MERCER COUNTY Board wants court to force payment

Woodland Place has completed $6 million in renovations.
MERCER -- Two of three Mercer County commissioners are asking for a court order to force Controller Thomas Amundsen to authorize the first payment on a $1 million loan to Woodland Place.
The disputed payment is $304,050 toward a $1 million loan and would be used to complete construction of independent living units at the nursing facility on Pa. Route 58, Coolspring Township. The rest of the $1 million would go toward bond payments on money the facility has borrowed.
Commissioners Olivia Lazor and Michele Brooks authorized the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday by Commissioners' Solicitor Mark Longietti in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.
The third commissioner, Brian Beader, who voted against making the loan, is not participating in the lawsuit.
Refused twice
Amundsen has twice refused to authorize the payment, because he questions commissioners' power and authority to make such a loan to a private corporation.
The plaintiffs are basing their case on the county's statutory duty to care for indigent people needing nursing-home care. The complaint states that the law allows the county to fulfill this duty by contracting with another corporation. Before 1998, the county operated the Mercer County Living Center and Sunbridge Personal Care Home.
From 1998 to the present, the county has contracted with Woodland Place, the nonprofit corporation that purchased the former institutions, to provide the required services.
As part of the sales contract, Woodland Place had to agree to take any county indigent person needing care. A county commissioner must also sit on its board.
The county contends state law authorizes it to make annual appropriations to any nonprofit corporation organized to give medical care to dependents of the county.
The county also contends that though the Pennsylvania Constitution generally prohibits municipalities from loaning their credit to a corporation, it permits municipalities to give financial assistance to enterprises "where such assistance is necessary to the health, safety or welfare of the municipality."
Lazor said Tuesday that if the loan is not allowed, a bond payment due Sept. 1 will become the county's obligation anyway because it guaranteed the loan.
What prompted guarantee
That guarantee came about four years after commissioners sold the nursing home to Woodland Place. In April, 2002, the nursing home obtained $8.8 millon worth of tax-free bonds to pay for renovations and costs and to reimburse the county for its balance of its mortgage.
The mortgage balance of $3.5 million was paid to the county. In exchange, the county guaranteed the bonds and retained a mortgage on the nursing home.
Since its purchase of the former Living Center, Woodland Place has completed $6 million in renovations to the facility, which commissioners acknowledge was in poor repair when it was sold. Renovations were completed this past spring on all 100 skilled nursing beds. Fifteen independent living units are set to open soon.
Figures provided by the Mercer County Assistance Office show that as of July 9, Woodland Place's census was 74, with 61 of those Medicaid or Medicaid-pending.
No hearing date on the lawsuit has been set.

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