The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday that the county legislature must decide before the 2016 budget is unveiled in September whether to sell the John J. Foley nursing home or face an $11.2 million shortfall.
The deficit could result in an increase in the average homeowners' property tax bill of $21.38 next year, the administration said.
Bellone aides said Ernst and Young, Suffolk's outside auditors, told officials last month that the county must shut down what is known as the Foley Enterprise Fund this year, or write off the loss if Foley is unsold.
The auditors said the fund, from which Foley operations were once paid, can no longer be used under accounting rules since the Yaphank nursing home shut down in 2013 and no further revenue is expected. The fund could remain open temporarily if a sale were completed before year's end.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider disclosed the auditors' position in an May 26 email to Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and a legislative committee that has recommended that Foley could be used for purposes such as treating people with brain injuries or drug problems.
Schneider said the administration was "simply looking for updated policy guidance" from the legislature on an "important policy issue," especially since "so little progress" has been made since the committee's report.
Schneider said Brookhaven Memorial Hospital, which has considered using Foley, has made no formal proposal to the county.
The county has an offer and a letter of intent from Port Jefferson nursing home operator Kenneth Gaul to buy Foley for $11.25 million. Gaul said he remained "very interested" in a possible purchase, and said he was "somewhat encouraged that a decision is finally going to be made."
Gregory said that while it was too early to say what lawmakers will decide, the auditors' stance likely will "bring the issue to closure" within four to six weeks. He said he hoped further meetings can be held so the services the committee sought can be incorporated into any sale.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the GOP caucus leader, said he wanted to explore all alternative uses -- particularly the possibility of treating substance abuse -- before making a final decision.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) criticized Bellone for using last-minute pressure tactics to force the sale. She said the move comes after Easter Seals last week met with county officials where they made serious overtures about alternative uses for Foley.
"He's known he had to do something for the past year, but there's never been a rush," Browning said of Bellone.