By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - For the Chautauqua County Home to stay solvent and out of the private sector, a series of cutbacks and revenue enhancements need to be implemented.
If that cannot happen the Dunkirk nursing facility will run massive deficits on an annual basis.
The highly anticipated Center for Governmental Research viability report outlined a half-dozen recommendations to reduce operating costs. These include implementing new technology to streamline operations and concessions on behalf of the home's union workers.
Don Pryor of the CGR said discussions should take place "almost immediately" within the county and the union as budgets for this year and next are put together.
David Fagerstrom, CSEA Unit 6300 president, said he was pleased to see the recommendations made in the report.
"All in all I thought there was a lot of good news in there," Fagerstrom told the OBSERVER. "I think there's been a lot of misrepresentation out there, especially in the south county. People need to understand that these are county residents in there."
Fagerstrom said union workers have always been willing to sit down with the county to negotiate a fair contract, which is currently at an impasse. That view remains.
"It would be crazy for us not to want to sit down with the county," Fagerstrom said. "The membership understands what needs to happen. They won't hold out and sell someone away. They're always willing to compromise."
Fagerstrom noted that as contract talks have broken down, salaries and benefits have remained frozen. The viability report recommends that all wages and fringe benefits be limited to reduce overall costs.
The report also suggested a separate union represent all County Home workers. However, the current unit might not be willing to lose a third of its members, Fagerstrom said.
Meanwhile, those on the ad-hoc committee that tapped CGR are looking forward to reviewing the 132-page report.
"What we would like to do is talk about each and every one of these (suggestions) and find out what the savings are and then submit them to the legislature," said committee chairman John Runkle, R-Stockton. "Obviously there will be employee concessions. We're going to ask for those ... but I think there is an interest there to make concessions and I think they are understanding the dilemna the county is in."
County Executive Greg Edwards said the CGR report mirrors that of a similar study done by the county three years ago. Both recommended cuts in worker's salaries and benefits, and noted a need to find significant revenues to stay financially solvent.
"Well the CGR report leaves a lot of questions and creates a number of questions," Edwards said. "I see it as my rule to answer as many of those questions I can."
He added: "There are only two ways to save the County Home. Putting concessions together to control the costs. I am very interested in meeting with representatives from CSEA or others to talk about that."
The county executive said he has been contacted "periodically" by Absolut Care Facilities Management, LLC and Altitude Health Services Inc., both of which have placed qualified bids on the home.
Absolut Care, which operates two nursing facilities in Chautauqua County, submitted an offer of $1.6 million a year with a purchase option of $16 million. Altitude Health, located near Chicago, offered $16.5 million in cash for the County Home.
"I am very concerned about that," Edwards said of the bidders possibly growing impatient. "My hope is that things will be moving as quickly as possibly and that I can answer as many questions as possible."
Runkle, however, said he doesn't expect a decision to come next month. He said the ad-hoc committee will meet within the "next couple of weeks" the discuss the report.
"It's going to take at least two weeks for these folks to read it and then we will have another meeting after that," Runkle said. "I don't know if we will have recommendations ready for September. If not we may for October."
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