KIM SMITH DEDAM
ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County supervisors have tabled a move to market Horace Nye Nursing Home.
The resolution emerged in a recent Property Tax Cap subcommittee meeting, and it put the contentious issue of how to afford public elder care back into fierce debate.
Supported by taxpayer money, Horace Nye owes Essex County's general fund nearly $6 million, about $2.5 million of which is due from the federal government this year.
County Manager Dan Palmer said the facility consumes $1.7 million of the tax levy and then some.
But Essex County has not received federal Intergovernmental Transfer Funds from Medicaid for Horace Nye since 2008.
NO FOLLOW-UP ON STUDY
An hour-long discussion went around the supervisors' tables at Monday's full session with some 20 citizens watching from the gallery, including Horace Nye workers, Nursing Home Director Deborah Gifford and several elder residents in wheelchairs.
A decision to hire a broker would lock the county into a formal request to sell, County Attorney Dan Manning said.
Although supervisors could turn down any offer, the proposed sale price — set by brokers Marcus and Millichap at $4.5 million — includes a 3.5-percent commission, a cost Palmer said is about $146,000.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) asked if there had been a second appraisal done on the property from a firm other than the broker who wants the contract.
Manning said no, laws governing sale of public property do not require two appraisals, but it is the norm to have a second appraisal conducted.
Scozzafava asked the board why recommendations from the Horace Nye study done in 2006 weren't put into action.
One of those, he said afterward, was to establish an assisted-living wing at Horace Nye to increase reimbursement rates.
The county receives about $144 per day in reimbursement from Medicaid, Palmer said.
Actual costs for care, Palmer said after the meeting, amount to about $260 per day.
$7 MILLION DEFICIT
Essex County research done several years ago found that Horace Nye costs each taxpayer in Essex County about $35 per year, based on an average $125,000 assessment, Scozzafava said.
Discussion listed heavily toward concern about the need for public care of the elderly and an inherent fear of selling out to a private, for-profit business that would provide that care at the lowest possible cost, leaving some people who could not afford care with nowhere to go.
Scozzafava said 80 percent of people living at Horace Nye were moved there from the hospital.
"If this public nursing home goes away, I don't know where they'll go," he said.
"We are not in the profit business," Scozzafava added, asking if supervisors wanted to sell the Essex County Jail or eliminate Social Services or cut the Office for the Aging.
Palmer countered, saying the county doesn't go into debt on other services.
"At the end of the year, we don't owe additional," he said after the meeting. "At the end of the year, we do owe on Horace Nye. We fell $5.9 million in the hole in three years."
And the county has a $7 million deficit to deal with by January.
To sell Horace Nye, supervisors would have to garner approval from two-thirds of the board, a threshold that was not readily apparent at Monday's meeting.
But the decision to sell or otherwise redevelop Horace Nye is crossing a line in the sand drawn by the state under the 2-percent property-tax cap.
Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey (D-Minerva) said the tax-cap problem is very real and has delivered tough choices, either to reduce services or adopt a law to override the tax cap.
If Essex County decides to keep Horace Nye, she said, "I think we're going to have to do that."
The decision to sell Horace Nye is also not subject to public referendum, Manning told supervisors who wanted to bring the measure to the people for a vote.
Even so, Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) suggested putting the decision on the ballot in November.
"Let's show what it is going to cost the individual taxpayer," he said. "I don't really give 2 cents what the state says."
The county attorney said he didn't think the state would take action against the county for holding a public vote.
'LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR'
One county resident addressed the supervisors before the meeting.
The Rev. Chilton MacPheeters of Willsboro spends time with the both patients and caregivers at Horace Nye.
"We have a social contract to love our neighbor," he said, urging the county to keep a "safety net" in place.
Supervisor Cathy Moses (R-Schroon) said the decision they face with Horace Nye is very difficult.
"Talk about having your conscience torn," she said. "But so many constituents don't have the means to do their share. It is incumbent on us to take a look at all options out there."
Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) said there needs to be another vote first.
"Who's ready to raise that tax cap and go over it?" he said.
The resolution to table discussion on hiring a broker for Horace Nye passed 10-5, with three supervisors absent. The weighted vote was 1,833 to 751.
Email Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org