By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — As Otsego County lawmakers prepare to hear from the public tonight on a tentative county budget for 2013, a behind-the-scenes debate has broken out.
The debate focuses on whether planned layoffs should include a worker responsible for counseling senior citizens on their Medicare options.
John Imperato Sr., the head of the local Civil Service Employees Association unit representing unionized county workers, said the proposed termination of Office for the Aging staffer David Polley is based on flimsy rationales that fail to take into account the positive contributions he has made to enlighten seniors on their federal benefit options under Medicare.
“A lot of people will be there to support him” at a public hearing on the tentative budget at 6 p.m. at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown, Imperato said.
Polley, contacted by The Daily Star, declined to comment, saying his supervisor, Director of the Office for the Aging Frances Wright, instructed him to refrain from making public comments about the planned elimination of his job.
County Treasurer Dan Crowell, whose tentative budget includes the elimination of Polley’s job, denied charges by Imperato that the firing was “political” in nature.
“We’ve got a budget gap that we have to close, and that involves very hard decisions,” he said.
As to whether or not Polley has enough allies on the County Board of Representatives to keep him in his $39,527-a-year job, Crowell said that it’s “too hard to tell.”
One of Polley’s allies, Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, said she has been flooded with calls from seniors who want Polley to keep his job.
“I think he is an integral part of the office, and to give up any part of the office is a disservice to seniors,” Schwerd said.
However, Rep. James
Powers, R-Butternuts, said it was up to Wright to “make the cuts where she thinks the least damage will be done.”
At the same time, Powers said he is opposed to any job cuts at the Department of Motor Vehicles, an arm of county Clerk Kathy Sinnott-Gardner’s office. He said any cuts to jobs there would hurt the public.
The county board has tried tighten its fiscal belt while facing a projected huge increase in the county subsidy to the 174-bed Otsego Manor nursing home. The county allotment to the Manor would grow to $5.5 million next year, up from $3.4 million in the 2012 budget.
County lawmakers have begun looking into finding a private operator for the nursing home, after Crowell advised the board that shrinking Medicaid reimbursement rates and rising costs for labor and materials have made its continued operation as a county entity unsustainable.