MAYVILLE - The potential sale of the Chautauqua County Home has taken its first step toward fruition.
The legislature's Human Services Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution that would give County Executive Greg Edwards power to begin contract negotiations with Altitude Health Services Inc. The Chicago-based group has offered $16.5 million in cash for the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility.
The committee's approval marks the first step required to privatize the County Home.
"It's asking the legislature to pick Altitude Health as the preferred choice, and asking the county executive to go forward with a contract that would be brought back for approval," said Steve Abdella, legislature attorney.
Abdella noted that a simple majority in the legislature (13 votes) is needed to begin contract negotiations. To approve the contract, which could come forward as early as next month, would require a two-thirds, supermajority (17 votes).
Legislator Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point, said he has been contacted by many constituents in his district regarding the County Home, most of whom have expressed desires to sell.
Horrigan said simply wanting to privatize is not good enough. "We have done our due diligence," he said.
Committee chairman Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott, also said he was in favor of beginning contract talks. "I believe the resolution is the right thing to do," Tarbrake said.
Added John Hemmer, R-Westfield: "This is an opportunity to do what is best for the taxpayers, the residents of Chautauqua County - including the residents of this nursing home."
Legislator Tim Hoyer, who has been outspoken for the home to remain in the public sphere, said if approved he would like to see a contract that included:
A safety net for residents with financial difficulties;
A provision that would require Altitude Health to take over the current contract of home employees;
A staff-to-resident ratio no greater than 1:8;
Plans by Altitude Health to "break even" or turn a profit running the nursing home.
Those approving the resolution Wednesday include Tarbrake, Horrigan, Hemmer, and Victoria James, D-Jamestown. Hoyer, D-Jamestown, had the lone no vote.
The legislature's Audit and Control Committee will take up the legislation Thursday evening; the full legislature will then discuss it during a special legislative session at 6:30 p.m. in the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.
Legislature chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, said he expects a large turnout for the special meeting. He said representatives from Altitude Health will be present, but noted members of the public will not be allowed to "grill" them on their bid for the County Home.
"They can come, but they can direct their questions or concerns to me," Gould said.
In related news, the legislature clerk's office has received "hundreds" of calls within the last two days regarding the potential sale of the County Home. Many of the calls have come from Dunkirk, Fredonia and the County Home itself.
The clerk's office has taken names and phone numbers of those phoning in; half of the callers have requested their legislator vote to keep the 216-bed nursing home in the public sector.