 as a result of having to increase its subsidy to keep the county-owned nursing home operating from $3.3 million this year to $5.5 million next year.

She said unfunded mandates imposed by the state and rising retirement costs for public employees have forced the board to whittle away at services and consider cuts that prove to be unpopular.

Among the cuts included in the tentative budget — as released by county Treasurer Dan Crowell, who packed the document after consulting with board members — is the elimination of one of the five part-time assistant public defenders.

Rothermel challenged the reasoning for that cut, arguing the cost of providing representation to people who can’t afford a lawyer will end up increasing because it will drive more cases to so-called assigned counsel — private lawyers who work at a much higher hourly rate.

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