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SUPREME COURT Appeal filed over nursing home



Published: Fri, August 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This would be the third court ruling in the case.

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County Controller Thomas Amundsen wants the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to decide once and for all whether Mercer County may lend money to its former county nursing home.

On Thursday, his attorney, Donald McKay of Hermitage, filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the recent Commonwealth Court decision to allow Mercer County Commissioners to make such a loan.

Amundsen said his appeal "is not about Woodland Place," the nursing home. And said he has no hard feelings toward the nonprofit corporation that bought the county nursing home several years ago. He added that he and Mercer County Fiscal Director John Logan have had recent discussions with officials at Woodland Place and he is happy they are "making progress" in resolving their financial difficulties.

He said he is appealing in order to get a badly needed clarification on the law because the county code does not spell out to whom the county may lend money. He said the fact the Commonwealth Court had to go all the way back to 1939 to find a similar case points to a need for a further court ruling.

The Mercer County case originated in 2004 when Commissioners Olivia Lazor and Michele Brooks voted to loan $1 million to the nursing home. Commissioner Brian Beader opposed the action.

Previous rulings

Amundsen refused to issue the first payment, claiming such a loan was not authorized by law. Lazor and Brooks then asked for a court order to force Amundsen to write the check. But a visiting judge sided with Amundsen, agreeing in a Nov. 16, 2004 decision that the county could not lend money, but only "appropriate it" outright to the nursing home for support of indigent elderly. The case was appealed to Commonwealth Court which ruled 4-3 that the lower court was wrong in accepting the argument that the county could not lend money, only appropriate it outright. The majority said the word "appropriation" included loans, while dissenting judges disagreed.

Amundsen said the state Supreme Court is the final avenue of appeal for the question which is being watched across Pennsylvania because it is relevant at all levels of municipal government.

But he does not expect a quick answer. Amundsen said the state Supreme Court might now take up to a year to decide whether it will even accept the case.

The appeal will only cost the county a $60 filing fee plus any cost for copying papers. Amundsen said McKay receives no additional compensation for the case over his $3,937 annual stipend. The commissioners' solicitors also only receive their normal annual compensation with nothing additional for the appeal.




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