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Budget Redux

Albany County Legislature rescues nursing home and crime victims center from Breslin’s axe

Every year, it’s a little bit like the good-cop-bad-cop game.

First, Albany County Executive Michael Breslin unveils his budget. Then, the Albany County Legislature rejects it—especially the parts that draw the most criticism from constituents. In the end, the legislature puts the controversial bits back into the budget and rides off into the sunset.

This year, those critical elements were the Albany County Nursing Home and Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center. In an attempt to save money, the county executive had targeted both for closure.

Breslin’s preliminary 2011 budget would have slashed funding for the Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center by 20 percent. Adults in crisis would have been cut loose after 12 free therapy visits. CVSVC supporters petitioned throughout the fall. They argued that many victims can’t afford private therapy and switching therapists midstream is counter-productive.

In response, the lawmakers— led by Bryan Clenahan (D-Dist. 30)—unanimously passed a resolution on Dec. 6 to keep the agency fully funded. Breslin’s version of the budget “would cripple the center, reduce if not eliminate many of its essential services, jeopardize its current and future grant funding and likely lead to its closure,” the resolution stated.

“I am happy about the resolution,” said center advocate Janice Irwin. “I hope it will stand up to any of the county executive’s future attempts to dismantle the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center. As for the budget, I am sad that CVSVC is now down one therapist and a deputy director.”

Breslin also wrangled with the legislature over the Albany County Nursing Home. Once again, the facility would have closed or been put up for sale under Breslin’s preliminary 2011 budget—a move the legislature already stopped in 2010.

A group of citizens lobbied long and hard for the nursing home—especially county residents who didn’t want their loved ones staying out of comfortable visiting range.

On Dec. 6, the legislature passed the modified budget by a margin of 36 to 2, but Breslin quietly vetoed the county budget on Dec. 10. With only 26 votes needed to override a veto, the legislators were poised for an override vote on Dec. 14. However, Breslin took back his veto, stating that the legislature “has acknowledged the need to address cost control at the Albany County Nursing Home.”

After last minute, behind-the-scenes negotiations between Breslin and legislative leaders, the nursing home will stay open, a new one will be built, and only 33 county employees face layoffs instead of 511.

“While I was faced with a deadline of . . . Friday, Dec. 10, to file budget vetoes, my further review and continuing discussions with the leadership of the county legislature allow me to rescind that decision,” Breslin stated. “This budget, as it stands, includes the downsizing of staff to levels more closely aligned with today’s need. This development has helped persuade me that a 200-bed nursing home is feasible and desirable in Albany County.”

Legislative leaders were negotiating for days on behalf of the caucus, right down to the wire, acknowledged Gary Domalewicz (D-Dist. 11), the Legislature’s nursing home committee chairman.

“It’s been a long time since we had a veto from the county executive,” he said. “We’re glad everything worked out. It’s going to be nice having everybody on the same page.”

Legislator Brian Scavo (D-Dist. 7) described the dynamic between Breslin and legislative Majority Leader Frank Commisso with a line from his favorite flick—The Godfather.

“Commisso made Breslin an offer he can’t refuse,” Scavo said.

So what did the executive get out of the deal? The legislature reinstated three administrative positions that were set to be cut from the executive’s staff—two budget analysts and the deputy commissioner of human resources.

The lawmakers also authorized the Albany County Sheriff’s Department to fill six deputy positions and gave other departments the go-ahead to fill key part-time positions.

“We left the sheriff’s department alone and the district attorney’s office and gave them everything they needed,” Scavo said. “They chopped almost everywhere else.”

In return, at an estimated cost of $81 million, construction of a new nursing home is planned near the Albany Airport on the former site of the Heritage Park baseball diamond, next to the existing nursing home on Albany Shaker Road.

“We’ll sell the old one when the new one is complete,” said Domalewicz . “It’s going to be a green, state-of-the-art showcase for nursing homes in the state.”

The current home has enough double rooms to accommodate 500 residents, although it is only half full. The new home will boast single rooms, with space for 200 residents, including 50 assisted-living beds and 10 ventilator beds.

The county will put the building and design work out to bid. It will take about one and a half years for the county to break ground and build the new structure, including six months for design and as long as eight months for the state Health Department to issue a certificate of need, which will give the county access to grant money, Domalewicz said.

Meanwhile, using state and federal Medicaid reimbursements, the county will keep the existing nursing home open for another year. Breslin’s preliminary budget “didn’t count” $8 million in intergovernmental transfers, $6 million of which will go toward operating the nursing home in 2011,” Domalewicz said.

“The more we dug into the budget the more we found,” said legislative Chairman Daniel McCoy (D-Dist. 10). “When all is said and done, we’re finding millions that they hid on us. That’s why we dug in.”

—Laurie Lynn Fischer

Remember Them?

Photo: Martin Benjamin

Two well-known ex-journalists, who both left significant imprints on the Capital Region’s media landscape, were at the Open Door Bookstore & Gift Gallery in Schenectady on Friday (Dec. 17) to sign their books.

Ed Dague (left) was signing the memoir Six and Eleven: A Television News Anchor’s Story. According to a press release, the book is “a sage and penetrating look at the news business in the Albany metro area, at the people and personalities who both made and reported that news.” On his sharp, to the point, and entertaining Times Union blog In Media Res, Dague wrote, “It is a lot better than I expected.”

Dan Lynch (right) was signing The Thunder of Captains: A Novel of the Battle of Saratoga. The former editor, reporter and columnist’s book was praised in Metroland last summer for capturing the “gripping drama of the courageous soldiers behind both lines,” and for its “rich descriptions of life in colonial upstate New York.”

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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