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Town leaders spar over health center support

WARRENSBURG - A slim majority of the Warrensburg town board defeated the proposed 2010 town budget last week, with three councilmen suggesting revoking or reducing traditional payments towards the Warrensburg Health Center's utility bills. For 2011, that figure has been estimated at $41,000.

Board members Austin Markey, Bryan Rounds, and Dean Ackley voted down the budget, seeking the retraction of support for the health center. Board member John Alexander and Supervisor Kevin Geraghty voted for the spending plan and advocated for continuing the payment to the health center according to contract. Such support has been in place for about 30 years.

The board's decison prompted a special town board workshop Friday in which Dr. John Rugge, founder of the center and CEO of the parent Hudson Headwaters Health Network, said the retraction of such support could threaten $350,000 or more in federal and grants the chain depends on to provide vital health care for thousands across the north country. Rugge also noted that the health center makes voluntary payments in lieu of taxes for their property as well as providing 132 good-paying jobs for local people.

Through these grants, Rugge noted, local people have a vastly reduced cost for quality health care that is available for lengthy hours through the week.

As the Warrensburg Health Center is the largest private employer in Warrensburg, the payroll dollars of HHHN employees is crucial in supporting businesses in town, Board member John Alexander said, noting it wan't reasonable to put the health center and its parent corporation at risk over $41,000, considering it provided services vital to the quality of life in the Adirondack region.

Alexander also said that local residents surveyed last year responded that Warrensburg Health Center and its comprehensive range of health services was the town's top asset, and it would be irresponsible and short-sighted to put the health center and its parent company at risk.

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