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May 4, 2013

Manor's fate will be Otsego board's legacy

By William Dornburgh
The Daily Star

---- — The Otsego County Boards (plural) of Representatives, more in the past than in the present, have negotiated the county into a financial corner leaving the present board between a rock — increased taxation and/or deficits — and a hard place — selling the Manor.

The state of New York has accentuated the dilemma by reducing Medicaid reimbursements to the county for the 75 percent of the Manor residents who so qualify.

The board has three constituencies.

• The residents of Otsego Manor, mostly old and infirm — the compassion issue (to which much newsprint and advocacy have been devoted.)

• The employees, who have benefited from negotiations in good faith — the job security issue (of significant importance, at least to them.)

• The taxpayers of Otsego County, who ultimately bear the cost — the pocketbook issue (the, so far, silent majority in this discussion.)

There is a fourth entity that has a vested interest in the county ownership of Otsego Manor, and that’s the Civil Service Employees Association, which has at risk 200 dues-paying members. While the union is not a constituency to the board, it’s not a minor consideration, as the CSEA knows how to play hardball to protect it’s membership.

None of the four issues can be dealt with in a vacuum, as they are at least somewhat interrelated.

It would appear that the sale of the Manor is a foregone conclusion at this point. Options have been explored and are available on the county website, as is the County of Otsego 2013 Adopted Budget, which is available in print form at the County Treasurer’s Office.)

The board has deliberated, yes, behind closed doors, but also in public forums. The process appears to be moving forward cautiously. Barring a miracle, the county will divest itself of Otsego Manor, and the contingent liabilities that go with the ownership and operation of the Manor, in due course.

The problem is that we know what we have with county ownership, but we do not know what we will get with divestiture, the fear rhetoric notwithstanding. A private owner has certain flexibilities of management not available to the county and not necessarily to the detriment of the residents.

The establishment of a Limited Development Corporation has been discussed to relieve the board of the process of a direct sale. While the board may well delegate the authority to an LDC, it cannot delegate the responsibility. In the final analysis, any sale of Otsego Manor, the ensuing quality-of-care issues, and the welfare of the employees (most of whom are county residents) will rest with the County Board of Representatives, a legacy that cannot be escaped.

Unlike Pontius Pilate, the Board cannot wash its collective hands of the disposition of Otsego Manor.

William Dornburgh is a Cooperstown resident.