Neuhaus: Union concessions key to saving nursing home

'Everything is on the table': County executive says his office has been working with the legislature all along

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  • County Executive Steve Neuhaus shows charts during a recent presentation about the county's financial troubles. (Photo by Edie Johnson)

— County Executive Steve Neuhaus said the idea of forming a Local Development Corporation to sell the county-owned nursing home is "based on a conversation with the Orange County Legislature."

“Year after year, the CSEA has promised concessions that have never materialized The LDC is not to privatize (Valley View) but to use as a vehicle to get concessions that we’ve been promised over two years.”
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus

He told a Goshen audience last week that he presented legislators with the poor state of the county’s finances, then asked: “Where will we get the money?”

“This is an option, and leaders of both parties knew about it," he said. "Some even brought it up, saying, 'Why not do what neighbors are doing?’”

Ulster County has already formed an LDC and sold its nursing home. Rockland County is in the throes of the procedure (the Civil Service Employees Association is suing the county over it). Orange County isn’t the only county to consider privatizing its nursing home, Neuhaus argued. It’s happening across the state, he said.

Neuhaus had proposed to legislators in his State of the County address on March 18 that they consider forming an LDC, the first step in selling Valley View Nursing Center, or be prepared to lay-off county employees.

Was the county address the first time legislators heard about the LDC versus lay-offs tradeoff, Neuhaus loudly responded: “No way!”

The lay-off list includes employees taken evenly from all departments, Neuhaus said. He said Legislators Jeffrey Berkman and Mike Anagnostakis approved the list.

According to Neuhaus, 17 of the 21 legislators voted to hold a public hearing on forming the LDC. The hearing will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Friday, April 4, and reconvening at 5 p.m., at the 911 Emergency Center. Legislators will vote on the issue Wednesday, April 9.

Other ways to cut costs

County officials have looked at other ways to cut costs, including a property tax increase that Neuhaus said both party leaders took off the table, a sales tax increase that the state nixed, and mandate relief that most likely won’t happen.

However, Neuhaus said other options include notifying contractors to be prepared for cancellations or modifications to their contracts; working on eliminating, reducing, and consolidating county departments; freezing travel and hiring, with exception of essential employees; and not filling the 212 positions that are funded, but vacant. This last option is a $10 million savings towards the county budget.

“I’m looking for all options," Neuhaus said. "If we want to keep Valley View we have to fund it — like raise taxes. Costs at Valley View are down, but it’s still costing taxpayers millions of dollars.”

He said the county "has kicked the can year after year instead of making difficult decisions and making cuts, instead allowing spending as usual and functioning as normal and not look at other sources of revenue. Basically the fund balance was depleted. Now it’s time to pay the piper.

“Everything is on the table and we still have a huge gap. Past administrations raided other funds, like worker’s compensation and the water authority."

He said his ultimate goal is to get revenue to support Valley View down to neutral and not draw on taxpayer dollars. How will he did it? Through concessions from the labor union, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA).

“Year after year, the CSEA has promised concessions that have never materialized," he said. "The LDC is not to privatize (Valley View) but to use as a vehicle to get concessions that we’ve been promised over two years.”

He wants to see all parties at the table to find a solution. He says meeting with the union for concessions is “one of the most critical things for saving Valley View.”

According to Neuhaus, if concessions materialize, even if an LDC is already formed, Valley View could remain under county control.

If done properly, an LDC will work, said Neuhaus. His formula includes having good people on the board; for instance, a family member of a patient at Valley View and a taxpayer to represent the community, and having a resolution that ensures that quality of care will continue and that employees will keep their jobs.

“No one will be left on the street," Neuhaus said. "It’s not going to happen. If you have a bed there you will continue to have a bed there. Every option is being explored. Valley View is just one of many. It’s not a silver bullet to get us out of this."

He says he wants to improve the county’s finances in order to improve its bond rating, which determines the cost of borrowing money. Moody’s bond rating service downgraded the county from a Aaa rating to a Aa2. Neuhaus says selling Valley View, along with other cuts being made, will show Orange County in a stronger financial position.

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