No one doubts that the Chester County commissioners are doing their best to cut costs. After all, the matter of cost cutting is going on everywhere. Businesses, families, governments.
I suppose the real question at this point is why the commissioners don’t get it that it seems like its citizens don’t want the county government to mess with how things are run at the Pocopson Home.
Sure, it costs the county money to operate the Pocopson Home. But as one resident put it at a meeting Tuesday night in Oxford, we don’t see much effort being put into reducing costs at the county’s prison and that bill is hovering around the $22 or $23 million mark.
Daily Local reporter Shawn Weigel attended the Tuesday night Oxford meeting. More than 100 people showed up to voice their opposition to any potential changes at Pocopson.
According to his story, resident Brian D’Andrea of Parkesburg called the decision to explore selling, leasing or relinquishing full control of the home distasteful. He asked the commissioners why similar meetings aren’t being held for the Chester County Prison.
“The largest black hole in this county is the prison,” he said. “Talk about sucking money off from everybody in this room.”
Commissioners ‘ Chairman Terence Farrell said the prison costs about $22 million in tax dollars annually to run, but public safety is of utmost importance and the main reason the county continues to maintain the facility.
D’Andrea said that suggests the commissioners were choosing prisoners over the elderly. “That’s basically what you’re telling me,” he said.
Commissioner Ryan Costello called the remark a “cheap shot” and said he would listen to any suggestions to cut prison costs.
Um, isn’t that the job of the commissioners? Why is it that we have a company analyzing the Pocopson Home and its operation handing out recommendations but we don’t – or at least we haven’t heard – of a similar effort for the prison?
The commissioners have held two similar meetings in May, when medical management company Premier Health Resources offered a variety of options for the 60-plus-year-old Pocopson Home.
Those options include selling, leasing or changing the home’s designation to a 501-3(C) nonprofit organization.
The commissioners have gotten an earful from hundreds of people who oppose any change.
The Pocopson Home is the last place Chester County administrators should be looking for budget cuts. That was the message Tuesday night.
The three commissioners also justified their reasons for addressing the county-owned facility as the next step in reducing expenditures.
“The county has reduced its operating budget $56 million over the last four years. This is not the first thing we’ve considered cutting,” Commissioner Farrell said. “We’ve cut our (information technology) department. We’ve cut our facilities department … Now we’re examining Pocopson. We started out years ago cutting fat from the budget, we’ve cut muscle and now we’re cutting to the bone.”
The commissioners said they have made no decisions regarding the facility and have no plans to close Pocopson Home or to eliminate positions there.
One woman who said she was a county employee said her fellow employees receive too many perks that could be reduced or eliminated to help control costs.
“You gave us a 1 percent raise this last year. You shouldn’t have done that if you can’t afford it,” she said.
She also suggested eliminating paid holidays such as Columbus Day and Flag Day and increasing employee contributions for health care coverage.
Speakers also raised concerns about the loss of county jobs and the potential loss of pensions for the home’s employees, some of whom have been there for decades.
Oxford resident Jim Sumner said Pocopson is similar to the idea of government-run poor houses of the past and that providing care for residents in need is a public necessity.
“I think you’re going to suffer no matter which of those three options you choose, if you choose one,” Sumner said. “The quality of care will suffer because you can’t do an absolute market analysis of this kind of service.”
And that is the difference. We are not talking about desks, chairs, computers, paper supplies or vehicles. We are talking about people. And if the prison seems to be off limits to alternate considerations then so should Pocopson.
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to dump elderly residents back to their families or to the streets than a county prison inmate. A 90-year-old war veteran with limited mobility using a walker isn’t likely to go out and rob a bank.
With the prison comes more complicated issues when it comes to reducing costs, issues that might require some real thought. A home for the elderly is something that is easily cast aside. You just put it into the hands of a private enterprise, raise the costs forcing them out and then all of a sudden you’re making a profit or at least breaking even.
So Pocopson is costing the county money. We’re talking about people and sometimes services for people are expensive – but necessary. What’s next? Are we going to charge county orphans for childrens’ services?
I just remain puzzled why the commissioners continue on this path to divest the county of its role in running Pocopson. It’s going to happen. Changes are going to be made. It’s the low-hanging fruit. And it’s too tempting to walk away from.
– Andy Hachadorian