Moving the DOH district office

Potential new location has an interesting history

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 1/12/22

MONTICELLO, NY — That the Monticello district office for the state Department of Health (DOH) could be moved to Middletown is known. But the reasons behind it are in large part still a mystery.

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Moving the DOH district office

Potential new location has an interesting history

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — That the Monticello district office for the state Department of Health (DOH) could be moved to Middletown is known. But the reasons behind it are in large part still a mystery.

Early this month, an anonymous letter made the rounds, asserting that the office was to be moved to Orange County. This could potentially lead to reduced services, would pile a commute onto the 25 staff members affected, and load a $227,495 annual rent on state taxpayers. Would staff be laid off?

As far as the issues of service and staff jobs go, “The Department of Health will continue to provide the same level of services to the residents of Sullivan County,” said Jill Montag, director of communications at the DOH, “and with the same staff.”

The problems

For NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-100), there are multiple concerns with the proposed move.
That starts with “Access to services,” from the DOH, she said, “for the citizens of Sullivan County.”
Those services include inspections related to food, water and indoor air quality at camps, pools, motels and hotels in those counties that use the state’s services.

Sullivan County does use them. Orange County does not.

Second, Gunther said, is the impact on surrounding businesses that have relied on local workers as customers.

Third is the issue of water quality work that the office handles. Gunther specifically cited a mobile-home park in South Fallsburg that needed the office’s advice. “They’ve been extremely helpful,” she said.

If the office has to operate from Middletown, how will that care be affected?

Fourth, Sullivan County’s population is growing, especially in light of a never-ending pandemic. Won’t the district office’s services become even more crucial, Gunther asked.

And again, there is no indication so far that Orange County plans to switch to using the state for those services.

Which leads to the next question.

Why the move?

If money were to be saved by combining the office with an Orange County one, then perhaps that would make sense. But there is no Orange County district office for the DOH. The county handles its own services.
Montag said it had to do with inadequate office space. “We undertook a multi-year search for new space in the county, but unfortunately we were not successful.”

That the matter has been around for several years was confirmed. Gunther, who has been working to keep the office in Sullivan, said that the issue goes back into the Cuomo administration. “This has been going on a few years, unbeknownst to us,” she said.

Was there no available rental space? According to officespace.com, which lists available commercial space for lease or sale, on January 12 there were 16 commercial spaces available for lease in the county, and 184 buildings were for sale. Prices range between $20 and $80 per square foot. Of course, it was unknown how much space was needed. Perhaps the new building was an improvement.

About that building

Open Book New York (a site run by the state comptroller’s office) records the building as 90 Crystal Run Rd., owned by Lebov, LLC.

Commercial real estate site LoopNet lists it, adding that there is 14,750 square feet of space available, and notes that the owner is Solomon Lebovits. The offices rent for $25-$27 per square foot. One office, available in May, is 4,800 square feet; the others range between 1,561 and 2,738 square feet.

It is possible that the new office would require more than one space, of course. The DOH did not respond to a request for square footage needed.

But 90 Crystal Run Rd. is interesting for other reasons. Back in 2011, according to a case summary on Justia, New York State took 0.8 of an acre from the 8.6-acre parcel, as Crystal Run Road was widened. In so doing, the state took a “landscaped, 50-foot buffer area between the parking lot in front of the building and the edge of Crystal Run Road.”

Lebov LLC was not the owner at the time, and that previous owner sued for direct damages (from the value of the land) and “damages from the loss of site improvements.”

In 2017, the Claims Court ruled that the owner should receive $232,000 in direct and other damages, and that was it.

An appeal was filed, and in 2020, the Court of Appeals ruled against Lebov LLC, upholding the Claims Court decision.

So, essentially, the state won.

It’s curious that this particular building is the choice to house the district office of a different county. Although several people were contacted to ask why, none have yet been able to explain the decision.

Where things stand

It ain’t over till it’s over.

"I have been in contact with the NYS Department of Health, and I do not accept their logic, because I am personally aware of available and affordable rental property in Sullivan County," said state Sen. Mike Martucci (R, C-42). "Even if they were having a hard time in Monticello, there is no good reason to move their office outside the county.  As a rural county with only a small department of public health, Sullivan County needs a presence from the state."

Orange County, which Martucci also represents, does not have the same needs. "It has a larger, full-time department headed by a physician."

In a letter sent to the DOH on January 14, he condemned the move as one that would  " have disastrous implications on public health in a county that lacks critical access to care." 

He called on the department and its acting commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassettt, to reconsider its decision. "And I will keep pushing them to continue to provide all necessary services to residents."  

Gunther has been in contact with Dr. Bassett as well as Jeanette Moy, the acting commissioner of the Office of General Services, and their departments are researching the matter, she said.

In the meantime, Sullivan County itself is deeply concerned.

They feel, said Health and Family Services commissioner John Liddle, that the decision to move the district office out of Sullivan County “was made prematurely. We hope there is room to reconsider it.”

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to make sure that the health of the community remains at the forefront of all decision-making.

Edited to add Sen. Martucci's comments and the cost of Sullivan's commercial rental space.

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