The Massena Town Council doesn’t need to have a referendum on the sale of Massena Memorial Hospital’s assets to St. Lawrence Health System. But members are doing just this, and it’s a good decision.

The Town Council has authorized its town attorney to submit to the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections the proposition regarding the sale of Massena Memorial Hospital real estate to St. Lawrence Health System. That proposition will appear on the ballot for the general election on Nov. 5.

Town Attorney Eric Gustafson explained at a special Town Council meeting on Monday that there was a narrow window to have the referendum go to voters on Election Day.

Residents could have passed a petition with only 182 signatures to force a special election on some other day.

“Given the low number of signatures required for the petition and the fact that we didn’t get this very narrow window, it would force the expense of a special town election. It certainly would have created additional expense for the town. It made the most sense to have this by mandatory referendum, which is authorized by statute, and it will allow it to be done in a time and place where the most number of people would participate,” Mr. Gustafson said at the meeting.

The effort to find a way to convert the money-losing Massena Memorial Hospital into a non-profit entity has been hard, long and circuitous.

There have been times we have been critical of the seemingly strong-arm tactics of Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy.

All along, it has been obvious that the current model for the hospital was no longer viable.

Taking the burden of a climbing and unsustainable debt off taxpayers’ backs is essential.

We know there are many who disagree. There are those who fear St. Lawrence Health System will turn the local hospital into a shadow of its former self.

We don’t share that concern. It doesn’t make sense for St. Lawrence Health to do anything but keep MMH an important and vital part of the community.

Certainly, it will change. But change was inevitable with the hospital losing millions of dollars a year.

And now, voters will have a final say. Holding the referendum as a part of the general election on Nov. 5 is the best way to ensure the largest turnout and most representative vote possible.

The Town Council certainly has its work cut out for itself to ensure it spreads the word of the need for a supportive vote. Losing this referendum and going back to zero would be just as bad as not giving the people a final say.

How to address such a situation is obviously on the minds of Town Council members.

“What if this doesn’t pass? What do we do next?” Councilman Thomas C. Miller asked during the board’s special meeting. “What do we do with the Department of Health grant? Are we back to square one? If there’s really no explanation of what happens if this doesn’t pass, where are we?”

“In the event that this does not pass, we are back to square one,” Mr. Gustafson replied. “I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat that.”

Losing the support of residents through the referendum would be bad indeed. So it’s incumbent upon town officials to do whatever is necessary to sell this proposal to members of the public.

Setting up the referendum this way is an excellent start. Members of the Town Council made a bold move, and we’re hopeful it will pay off in the end.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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