ELIZABETHTOWN - With 12 town supervisors in favor and six opposed, Essex County's decision has been made: It will sell its nursing home to a company based in the Bronx for $4.05 million.
Following the recommendation of a task force it had assembled, the county Board voted Tuesday to sell the Horace Nye Nursing Home in Elizabethtown to the Centers for Specialty Care, which runs about 15 to 20 other nursing and rehabilitation facilities in New York and New Jersey.
The final weighted vote was 2,683-1,233. The vote required a two-thirds majority, so the weighted vote had to exceed 2,611.
The sale comes with a set of conditions that supervisors approved last year. They require the buyer to let current residents stay at the facility and offer jobs to current unionized workers.
The vote came on the heels of a weekend rally in Elizabethtown that called on the county to continue operating the facility.
The decision could put to rest a debate that's dominated political discourse in Essex County for the last several years.
The board's chairman, Democrat Randy Douglas of Jay, said it was a decision no one wanted to make, but it was necessary because the nursing home operates at an annual loss of between $2 million and $4 million. It also owes the county's general fund more than $21 million.
"A majority of our residents are screaming for property tax relief, and unfortunately the only way to provide this is to remove non-mandated items such as ownership of the nursing home," Douglas said. "We did a thorough job in selecting a private company that will provide quality health care for our residents needing nursing home services."
Douglas said the Centers for Specialty Care is a reputable company, and he thinks the quality of care at Horace Nye "will not diminish."
Calls to company officials had not been returned as of press time.
Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, who has consistently and adamantly opposed selling the facility, said he wasn't surprised by the outcome of the vote.
"It is what it is," he said.
But Scozzafava said the process leading up to the vote was flawed, lacking in both transparency and input from the public. He said under open government laws, Tuesday's resolution should have been posted to the county's website before the meeting.
"It's just terrible the way it went through," he said.
County Manager Dan Palmer, however, said the vote was proper and should stand, although he added that a taxpayer could challenge it.
"That's anybody's prerogative," he said. "If someone wants to sue us, they will. But we were pretty careful about making sure the process we used was what we needed to do."
Scozzafava noted that he can't challenge the decision because he's a member of the board that passed it. He said supporters of selling the home, like North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, acted in the best interest of their constituents.
"Mr. Politi was for it," Scozzafava said. "It doesn't impact him on his end of the county. If we want to start dividing what's important on which end of the county, then we will."
Scozzafava said he will now push supervisors to look at other non-mandated services like the fairgrounds and the fish hatchery, and he even floated the idea of a possible merger of North Country Community College, which the county sponsors, with Clinton Community College.
"I'm all for saving money," he said. "There's a lot of programs I'm going to propose we start looking at."
All five supervisors from the northwest part of the county - St. Armand's Joyce Morency, Wilmington's Randy Preston, Keene's Bill Ferebee, Douglas and Politi - voted for the sale. Politi told the Enterprise he thinks it's time for the board to move on.
"In our opinion, this was a good deal for Essex County," Politi said.
Politi said the subcommittee, charged with reviewing the sale before making a recommendation to the board, was comprised of people who didn't have an agenda.
"Most of them were still on the fence," he said. "They all came back with glowing reports, to the point that they said they would put their loved ones in this facility. For most of us, this was the final information we needed."
Politi said the sale saves tax dollars and keeps the facility open. He said there was a real possibility the county would have been forced to close the facility altogether if it continued operating it.
"This is an opportunity to get it both ways - for people on both sides of the fence to be happy," Politi said. "These are tough decisions. We're trying to make decisions that benefit everybody, not just a few people. It's over. We move on."
Scozzafava said the Lake Placid area will be impacted by the sale of the nursing home because Adirondack Health announced on Monday it will cut 60 nursing home beds from its 120-bed Uihlein Living Center in Lake Placid over the next one to two years.
"Now here's Lake Placid losing half of its beds because (Adirondack Health) couldn't afford to do it," he said. "Where does that put us in terms of care for people who need it?"
Politi said he didn't think Adirondack Health's decision would have an impact.
"I don't believe they were filled to capacity; that's one of the reasons they considered cutting," he said. "In my opinion, it had no bearing on anyone's minds."
Adirondack Health's Chandler Ralph said Monday that the nursing home is full, and there's a strong demand for it. She said the decision was made based on financial losses it sustained due to a shortfall in Medicaid reimbursements.
Ferebee said he based his decision on the report from the subcommittee.
"I feel confident from the report we got from the search group," he said. "I feel the treatment or the welfare of the patients there will be as good as it is today. That's been my concern the whole time: Is the care going to be as good? I feel it will."
Ferebee said he thinks Centers for Specialty Care can afford to make needed upgrades to the nursing home. He said current employees "are going to have a job if they are reputable and reliable."
The county will need to get a "certificate of need" approved by the state Department of Health before the sale becomes official. Palmer said that process can take between six months and one year to complete. He said all nursing homes in the state operate under such certificates.
Palmer said supervisors will likely budget for about six months of operations at Horace Nye because the sale may not become official before the budget is adopted.
Tuesday's full board meeting was the last one to use the old weighted vote formula. A new formula, based on population changes, will be put into effect at the first full board meeting in July.
Marcus & Millichap, a real estate investment firm based in Chicago, will receive a 3.25 percent commission for the sale, or about $131,000.