In Sunday's Buffalo News, Tom Prohaska did a thorough piece on the Mt. View Health Facility, and the ramifications of its closure.
We've always believed that the county should not be in the health care business, nor should it be in any business that competes with the private sector. Unfortunately, the county's sale of the facility was derailed by the Berger Commission.
In the story, Prohaska states that with the closing of Mt. View, "the county sheds more than 200 jobs, which is equal to a good-sized plant closing, something Niagara County has seen its share of in recent years. But in this case, the workers losing their jobs were paid by the taxpayers". This is where things venture into a gray area.
We've all read the stories, Niagara County is the second highest taxed county in the country when taken as a percentage of home values. We also know that, as with virtually all counties in New York, the cost of personnel is the single most controllable expense. This is the quandary that all counties, including Niagara, must face.
If, as we have been told, nearly 80% of our county budget is mandated by the state and federal governments, how does the county efficiently maintain services while keeping costs in check? It would seem to come down to employees, as the 200 or so that no longer work at Mt. View have learned.
On the flip side, those of us who watch the Leg meetings have seen many public speakers demand that the Leg operate the county as effectively as can be. When public speakers make that demand, when listeners call WLVL to vent about the county, do they realize the human cost of what they are asking for? They're advocating that the county reduce the single biggest expense that they can control - personnel.
We're going to see the fact that the county reduced its work force by 200 employees on every incumbent Leg candidate's campaign literature in a year and a half. Why? Because that is what the public has demanded. It's ironic. I've seen AFSCME President Ed McDonald cavorting with gadfly Edwina Lusksch. The irony is that Lusksch has been the most vocal advocate in the county for reducing the number of county employees while McDonald serves as the president of the union that used to represent most Mt. View employees. What possible common interest could these two have?
But, as Prohaska stated, the county just shed 200 employees, the size of a small factory. Is that subtle editorial designed to elicit sympathy? Is it written to commend the Leg, and provoke further action? Why not eliminate Niagara County Sheriff Department road patrol? It's not mandated, and I'm sure it would save millions a year. Is that unfathomable? If I lived in any of the municipalities that have a police department, I'd have no problem with it whatsoever.
That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum that faces any governmental agency that must maintain services while keeping costs in check. Regardless of the proposed cut, there will always be someone who will fight against it. Unfortunately, its the county employees themselves that are getting played in this chess game.