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Montco assisted-living facilities in doubt

Kathy Lessig and her husband don't know where they'll be living during 2009 because Montgomery County has not figured it out yet.

Kathy Lessig and her husband don't know where they'll be living during 2009 because Montgomery County has not figured it out yet.

The couple now reside in the county's assisted-living facility, the former Sacred Heart Hospital in Norristown. But at a time when government money is tight, the agency giving them housing is targeted for elimination - if the county can find a way to do it.

"I'm hoping they do find us as good-quality care as we have now," said Kathy Lessig.

The Lessigs and Montgomery County's 69 other assisted-living residents are among the human faces of budget-cutting. As part of the $444.6 million county budget passed yesterday, the Board of Commissioners cut the assisted-living budget in half, to about $1 million.

Overall, the budget reduces spending from the 2008 budget of $484.4 million - largely through the state's assuming mental-health costs - and taps reserve funds to stave off a tax increase despite money shortages.

For the assisted-living residents, the commissioners plan to seek proposals to find them a new home with comparable care. The proposals are expected by late January, though no timeline has been fixed.

"Clearly, there's a moral obligation here that we are going to honor," Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel III said.

The assisted-living agency was among a range targeted for cuts as money became scarce.

Some agencies fared better in negotiations. County Sheriff John P. Durante threatened to sue over the proposed closure of area DUI processing centers, and they were restored. Drug court was spared a cut after commissioners talked to Judge Steven T. O'Neill about his experiences overseeing the court.

"You're going to be putting 50 more people in the prison" if the $489,000 drug-court expenditure is eliminated, Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews said, defending the court.

The assisted-living facility had no such luck. It is accepting no new applicants while the county figures out what to do with its existing residents - or where they will be housed. A likely plan is a transition to one or more privately run facilities that would receive county subsidies to care for the 71 patients.

The Lessigs, for their part, are hoping for something east of Norristown, closer to their Schuylkill County relatives.

If a plan is not found that will save the county money, Hoeffel said, the county may be forced to come up with the $1 million required to keep running assisted living at the current level through 2009.

In a modification of the earlier proposed budget, commissioners also approved spending $4 million from a capital-projects reserve fund to cover losses in the county pension fund.

County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. voted against the budget, citing his concerns about excessive borrowing and the unresolved state of the assisted-living service.