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Lewis legislators ban synthetic drugs, create hospital LDC

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LOWVILLE — As expected, Lewis County legislators on Tuesday established a local development corporation intended to aid the county’s hospital and a ban on synthetic drugs.

“I cannot say how much I commend you for taking this action,” Arlene S. Hall, executive director at Mountain View Prevention Services, told legislators prior to their vote on the drug ban.

Lawmakers voted 10-0 to enact a law banning the possession or sale of chemical substances or compounds known as synthetic cocaine and marijuana.

Violation of the law, which is to take effect upon its filing with the state Department of State, is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

Jennifer L. Jones, director of services at the Lewis County Department of Social Services, said her agency’s caseworkers are often scared to go into homes because of synthetic drug use and, thankfully, have had police assistance in many cases.

“These people are completely irrational when they’re on these drugs,” Mrs. Jones said. “We’re dealing with it every day.”

Legislators also voted 10-0 to create a nonprofit corporation that could borrow money to help cover Lewis County General Hospital’s immediate operating losses without further draining county reserves, then pay it back over several years to lessen annual debt service costs.

A couple of speakers expressed concern about the LDC possibly leading to privatization, although legislators tried to allay those fears.

“We’ve been down this path before,” said 27-year hospital employee Susan J. Ross, referring to a privatization push nearly two decades ago. “There has been a huge public outcry against privatization.”

“This hospital belongs to the people of this county,” added Port Leyden Mayor Alan D. Scouten.

“I don’t want the people to think privatize, because nobody here has looked at that,” said Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson. “I don’t want that worry in employees.”

“The goal of the majority of the board is to turn things around so it can be a temporary fix,” said Legislator Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, chairman of the legislative Hospital Committee and member of the hospital board of managers.

Both Mrs. Ross and Mr. Scouten questioned the appropriateness of holding a public hearing on the LDC at 9 a.m., when many people have to work, given the importance of the hospital to the community.

While the county Legislature typically holds 5 p.m. meetings, its August one is generally in the morning and followed by the annual golf outing and dinner.

The county is limited to short-term borrowing, requiring payback within 12 months, although that could be done in conjunction with long-term bonding.

The LDC would take over the buildings and other physical assets of the hospital from the county, but the 400-plus workers would remain county employees and operations would remain the same.

The corporation would need to send requests for proposals to private organizations to determine what they would pay for the facility to establish a value to borrow against, County Attorney Richard J. Graham has said. While the LDC would have the authority to move toward privatization, county officials are developing a financial review method, including some controls on hospital finances and fiscal goals, to guide that decision-making process.

Legislators discussed those controls but plan to wait until after a meeting next week with the board of managers to adopt them.

Legislators on Tuesday tabled a pair of proposed laws that would open county road portions in the Constableville area to all-terrain vehicle traffic until the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club can pull together a comprehensive plan for opening trails and roads in that area. However, they did authorize the opening portions of Mackay, Highmarket and Byrons Corners roads for a one-day trail benefit ride Saturday sponsored by the club.

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