Callard: State doesn’t allow referendum on nursing home sale

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 October 2013 at 12:00 am

ALBION – Orleans County residents won’t be voting on whether or not the county should sell its 120-bed nursing home because such a vote would be illegal.

That was the response from David Callard, the County Legislature chairman, after public calls for a referendum on the issue.

County officials have consulted with legal counsel and opinions from the state comptroller and attorney general.

“It simply can not be authorized because it would be illegal to do so,” Callard said at today’s Legislature meeting.

State statutes don’t specify that a public vote for a nursing home sale is permitted by law. Without the specifics in the law, the county can’t put the matter to a vote, Callard said. The county also can’t expend public money for a referendum that is not permitted or required by state law, he said.

Callard’s statement did not sit well with Dee Smith, a member of Concerned Citizens of Orleans County, a grass roots group that opposes the sale.

“I feel I don’t matter to you,” she told Callard and the Legislature. “I don’t trust you. I don’t have faith in you.”

The county formed a local development corporation to work on the sale of The Villages of Orleans. Proposals are due Oct. 16. The LDC board, led by Russ Martino of Lyndonville, may schedule a meeting for Oct. 18 to discuss the offers for the nursing home.

“I am not looking forward to going into a private nursing home,” Smith told the Legislature. “I’m so disappointed in you people.”

Legislator George Bower was the lone legislator who opposed transferring the nursing home to the LDC in February, and pressing the three-member LDC with finding a buyer for the site.

Bower said the lack of a referendum and a say from residents in the process is “poor.”

Two lawsuits have challenged the legality of the LDC’s formation and other procedural issues. Both times the county has been upheld in State Supreme Court.

Here is the prepared statement by Callard in regards to the referendum:

“It is important to clarify a point that seems to be missing from the discussion on the nursing home. The county government as an administrative unit and political subdivision of the State of New York, does not have the power to supersede or override state laws. There is no authority granted to the county legislature by the laws of New York State to hold a referendum on issues that are not specifically authorized for referenda in state law. We do not have the power to grant such a request.

“It has been consistently held in this State that a municipality may not submit a question to referendum, either advisory or binding, in the absence of express statutory authority. The New York State Attorney General and the Office of the State Comptroller have weighed in on this issue numerous times over the years, rendering opinions which consistently state that referenda which are neither permitted nor required by statute are improper and without effect, and that municipal monies may not be expended for such purposes. Simply put, they are illegal.”