Lowdown of County Legislature Meeting 9/12

MICHAEL RICONDA

The Rockland County Legislature met last Wednesday for their regular meeting to discuss the financial situation of the troubled Summit Park Hospital, and several agenda items.

The Legislature voted to receive and file a management letter concerning the hospital’s financial situation, written by audit firm KPMG and presented by Edward Lee, a partner with the firm. A vote on the matter will occur at the next meeting of the committee on September 19.

Lee stated that the firm completed an audit of the facility’s finances, and found that the problems with the facility are limited to financial concerns rather than incompetence or criminality.

“If there was anything that we found to be a material weakness or a significant deficiency, we would be required to include that in that report, but we are happy to report that we have not,” said Lee.

The recent audit found a severe $13 million deficit which has burdened the facility. In response the hospital has taken out $32 million in loans, which amounts to about a third of the county’s budget deficit. Those loans remain unpaid.

Summit Park, which includes a long-term care facility, mental health center, and skilled nursing facility, has proven problematic due to its insufficient revenue streams, which limits its long-term feasibility as a solution to the county’s health care needs.

Proposed answers include outsourcing services, selling the facility, and transferring the population to other residences prior to completely shutting down the facility.

County Legislator Christopher Carey said that the report was encouraging because it did not point out any irregularities, which may have further complicated the situation. Addressing previous concerns about Summit Park’s population, Carey also said that in the event of a complete closure, its patient care responsibilities would be gradually transferred to other providers over the course of several years.

Another major issue up or discussion was the CSEA contract. As part of an update on the contract, it was announced that the union had ratified the memorandum of understanding, a tentative agreement that will be submitted to the legislature for approval. The legislature is scheduled to vote on the issue at the September 19 meeting.

The current deal includes an increase in new employees’ medical plan contributions to around 15 percent. Those paying a previous, lower five-year rate will have the opportunity to continue at that rate until they have completed their current payments.

Additionally, there will be no salary increases, enrollment in health coverage may not be done as both an employee and dependant, and no new overall expenses will be accrued.

A major provision of the agreement says that there will be a ten-day pay deferment in late 2012. Legislator Alden Wolfe expressed concern that although the agreement will not add any new expenses to the 2012 budget, the deferral will only address cash flow issues rather than producing positive savings.

“I keep finding that we are trying to solve yesterday’s problems today, and it keeps us behind the 8-ball,” Wolfe said.

The legislators also voted to find Brega Transportation Corp. as the lowest responsible bidder for a bus transportation contract. Brega, which had previously placed the lowest bid for transit operations in Rockland County, failed to submit their bid to the committee and sued for the contract. The suit won a positive judgment in the state Supreme Court, however it is currently being appealed.

As per current municipal law, the lowest responsible bidder must be awarded the contract. Several legislators cited Brega’s reliable track record and the protracted disputes over the contract as reasons for their votes.

“We have had no proof that this bidder is not responsible,” said Legislator Schoenberger, ”In fact, our actions as a body have given credibility to the responsibility of this particular bidder.”

Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan said she was concern over the ability of Brega to accommodate the transportation requirements of the contract and voted against the measure. Legislator John Murphy abstained from discussion and voting due to his status as the chairman and president of Camp Venture, which is directly affected by Brega’s bus transportation.