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Editorial: NY should give ‘prison towns’ funds for being hosts to sprawling sites with a negative stigma

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2017 at 9:19 am
Photos by Tom Rivers: Two state prisons, including the Albion Correctional Facility, consume about 500 acres of land just west of the Village of Albion.

Photos by Tom Rivers: Two state prisons, including the Albion Correctional Facility, consume about 500 acres of land just west of the Village of Albion.

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of editorials about policies that would help rural New York.)

New York State’s economic development strategy for many rural communities has often included bestowing upon them a prison.

The state sees the facilities as opportunities for good-paying jobs with benefits in areas in dire need of such positions.

Albion and Orleans County is home to two prisons, one for women inmates and the other for men. Both have about 1,000 inmates. Together they take up 500 acres of land just west of the Village of Albion.

That land is largely tax exempt, and has a deadening effect on the residential neighborhood on Washington, King and West State streets.

Many companies that bring in businesses that change the character of a community will offer a host-community benefits package to compensate for some of that impact.

This photo from July 2013 shows the former McKenna and Orleans Sanitary landfills next to the Erie Canal in Albion, between Densmore and Transit roads. Waste Management wanted to build another landfill by these two, but was denied despite offering the community hundreds of thousands of dollars annually..

This photo from July 2013 shows the former McKenna and Orleans Sanitary landfills next to the Erie Canal in Albion, between Densmore and Transit roads. Waste Management wanted to build another landfill by these two, but was denied despite offering the community hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

When Waste Management made its pitch to open a landfill in Albion in the mid-1990s, the company offered the community $500,000 annually to lower the town taxes.

The company knew a landfill came with some negatives – an increase in truck traffic, seagulls, noise, odor, environmental worries and a stigma. The $500,000 was offered to help counter some of the negatives. Albion town officials were never swayed, and denied the project.

Wind power companies in the past decade have built several industrial turbine “wind farms” in Wyoming County and other parts of New York. The companies paid the host communities big bucks for having these 400-foot-high structures in the rural countryside. Some of the towns are taking in more than $1 million annually from the turbines, which has more than offset town taxes. Schools and the county government also get a piece of the pie from the turbines in Wyoming County.

Towns that allow “noxious uses” generally receive some compensation for dealing with the negative impacts. However, if you’re a prison town you don’t get such a package.

Yes, there are good jobs, and those workers spend money in the community – often filling up for gas on their way out of town.

The Albion community topped a combined $50 tax rate (town, village, school and county) in 2014, putting it in the top 10 in the Finger Lakes region for highest tax rate. (Medina led at $58.19 in 2014) Click here to see that report from the Empire Center.

I bring that up because Albion could use some money for having 500 acres consuming lots of services but generating little in tax revenue.

Here is a reasonable plan for a “host-community benefits package” for prison towns.

The Albion Correctional Facility is the largest women’s prison in the state with capacity for 1,243 inmates. The state has completed several construction projects at this prison in recent years, including a Special Housing Unit for inmates with discipline problems. This prison is highly visible along Washington Street at the west end of the village.

The Orleans Correctional Facility is lined with a razor-wire fence. The facility was built on Gaines Basin Road about three decades ago.

The Orleans Correctional Facility is lined with a razor-wire fence. The facility was built on Gaines Basin Road about three decades ago.

In the early 1980s, when the state was in a prison-building spree, it constructed the medium-security Orleans Correctional Facility. This one has a capacity for 1,082 male inmates.

Orleans Correctional looks like it’s out of a movie set, set along rural Gaines Basin Road with the tall razor-wire fence and the ominous guard towers.

The community gave up some good land for the prisons, land that could be tax-generating for houses, commercial development or even a cornfield. The state doesn’t pay village, town or county taxes for these properties. It does pay the school district a tiny amount –$6,822.61.

We send our fire department and ambulances over there for calls. Our first responders have to train for what-if scenarios at the prisons.

I think the community should be paid for providing some services to the prisons, and contending with the negatives that come with these sites.

What would be a fair host-community benefits package?

Orleans County has a 4 percent bed tax. If a visitor is staying in a bed and breakfast with a $100 a night charge, the customer is taxed the usual 8 percent sales tax plus another 4 percent for a bed tax. That generates $8 in sales tax and $4 for a bed tax if the room is $100.

Orleans County in the past has billed Genesee about $80 a day to house Genesee’s female inmates in the county jail in Albion. That’s the price Orleans has put out as a daily charge for the county jail. If we used that number for the state prisons (I would think the state prisons would be a higher cost) and multiplied that by the 4 percent bed tax, NYS would owe the community $3.20 in a daily bed tax per state inmate.

But the prisons are hardly hotels and the state’s pockets aren’t a bottomless pit. I think the prison communities should give the state a deal and make it a simple formula – $1 a day per inmate.

In Albion, let’s make it easy math and say both prisons have 1,000 inmates for 2,000 total. The state should pay $2,000 a day or $730,000 a year as a host community benefits package. I would divvy up this money using a typical PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) plan used by the Economic Development Agency. You take the tax rates from each municipality and calculate a pro-rated share of the money based on the rates.

In Albion, the town would get 10 percent of prison money, the county 20 percent, and the village and school district would each receive 35 percent, according to my plan. That would be about $73,000 for town, $146,000 for county and $255,500 each for both village and school district. (That would lower the village taxes by about 11 percent.)

State-wide there are 54,600 state inmates. At $1 a day, the state should pay the prison communities $19,929,000 each year. That money would be directed to communities that need it. The state put these prisons in towns that were economically depressed and have remained so. (Frankly, $1 a day is cheap and I’d welcome our state representatives to push for more. If you have a maximum security prison in your town, such as Attica, you should get double the rate.)

Wind power companies pay towns to have the giant turbines. These windmills peak at about 400 feet high and are pictured in Sheldon, Wyoming County.

Wind power companies pay towns to have the giant turbines. These windmills peak at about 400 feet high and are pictured in Sheldon, Wyoming County.

I know the prisons provide hundreds of jobs in Albion, but many of these workers don’t live in Albion or in the other communities where prisons are located. The prisons provide jobs in their regions, with the host community bearing the full burden by giving up so much land and having to provide services – water, sewer, etc. – that could be used for other industries.

The state already provides a host community package for communities with an industry that brings some societal ills. The State Legislature and governor have directed state money to communities with video gaming centers – Batavia, Hamburg and others.

The City and Town of Batavia, plus Genesee County share in that bounty each year because of Batavia Downs. Those communities use about $500,000 from a host community package to help offset taxes.

The gaming centers are advertised as attractions, drawing outsiders to the community to spend money at the race track and other businesses. The gaming centers are featured in tourism brochures. They are depicted as hip and trendy destinations.

But the prisons feel like a black hole, deadening neighborhoods and dominating a town’s identity.

The state spends about $4 billion annually for corrections. The prison-host aid would raise the corrections spending by a measly 0.5 percent. That’s half of 1 percent, and the money would go to communities in desperate need of tax relief.


Here is a sample resolution for the local governments to pass, pressing the governor and State Legislature to consider the issue:

RESOLUTION NO. 2, January 2017

WHEREAS, New York State is home to 54 prisons with 54,700 inmates;

WHEREAS, many of the correctional facilities are located in rural communities and don’t pay any village, town or county taxes (and only a tiny portion for school districts);

WHEREAS, the facilities are big water and sewer users, and need other government services (fire department and ambulance);

WHEREAS, the prisons have a negative impact on their immediate neighborhoods, depressing development;

WHEREAS, the prisons provide hundreds of good-paying jobs, but many of those workers don’t live in the host community of the prison;

WHEREAS, the host community of a prison unfairly shoulders the burden of the prisons, giving up big chunks of tax exempt land while still providing services to the prisons;

WHEREAS, New York State spends about $4 billion on corrections each year.

WHEREAS, New York should pay “prison towns” a host community benefits package of $1 per day per inmate which would total about $20 million annually – 0.5 percent of the corrections budget;

WHEREAS, paying a host community benefits package would direct needed revenue to many communities with the highest tax rates in their regions;

WHEREAS, other industries – landfills and industrial wind turbines – provide host community benefits packages to help offset some of the negative impacts to the host community.

WHEREAS, New York provides $29.3 million annually in assistance to communities with “gaming centers” to help with their costs of hosting those facilities;

WHEREAS, having a prison consumes more public resources and has a worse stigma than a “gaming center” such as Batavia Downs.

RESOLVED, the Legislature/Town Board/Village Board/Board of Education, call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to adopt a fair “host community benefits package” for prison towns;

RESOLVED, that the clerk of the Legislature/Village Board/Town Board/Board of Education shall forward copies of this resolution to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senator Robert Ortt, Assemblyman Steve Hawley and all others deemed necessary and proper.

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Editorial: Increasing AIM funding would be big boost to poverty-stricken villages

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 January 2017 at 1:39 pm
File photo: A smashed sign shown in the winter of 2014 in the village of Albion is symbolic of the rough roads villages are charting due to miniscule aid from the state. Cities get far more in per capita funding than villages.

File photo: A smashed sign shown in the winter of 2014 in the village of Albion is symbolic of the rough roads villages are charting due to miniscule aid from the state. Cities get far more in per capita funding than larger villages despite providing similar services.

It’s a new year, a time of goals and initiatives to better ourselves, our community, our state and country.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a “State of the State” address today. He has put out at least 15 proposals in the past week or so. Cuomo says he wants to rev up the economy, help Middle Class families and improve infrastructure, among many issues. The governor and state legislators generally don’t have much to say about rural NY, especially Orleans County.

Orleans Hub has tried before to at least get our community on the radar screen of Cuomo and the State Legislature. We’re going to follow Cuomo’s lead in putting out proposals.

Our top issue is reforming the AIM program. The state sets aside $715 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. Cities get almost all of that money, 90 percent, with a few crumbs for towns and villages.

For about three years, Orleans Hub has tried to highlight the alarming disparity in state aid between cities and villages. Some of the local Village Boards, Town Boards and the County Legislature passed resolutions in 2015, asking the State Legislature and governor to boost AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) for villages and craft a plan for a fairer distribution of the money.

Local elected officials seemed to forget about the issue last year, even though it’s a shocking form of structural discrimination that is a leading culprit in the sky-high village taxes around here.

The cities get a per capita of $277 per resident in AIM while villages and towns only get $7 per resident.

Consider that Albion (population 6,056) and Medina (population 6,065) receive $38,811 in AIM funding and $45,523, respectively. Sherrill, the state’s smallest city with 3,071 people in Oneida County, gets $372,689. Salamanca in Cattaraugus County is nearly the same size at Albion and Medina. Salamanca gets $928,131 for a city of 5,815 people.

If Albion and Medina received what Salamanca did in state aid, the two villages could cut their taxes by about 40 percent. No longer would these villages be near the top of the list for most oppressive tax burdens in the Finger Lakes and Western New York.

Medina and Albion also are high poverty communities, topping the 20 percent threshold. Normally that level of poverty would draw local and state action, a push for attention and resources. But not for Albion and Medina.

If the state gave Albion and Medina more AIM funding, even at $100 per resident, the residents in these poverty-stricken villages would get significant relief in their wallets. They would have more money to spend at local businesses, boosting our local economy. None of the state or regional poverty plans include our local village residents. The cities get all of the attention and resources.

Check out this chart to see the discrimination, and ask why doesn’t the governor, the State Legislature and our local political establishment fight for fairness? It’s discrimination, plain and simple.

City (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Salamanca (Cattaraugus) $928,131 5,815 $159.61
Dunkirk (Chautauqua) $1,575,527 12,563 $125.41
Batavia (Genesee) $1,750,975 15,465 $113.22
Sherrill (Oneida) $372,689 3,071 $121.35
Norwich (Chenango) $1,089,279 7,190 $151.50
Waverliet (Albany) $1,210,193 10,254 $118.02
Cortland (Cortland) $2,018,330 11,183 $180.48
Beacon (Dutchess) $1,537,478 15,541 $98.93
Gloversville (Fulton) $2,302,592 15,665 $146.99
Johnstown (Fulton) $1,388,910 8,743 $158.86
Canandaigua (Ontario) $1,119,304 10,545 $106.15
Geneva (Ontario) $1,942,613 13,261 $146.49
Rensselaer (Rensselaer) $1,137,317 9,392 $121.09
Mechanicville (Saratoga) $662,392 5,196 $127.48
Ogdensburg (St. Lawrence) $1,708,659 11,128 $153.55
Village (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Albion (Orleans) $38,811 6,056 $6.41
Medina (Orleans) $45,523 6,065 $7.51
Holley (Orleans) $17,786 1,811 $9.82
Lyndonville (Orleans) $6,251 838 $7.46
Brockport (Monroe) $110,171 8,366 $13.17
Fredonia (Chautauqua) $89,140 11,230 $7.94
East Aurora (Erie) $50,569 6,236 $8.11
Le Roy (Genesee) $34,391 4,391 $7.83
Geneseo (Livingston) $72,701 8,031 $9.05
Whitesboro (Oneida) $73,012 3,772 $19.36
Cobleskill (Schoharie) $36,461 4,678 $7.79
Massena (St. Lawrence) $132,671 10,936 $12.13
Potsdam (St. Lawrence) $111,864 9,428 $11.87
Bath (Steuben) $103,906 5,786 $17.96
Monticello (Sullivan) $46,903 6,726 $6.97
Newark (Wayne) $65,833 9,145 $7.20

Source: New York State Division of Budget for state aid in 2013-14 (The state aid numbers haven’t changed for several years.) Population is from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 population count. Orleans Hub calculated the per capita numbers.

Orleans Hub would like to again challenge the local municipal officials to at least pass formal resolutions seeking a fairer distribution of AIM funds. The local officials should lobby, and do a public protest about the issue. I would suggest forming a village coalition and marching the length of the canal. That might be ambitious this year. So maybe just cover the length in Orleans, or Western New York with groups of residents, police officers, firefighters, children – who all are treated as second-class citizens by the AIM program. A march for fairness would generate some publicity and put pressure on the governor and state legislators.

But, first off, let’s start the year with resolutions demanding equity in state aid. Here is sample resolution that the local boards are welcome to use or tweak.

RESOLUTION No. 1, January 2017

WHEREAS, New York State provides $715 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities each year, and 90 percent of that goes to upstate cities;

WHEREAS, the AIM funding per capita is $277 per city resident and only $7 for residents in towns and villages;

WHEREAS, there are 549 villages with a combined population of 1,918,032 in New York State, including four (Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina) in Orleans County with a population of 14,770;

WHEREAS, many villages wrestle with the same problems as cities, with aging infrastructure, blighted housing, abandoned commercial sites, brownfields and increased crime rates;

WHEREAS, villages are similar to cities with a high concentration of senior citizens and low-income families;

WHEREAS, villages mirror cities as centers for culture, civic and religious life, especially in rural counties;

WHEREAS, villages are like cities with many important community structures – churches, courthouses, schools and other public buildings – that do not pay taxes, shifting the tax burden for those sites to other residents in the village or city;

WHEREAS, the state’s tiny share of AIM funding for villages has put villages at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining businesses and residents;

WHEREAS, the huge disparity in AIM funding between the cities and villages is a form of state-sponsored economic discrimination, resulting in much higher tax bills for village residents and a diminished quality of life;

WHEREAS, the erosion of the village tax base has shifted a greater burden of town, county and school district tax burden outside the village, punishing the outside-village residents as well;

WHEREAS, the high tax rates in the village encourage suburban sprawl and development of green space and farm land for housing tracts, industrial parks and “Big Box” stores;

WHEREAS, village residents are no less a New Yorker than a city resident;

RESOLVED, the Legislature/Town Board/Village Board/Board of Education, call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to adopt a fair formula for sharing AIM funding so village residents can enjoy municipal services and their homes without being taxed to death.

RESOLVED, that the clerk of the Legislature/Village Board/Town Board/Board of Education shall forward copies of this resolution to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senator Robert Ortt, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Assemblyman Michael Norris, and all others deemed necessary and proper.

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Villages see sales tax share fall as town assessments grow

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 December 2016 at 1:48 pm

Sales tax from county for villages falls $25K over 4 years

Photo by Tom Rivers: Downtown Albion is pictured in this photo from December 2015.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Downtown Albion is pictured in this photo from December 2015.

ALBION – The sales tax for the four villages in Orleans County – Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina – has fallen by about $25,000 in the past four years because the assessed values of the towns are going up while the villages are shrinking in assessed value.

The county has a sales tax formula that freezes the share to the 10 towns and four villages at $1,366,671. That amount hasn’t changed since 2001, even though the sales tax has grown from about $9 million in 2001 to over $15 million.

However, the amount for the villages and the six towns with villages can vary annually as the assessed values change for the municipalities. If town values increase at a rate more than the villages, those towns with villages will get more of the village sales tax.

The share for the four villages in 2013 was $404,661 of the sales tax. The village share fell to $400,681 in 2014, to $398,111 in 2015, to $391,230 in 2016 and now the biggest drop yet, $379,265 for 2017.

The sales tax for the individual villages dropped the following from 2013 to 2017: Albion, $180,457 to $164,617; Holley, $47,595 to $45,671; Lyndonville, $15,626 to $15,316; and Medina, $160,988 to $153,661.

The villages’ loss has been the the gain for six towns, especially for the Town of Albion, which pocketed more than half of the total increase for the towns. Here is how the towns’ shares changed from 2013 to 2017: Albion, $111,754 to $124,978; Gaines, $85,317 to $87,933; Murray, $111,372 to $113,295; Ridgeway, $123,488 to $129,171; Shelby, $101,116 to $102,760; and Yates, $65,929 to $66,239.

The four other towns without villages did not have a change in their sales tax share. Those towns receive the following: Barre, $64,536; Carlton, $95,418; Clarendon, $116,261; and Kendall, $86,813.

Going back even farther paints an even more dismal picture for the four villages.

Since the county froze the share to the villages and towns, the village share peaked at $211,669.32 for Albion in 2004 (down about $37,000 to $164,617.48 in 2017). Medina dropped about $20,000 from $173,592.02 in 2002 to $173,592.02 in 2017. Holley hit a high of $62,549.14 in 2002 – 15 years later it’s down to $45,671.04. Lyndonville was at $18,591.94 in 2002 and has slid to $15,316.57 in 2017.

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Cable company merger will fill in many gaps for high-speed Internet in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 December 2016 at 9:42 am
File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

Orleans County has about 3,600 households without access to high-speed Internet, but that number would shrink to 77 as part of the Charter Communications and Time Warner merger.

Charter Communications has to make broadband Internet access available to an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in new York over four years as part of the merger.

Charter’s plan would nearly cover the remaining gaps in Orleans, leaving 77 households without access. Charter would also make significant improvements in Niagara County, reaching all but 943, with most of those gaps in rural eastern Niagara County.

Orleans and Niagara officials have been working together the past four years to bring more high-speed Internet to the two counties.

The state announced a $500 million broadband push last year, but Orleans and Niagara held off from applying because they wanted to see what Charter’s plans were for the two counties.

“It’s a great Christmas present,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator who has been working on the broadband initiative with David Godfrey from Niagara County. “It’s not 100 percent but it’s great news.”

Johnson and Godfrey say the remaining unserved areas after Charter’s work may be too small to get a vendor to step in and provide the service. The state funds, and possibly federal money being pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), may be able to reach the last mile so the entire counties are covered.

Johnson is pleased Charter has Orleans in its build-out plan. She believes about four years of work, of identifying unserved households and pressing the state and federal government about the lack of high-speed Internet, paid off with Charter putting Orleans among the 145,000 to be served.

The state and industry maps for service were wrong before, Johnson said. The state and broadband companies had said 97 percent of Orleans was covered. But local government officials and a consultant went house to house and identified a much bigger unserved population – about 3,600 of the approximately 20,000 households in Orleans didn’t have access to high-speed Internet.

The four villages – Albion, Holley Lyndonville and Medina – all have 100 percent access. But out in the country it’s a different story. There are entire segments of some rural roads with no high-speed Internet access.

Orleans officials will be meeting with Charter later this month to discuss the build-out. Johnson will urge the company to fill all of the missing gaps. She also wants Orleans to be early in the build-out that will be spread over four years in the state.

“This is truly a win for the two counties,” Johnson said.

Godfrey also is pleased with the plan for more service in Niagara.

“It’s quite amazing how much they will do,” he said.

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Pride Pak’s facility awes dignitaries

Photos by Tom Rivers: Pride Pak has been praised for the appearance of its new vegetable processing site on Maple Ridge Road in Medina.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2016 at 10:10 am

MEDINA – Fred Miller worked at Lipton in Albion as a young man. The plant closed in 1980, putting hundreds of people out of work.

Miller would go on to run a hardware store in downtown Albion. He also is an Orleans County legislator.

Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, welcomes about 300 people to the ribbon-cutting and opening celebration for the company’s new facility in Medina. Chapman credited CEO Steve Karr, lower left, with pushing the project to completion.

Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, welcomes about 300 people to the ribbon-cutting and opening celebration for the company’s new facility in Medina. Chapman credited CEO Steve Karr, lower left, with pushing the project to completion.

On Wednesday he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the new Pride Pak vegetable processing site in Medina, a 68,000-square-foot building. Pride Pak has plans for expansion, with two more similar-size buildings.

Seeing the building stirred memories for Miller, of the busy Lipton plant that provided jobs for hundreds of working class families.

“This is wonderful to see,” Miller said inside the spacious Pride Pak, a 280-foot-long building where employees trim, clean and pack salads for Wegmans and other Pride Pak customers. “It reminds me of the old days when I went to Liptons.”

Pride Pak was looking at the former Bernz-O-Matic site in Medina, but decided to build new on Maple Ridge Road. The new facility didn’t need a costly retrofit and the site has room for the future expansions.

Steve Karr, Pride Pak CEO, said the company didn’t go cheap with the new building. It wanted an attractive facility on an important gateway in the Medina community.

Steve Karr, company CEO, thanks the Medina community for a warm welcome for Pride Pak.

Steve Karr, company CEO, thanks the Medina community for a warm welcome for Pride Pak.

Mike Sidari, the Medina mayor, thanked Karr and Pride Pak for such a nice addition to Maple Ridge Road. Not only will the company employ up to 300 people at full build-out, but it added a beautiful site on a busy corridor, Sidari said.

“It’s an inviting building as you come into the village,” Sidari said.

The grand opening celebration on Wednesday included fancy hors d’oeuvre appetizers, and local beers and wines, as well as a band playing. A warehouse was turned into a room for fine dining.

“We’ve been to a lot of ribbon cuttings,” State Sen. Robert Ortt said, “but none like this. This is truly amazing.”

Ortt said Pride Pak’s decision to build its first U.S. facility in Medina shows that rural Orleans County welcomes business.

“You don’t have to be in Rochester to attract a world-class headquarters,” Ortt said. “They have invested here in Medina, in Orleans County, in Upstate New York, in the United States of America.”

Warehouse space in Pride Pak was transformed into a party on Wednesday.

Warehouse space in Pride Pak was transformed for a festive celebration on Wednesday.

Pride Pak has one packing line in place and is working to get more on line. The packing equipment allows the company to double the rate of trimming, cleaning and packing vegetables for the salads.

Medina, the Town of Shelby, Orleans County and Empire State Development all worked to provide incentives for Pride Pak, and to get infrastructure in place for the new building and the future expansions.

Steve Karr thanked the government officials for their work with the project, which is about a $20 million investment for phase 1.

Steve Karr, the Pride Pak CEO, is pictured in overalls in mid-October when he was working with contractors helping to measure and connect lines that day. He is pictured in the warehouse space, which was the scene for an upscale party on Wednesday.

Steve Karr, the Pride Pak CEO, is pictured in overalls in mid-October when he was working with contractors helping to measure and connect lines that day. He is pictured in the warehouse space, which was the scene for an upscale party on Wednesday.

Karr said about 50,000 man hours went into the facility’s construction. He has been working 80 hour weeks in Medina to move the project along.

He was wearing a suit on Wednesday for the grand opening. But much of his time the past year was in overalls, helping with construction projects at the site.

Karr’s work ethic is legendary at the company. Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, said Karr’s determination made the ambitious project a reality on a tight schedule.

“Steve Karr is the most hard-working and committed man I’ve ever seen,” Chapman told about 300 people during the grand opening celebration. “It is Steve’s hard work and dedication that made this project in Medina possible.”

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Pride Pak celebrates opening of new facility in Medina

Photos by Tom Rivers: Members of the Karr family cut the ribbon this afternoon for Pride Pak’s new 68,000-square-foot vegetable processing and packaging plant in Medina. Steve Karr, fourth from left, is the company president and founder. He is pictured with his children, from left: Jennifer Pappas, quality director; Angelo Karr, vice president; Steve Karr’s wife Elsie (in back); Steve Karr; Greg Karr, vice president of procurement; and State Sen. Robert Ortt.

Posted 30 November 2016 at 8:36 pm

Press Release, Empire State Development

MEDINA – Empire State Development announced today that Pride Pak, Inc. has opened the doors on its new 68,000 square-foot facility on 13 acres in the Medina Business Park.

Pride Pak, Canada’s largest fresh fruit and vegetable processor, will ultimately invest up to $30 million on the state-of-the-art complex in Orleans County in order to be closer to its U.S. customers. The company has committed to creating 200 new jobs at the site. The Governor announced Pride Pak’s plan to build in the Finger Lakes region last November.

The new Pride Pak is pictured in the evening last month. The site currently has 40 workers and could reach 200 when the the company is at full build-out with two more buildings.

The new Pride Pak is pictured in the evening last month. The site currently has 40 workers and could reach 200 when the the company is at full build-out with two more buildings.

In 1984, CEO Steven Karr started Pride Pak Canada, Ltd. in an effort to service what he saw as Canada’s growing demand for high quality, easy to use fresh food. Expansion in to Newfoundland in 2006 established Pride Pak as the industry leader in the value-added produce industry. The company’s long-standing relationship with Wegmans Food Markets was the stimulus for Pride Pak’s move to the U.S.

Pride Pak CEO Steven Karr said, “We are very much looking forward to this next chapter with our partners at Wegmans. The cooperation we have received from the state has been tremendous and I cannot emphasize enough the value of doing business in Orleans County and the Finger Lakes where they are very welcoming to new business.”

As the industry leader in organic and conventional value-added produce processing, Pride Pak Canada currently exports 35 percent of its product to the U.S. All of Pride Pak’s produce is packed fresh, not frozen. They provide fresh-cut fruits and vegetables and specialty salad blends to food service operations and retail establishments, including Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.

Wegmans Food Markets CEO Danny Wegman said, “Wegmans is completely committed to supporting agriculture and food production partnerships like this one in an effort to grow jobs. The agriculture and food production industry is a key driver of our regional economy. The new Pride Pak facility will help create opportunities for farmers, and will create food production jobs in our region, thus helping to shape the food industry here and helping to ensure its vitality for years to come.”

Phase One of Pride Pak’s Medina operation will be dedicated to the production of organic baby salad green blends, expressly for Wegmans. Karr says Phases Two and Three will include the addition of conventional fruit and vegetable processing, with the company sourcing carrots and other root vegetables from local farm operations.

When fully operational, Pride Pak expects about 45 truckloads of produce each month. The organic vegetable by- product, about 220 tons monthly, will be delivered to local livestock farms and used as animal feed and fertilizer.

Steven Carr, company founder and CEO, addresses about 300 people who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and then celebration inside.

Steven Karr, company founder and CEO, addresses about 300 people who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and then celebration inside.

Canada’s largest fruit and vegetable processor chose to locate their U.S. headquarters in the Finger Lakes region thanks to Governor Cuomo’s emphasis on Upstate revitalization through the Finger Lakes Forward strategic plan and through other local support efforts. Empire State Development, provided up to $2 million in Excelsior tax credits in return for job commitments to move the project forward.

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “Pride Pak is a highly successful international company and their decision to grow its operations in New York State is a tribute to the concrete economic opportunities available here for companies looking to take their business to the next level. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has significantly improved the business climate, resulting in job creation in turn which fuels economic opportunities.”

The New York Power Authority also provided an allocation of low-cost hydropower to Pride Pak in return for job and capital investment commitments. The Town of Shelby also received a $750,000 award from the New York State Office of Community Renewal to assist Pride Pak.

James S. Rubin, Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal said, “HCR’s award of Community Development Block Grant funds will be used for machinery and equipment, and will create 80 jobs for working families. This is another example of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to revitalize the upstate economy and encourage innovative businesses like Pride Pak to expand operations in New York.”

State Senator Rob Ortt said, “The new Pride Pak facility is an impressive addition to Orleans County and the entire region. Pride Pak has been making a positive impact on communities, employees and consumers in Canada for over 20 years and we are happy they chose to make Medina and Orleans County their home in the U.S.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley said, “I am passionate about local economic development and ushering in new businesses to our area, and it is exciting to see such a large company that directly supports Western New York’s agriculture industry begin operation here in my Assembly District. Pride Pak is an amazing company with a great reputation and its development aims to bring hundreds of jobs, fresh produce to support our local retail industry, and recycled material for our farmers. I am proud to have worked with New York State Economic Development and local leaders to see this project through, and I have faith that investments like these will attract other businesses to set up and expand in our state.”

Dave Callard, Chairman of the Orleans County Legislature said, “All of us here in Orleans County are so very excited about the commitment being made by Pride Pak and their beautiful newly constructed facility.  Our team continues to work very hard to develop the kind of business friendly environment needed to attract great companies like Pride Pak to our community.  This is an excellent opportunity for a wonderful long term partnership with Mr. Karr and his team.”

Mike Sidari, Mayor of the Village of Medina said, “Pride Pak has already become an extraordinary corporate citizen and valued member of our community. We take pride in the fact that the Village of Medina is always welcoming to new businesses and that Pride Pak has chosen Medina for its new corporate headquarters in the United States.”

Pride Pak is currently accepting job applications and those interested can apply directly at Pride Pak or through the Orleans Center for Workforce Development in Orleans County.

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New sign urges Albion to ‘Believe’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 November 2016 at 7:23 pm

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Photo by Colin Downey: Bill Downey of Downey Signs in Albion installs a new 4-by-10-foot sign in downtown Albion this afternoon. The sign is on the Gurney’s Olde Coach Inn at 35 North Main St.

The Albion Betterment Committee pushed for the sign and paid for the project.

The Betterment Committee wanted to spruce up a spot where there was a faded sign and promote an optimistic message about Albion. The group also wanted the the sign to tie in with its efforts for a Charles Howard memorial in downtown Albion. Howard was the founder of a Santa Claus School and Christmas Park in Albion. The Betterment Committee is trying to raise funds for that project, which would include a bronze statue of Santa and perhaps Howard together.

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Photo by Tom Rivers: Here is how the Gurney building looked in September. The sign advertised the Olde Coach Inn.

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Photos by Marsha Rivers: Downey and his grandson Colin put up the new sign this afternoon. The message of the sign is open to interpretation by each person. It may mean to believe in themselves, Albion, Santa, God, or maybe even in the Buffalo Bills making the playoffs.

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This is the third sign the Betterment Committee has erected in Albion in the past 12 months. Last December it had a sign put up on Route 98 noting Albion as the home of Charles Howard, the Santa School founder. The Betterment Committee also replaced the sign this year on the former Santa Claus School at the corner of Route 31 and Gaines Basin Road.

For more on the Albion Betterment Committee, click here.

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Orleans ranks last in visitor spending among all counties in NY

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 November 2016 at 8:29 am
Photo by Tom Rivers: The St. Mary’s Archer’s Club on the Oak Orchard River in Carlton attracts many out-of-state fishermen each fall. This group is pictured on Oct. 29, 2015. Fishing is the county's leading tourism draw, accounting for about half of the $24 million total.

Photo by Tom Rivers: The St. Mary’s Archer’s Club on the Oak Orchard River in Carlton attracts many out-of-state fishermen each fall. This group is pictured on Oct. 29, 2015. Fishing is the county’s leading tourism draw, accounting for about half of the $24 million total.

ALBION – Tourism is big business in New York State, generating $63.1 billion in visitor spending in 2015.

Many counties, including some small ones, bring in well over $100 million in tourism revenue. But no county brings in less than Orleans, which totaled $24.421 million in visitor spending in 2015. That is dead-last among the 62 counties in New York State, and about $4 million less than the 61st-ranked county, Chenango, at $28.455 million, according to a report by Tourism Economics and Empire State Development.

Orleans County certainly has assets with Lake Ontario, the Erie Canal, numerous historical sites and community festivals and events.

The county is hurt by not having an established chain hotel. That limits many visitors to day trips where they don’t stay overnight, minimizing some of their economic impact.

The Orleans Economic Development Agency has been reaching out to hotel providers, and is hopeful a new chain, Cobblestone Inn and Suites, will commit to a site in Medina. The EDA commissioned a study by Interim Hospitality Consultants, and that report concluded Medina could support a small hotel with 41 to 49 rooms.

Jim Whipple, the chief executive officer of the Orleans EDA, said investors haven’t committed to the Medina project yet. The EDA razed a house next to the new Pride Pak on Maple Ridge Road and installed infrastructure to make the site more attractive for developers.

Batavia is home to several chain hotels, including the Quality Inn & Suites. Genesee County has about 1,000 hotel rooms.

Batavia is home to several chain hotels, including the Quality Inn & Suites. Genesee County has about 1,000 hotel rooms.

If a chain hotel comes to Orleans it would help capture more visitor spending, and also boost the “bed tax” leading to more money for marketing the county.

The bed tax raises about $35,000 annually to promote tourism in Orleans County. That 4 percent tax is charged by motels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals and lodges.

In neighboring Genesee County, there are nearly 1,000 hotel rooms along the Thruway corridor. They generate more than $400,000 a year to promote tourism, drawing more visitor spending to Genesee, where direct tourism spending totaled $93.360 million in 2015.

The counties are similar in size: Orleans County had 42,883 residents in 2010 while Genesee counted 60,079. Chenango, which is just above Orleans in tourism impact, had 50,478 people in 2010. Chenango, in its tourism promotions, boasts of an “idyllic rural quality lifestyle.”

Orleans County, in its promotions, urges visitors to: “Discover the charm as you cruise along our country byways and scenic waterways while experiencing our rich history, rural culture and exhilarating outdoor fun. Don’t forget to stop in at our bountiful farm markets, charming gift shops and unique museums along the Erie Canal, Historic Ridge Road and the Seaway Trail.” (Click here to see the county’s tourism website.)

Orleans has made one recent change to boost its focus on tourism. For many years, tourism was part of the Planning Department. The county now contracts with Lynne Menz for tourism services. She runs the tourism website, and also handles print promotions for the county. (Many other counties, such as Genesee, contract with the Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism, and the tourism officials work out of the Chamber. In Orleans, Menz works out of the County Administration Building.)

The county also secured a grant for a study of assets and opportunities along the 25 miles of Lake Ontario shoreline in the towns of Yates, Carlton and Kendall. Representatives from those three towns and the county are working to update a plan to better capitalize on the lake.

“I think Lake Ontario could be a bigger driver,” said David Callard, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature. “We’re looking to enhance it.”

The state is also planning to pave some sections of the Lake Ontario State Parkway, from Route 237 in Kendall headed east. The deteriorated condition of the Parkway has discouraged many motorists, especially those with RVs, from using the road.

Fishing is the county’s leading tourism draw, accounting for about $12 million in direct visitor spending or about half of the county’s total tourism spending. Callard thinks fishing could bring in more money, especially with amenities in place for wives and children of many of the anglers.

Fourth-graders from School No. 2 in Rochester visit the Urger, a historic tugboat, on Oct. 7, 2015 when the vessel was in Holley.

Fourth-graders from School No. 2 in Rochester visit the Urger, a historic tugboat, on Oct. 7, 2015 when the vessel was in Holley.

Callard would also like to see the canal communities work together to develop a comprehensive plan for enticing more visitors to Medina, Albion, Holley and the canal hamlets.

“We have to do smelting bigger and better to attract people,” he said.

Here are how the counties rank in direct visitor spending, from lowest to highest:

• Orleans, $24.421 million; Chenango, $28.455 million; Tioga, $29.149 million; Washington, $29,935 million; Schuyler, $37.546 million; Montgomery, $39.202;

• Lewis, $39.958 million; Wayne, $40.785 million; Wyoming, $41.303 million; Livingston, $48.608 million; Seneca, $49.120 million; Schoharie, $53.807 million;

• Fulton, $54.170 million; Putnam, $59.052 million; Allegany, $61.822; Yates, $65.818 million; Cortland, $70.896 million; Hamilton, $75.688 million;

• Franklin, $82.680 million; Madison, $84.479 million; Genesee, $93.360 million; Chemung, $93.702 million; Cayuga, $97.927 million; Delaware, $98.091 million;

• Herkimer, $108.161 million; Saint Lawrence, $118.255 million; Rensselaer, $122.467 million; Clinton, $128.658 million; Steuben, $128.887 million; Columbia, $130.595 million;

• Oswego, $136.773 million; Greene, $152.087 million; Otsego, $184.976 million; Tompkins, $195.406 million; Ontario, $201.379 million; Schenectady, $208.939 million;

• Cattaraugus, $218.672 million; Jefferson, $242.190 million; Chautauqua, $258.949 million; Richmond, $261.126 million; Broome, $284.581 million; Sullivan, $388.272 million;

• Rockland, $405.781 million; Essex, $406.087 million; Orange, $458.223 million; Saratoga, $497.239 million; Dutchess, $528.333 million; Ulster, $532.727 million;

• Warren, $570.886 million; Niagara, $608.837 million; Onondaga, $854.735 million; Bronx, $857.926 million; Albany, $968.276 million; Monroe, $1.005 billion;

• Oneida, $1.308 billion; Erie, $1.676 billion; Westchester, $1.793 billion; Kings, $1.975 billion; Nassau, $2.532 billion; Suffolk, $2.951 billion; Queens, $8.308 billion; New York, $29.968 billion.

• $63.076 billion state-wide.

Source: Tourism Economics and Empire State Development

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Dobbins pushing $5 million expansion in Lyndonville

File photo by Tom Rivers: Ward Dobbins is pictured inside H.H. Dobbins in this photo from September. Dobbins is working on a 10,300-square-foot expansion to accommodate a larger packing line.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 November 2016 at 8:21 am

LYNDONVILLE – A business that packs about 1 million bushels of apple each year is moving ahead with a $5 million expansion that will include a new packing line with the latest technology.

H.H. Dobbins (Empire Fruit LLC) will put a 10,300-square-foot addition on its complex at 129 West Ave. The added space will accommodate a new state-of-art packing line that can detect internal and external blemishes on fruit.

Right now, Dobbins has workers on the packing lines that sort fruit that doesn’t quite look perfect. The new packing line will have a defect sorter that quickly scans for exterior imperfections in fruit. Another big advantage to the technology will be seeing problems inside the fruit, such as water coring, that aren’t detectable to the human eye, Ward Dobbins, the company owner and chief executive officer, said in an interview in September. (Orleans Hub featured him in article in September because he was honored by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.)

Dobbins said the new line won’t displace workers. They will instead be packing boxes and bags of fruit. The new line will increase the volume from 140 bushels packed per hour to 900 bushels, Dobbins said.

The expansion project is estimated to cost $5 million for the new equipment, machinery, fixtures and furnishings, as well as construction of the new space.

The Orleans Economic Development Agency has approved a sales tax abatement that will save H.H. Dobbins $220,864 in sales tax. That is an exemption on the 8 percent tax on an estimated $2,760,800 in taxable purchases of equipment and materials. The EDA board of directors approved the incentive on Nov. 10.

That is the only tax break Dobbins will receive from the EDA for the project. The company isn’t pursuing a property tax discount with the project.

This is the second recent significant expansion and investment by Dobbins. The business last year opened a new 26,240-square-foot controlled atmosphere storage building on Millers Road, about 2 miles from the main packing house on West Avenue.

That $3.4 million project boosted Dobbins’ on-site storage by 300,000 bushels of apples. The CA also acts to put apples “to sleep,” allowing them to be stored for many months, sometimes up to a year.

H.H. Dobbins was started in 1905 and under the leadership of the fourth-generation owner, Ward Dobbins.

Dobbins is working to have the new packing line in production by next harvest season, EDA officials said.

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Tax credits are critical to restoring old Holley school

Photos by Tom Rivers: Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, addresses a crowd this morning outside the former Holley High School. Leenhouts wants to redevelop the site into senior apartments and the village offices.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 11 November 2016 at 1:59 pm

HOLLEY – Calling it the lynch-pin to re-development of the old Holley High School, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer this morning announced that he will work to secure $3.7 million in housing and historic preservation tax credits for developers of the proposed Holley Gardens, a $17 million redevelopment project.

Schumer spoke in front of the school located in the center of the Village of Holley, and called the plan to create 41 mixed-income apartments for seniors, new village office space, and restore the auditorium for public events, “a labor of love,” by developer Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing.

“He is doing this because he cares,” Schumer said.

Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer want to see the old Holley school repurposed for housing and offices. Leenhouts said in his 49 years of real estate development he has never had a community work so hard to make a project a reality as the redevelopment of the old school.

Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer want to see the old Holley school repurposed for housing and offices. Leenhouts said in his 49 years of real estate development he has never had a community work so hard to make a project a reality as the redevelopment of the old school.

Schumer called the old school, “a beautiful, historic building in a prime location which has needed some real TLC for the last 30 years.”

The school was built in 1931 and closed in 1975. It was used by Liftec Manfacturing until the company went bankrupt about two decades ago.

Schumer said the redevelopment to senior housing and village office space would, “take some elbow grease, but I think we are up to the challenge.”

The senator noted the project now needs a federal investment and is urging the National Park Service and its partner agency, the NYS Office of Historic Preservation, to approve $3 million in federal Historic Tax Credits.

Additionally, Senator Schumer is urging the NYS Department of Homes and Community Renewal to award $700,000 in federal Low Income Tax Credits that the state receives from the U.S. Treasury Department to assist developers.

Developer Nelson Leenhouts said his company is honored to have the opportunity to restore and transform the school.  “We have been in business a long time and we have never been so welcomed with such open arms,” he said of the Village of Holley and Orleans County.  “We look forward to providing housing for seniors here.  The location is spectacular.”

Schumer said the tax credits will leverage $7.1 million in private investment as part of the overall $17 million redevelopment plan.  The project is expected to create 64 construction jobs during the 15-month construction period and two full-time jobs after construction.

Local and county officials attended the announcement including Village Trustee Kevin Lynch, Orleans County Legislature Chairman Dave Callard and County Legislator John DeFillipps.  Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty introduced the senator and thanked local officials including Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Senator Schumer for their efforts on behalf of the project.

Leenhouts of Home Leasing said he would like assurance on the tax credits in December, so the company can begin preparing for construction to start late next year.

“We are working hard together,” Mayor Sorochty noted.  “There is a huge spirit of cooperation. Senator Schumer has been a huge advocate of the project and the Village of Holley.”

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer meets with local officials and people working on the redevelopment of the old Holley High School today on the front lawn and steps of the historic school. Schumer said the tax credits for reviving historic properties can make the projects financially viable, and return important properties as community assets.

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