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Lewis County legislative candidates discuss hospital future, space

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The future of Lewis County’s municipal hospital was a hot topic at a pair of Meet the Candidate sessions for county legislative contenders this week.

“I’ll never give up” on keeping the financially struggling Lewis County General Hospital public, fourth-year Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, said at Tuesday’s forum at the Croghan fire hall.

“It employs 650 people,” he said. “I’m not going to give to someone else what county money paid to build.”

His District 6 opponent, Republican Andrea J. Moroughan, agreed with Mr. Stanford. “We need to keep it here,” she said, while acknowledging she would have to do more research.

“I am a candidate, not a legislator,” she said.

District 4 candidate Republican Bryan D. Moser said he wasn’t sure whether he knew enough about the hospital budget to comment, but said, “We’re going to need to see it run like a business. We all need to work together.” He also called the Lowville hospital “a vital focal point” of the county.

Thomas J. Schantz, a registered Republican who announced a write-in campaign following his primary loss to Mr. Moser, did not appear at the event. In a phone interview before the event, Mr. Schantz said he would not attend as he was not invited.

Incumbents Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, in District 1 and Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, in District 2, running unopposed, both agreed they want to keep the hospital from becoming privatized, while noting their concerns about the budget.

Mr. Hathway, Hospital Committee chairman, said, “I think we need to get deep into the cost portion.”

Administering the annual pension costs, Mr. Tabolt said, “is a big obstacle that isn’t going to go away.”

During a second forum held Wednesday night at the Turin municipal building, Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said he has “mixed emotions” about the hospital, noting that he would like to keep it public but is concerned that continued operating losses will erode county reserve funds. “The taxpayers cannot pick up those kind of losses,” he said.

His opponent in District 10, Independence Party candidate John A. Healt, said he feels the hospital is an asset to the county and would “lose some identity” if it were privatized.

“We should keep the hospital,” District 8 candidate and Independence Party member Duane C. DeLair said, suggesting it previously had operated in the black and could be a moneymaking venture.

“This county needs the hospital,” said his opponent, Republican Lawrence L. Dolhof, adding that he would like to find out exactly what is causing the losses.

Republican Neil H. Pepper, running unopposed in District 9, said that while some people say they are willing to pay more in taxes to keep the facility public, he would like to know how much more.

Other topics of discussion during Tuesday’s session concerned influence throughout the county from Fort Drum, the Amish community and immigrant workers.

A question about addressing space needs for county workers was set aside, with legislators stating potential negotiations about the Lowville Commons building could be affected by public discussion.

However, candidates at Wednesday’s session did address their views on space planning for the long haul.

Mr. King said he still thinks putting up a new office building is the best long-term solution, noting that buying and refurbishing existing buildings will be costly and ultimately may not meet the county’s space needs. “I stand for principles, not to do something to get re-elected,” he said.

Mr. Healt said that representatives should follow the will of their constituents and that, if a new building did make economic sense, lawmakers should have done a better job explaining that to county residents.

Both Mr. DeLair and Mr. Dolhof said they oppose the new building and believe any space issues could be resolved more cheaply by buying other buildings or through other means.

Other topics Wednesday included economic development and budgetary ideas, funding for local agricultural agencies and the ongoing exodus of young people from the county.

A third Meet the Candidates session is slated for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Lewis County Marine Corps League headquarters on Route 12, west of Lowville.

Featured will be a three-way race in District 7 among Lee Hinkleman, Jeffrey F. Beyer and Gregory M. Kulzer and a District 5 race between Richard A. Chartrand and Thomas E. Jaconski. Craig P. Brennan, running unopposed in District 3, also is slated to appear at that event.

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