Majority of County Residents Support Tax Increase to Retain Claremont

April 6, 2021 – A new public opinion poll finds that 57 percent of Cumberland County residents are willing to pay $20 more a year in property taxes, if it means that the nursing home can remain a county-owned and operated facility.

Funded by the Partnership for Better Health and conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research, the poll captures a representative sample of 400 Cumberland County residents who were contacted by phone and online last week.

Balanced to reflect the diversity of Cumberland County, the poll demonstrates little support for the sale of Claremont, regardless of age, gender, eastern or western region, or political affiliation. A third of poll respondents were Democrats, 50 percent were Republicans, and 13 percent were either independent or affiliated with another party.

Recognizing that 75 percent of Claremont’s patients are low-income, with their nursing care paid for by Medicaid, one survey question asked residents: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important do you think it is for Claremont to continue to serve primarily low-income patients? County residents gave an overall rating of 8.5, reflecting that maintaining nursing care services for low-income individuals is very important to them. In total, 74 percent of all respondents gave this question a high score of 8, 9 or 10.

In the Commissioners’ discussions, whether a new owner could be mandated to continue serving a majority of low-income patients has remained uncertain.

“Our board funded the poll to give residents a meaningful voice in what is quickly shaping up to be a three-person decision by the Commissioners,” said Becca Raley, Executive Director of the Partnership for Better Health. “Active public engagement has been nearly all but absent in the county’s deliberations about Claremont’s future, and for a facility that’s truly owned by the public, what local residents want and expect should be a top priority.”

Raley noted that the Partnership for Better Health’s board also offered to fund an independent, multi-year review of Claremont’s financial outlook and analyze various options, but the offer has been declined to date.

At their meeting on March 18, Commissioners Gary Eichelberger and Vince DeFilippo made a motion to begin negotiations to sell Claremont Nursing & Rehabilitation Center to Transitions Healthcare LLC, a for-profit company based in Maryland. Commissioner Jean Foschi opposes the sale and is calling for additional due diligence before a final decision is made.

The opinion poll finds that 72 percent of Cumberland County residents are aware of the County’s plans to sell, with only 14 percent of residents in support of selling Claremont to a private owner. A majority of respondents (45%) think that Claremont should be retained as county-owned and operated, with 41 percent of respondents still undecided.

Republicans oppose the sale by a margin of 45 to 20. Democrats oppose the sale by a margin of 50 to 9 margin, and independent voters oppose the sale by a margin of 36 to 4.

Last October, the County projected an annual loss for the nursing home of $2.6 million. Yet Cumberland County has generated budget surpluses for nearly a decade. Claremont’s advocates suggest that the home’s projected losses could be covered using a combination of the County’s existing reserves of $45.2 million and the $49 million in federal aid that is being apportioned to the County as part of the COVID-19 economic relief bill passed by Congress in December. To date, the two majority Commissioners have objected to using existing funds to support the nursing home’s operations.

The poll asked, hypothetically, if Cumberland County residents would be willing to pay $20 more per year in county taxes if it means that Claremont can remain a county-owned and operated facility: 57 percent of poll respondents said yes, with just 11 percent of residents undecided on the tax question. The $20 figure is an estimate of what an average homeowner may need to contribute to close Claremont’s projected deficit, which stems in part from the impact of COVID-19 on the nursing home.

Jim Lee, President of Susquehanna Polling & Research, noted that the majority of respondents who say they would be willing to pay more in county taxes to keep Claremont in county hands reflects a bipartisan majority of 54 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats. “To me, this is a strong testament to the fact that Claremont’s prospective sale is not viewed as a hyper-partisan issue by most. Many appear to believe keeping the county home is a valuable endeavor,” Lee stated.

Lee went on to state that the results appear somewhat compelling and selfless, “54 percent of those polled said they do not anticipate ever needing the services of the nursing home for themselves or their family, and among these, 45 percent would still pay more in taxes for the home to stay in county hands.”

Cumberland County’s Commissioners are expected to make a final vote on Claremont’s prospective sale this spring.

The poll results can be accessed Claremont Poll – Susquehanna Polling -4-5-21.