Rich Wilkins correctly recasts Gracedale as a banal debate between service providers and taxpayers:
– Sell Gracedale- Stoffa, Angle, and a few other folks in the whole county want this. Very few, based on the referendum results.
– Keep Gracedale at all costs- Essentially this is the coalition and labor folks, and some of their allies in office. These are folks who don’t want the home sold, don’t want to give the contract to Lifestar, and really aren’t even for the management company. They may find some savings they like, but they wouldn’t support sale no matter what.
– Keep Gracedale, but accept the paradigm that it needs to create savings- Essentially they accept that the home is bleeding money and must find savings, but they want it kept anyway. This is like Bob Werner, and for that matter, John Callahan on this issue.
These divisions are not new. Let’s be honest, the entire County Executive Primary was about this. Reibman and McClure had the backing of the most pro-Gracedale people, and even now some of them are unhappy that Callahan won. The annoyance of the “keep it no matter what” crowd with the people looking for savings is fairly tangible. The debate over the ambulance company is putting this into plain view. Stoffa’s actual position, that the home must be sold (he still advocates for that position reportedly), is dead. No candidate for his office supports it, no council person with any sense supports it either. He is now dividing his opponents quite nicely with the question of how to save money on the home.
I think an honest debate on this issue should have three distinct, clear sides. On side one, Stoffa’s side, which is not really politically pragmatic. The second side should say that they would never support selling or changing Gracedale, and it’s worth whatever it costs. The third group should advocate to make the home more efficient. Rather than debating who is in favor of the home, or other stupid debates, I think it’s now time to debate what the home should cost, and how we’re going to pay for it.
This won’t surprise anyone but I think Team Savings clearly has the better of the argument. The political consensus seems to be that nursing home care is a core public service that needs to be provided in-house by local government (rather than just giving people cash to live at the nursing home of their choosing). My view is that poor senior citizens mainly need cash from us, and that paternalism is inappropriate for seniors and their families, but I think Rich is right that no politician’s going to reopen this disagreement any time soon.
The task now is limiting how much of the County budget will go to this service. State and federal aid to county-run homes is getting phased out, so local costs will probably continue to grow a bit. I think this is one of the less important things that County government does, or could be doing, so I’d like to see the tax revenue devoted to running Gracedale stabilized around the current level. This should not crowd out criminal justice services or EMS or farmland preservation, and should not interfere with forming a County police force. County Council shouldn’t fight the less expensive Lifestar contract, or any other less-expensive contract. This issue is now about the best way to maintain service levels while reducing spending and overpayments to service providers. I don’t think every last government undertaking should have to pay for itself, but this particular service is low on my list of priorities for County government, and I do not want to see it crowd out the things I think the County should be spending money on.