Time For Skinflint Yankeeism

By Maynard Thomson

The proposed Carroll County nursing home shouldn’t be a political issue.  There may be voters wanting to put sick, old people on ice floes, but I doubt that’s a constituency either party’s courting.  No, if Carroll County citizens think owning a nursing home’s the best way to serve the need, I assume everyone merely wants it done efficiently.

Which is why we all need some answers.   I recently learned that the proposed structure has a projected construction cost per square foot roughly twice the national average—the data are readily available on the internet. (See, for example, www.reedconstructiondata.com/rsmeans/models/nursing-home/ ).

The building endorsed by the Building Committee is estimated to cost about $23 million dollars, or $277 a square foot; the national average in 2008, the latest year for which I have data, is $133 a square foot.  In a survey of the 2008 construction costs for nursing homes in twenty-five cities, not one, including New York, Boston and Los Angeles, broke $200 a square foot.

County Commissioner Dorothy Solomon, who serves on the Building Committee, assured me that these data comparisons are “apples and oranges,” and that the proposed facility will be built at a cost well within the national averages.  I’ve no reason to doubt her.

Still, some of the members of the Building Committee, who once favored the project, are expressing second thoughts.  Some say they didn’t have this other data, and are troubled by it. I’m troubled they’re troubled.

It isn’t enough if a majority of the Building Committee remains committed to this building.  It’s going to be paid for by our children and grandchildren, and we owe it to them to see to it that the case for this particular design, at this price, is DEMONSTRABLY the most efficient way to accomplish carefully-defined, explicit goals.  Good governance requires more than reasonable action by the people we hire to do our will; it requires the wide-spread public PERCEPTION that our government employees are acting as careful stewards of the resources with which we entrust them.

Make no mistake:  while the nursing home shouldn’t be a political issue, it will be, a year from now, if concerns about the cost aren’t dispelled NOW.  The divide won’t necessarily be Republican vs. Democrat, and I hope it won’t be; it will pit those who are indifferent to public perception, and perhaps to the public purse, against those who are no longer willing to burden our descendants with the tab for the Most Spoiled Generation’s (mine) life-long debauch.

Thanks in large part to policies being pursued in Washington, we’ve moved into European-style, long term economic sclerosis:  endemic high unemployment rates, slow growth, suppressed incomes, staggering public debt.  It would be unconscionable to lay on people with no say in the matter the additional financial burden of a Carroll County facility costing one cent more than necessary to meet the most compelling public need.

An adequate presentation will be one convincing a majority of Carroll County taxpayers that A) the means selected for caring for the target population is no broader than necessary (ie, that public ownership and operation is superior to all other options, including public financing of  private care) ; and B) the preferred building is the most efficient that will serve that end—that is, that there is no less expensive design, over the life of the building, that would be adequate to the purpose—bringing us back to the cost of other, newly-built nursing homes around the country:  they can’t ALL be hellholes.

Of course, members of the public should remember that our local elected officials are hardly the overpaid slackers too often found in government.  Assume good will.  Questions should be civil and designed to elicit information, not score points.  Accusations and hyperbole add nothing.

There’s a County Commissioners’ meeting on Nov. 18, at 7 PM in the Administration Building in Ossipee; a good time for the Commissioners, at least, to address these concerns—and you might want to be there.  There’s a meeting of the Building Committee at the same location, at 9 AM on Nov. 30.  I gather this is when project financing will be voted on; it shouldn’t go forward until these questions are answered.