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February 11, 2013

Manor activist sees glimmer of hope

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — A woman who has gathered more than 1,800 signatures on petitions urging that Otsego Manor remain a public nursing home said Friday she is not throwing in the towel, even though most county lawmakers want to pursue privatization. 

“I’m not losing hope,” said Maureen Culbert of Springfield, a volunteer at the 174-bed facility just south of Cooperstown. “I still think there is hope for Save the Manor.”

Culbert said her optimism is based on the fact that six members of the Otsego County Board of Representatives signaled this week they were willing to consider a plan that would have determined whether county residents supported raising the sales tax to 8.25 percent from 8 percent.

The goal was to combine the additional tax revenue with savings from proposed contract concessions with unionized Manor workers agreed to contract concessions.

Culbert contended that while board members insist they will not sell the home to an operator who puts profits before patients, they have not spent any time devising a “Plan B” if a suitable buyer does not emerge.

“We need them to be working together on that,” she said. “The only plan we have heard has been from Kosmer.”

Culbert did note that Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield, had previously gone on record in support of a sales tax increase to stave off privatization. 

She said she was particularly encouraged that Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, the first board member to call for privatizing the Manor, sided with the Kosmer plan. Lindberg said he was most interested in finding cost savings by renegotiating the contract with the union.

Eight of the 14 county representatives, however, voted down Kosmer’s plan. Some argued that the sales tax gambit was doomed because state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, had indicated it stood no chance of winning approval in Albany.

On Friday, the state Association of Counties sent an advisory to county board clerks statewide, alerting them that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had told the Watertown Times newspaper that he was open to approving increases in local sales tax rates if the proposals were supported by county boards and the Legislature.

“If it is passed, I’ll sign it,” Cuomo was quoted as saying.

The memo read: “If your county is seeking additional home rule flexibility — given this new stance from the governor — we encourage you to work proactively with your Senate and Assembly representatives to seek the introduction of new home rule legislation.”

“This is what can happen when you begin to go down a road,” Kosmer said. “Nothing can happen if you do not begin that journey.”

Whether the advocates of keeping the Manor a public home can persuade the board to study new ways to avert privatization remains to be seen.

Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, chairwoman of the Manor committee, said the outcome of the vote on the Kosmer plan could have been different had board members known that Cuomo may be open to approving local sales tax increases. However, she added, of those constituents who contacted her regarding a possible tax increase, most indicated they opposed the idea.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, said that privatization is “the right track, as sad as it may be. I think the landscape is changing and I don’t think its going to get any better.