MONTICELLO, NY — On Thursday, July 2, Sullivan County Legislators unanimously voted to set a public hearing to transfer the Care Center at Sunset Lake (the Sullivan County Adult Care …
MONTICELLO, NY — On Thursday, July 2, Sullivan County Legislators unanimously voted to set a public hearing to transfer the Care Center at Sunset Lake (the Sullivan County Adult Care Center) in Liberty to a Local Development Corporation (LDC) as a first step toward selling the nursing home and short-term rehabilitation facility. The discussion about the issue was initially held in executive session. In the announcement of the meeting, the topic was noted on the agenda as “the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities held by such public body, but only when the publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” The legislators discussed the item briefly upon emerging from the executive session. Another executive session discussion is scheduled for July 9 at 12 noon.
Legislators will take public comment on Tuesday, July 14 at 8 a.m. at the Sullivan County Government Center on the proposal to transfer the care center to the LDC, a nonprofit corporation created by the county to handle the sale of the nursing home and the land on which it sits. A vote by the legislature to make that transfer will be held subsequent to the July 14 public hearing.
In a press release issued on July 6, legislative chairman Robert A. Doherty said, “This was not an easy decision but a necessary one in order to ensure the care center continues to fulfill the valuable role it’s played in our community for three decades. We have consistently lost millions of dollars a year on its operation, due to shrinking state and federal funding and ever-increasing costs. Now, we’re at a point where COVID-19 has dashed any hope of increasing revenue streams for the foreseeable future, and we cannot ask taxpayers to shoulder even more of the heavy financial weight. Yet neither do we want to close it, considering the critical services and employment it provides to our community.”
For the past two years alone, the 146-bed care center has averaged a $3.5 million annual operating loss. In addition, the county has had to contribute $2 to $2.7 million of local dollars to be able to access federal aid. The existing accumulated deficit balloons to nearly $22 million when factoring in long-term liabilities like post-employment benefits, accrued compensation and vacation, and depreciation of the 30-year-old facility.
“My office has been working diligently to avoid closing the facility by instead selling it, with the expectation that the new owner will maintain a minimum number of beds and most, if not all, of the existing positions, along with expanding and improving the care center in a way that the county is simply not able to do,” county manager Joshua Potosek said. “This is the best and really only option to pursue. Keeping the care center open under county ownership would involve a significant tax hike, layoffs and/or cuts in existing services, none of which our community can afford.”
“Under state law, an LDC has broader abilities than the county to initiate and conclude a sale that is in the best interests of the county and the care center, and it will be able to bond up to the amount we anticipate the care center will minimally sell for (in the millions of dollars, at the least),” said Potosek. “Most of that will flow directly into county coffers later this year, thus helping us avoid a potential tax hike in the next budget cycle.”
The LDC will be overseen by three members of the community, appointed by the county manager, and they will be tasked with carrying out the bonding and finding a real estate firm to market the care center. They then will choose the most responsible party interested in the care center and initiate a sale. Selection criteria will include not just the offer price but the track record of the buyer and the quality of care they promise to provide.
“I expect this will take approximately 12 months or more, during which the care center will continue to be operated by the county (or a third party) via a lease with the LDC,” Doherty said. “Until a sale is finalized, workers will remain county employees with all their normal benefits. We hope to work out an agreement with the buyer of the care center to keep as many of those jobs under the new ownership as possible, along with other guarantees, including a minimum number of beds and the institution of a private union shop.
“We’re aiming to keep the care center open by undertaking this process, as the other option we were considering—and rejected—was outright closure.”
Comments on the proposed transfer to the LDC will be taken in person at the Tuesday, July 14 public hearing or can be submitted in writing no later than Monday, July 13 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to Clerk of the Legislature AnnMarie Martin, 100 North St., Monticello, NY 12701.
[The basis of this article is a Sullivan County press release with additional information gathered by Annemarie Scheutz and Laurie Stuart.]