my view

Regarding ‘What’s the rush?’*

By ROBERT A. DOHERTY
Posted 8/19/20

Bruce Ferguson’s “What’s the Rush?” letter in the August 6 edition of the River Reporter offers a string of assumptions that are simply not based in fact.

I keep being told …

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my view

Regarding ‘What’s the rush?’*

Posted

Bruce Ferguson’s “What’s the Rush?” letter in the August 6 edition of the River Reporter offers a string of assumptions that are simply not based in fact.

I keep being told that “pretty much everyone” (as Bruce puts it) doesn’t like the path we were previously exploring to sell the Care Center at Sunset Lake. I just don’t see it. We’ve had a handful of people come out to our public hearings, almost exclusively representing staff, patients and the union (the “overflow” Bruce references is pretty easy to hit when our hearing room can only accommodate 50 people due to COVID-19 regulations).

The average taxpayer who has no other stake in the facility—except that they fund it—is not showing up at these hearings, protests and other gatherings, nor are they inundating us with letters and phone calls. A petition was signed by 600, true, but that’s out of a county of 75,000+ (and in the summer, when the petition was circulated, we have 200,000-300,000 people here).

“Everyone” is not the proper moniker, and there very much appears to be a silent majority that agrees with us that the care center can have a successful future outside county control.

That’s why this legislature ultimately agreed on bringing in a management company to run the care center, rather than selling it outright. This keeps our care center employees as county workers, with all the rights and benefits intact. As this decision demonstrates, I’m not “against” our employees—they’ve done fine work amidst extremely difficult circumstances. I’m particularly sorry some of our discussions have added to their stress.

But we’ve been charged by taxpayers with finding solutions to our fiscal difficulties that don’t involve huge tax increases. In any situation where it’s the taxpayer vs. “something else,” I will always come down on the side of the taxpayer. I know my fellow newly elected legislators feel the same way.

As for those we serve at the care center, I wouldn’t for a minute consider this avenue if I thought it would harm our residents or degrade the care they receive. In fact, I have good reason to believe that a private operator will improve care. (For example, a private operator can turn the care center into a multi-specialty skilled-care facility, where we no longer have to subject our frail and elderly to stressful trips to other locations that can do more specialized procedures.) I will certainly not be in favor of any operator who has a record of “below average” care.

The usual complaints about the IDA and the airport only benefitting the rich don’t hold water, either. I wish the IDA did not have to be so generous, but the tax realities leave them little option if any economic development is to be realized. And let’s not forget that high taxes squash needed economic development. Wouldn’t it be great if our low taxes attracted both new residents and new businesses?

The airport has been a far smaller drain on county finances than the care center, and it’s a foolish daydream to think some company or individual would be willing to pay back the $30 million in federal grants we’d have to return (immediately) if the airport was sold to a private operator.

I’ve yet to come across anyone in Sullivan County who thinks the taxes here are fair and justified. To a person, they strongly feel overtaxed. In the quest to relieve that burden—which I take as one of our highest priorities—we have been looking at all options, including with the Care Center. We may have little option with mandated offerings, but in this very real and very serious economic crisis, I am not about to start playing the favorites game with non-mandated services. Sacrifices have been and must continue to be made, and taxpayers are right to expect that we carry out the mandate they’ve given us.

I just joined the legislature and have already had enough time to see the cracks in our financial foundation. The most irresponsible thing I could do would be to ignore the taxpayer, who will pay for any deficit this county incurs. And I will always put the taxpayer first.

Robert A. Doherty is District 1 legislator and chair of the Sullivan County Legislature.

*[Editor’s note: In the print edition, Feguson’s opinion piece was headlined “Bum’s Rush.” It was changed online so as not to cast dispersions on people with little means.]

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