ANNAPOLIS — A state board on Wednesday voted to put off a decision on the sale of two Frederick County-owned facilities until two court cases challenging the transactions are resolved.
Those who oppose the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living hailed the Maryland Board of Public Works action as a major victory.
“Miracles do happen,” Sonja Sperlich, former chair of the board of trustees for the centers, said quietly as she left the meeting room.
Because the state invested $200,000 in the construction of the two facilities, the public works board must weigh in on the sale. The questions before the public works board are whether to approve the sale and whether to require the county to return the state grant.
Commissioners President Blaine Young brought a $200,000 check with him as he stepped up to the podium to address the board and said the county was prepared to return the grant money to the state. Comptroller Peter Franchot, who sits on the public works board along with the state governor and treasurer, said that, as much as he would like to take the check, he thought a postponement would be wiser.
This was the second time the board has delayed a decision on the sales; last month, they voted to defer it so they could seek legal guidance.
The board’s reservations stemmed from a pair of legal matters filed against the county commissioners for their June 25 vote to sell Citizens and Montevue for $30 million. Both cases are currently in Frederick County Circuit Court.
Several sale opponents attended the public works board meeting and testified that the centers are important for serving needy members of the community who can’t afford the cost of private assisted living care.
“These people need to be taken care of. It is part of of our obligation as citizens of this country,” said Leslie Powell, attorney for the plaintiffs in the two court cases against the county.
She also said the county did not undertake any needs assessments as part of the privatization process.
Commissioner David Gray, the only county board member to oppose the sale to Aurora Health Management, also spoke at Wednesday’s meeting to ask the state panel to postpone further action until “the court challenge to the sale is settled.”
However, following the meeting, Young said he didn’t think the board’s unanimous decision Wednesday will slow down the county’s move toward a potential December closing date.
In the meantime, he said the county will voluntarily return the grant money.
“I don’t think there will be a delay in closing unless the state wants to sue us for money that we’ll pay them,” he said.
Comments made by public works board members Wednesday led Young to believe they think the county is asking to keep the grant. But if the county volunteers to give back the funds, the state will have no further role in the sale, a state of affairs that Young thinks would suit the public works board.
“They don’t want to be involved in this,” he said.
Though county officials initially thought the state had contributed $200,000 to Citizens and Monteuve, they recently learned the actual amount is $191,000, Young said. He said he expects the county will send the money to the state within a couple of weeks.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.