Maplewood plan challenged by CSEA
SARATOGA COUNTY The union that represents workers at Saratoga County’s Maplewood Manor nursing home is suing to block the county’s plans to sell it.
The Civil Service Employees Association has filed a lawsuit against the county, asking a state Supreme Court judge to rule that the Board of Supervisors acted illegally in creating a local development corporation to take ownership of Maplewood Manor, as a step toward selling it.
CSEA is asking Supreme Court Judge Robert Chauvin, who will hear the case, to annul the decision, thereby blocking the plan.
What the county wants to do is not a conventional use of an LDC, a kind of nonprofit corporation allowed under state law that is normally used to promote local economic development, CSEA attorneys argue in court papers.
As part of the process, the Board of Supervisors determined that the 237-bed nursing home is no longer needed for county use, and so can be sold. That determination was “arbitrary and capricious,” the union argues.
County Attorney Stephen Dorsey said Monday that the county has not yet been served with legal papers, and he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
The supervisors’ resolution cited a section of state law that allows LDCs to be created for purposes including “lessening the burdens of government and acting in the public interest.”
CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz said the union has filed similar lawsuits in other counties that are planning to dispose of their nursing homes to save money.
“We’ve had a number of cases where in our opinion counties were flaunting the law,” Madarasz said. “Part of the principle here is that we don’t believe by law a municipality can sell a public property if there is clearly a need for it.”
The case is a challenge to the county’s efforts to get out from under financial responsibility for the nursing home, which loses millions of dollars each year. If Maplewood Manor isn’t sold, county officials said property taxes will need to rise at least 20 percent next year.
County officials blame the losses, which have been as high as $8 million to $10 million per year, on low reimbursement rates for elderly patients covered by the federal Medicaid program.
Outside legal consultant Harris Beach was hired last year to study the situation, and recommended the county create the LDC as a mechanism to sell the nursing home. Last November the supervisors created the new Maplewood Manor Local Development Corp. In January, they transferred ownership of the facility to the new corporation.
The plan is for the LDC, which has more negotiating flexibility than the county would, to solicit proposals from purchasers, and then sell Maplewood Manor to a private buyer. The expected timeline would have the sale completed by late 2014.
The prospect of a private sale has worried the 325 county employees who work at the facility. There is the fear of job losses, Madarasz acknowledged, and also “horror stories” about diminished quality of care when other public nursing homes have been privatized.
The lawsuit, filed last Wednesday in the Saratoga County clerk’s office, is being brought by CSEA; its regional president, Kathy Garrison; and Maplewood Manor employees Nick Berardi and Susan Blowers.
The action names as defendants the county, the Board of Supervisors, board Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, and the local development corporation.
The Maplewood Manor LDC, coincidentally, has a meeting scheduled for today to discuss selection of a real estate consultant to help market Maplewood Manor.
A state Supreme Court judge in Syracuse will hear oral arguments today in a very similar case brought by the CSEA involving Onondaga County’s efforts to sell its public nursing home through an LDC, Madarasz said.