Suffolk lawmakers Thursday night approved the $23 million sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank by a slim majority to help close the county's $250 million budget gap.
Legislators also voted 16-2 to approve the $20 million sale of a county parcel in Yaphank for expansion of a rail hub. "Today we took a $43 million step toward balancing Suffolk County's budget," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said after the votes.
The 10-7 vote for the nursing home sale came after aides to County Executive Steve Bellone warned that a delay or rejection of the sale would force the administration to present a budget next week that would close the complex by year's end and lay off its 200 employees. The administration also warned lawmakers that if they chose to keep Foley open, a property tax increase of at least 12 percent would be necessary next year.
Backers said the sale will keep the nursing home in operation and its 190 residents in place.
"I'm going to vote to sell because I'd rather not close it and put the people in this room on the unemployment line," Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) said of the crowd, which included many nursing home workers.
But Dan Farrell, president of the Association of Municipal Employees representing nursing home workers, called the vote "pure politics. The county executive put pressure on all of them."
Farrell vowed to challenge the sale in court, claiming that 12 votes are needed to approve the sale and that the sale process was flawed. County and legislative attorneys say only 10 votes are needed. Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose wife works at Foley, recused himself from voting.
The vote came after a nearly 21/2 hour debate and a half-hour recess during which the Democratic majority huddled privately with Bellone's chief deputy Regina Calcaterra and county attorney Dennis Cohen.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers had listened to more than 70 people who spoke about the nursing home and the proposed sale of 230 acres in Yaphank to expand a freight rail hub.
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said maintaining a public nursing home was crucial to protecting long-term residents who need custodial care.
"We have people who have worked in Suffolk County, paid taxes in Suffolk County, but when they find themselves down, they get a one-way ticket out of Suffolk County," he said.
Patricia Foley Kuhn, daughter of the late lawmaker John J. Foley, who championed the county's public nursing home, told lawmakers that if the complex is sold, her father's name should be removed.
"If the sale goes through, it will be a sad day for our family," she said. "But it will be even a sadder day for the people of Suffolk County."
Opponents of the rail hub earlier in the day expressed concern that local government would have no way to regulate use of the property because federal rules pre-empt most local control.
Democratic Brookhaven Town board member Connie Kepert called on the lawmakers to table the sale until the county can work out covenants and restrictions, including limits on access to local roads. "We're asking you consider more than dollars and cents, and consider the residents of the community," Kepert said.
Andrew Kaufman, president of Brookhaven Rail Terminal, said, "We're hoping the legislators will be able to sift fact from fiction and come to an informed decision." Kaufman said the project is expected to create 300 jobs, already has produced $40 million in investment and will reap environmental benefits by reducing truck traffic on area highways.