MAYVILLE - There will be no punting the decision to close the Chautauqua County Home to taxpayers, County Executive Greg Edwards ruled Monday.
After confirming with the county law department, Edwards said a countywide referendum to sell or lease the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility to a private entity legally is not possible. Instead, lawmakers alone will be forced to decide the home's fate.
"Despite overwhelming support from taxpayers for the sale to occur, there appears to be some reluctance on the part of some legislators to make this decision," Edwards said in a news release. "And this has in turn caused ever-increasing numbers of taxpayers to call for a referendum to be voted on by the public."
That option, however, will not occur. The county executive noted "several court decisions and opinions" by the state comptroller and state attorney general that limit public referendums without authorization by state statute.
"There is currently no state statute authorizing ei-ther a binding or advisory referendum to sell the Coun-ty Home," Edwards said.
In a recent straw poll by the OBSERVER, 12 legislators said they would sell or lease the home if a vote were to take place today. Ten lawmakers would not sell, while three were undecided. The legislature needs a 17-vote supermajority to sell any county-owned facility.
Legislators in July learned of two offers made on the County Home, one by Absolut Care Facilities Management, LLC and Altitude Health Services Inc.
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 Dunkirk facility.
In August, lawmakers heard a much-anticipated financial viability report by the Center for Governmental Research. The $80,000 report, commissioned by an ad-hoc committee, outlined numerous recommendations to streamline operating costs at the County Home.
Edwards, who has been vocal about the selling home, is encouraging residents to speak up.
"... Voters who wish to make their opinions known regarding the sale of the County Home must contact their county legislator or attend and speak at one of the upcoming meetings," he said.
Those meetings in the Gerace Office Building in Mayville include:
A County Home ad hoc committee on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Committee chairman John Runkle, R-Stockton, however, noted Monday the ad hoc meeting will not turn into a public forum. He said Edward's call for "active participation" by all non-committee members was incorrect and unlikely to happen.
"I would like to point out here that the purpose of this committee is to determine the financial viability of the home and then submit those results to the legislature," Runkle said in a news release announcing the meeting. "Nothing more, nothing less."
A Human Services Committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 5:45 p.m.
An Audit and Control Committee meeting Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8:35 a.m.
The legislature's Sept. 26 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the legislative chambers.
"To ensure the future of the Chautauqua County Home and that it remains open for all of us, I urge you to ge the facts, look at the long-term picture and voice your opinion in favor of the sale or lease of the County Home to a private entity," Edwards said.