Orange County budget calls for closing nursing home next year

Orange County Executive Edward Diana speaks during a

Orange County Executive Edward Diana speaks during a news conference held expressing the concern that federal funding for repair of the Forge Hill Bridge in New Windsor has not come through a year after it was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene. (Aug. 30, 2012) (Credit: Rory Glaeseman)

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Orange County Executive Edward Diana introduced a $716 million budget Thursday that calls for funding the Valley View nursing home through February, increasing the likelihood that the controversy-plagued facility will be shut down if it's not sold.

The decision angered the Republican executive's Democratic opponents who preferred a go-slow approach before forcing a move that could result in the relocation of hundreds of residents. County legislators would have to agree to Diana's plan.

"He wants to sell it and if he doesn't get the votes to sell it, he's going to close it," said Legis. Jeff Berkman, the minority leader.

"Aside from the ailments these people are going through, they have to worry about are we going to be closed in three months," Berkman said. "It causes too much anxiety. I think it's cruel. I think it's unnecessary."

Berkman has proposed having a bipartisan commission oversee the Goshen facility for the next year. "At least it wouldn't become a political football that's being tossed around," he said.

Democrats have been pushing for a management change at Valley View. A Democratic-led report issued earlier this month accused the county and Diana of wasting millions of dollars since taking over the 360-bed facility in 2003.

Diana has defended his oversight of Valley View, claiming publicly-run nursing homes are saddled with wage and benefit packages 42 percent higher than what private homes pay. As a result, he said, county governments across the state have been selling off their nursing homes to private and nonprofit groups.

In June, Diana estimated that the county pays $20 million to operate the facility, a figure that he said will grow to $30 million over the next three years.

He said that if Valley View isn't sold, the county would be forced to either raise property taxes -- one-fifth of which are already going to fund Valley View -- or lay off employees from other departments like police or fire.

State and federal mandates continue to make it difficult to balance the county's budget, Diana said. The 2013 budget represents an increase of less than one half of one percent over last year's budget, Diana said.

"This was by far the most difficult budget I have ever presented in my career as a public servant," said Diana. "When we thought the financial picture couldn't get any worse, the mandates any more stringent, the demands any greater -- when we thought there might actually be light at the end of the tunnel -- we were wrong. If this were a movie, that light would be a train -- headed our way."

The proposed budget includes $25.6 million to fund state pension costs, up 11 percent from last year, Diana said.

Legislators have until Nov. 15 to submit changes to the budget, which Diana can veto. Legislators must adopt the budget by Dec. 15.

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