Posts Tagged ‘Ed Diana’

Yet Another Reprieve for Valley View

Friday, November 14th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

I tried in vain to differentiate between the knaves and fools among the 12 Orange County legislators who cast 12 futile votes Thursday to authorize the sale of the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation. The vote came after several hours of public comments that again made it abundantly clear to everyone in the packed auditorium (except for the aforementioned 12 knaves or fools) that the overwhelming majority of Orange County residents want to keep Valley View publicly owned.

I wish I were an expert in interpreting body language or had one with me during the session. He or she would have been able to explain why some legislators’ faces turned red as beets and others slunk into their seats and avoided eye contact with audience members. Curlie Dillard, the sole Democrat among the 12, was careful not to attract attention to his self and uttered but one word during the entire session, a quick “yes” during the roll call. Democratic Caucus Chair Jeff Berkman, whose plan to “save Valley View by downsizing it” (and selling some beds to a private for-profit company) was dead in the water before the meeting started, appeared humble as he explained his reasoning. In the end, however, he joined the rest of his caucus (with the exception of the aforementioned Dillard) in voting “no” and denying County Executive Steve Neuhaus the requisite 14-vote supermajority he craves.

Chairman Steve Brescia did an admirable job of running the meeting and keeping a straight face while knowing that nothing said—no matter how factual, eloquent or passionate—would change his mind or those of the other 11 knaves or fools.  Was that stress-induced rosacea on Legislator Michael Amo’s face or was it that red because his bow tie was too tight around his neck? Amo, introduced by Brescia as “party leader Amo” because he is chair (and sole member) of the legislature’s one-man Independence Party caucus, voted “yes” after a peculiar but apparently sincere soliloquy lamenting that more isn’t being done to enable families to care for loved ones at home.

Republican Dennis Simmons got red-faced as he listened to a host of veterans who questioned the legislature’s commitment to the men and women who have served in the military to protect our rights and are now in need of care. He’s a veteran too, he said, and recited his name, rank, and serial number to prove it. He said he knows from experience of his own family members that you can get really good care from low-paid workers at private nursing homes. He objected to those who would “besmirch” those workers’ reputations! (He also complained that former County Executive Ed Diana’s reputation got “besmirched” on a previous occasion.) This was after several speakers cited statistics comparing the large number of complaints filed against Focus, the private operator said to be the favorite to take over Valley View, versus the small number of complaints filed against Valley View. One of the complaints against Focus involved sexual abuse of an elderly woman and Simmons thought it was a cheap shot to mention it.

Majority Leader Melissa Bonacic did not seem at all uncomfortable as she thanked the veterans in attendance for their service and assured them that this legislature (which as presently composed seems incapable of governing its way out of a paper bag) would see to it that all current residents of Valley View would receive the same level of care if Valley View were sold to a private operator. Her reasoning was twofold (and also places her squarely in the fool category): “It’s the trend,” she explained, adding that counties all over the state are getting rid of their nursing homes and that she’s scared. Her second reason? “I don’t believe the county should be in the nursing home business.”

But that is precisely the point. Valley View has thrived lo these past 183 years because it is not a “business.” It has been publicly owned, supported by tax dollars, and provides a vital service to the residents of Orange County. Assurances from Bonacic or any other county legislator that the quality of care will be maintained for current and future residents if the facility is privatized must be taken with at least 12 grains of salt. And speaking of future residents, here are some other things to consider: Orange County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state in terms of population. The so-called middle class is shrinking here as it is throughout the USA with no end in sight to the rise in wealth inequality. People are living longer. Taken together this means more people among the lower 99 percent will be in need of the services provided by Valley View simply because they won’t be able to afford to pay for equivalent quality care at a private facility.

Thanks are in order to the nine legislators who stood fast against the bullying of the county executive and his minions in the legislature. Several deserve special mention, most notably Republican Mike Anagnostakis, who has put in many hours studying the flawed 2015 budget proposed by Neuhaus and has suggested reality-based alternatives to the sale of Valley View, upon which the Neuhaus budget relies. Unflinching support for Valley View also came from Democrats Matt Turnbull, Roseanne Sullivan, Chris Eachus, and Myrna Kemnitz.

Thanks to them and the handful of other Democrats who voted no, Valley View will now be funded for a full year instead of a few months. But this fight is far from over. The private nursing home operators see gold in “them thar hills” of Goshen. And Neuhaus and his knaves and fools will continue to do all they can to hand it over to them.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

Anagnostakis: Neuhaus Budget ‘Illegal’

Friday, October 10th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

Orange County legislator Mike Anagnostakis was so troubled after reading through the $703.2 million 2015 budget proposed by County Executive Steve Neuhaus last week that he sent a letter to all his legislative colleagues to share his concerns. A centerpiece of the Neuhaus budget plan is the sale of the county-owned Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation to a private, for-profit nursing home company. Neuhaus, who was elected in November after promising voters he would not seek to sell Valley View, now says he anticipates using $15 million from its sale to help close a projected deficit of $63 million.

Anagnostakis, the lone Republican who has steadfastly opposed privatization of Valley View, told colleagues he is troubled by a number of aspects of the proposed budget. “No matter what side of the issue you are on with Valley View,” he wrote, “I would think these items would be a problem if we are trying to do the PROCESS the right way and get a true budget done” to solve problems facing the county. “Most troubling,” he said, is his feeling that the proposed budget is “illegal on many levels.”

“By charter we must fund fully all departments within the charter,” he continued, noting that when Neuhaus’ predecessor Ed Diana, attempted to stop funding Valley View in 2013, the New York State Supreme Court ruled unequivocally, “what the County Executive seeks to do within the confines of the 2013 budget, i.e., to unilaterally close Valley View.…constitutes an impermissible violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.”

Furthermore, said Anagnostakis, using a “one-shot” infusion of $15 million from the sale of Valley View is “contingent on many things happening” and “New York State law does not allow for this kind of a contingent budget item.” He said one of three things will occur if the proposed budget is passed: There may not be the 14-vote supermajority required to sell Valley View; or if there are 14 votes, the resolution may be challenged in court and found illegal; or, even if a Local Law is passed with 14 votes “it will not be in place until AFTER an election occurs, if enough signatures are obtained, and ONLY if the sell Valley View side wins that election, which would be MANY MANY months after the budget needs to be in place.” In each of those scenarios, Anagnostakis told fellow legislators, “this budget would not be legally balanced and I fear we will find ourselves in another court case.”

Anagnostakis pointed out that Neuhaus had “railed against Diana and previous legislators” for failing to have structural balanced budgets (income equaling expenses) because they used about $40 million per year from general fund surplus, other reserves and “one-shots” to balance the budgets. Yet he does the same thing in his proposed budget “by using $45.8 million in general fund surplus, other reserves and ‘one-shots’….Included in that amount are the $15 million from selling Valley View (to balance the other departments deficits) and $8.4 million of Tobacco reserves (instead of using them for anti-smoking programs). The structural deficit would only be cut by about $10 million, so if we had a budget deficit of $63 million this year, then our deficit will still be $53 million for the start of the following year (and we would not even own Valley View at that point).”

He cited several other examples where “the numbers in this budget do not ring true.” For example, the budget “does not itemize one penny for the legacy costs for Valley View which will still be in the $5-$7 million range.” Noting that the 2015 budget to run Valley View has been estimated to be around $5.5 million, he concluded, “it very well may cost taxpayers more yearly to sell the facility than to keep it.”

Asked if he has received any responses to his letter, Anagnostakis said, “Not a single Legislator has given any response!” But there are four Democrats who he says work with him “because they understand what is going on.” The big problem is ALL the Republicans (and Independence Party legislator Michael Amo, who votes with the Republicans) who never have an open mind and only do what is asked of them.”

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Double Edged Letter from Ed Diana

Friday, June 1st, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

I got a letter from Orange County Executive Edward Diana a couple of days ago. Well, actually, it was addressed to “Postal Customer,” which was okay because I don’t expect the personal touch from politicians.

There were two parts to Diana’s cleverly constructed letter.

The first was a reminder that the county government center in Goshen remains closed due to damage caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. It went on to inform me of the addresses of the temporary headquarters of various government agencies.

I think Diana’s real purpose was to remind me that he has been crusading to build a new government center, but that nasty ol’ Orange County Legislature rejected it.

The fact is that the relocation of county services would inconvenience me only if I had to do business, say, with the district attorney at 40 Matthews St., apply for a pistol permit at 4 Glenmere Cove Rd., observe the Legislature at 15 Matthews St., and visit the Emergency Services Center at 22 Wells Farm Rd.

But I’m not a criminal, I don’t wish to pack a gun, I have no burning need to visit the Legislature, and I’m not having an emergency. The only agency at the government center I ever have to deal with is the Department of Motor Vehicles, and I can usually do it by mail, or by visiting a DMV office in Middletown, Port Jervis or Newburgh.

Diana’s letter was an obvious attempt to remind people that services right now are not consolidated and thus inconvenient. But what it reminded me of was a letter I sent to the editor of The Times Herald-Record noting that Diana seemed happy to spend $75 million to build a new county office building even though one estimate for rehabbing the existing structure is $67.2 million. Just an estimate but do the math: Fix the old place and Diana could save nearly $8 million.

Elsewhere, the rehabilitation of the library at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth – a building similar to the government center – cost $43 million. Assume for a moment that the Goshen job would cost the same, and you have a savings of $32 million. But Diana declined to speak with the UMass architects because they had already discussed the undertaking with people in Orange County.

Now, while Diana seems free with tax dollars when it comes to a county office complex, he’s the picture of frugality when it comes to the future of the county’s Valley View Nursing Home. He asserts that 19 percent of all property tax revenues now go to support Valley View and that he projects this will climb to 30 percent by 2015.

I don’t know how good his numbers are, but if his math is as questionable as his prose, I have a problem with his Valley View arguments.

Read this one meaty paragraph from Diana’s letter: “More than 80 percent of the nursing home patients in Orange County already reside in private or not-for-profit facilities – institutions that are able to provide quality care for less because they are not required to operate under the stringent work, overtime rules and benefit packages imposed on public facilities. On average, the wage and benefit packages imposed on public facilities are 42 percent higher than privately owned nursing homes.”

That is crafty writing, but:

–The 80 percent figure is irrelevant. It doesn’t alter the fact that a large number of people in Orange County may not be able to afford a private facility.

–Diana’s contention that private facilities can “provide quality care for less” omits proof and conveniently fails to discuss whether those nursing home fees are lower as well.

–His description of wage and benefit packages having been “imposed” on public facilities is crass, especially when he uses the thunderous verb “imposed” in two consecutive sentences. An “imposed” benefit sounds like it was obtained by brute force. But benefits are obtained through negotiation. The workers were seated at one side of a bargaining table.

–Facing them were county officials negotiating in good faith and without guns pointed at their heads. In other words, the benefits enjoyed by Valley View workers were not grabbed but agreed to by both sides.

jeffrey@zestoforange.com