By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — An advocate for keeping the Otsego Manor as a public nursing home called on Otsego County lawmakers Thursday to stop bickering about a plan designed to reduce the public subsidy for the facility and begin to analyze the proposal in earnest.
“There is no reason why we can’t do it,” said Maureen Culbert of Springfield, who has collected signatures from 1,800 county residents on a petition urging that the nursing home remain a county property rather than be privatized.
A last-ditch plan intended to keep the Manor as a county asset was floated last week by county Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek. It calls for significant concessions from the bargaining unit representing Manor workers as well as increasing the sales tax from the current 8 percent to 8.25 percent. It also calls for a survey of county residents to determine if there is public support for the sales tax increase.
“I’m hoping the people of the county will contact their representatives and let them know they need to keep focusing on this,” said Culbert.
The initial reaction to the Kosmer plan from the Republicans who have the most clout on the county board has been one of chilly skepticism. They have said that the sales tax increase would be onerous on local businesses and citizens and have questioned the practicality and validity of gauging the views of voters through an opinion poll.
Regardless of the lack of enthusiasm for the Kosmer plan, Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, said he plans to initiate a discussion of it at next Wednesday’s board meeting.in his capacity as Negotiations Committee chairman.
Powers said most board members frown on the proposed sales tax increase. As a result, he said, he is reluctant to present the proposal to Civil Service Employees Association representatives for Manor workers.
“If you ask me to do this, you’re asking me to negotiate in bad faith, because I don’t have the support of the board for what we would have to offer them,” Powers said. “I’ve never negotiated like this. I’ve always known what Ihad to offer and what I didn’t have to offer.”
Kosmer said the justification for a public survey on the sales tax is that it would send a message to state lawmakers that there is local support for the tax hike — assuming that a majority of residents would back the idea.
Mark LaVigne, a spokesman for the state Association of Counties, said there could be no public referendum at the ballot box for a sales tax increase. The only way to engineer such a local increase is for the county board to first pass a resolution in favor of it, at which point the Legislature would be asked to authorize it, and if that permission was granted the county board would need to vote again to enact it. The sales tax increase, if adopted, would “sunset” after two years, requiring the process to start from the beginning to extend it.
Kosmer said local public opinion on the sales tax idea could be sampled using the county’s web site and would not involve official balloting.
Mark Kotzin, a spokesman for CSEA, said the union has “reservations” about the Kosmer proposal but is interested in opening discussions with county officials on ways to keep the Manor as a county property.
“We will have a presence at the county board meeting next week,” Kotzin said.
Kosmer’s proposal surfaced more than four months after the county board voted to begin the process of selling the Manor. That decision was reached after county Treasurer Dan Crowell informed the board that the county’s subsidy to the Manor would rise dramatically as the result of rising costs for labor and supplies at the same time Medicare receipts and Medicaid reimbursement rates are declining.