Jeff Ramer, filling in for a month as interim Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) chair for Democrat Jill Oberlander, recapped the board’s Dec 16 meeting on WGCH.
Oberlander resigned and was sworn in as Selectperson on Dec 1.
Monday’s meeting was the last of the two-year term. The new terms begins in 2020.
Ramer said the BET made three appropriations. One was the release of the second half of the funding toward the GEMS budget. One was a $25k replacement outboard motor for shellfish commission. One was a quarter of the annual funding for TAG.
The special working group who reviewed Nathaniel Witherell, the Greenwich-owned skilled nursing home on Parsonage Rd, delivered their report.
“It’s had struggles in recent years and is running some deficits that are hard for the Town to absorb,” Ramer said.
Ramer continued said while there was talk of privatizing the facility, he would not favor that himself.
He said the BET had budgeted the Witherell to run with a subsidy of $2.7 million, but last year it ran at double that loss, excluding capital expenditures.
Going forward, among the choices are to adjust the facility’s financial management to contain losses and put it on better footing, or turn it over to a private operator, possibly a tax exempt 501(c)3 charitable entity.
“The facility runs now with perhaps more overtime than would be typical,” Ramer said. “We know its wages are a little higher than the market place. Its fringe benefits are a fair chunk higher than the normal marketplace.”
Initially the BET would make that tough choice, but in the end the RTM would be the arbiter of the issue.
“It’s a facility that is a jewel in the crown…a safety net that captures our frail elderly of modest financial means,” Ramer said.
Ramer said the marketplace is changing.
The Witherell offers re-hab service for people going through knee and hip replacements to help to pay most of the cost of the social services feature and help the frail elderly, but, Ramer said that equation is falling out of balance.
The state is funding less and less Medicaid, and Medicare and private insurance have been paying less for rehab care.
“That’s where a chunk of those losses are coming from,” he said.
Health Dimensions Group, a consultant, provided an expert report, indicating the marketplace is moving away from skilled nursing beds toward more “at-home care” and continuing care facilities with multiple levels of care.
“For myself I’d like to see the facility preserved,” Ramer said, adding that he didn’t favor it being run by a private operator, including a 501(c)3. “But there is a diversity of opinion on that.”
Lastly, Ramer said at Monday’s meeting there was a vote taken on whether to have a special committee conduct an investigation of the 2017 election.
Back in September the board had voted 7-5 to form a sub-committee to investigate five BET Democrats fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC). Democrat Tony Turner voted with the six BET Republicans to form the subcommittee.
Ramer said on Monday night he presented “a detailed factual run-through so people could see from actual emails and internal notes – They call them ‘tickets’ at the SEEC . And I laid out and tracked out for them exactly what the elements were of how the misunderstandings took place, where it ended up and why.”
“I think that answered questions, and the BET, for its purposes, have more or less closed those issues and put them behind us.”
Ramer said there was agreement there ought to be more training for candidates.
“It’s a rather complicated body of law, these regulations,” he said adding that candidates in general have not been well informed.
The BET will ask the RTC and DTC to offer training and have someone skilled to answer questions, in order to avoid repeating some of the mistakes made in the 2017 election.
“Speaking from my bias, it seemed evident from the timing of bringing these motions before the BET two months before the election, was in major part to have an impact on the 2019 election,” he said. “The election being certainly over takes some of the steam off of it, but there are also principles involved.”
The vote on a new BET chair should take place on Jan 6, 2020.
On that date, the 12 member board will have an organizational meeting at which a chair is proposed from the majority caucus, the Republicans.
Historically the minority caucus supports the person put forward by the majority caucus.