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Horace Nye residents watch Monday's debate (Photos:  Brian Mann)
Horace Nye residents watch Monday's debate (Photos: Brian Mann)

In debate over Essex County nursing home, questions about government's role

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Essex County supervisors are wrestling once again with the future of the Horace Nye Nursing Home.

At a meeting yesterday in Elizabethtown, the supervisors tabled a move to try to privatize the county-run home, which currently has about a hundred residents.

As Brian Mann reports, Horace Nye is seen by many county leaders as a valuable program, one that helps some of the region's neediest and most vulnerable people.

But they say the state property tax cap approved this summer is making it harder and harder to pay for the nursing home's mounting losses.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Monday morning, Dick  Gilbo sat in his wheelchair, watching as Essex County’s board of supervisors talked about the future of the place he’s called home for three years.

 The idea that big changes might be coming ticks him off.

 "It makes me...it makes me mad," he said.

Tom Scozzafava is town supervisor in Moriah, where Gilbo ran a store for years.  During yesterday’s debate about the nursing home, Scozzafava said elected leaders owe seniors support and care.

This is the human face of dramatic changes sweeping government, not just hear in Essex County but across the North Country.

For decades, local leaders like Scozzafava have seen providing broad government services as their mandate, their top job. 

But now, leaders like Joyce Morency, town supervisor in St. Armand, says everything has changed.

"The [state property tax] cap is a nightmare.  How the hell are you going to deal with the tax cap?  There's no mandate relief, there's nothing," she argued.

She’s talking, of course, about the statewide cap on property tax increases signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo this summer.

That cap is forcing elected officials to look hard at programs like Horace Nye – which costs Essex County between $2 and $3 million every year.  That's a lot in a county with just 38,000 year-round residents.

County attorney Dan Manning says one option is for the county to sell the facility to a private operator.

 "If you're losing tons of money at the facility, then I could justify the determination that it's not necessary for the public use," Manning concluded. 

Sue Montgomery Corey, who represents the town of Minerva, said that if the nursing home isn’t sold, Essex might be the first county in the state that would need to raise taxes byond the property tax cap.

"We can look to reduce the services that we provide and hope that we don't have to raise taxes a lot," Montogmery Corey said.  "Or we adopt a local law that allows us to go over the tax cap.  Which if the nursing home continues to be part of our portfolio, I think we're going to have to do."

That kind of vote would be deeply unpopular in Essex County.  This debate has also put  new pressure on the staff and the union at Horace Nye.

 Lisa Loveday is activity director at the home.  She says she doesn’t think a private operator is a good idea.

 "The private nursing homes, they are very understaffed," Loveday said.

But Loveday also acknowledged that county workers at Horace Nye are paid well above the standard in the for-profit nursing home industry.  And she said given Essex County’s overall deficit – which stands at $7 million – workers may need to make concessions.

"The county workers as a whole need to come together and say, 'Yes, our union contract is too far out there.  We need to reduce the cost to the county.'  I mean, they're looking at a 4% across the board raise for everyone's income next year.  Why do we need it?"

The Horace Nye debate was tabled again yesterday.  It’s expected to come up again in August, but selling the home will require a two-thirds vote.  So far, Supervirors like Gerald Morrow from Chesterfield seem to have the upper hand.

"Our duty here as supervisors is yes to help the taxpayer, but it's to help the needy in the future," he said.

Yesterday's debate, passionate, human and heartfelt, was a harbinger of things to come as tighter budgets and fewer dollars from Albany and Washington put the squeeze on local leaders.

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