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April 4, 2013

Board to weigh options for Manor sale

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — A decision on whether to create a local development corporation (LDC) to handle the privatization of Otsego Manor could be made by the Otsego County Board of Representatives in just four weeks.

Despite a plea from a labor union leader to negotiate a new cost-saving labor contract, county lawmakers gave every indication Wednesday they remain committed to selling the 174-bed nursing home to put an end to a growing financial subsidy straining county finances.

Braced for what she described as a distinct possibility of Civil Service Employees Association trying to trip up the privatization plan, Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the Manor Committee said: “It looks like we’ll be sued no matter what.”

The county board has been preparing to sell the Manor since September, a decision that is vehemently opposed not only by the union but also by patient advocates who argue the quality of care will drop once a private operator takes charge.

The Manor Committee is expected to review three privatization options — setting up the LDC, having the board sell under a provision of county law or drafting a new local law allowing a party other than the highest bidder to purchase it — at its Wednesday meeting.

According to Stuligross, if the panel recommends taking the LDC path, a public hearing would have to be held on the proposal. That hearing would be held at 6 p.m. April 29 at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown.

The full county board would then vote on the LDC option at its next monthly board meeting, slated to be held at 10 a.m. May 1 at the county office building in Cooperstown.

Stuligross said she has warmed to the idea of going forward with an LDC despite initially having reservations about that option, which largely disconnects the board from marketing the nursing home to potential buyers.

“It’s cleaner and faster,” she said. “The sooner we can get anxiety of the minds of residents (at the Manor), the better off we are.”

But she noted she could not predict whether the full Manor Committee will embrace the LDC option.

“I wouldn’t want to second-guess people,” she said.

Some board members said while they want to learn more about how the LDC would function, they’re reluctant to cede the authority to sell the Manor to such a corporation, even though the board would handpick its officers.

“I have great reservations,” said Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta. “It seems to me that doing that will hand off my responsibility to someone who will end up making a decision that we will have no control over.”

At the opening of Wednesday’s meeting, John Imperato, president of the county chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association, told board members they’ve failed to respond to the union’s willingness to accept concessions.

“It seems the added bonus for the county is that CSEA looks like the bad guys who made it necessary to sell the nursing home when no progress was made,” even after the union signaled it was open to contract givebacks, Imperato said.

Later, Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, the chairman of the board’s Negotiations Committee, said opening contract talks with the union now would potentially create a bigger budget gap for the county.

“You could break the backs of Otsego County taxpayers,” he said. “I’m not going to do it.”

A grassroots group of Manor privatization opponents, called Save the Otsego Manor, has argued the county should find other ways to keep the facility in public hands, and warned the level of care will decline once a private business takes over.

The Manor Committee will hold the third of three informational meetings on the plan to sell the Manor at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the science wing of Oneonta High School.