Suffolk County lawmakers approved two controversial plans Thursday to sell off two properties in Yaphank: The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and 230 acres of nearby vacant land slated to be used for expansion of a nearby rail hub.
It was the second time the legislature voted to sell the nursing home since last year, when a sale brokered by the previous administration fell through. Critics of the nursing home plan are expected to challenge that sale in court.
“While I understand that both of these issues may have been difficult to vote on, I am proud that our legislature has voted to save the Suffolk County taxpayer $43 million,” said County Executive Steve Bellone, who pitched the $23-million nursing home sale and $20-million land sale to help close a $250 budget gap.
Dan Farrell, president of Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, the union that represents the 200 county workers employed by the nursing home, said they may soon be headed for a courtroom. Nearly as many patients reside at the facility.
“We spoke out against the sale obviously, not just for the sake that we have members there but we have residents there who are going to have nowhere to go if they sell off,” he said.
He argued that the legislature needed at least 12 votes to approve the nursing home sale. A lawyer for the legislature said the New York State Attorney General’s office confirmed his opinion that only 10 votes were needed. The measure passed 10-7, with Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) recusing himself because his wife works there.
Legis. Wayne Horsely (D-Babylon), the deputy presiding officer, said the buyer has offered all the current employees jobs and plans to keep all the current patients. He is confident that the sale will survive legal challenges.
“I think were on pretty good legal grounds, but that doesn’t mean they cant sue us,” he said, cautioning that litigation could have other effects. “They have stretched this issue out so long…that it is wearing on the patients as well as the staff and its not doing them any favors.”
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who joined Romaine in being the only two to vote against both sales, questioned whether the administration got the highest price it could have for both properties and is worried the nursing home buyer may find ways to get rid of staff and patients that make the facility more money.
“There was no effort on this administration’s part to try and look at it to see how we could make [Foley] operate better,” she said.
The legislature also voted 16-2 to approve the sale of property that the Brookhaven Rail Terminal is planning to use to expand its freight rail operation.
Nursing home workers worried about what will become of their jobs if a private operator takes over and civic leaders concerned about open space being converted to industry packed the legislative chambers for the lengthy debate that preceded the votes.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said while she supports the concept of replacing trucks on the road with rail freight, the lack of details about what the 230 acres will be used for is a big concern since its status as a transportation facility makes it exempt from local laws.
“They didn’t even bother to find out if the land would be cleared, sandmined, developed, hooked up to the landfill,” she said. “They didn’t sell vacant land. They created the largest industrial zone in Suffolk County.”
-With Rashed Mian