State officials seem to have reached a consensus with local leaders that more waiting is in order before a decision on whether the county must repay a Maryland grant for the construction of a publicly owned care center.
In a chiding June correspondence, the Maryland Board of Public Works had urged the county to abide by its grant agreement and wait for state consent to the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Opponents of the sale hailed the letter as a state reprimand against the county's decision to finalize the first part of the sale.
However, a more recent letter from the Maryland board gives no indication that state officials will try to thwart the county's efforts to privatize the centers. The letter, which replied to a message from Commissioner Paul Smith, expresses appreciation for his correspondence and reiterates the state's decision to reserve judgment about the sale until legal issues are resolved.
"I agree that the Board of Public Works made clear at its 2013 meeting that it would not be appropriate for the Board to take action on the County's request before a judicial determination is made concerning the lawfulness of the transfer," stated the BPW letter signed by executive secretary Sheila McDonald.
Smith said he believes the recent BPW letter marks the end, for now, of exchanges between the county and state on the issue.
Cindy Powell, a vocal critic of the sale, said the state's letter does seem to warn the county against taking additional steps toward full privatization.
"What the state made clear to the county is, you can't go any further than where you are and that we're not happy where you are," she said.
Maryland leaders are weighing in on the sale because of a $200,000 state grant for construction of Citizens and Montevue, facilities previously owned and operated by the county. Last year, the public works board, composed of the state governor, comptroller and treasurer, tabled discussion about granting permission for the sale until the resolution of a lawsuit challenging the transaction.
In May, county leaders decided to shift the facility finances and staff to a private company, Aurora Holdings VII, and the June letter from BPW argued that these actions amounted to a disposal of property without the state's permission.
The response from Smith stated that there was no conflict between the state board's directive and the county's actions. While the county has transferred facility finances and staff to Aurora, it has retained the center land and buildings. The $30 million property sales are on hold until the legal matters are resolved, Smith wrote.
If the county ends up selling the facilities, returning some of the state grant funding might be necessary, Smith acknowledged. The county will make the repayment at once when the public works board requests a certain amount, he stated.
In its most recent letter on July 21, the public works board stated that once the legal issues involved in the sale are resolved, the county can renew its request for state permission to privatize Citizens and Montevue, which has been renamed Odyssey Assisted Living at Montevue.
If the state wanted to work against the sale, its only course of action is to demand return of the $200,000, money commissioners have already offered to repay, Smith noted.
"I think if they really wanted to get tough with us, they have a limited remedy," he said.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.