What lies ahead

As of today, Chautauqua County has a new legislature in Mayville.

The group of 19 members, downsized from 25, will have their hands full with plenty of topics on which to vote.

One of the most highly debated issues in 2013 was the Chautauqua County Home, and it doesn’t look like 2014 will be any different.

Three votes took place in Mayville regarding the skilled nursing facility’s privatization, and each time, it was voted that the site remain under county ownership. Since then, 13 elected officials have bid farewell to the County Legislature, six of whom voted against the sale of the County Home.

The future of the health care facility is in the hands of the newly elected.

Now, only 13 votes are needed in order for the nursing home to be privatized. This translates to a two-thirds vote.

In previous years, 17 “yes” votes out of 25 total were needed in order for the sale to take place.

In the third vote, nine legislators voted against the sale of the County Home to VestraCare at a cost of $16.5 million, which broke down to $80,000 per bed.

They included Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Bob Whitney, D-Jamestown; and Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown.

One cited its importance to elderly county residents (Hoyer) and other legislators felt rushed to make a decision (Whitney and Coughlin).

“It is an argument about whether or not we should take care of our elderly. It is our role to take care of our neighbor,” Hoyer said.

“You’d have to be a fool to think the timing of this vote was a coincidence,” Whitney said of the third vote. “This is rushed to meet the political deadline.”

On Election Day, Whitney lost to Dave Wilfong for the District 11 seat. Wilfong has made it clear he will vote to sell the County Home.

“There’s no question,” he said. “I don’t believe we should use taxpayer dollars to support it.”

According to a study performed by the Center for Governmental Research, financial losses were reportedly upward of $8,000 daily in 2013.

Wilfong is one of three new faces to join two former legislators and 14 incumbents to make up the new legislature. Additionally, 13 are Republican.

With the Republican supermajority of the new legislature, the home is more likely to be sold. In the last vote, only one outgoing Republican voted against the sale, Bob Duff, R-Sheridan.

The other Republican who voted against the sale was Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, the new District 3 legislator.

New legislators have differing opinions.

Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, said he would like to save the County Home.

“I plan on gathering as much information on the subject as I possibly can between now and the next vote,” Niebel said. “Based on the information I have at this time, I believe the County Home can be saved and remain a county operation.”

Incoming legislator Janet Keefe, D-Fredonia, also wants to save the County Home. She said jobs will be lost if it’s sold.

“We’ll have to pay for unemployment, pensions and benefits,” Keefe said of the potential sale. “There are a lot of ways to save the County Home.”

Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott, said if an appropriate proposal surfaced for the potential sale of the nursing facility, she wouldn’t be opposed to its privatization.

“It’s got to be the right opportunity,” she said. “I absolutely would not agree to giving it away at a devalued rate.”

Fred Larson, D-Jamestown, said he had researched numbers and facts on its current financial status.

“If it can break even, that’s fine. If it can’t, I’m not opposed to selling it,” he said. “I just hope it gets sold to a good operator and for a fair market value.”

Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg, said more jobs could possibly be created if the skilled nursing facility is sold.

“We need to allow somebody with the ability to come in from the private sector and expand the type of bed we could have in the County Home,” he said.

“We (the Republican Party) see opportunity for private investment,” said County Executive Vince Horrigan after winning on Election Day. “We’ve determined the best way to move forward. We’re all working hard.”

Its privatization would expand services and grow jobs through the addition of assisted living options as well as other health care specialized services while eliminating the need for taxpayer subsidies, he said.

“We are optimistic that toward the early part of the next legislative session, we will have a contract with the legislature to consider,” Horrigan added. “We have nothing to announce at this time but will continue in our efforts to find a suitable purchaser.”