Legislature leader says selling nursing home one of county’s best decisions

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Lynne Johnson, vice chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, said selling the county nursing home has proved a wise decision, saving local taxpayers millions of dollars. She was one of the speakers on Friday during the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon.

ALBION – It was a controversial choice, and resulted in lots of protesting and public disapproval. But the decision to sell the Orleans County Nursing Home has proved a good one, Legislature Vice Chairwoman Lynne Johnson said.

“Selling the nursing home is the best thing we’ve ever done as a Legislature,” Johnson told about 75 people on Friday during the Legislative Luncheon.

She was one of the featured speakers during the event at The Village Inn. The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce organized the luncheon.

Johnson had legislators in attendance all stand up for supporting the nursing home sale. The $7.8 million sale became final on Jan. 1. It removed what had been about a $1 million annual expense to local taxpayers. That deficit was forecast to hit $2 million or more annually, especially as federal Intergovernmental Transfer Funds dry up.

“Job well done, gentlemen,” Johnson told the legislators.

The new owner, Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC, took over the nursing home on Jan. 1, acquiring the 120-bed Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center.

The new owner has kept 99 percent of the former county employees, Johnson said. The company has also offered benefits and seniority for the employees.

With the nursing home out of the county budget, legislators cut taxes by 1.5 percent and reduced the tax rate from $10.11 to $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property for 2015.

The county also committed to an $8 million bond for a series of bridge, culvert and county building projects in the next three years. That annual payment will be covered from $260,000 in gambling money approved by the state, Johnson said.

“The sale of The Villages takes the pressure off,” Johnson said. “We can rebuild our bridges and culverts.”

The county cleared a major milestone in 2014, wrapping up $7 million upgrade to its emergency management system, Johnson said.

The county is now working to expand broadband Internet coverage throughout Orleans, especially in the outlying rural areas that do not have high-speed Internet. Four companies have submitted bids for expanding broadband in the county. Those proposals are being reviewed.

The timing of the project fits with Gov. Cuomo’s push to extend broadband throughout the state.

“We stand ready to go after that money,” Johnson said about the governor’s broadband initiative.

Johnson told the Chamber crowd that county leaders are vigilant and active in fighting a plan to regulate Lake Ontario water levels.

Orleans, Niagara and other southshore lake counties worry a new plan for lake levels will lead to more extreme highs and lows in the lake, putting commercial and recreational businesses at risk, while also eating up valuable lakeshore property due to erosion.

“When property owners assessments go down, it affects all of Orleans County,” she said.

Johnson and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey travelled to Washington, D.C. in July to press the counties’ concerns about the plan from the International Joint Commission. Johnson said it was unprecedented for a county legislator to visit the nation’s capital and press a cause on behalf of the county.

She praised the partnership with Niagara County and their two-county Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance.

“NORA gives us a bigger voice for concerns,” Johnson said.