The Fulton Common Council heard Tuesday night that Oswego Health should give the city something to get the land on which its current urgent care center sits.Â Aldermen also heard that they should hand over the right to the land for nothing.Â And they heard that they may not have any right to the land at all.
Oswego Health has proposed expanding its presence in the bankrupt former Lee Memorial Hospital to add more outpatient services and improve privacy for patients. The $21 million plan is waiting for the state budget to pass.Â The hospital was promised more than $17 million from the state for the expansion.
In the midst of the effort of Lee Memorial to sell the building and land to Oswego Health, however, Fulton lawyer Fred Sumner found an old document.Â In 1974, the city of Fulton turned the hospital over to the private non-profit that ran Lee Memorial until it closed last year.Â The two parties agreed in writing that if Lee Memorial should ever stop being a hospital, the land — though not the buildings — would revert to the city.
The discovery came as a surprise to both hospitals and the city. (See our first report on the issue here.)
“The sale cannot close if we cannot offer clean title,” said Lee Memorial lawyer Rod McDonald of Bond, Schoeneck and King, as he and Oswego Health jointly asked city lawmakers to give up the city’s claim to the land.Â He also argued that the city may not really have a right to take back the land.
“It will bring jobs to the community, it will bring revenues to the community, and it will bring health care to the community,” said Oswego Health CEO Ann Gilpin, who added that the expansion will add 20 jobs to bring employment at the center to 60.
“I really don’t think it would break Oswego Health to pay a nominal fee” for the land, said resident Jo Farrell.
“We’re not making any decision tonight,” said Mayor Ron Woodward.Â He said the city has hired a lawyer to help city leaders understand their rights.Â Aldermen seemed to have more questions than answers.Â Tom Kenyon asked whether Lee Memorial had a right to continue with the sale once it learned that the city may own the land.Â Peter Franco asked whether the rental fees Oswego Health has been paying to Lee Memorial should go instead to the city.
The discussion gave people another chance to lament the closing of Lee Memorial and gave Gilpin another opportunity to tout the runaway success of the urgent care center, which saw 19,000 patients in its first year and gave Oswego Health the confidence to propose the expansion.
Gilpin was asked during the meeting whether it was unfair of the city to ask for the market value of the land.Â She did not answer the question.Â After the meeting, she said that the hospital is waiting to find out how much state aid it will lose when a state budget is finally done and noted that the hospital will spend several million dollars of its own money on the Fulton expansion because the state would not back the full amount.
She said that any cost to buy the land might have to be balanced with a cut in healthcare services.Â “We can’t take (money) out of an operating budget that is providing health care services,” she said.
Woodward acknowledged the desire for city taxpayers to receive something in return for giving up rights to the land, but added, “We’ve got to make sure we don’t kill something we’ll all regret.”