After a long and angry tangled debate, Erie County legislators voted Thursday to let the county Control Board borrow $100 million for Erie County Medical Center.
Debate has been going on for months. The hospital requested the money to pay for a new emergency room complex and major upgrades on aging essential mechanical equipment. Without needing Legislature approval, the Control Board already is handling the refinancing of $45 million in loans used to build the hospital nursing home.
Thursday's approved plan will throw off millions of dollars to the weakening county treasury, something Republicans, led by Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, oppose. Democratic leader Thomas Loughran said the hospital will pay less for the loan through the plan.
"This is in the best interests of the taxpayers," Loughran said. "When you crunch the numbers and you see the financing that is going to take place here, you can either go to the private sector and the banks would keep the money, or you could have the fiscal stability authority do the financing and it benefits the hospital and the county."
Control Board Executive Director Kenneth Vetter agreed it saves cash.
"We are saving money. That's it," Vetter said. "So whatever kind of arrangements the county and the hospital make isn't part of what we are doing at this point. We're saving money."
What Vetter is talking about is what brought on Lorigo's "stealing" allegation. Under an arrangement between the hospital and the Poloncarz Administration, the county will get the difference between the cost of the Control Board bargaining and what the hospital would have to pay on its own. It adds up to millions and millions of dollars.
How much is saved by this deal and by the nursing home refinancing will not be known until May when the money is borrowed, but everyone agreed there are millions of dollars at stake.
Lorigo tried hard to block the deal, taking advantage of parliamentary rules. The meeting was bogged down by numerous recesses and references to parliamentary procedure and became very angry several times, leaving most confused about restrictions on the number of amendments and whose resolutions were involved.
Eventually, however, the loan deal passed when Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick went along with the five Democrats. An angry Lorigo was critical of the vote.
"Six votes approved the declaration of need allowing the ECFSA to borrow $120 million and they refused to make sure that ECMC received all of the savings that they could possibly receive by borrowing through the control board," he said. "You had six legislators vote for a plan that steals money from the hospital. So when they go out there and say that this was a good deal for the hospital and they're doing this for the hospital's benefit, they're lying."