ELIZABETHTOWN - As the due date for bids on the Horace Nye Nursing Home draws near, tensions over a possible sale appear to be building among Essex County lawmakers.
Dozens of nursing home employees protested the potential sale outside of the county courthouse during Monday's Ways and Means Committee meeting. Inside, Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava asked about the process for the sale of the county-owned facility.
"I understand that the (bids) are due by March 7, so where do we go from there? How are we going to do this?" he said.
The county listed the nursing home with the Chicago-based real estate investment firm Marcus & Millichap last year at a sale price of about $4.25 million. Potential buyers will be required to let current employees continue working, and patients at the facility will keep their beds.
If supervisors decide not to sell, the county will still have to pay Marcus & Millichap a commission of about $138,000.
"My key concern here is that I've been following Washington County - they're going through the same thing right now," Scozzafava said. "But they had three or four public meetings throughout that county, in different locations, to hear from the people as to what they felt about it. And I think that's critical - that we do that in this county."
Scozzafava said public hearings on the nursing home should be held "in fairness" to taxpayers.
Newcomb town Supervisor George Canon said that in the past, public hearings on the nursing home have been dominated by Horace Nye employees and patients.
"I understand what Tommy is saying," he said. "The problem with that is, you don't get a balanced public meeting. You get 115 employees that work there that are all obviously, justifiably concerned about their job.
"The person that lives in Newcomb, New York, that may or may not have a use for that nursing home is not going to attend a public meeting, probably, to voice their opinion one way or another. The public meeting will not give you a sense, I don't think, of how the total residency of Essex County feels."
Scozzafava responded by saying the county should hold a public referendum and let taxpayers decide. But county Attorney Dan Manning said that a referendum, by law, can only occur in certain circumstances.
"This isn't one of those cases," Manning said.
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, an adamant supporter of privatizing the nursing home, said he couldn't believe that after years of debating whether to sell the facility, supervisors don't have a good idea of how their constituents feel about the subject. That prompted a testy exchange between Politi and Scozzafava.
"I have an excellent idea - I know how my constituents feel," Scozzafava said. "And I'm here to represent my constituents."
"And I know how mine feel," Politi responded.
"So let's hear from all of them," Scozzafava said.
Politi said every supervisor has a vote, and every supervisor has discussed Horace Nye with taxpayers in their respective towns.
"A referendum is illegal," he said.
Scozzafava said he questions whether that's true. Manning said he would send him a letter about it.
"You can send me all the letters you want; I know how to read," Scozzafava said. "I'll do my own research."
Scozzafava and Politi are often the most vocal supervisors when it comes to the future of Horace Nye. Monday's discussion, however, brought in some other voices.
St. Armand town Supervisor Joyce Morency has been on the board for three decades and has worked on about 30 annual budgets. She said in many of those budgets, taxpayers subsidized Horace Nye to the tune of some $3 million.
"Now I would just love to ask our manager to try and find out what that total is," Morency said. "It's a horrendous amount of taxpayer dollars. There will be nursing homes. And I think we are responsible to our taxpayers to do what we're doing now."
Josh Jandris, an associate with Marcus & Millichap, told the Enterprise recently that more than 30 parties from across the country have expressed interest in Horace Nye. County Manager Dan Palmer said Marcus & Millichap will start reviewing bids March 7 and make recommendations to the county "as to whether to consider the ones that came in, or to go back out" for a second round of bids.
"I know in different rounds, they've gone back out a second time if they received a number of bids and they want to pare it down," Palmer said.