Three of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility's 195...

Three of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility's 195 patients were moved to other long-term care centers in Suffolk on March 28, 2013. Credit: Bill Davis

Suffolk legislative leaders who are backing the $23 million sale of the Foley nursing home grilled their own budget analysts Tuesday about whether their forecasts for keeping the 264-bed complex open are too rosy.

While the report from the legislature's Office of Budget Review showed a sale would produce a required 10 percent savings for the county, Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said he felt the analysts' projections for future operations were "rosier looking" than those put forward by the Bellone administration, which is pushing the sale. After the two hours of testimony, Horsley said, "I have a better picture of where you are getting your numbers from, but I'm not sure they are real."

Budget committee chairman Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) asked why analysts estimated nursing home expenses of $34.2 million next year, when their 2010 report showed the annual cost of running the complex will be $38.7 million.

He also expressed concern that budget analysts did not include this year's projected county subsidy of $14.1 million when estimating future costs. D'Amaro also said analysts were projecting increases in state funding while the state repeatedly has made cuts. "The assumptions I would be making are that aid is going down and expenses are doing nothing but going up," he said.

Budget analysts said they did not include this year's county subsidy, a record, because it was "an anomaly," and largely the result of budget dispute. Former County Executive Steve Levy, who was looking to sell Foley, located in Yaphank, cobbled together a budget with lawmakers that included $7 million in revenues from an anticipated public-private nursing home partnership that never materialized.

The budget analysts defended their estimates as based on an average of recent years' operations and forecasts made by a state public nursing home group on the level of state funding that can be expected, going forward.

The analysts also said the county would be subject to lower operating costs because of the exit of full-time personnel and increased use of part-time workers as Foley has cut the number of beds in use.

But nursing home analyst Craig Freas said that, while the budget review report included a 2 percent increase in reimbursements, that will not keep pace with rising expenses. Nor could Foley survive without a continued county subsidy of $5-7 million a year, Freas said.

The next hurdle for the sale is a vote Thursday in the five-member Health Committee, where passage could face difficulties.

Chairwoman Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and minority leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) oppose the sale, while Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is likely to recuse himself because his wife works at Foley. But Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the Bellone administration will circulate a petition to discharge the sale resolution from committee so it can be voted on by the full county legislature Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the Education and Information Technology Committee discharged, without recommendation, a bill authorizing development of a program to sell ads on county websites not registered with .gov domains. Bellone aides said they're still studying the legality of the practice -- pitched as a creative way to raise revenues -- but supporters didn't want further delay. The full legislature will consider the resolution next Thursday, though lawmakers would have to vote again on the program once it's fully developed.

The committee also heard the results of a recent survey of Suffolk residents who attend out-of-county community colleges. Since the county spends several million dollars a year subsidizing those residents' tuition, lawmakers wanted to know their reasons for attending other schools.

Only 9 percent of the roughly 3,500 residents who attend out-of-county community colleges responded to the survey. About 2,000 of the students attend Nassau County Community College and about 650 go to Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

In all, 44 percent of those who responded said that academic reputation was the most important factor in their decision to not attend Suffolk County Community College. About 28 percent said Suffolk did not offer their preferred majors -- primarily fashion, mortuary sciences and radiology.

With Paul LaRocco

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