The Cheshire County legislation delegation’s executive committee voted 9-3 this morning to endorse the so-called A2 plan that would renovate and expand the Maplewood nursing facility in Westmoreland. The issue goes to the full delegation meeting on Monday, October 17th.
In supporting his motion, Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland) cited popularity of the current site over a new facility in Keene by staff, residents and their families, the overall cost of the two proposals, and the fate of the current building if it were to be abandoned.
What to do with the current Maplewood site loomed large among other members as well, since learning last week that the Pennsylvania-based Caron Foundation was not interested in housing a drug rehabilitation treatment facility there. Adding focus, Rep. Frank Sterling (R-Rindge) reminded members of the still-vacant county jail which was abandoned when the county jail was moved to Keene.
In June, after nearly two years of meetings, consultations and reports, a county delegation subcommittee made two recommendations to determine the fate of the Maplewood Nursing Home.
The original proposal to upgrade the facility was made in 2008 to address structural problems, leaky roofs, clogged pipes and electrical problems in the 150-bed Maplewood facility. This morning’s recommendation from the executive committee would keep the facility in Westmoreland, and add a new wing, as opposed to building new facilities in Keene.
Backers of option B2, the “Neighborhood Design”, first proposed by Sullivan lawyer John Hoffman several years ago, cite the benefits of being centrally-located in Keene. Rep. Timothy Robertson, (D-Keene), said the nursing home should be closest to the population center of the county. Others have said that Keene offers other benefits like it’s proximity to other activities and services.
County Commissioner Stillman Rogers said after the vote that it’s not likely that a final decision could be acted upon this year because funds and time are needed to “get our ducks in line.”
Something that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction, though, is the impact of moving the facility on the Keene tax base.
Currently, as is the nature of being a county seat, Keene is home to hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-exempt property – churches, non-profits and government facilities – which has the effect of increasing the tax burden on residential homeowners. This would be on top of the millions of dollars the city pays annually to maintain infrastructure and police services that are used by county residents every day.
Even with the 5-6 year new-market tax credit scheme, moving the nursing home to Keene would eventually add to that burden by further decreasing the city’s tax base.
I don’t know how the full delegation will vote in October, but if the final decision is made in favor of moving the facility to Keene, it should be followed by serious discussion of Keene’s property tax contribution to the county budget.