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Orleans County

Orleans Youth Board wants to honor outstanding youth

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 March 2017 at 9:46 am

2 adults also will be recognized for service to kids

ALBION – The Orleans County Youth Bureau seeks nominations of outstanding youths, and also adults who volunteer and work in careers on behalf of youths.

The nominations are due March 31, and the award-winners will be recognized on May 11 during the 35th annual Youth Recognition Banquet.

The Youth Bureau wants to recognize youths for community service or for their “extraordinary role” within their families. Examples of eligible youth award winners might be someone who helps developmentally disabled students at school, serving as a tutor or volunteer “hugger” at the Special Olympics. The Youth Bureau also has recognized youths for part-time jobs after school to help their family pay the bills.

The Youth Bureau wants to recognize community service where school credit isn’t given. Nominees must live in Orleans County and be ages 14 to 21.

Nomination forms are on the Youth Bureau website. Click here for more information.

The Helen R. Brinsmaid Memorial Youth Worker Award goes to a paid professional who works with youths, including administrators, caseworkers, counselors, school personnel, juvenile justice workers and others that work with youth and families.

The Eileen Heye Adult Volunteer Award goes to an adult volunteer who is a role model for youths and gives of his or her time to better the life of a child.

For more information contact the Youth Bureau at 585-344-3960.

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Vote today on health care bill in Congress, with Cuomo predicting doom if it passes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 March 2017 at 9:46 am

County Legislature, Congressman Collins say it would be big cut in property taxes

Today is the big vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a new health care plan backed by President Donald Trump and many Republicans in Congress.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been adamantly opposing the plan, saying it will result in a $7 billion hit to the state.

He also said reduced funding to hospitals will decimate the healthcare system. Medina Memorial Hospital would face $569,762 in cuts with the new Trump-backed healthcare plan, Cuomo said, citing analysis by the New York State Department of Health.

The healthcare proposal includes an amendment from Congressman Chris Collins that would relieve upstate counties from paying towards Medicaid, shifting about $2.3 billion to the state.

David Callard

The Orleans County Legislature voted unanimously to support the “Collins Amendment” in the American Health Care Act on Wednesday, saying it would provide significant tax relief, cutting the county tax rate in half.

“This would be a tremendous boost to the counties,” said Legislature Chairman David Callard. “We appreciate the initiative of our congressman.”

Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer, said counties have been opposing the local contribution to Medicaid for a half century. Nesbitt noted nearly all states don’t require a local share for Medicaid.

“This is significant and something after 50 years of fighting we’d be glad to support,” Nesbitt said during Wednesday’s Legislature meeting.

Cuomo has issued several press releases in recent days, warning of dire consequences to hospitals, and tax hikes in the state.

“The radical conservative ideology in Washington has declared war on New York with legislation that will devastate hospitals across the state and hurt New Yorkers,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “These massive cuts will cripple our hospitals and ravage the health care services on which New Yorkers rely, with $7.8 million in cuts to hospitals in the 27th District alone. I urge members of the community to call their member of Congress and demand that they vote ‘no’ on this unconscionable piece of legislation.”

Callard said he believes the state can absorb the tax shift in Medicaid by reducing some of the benefits in the $60 billion annual Medicaid program.

Collins also urged Cuomo to rein in some of Medicaid’s costs. Collins faulted Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul for their resistance to the health care plan that would cut property taxes.

“Governor Cuomo and his sidekick are using doomsday predictions to scare everyday New Yorkers into allowing Albany to continue taxing them to death,” Collins said in a statement. “It’s absolutely disgusting the Governor would threaten the middle class with a tax increase, while holding a $14 billion taxpayer funded slush fund in his back pocket. As I have said before, if this Governor can’t find 1.5% to save in his budget, I am more than willing to find it for him.”

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley also chastised Cuomo for his pushback on the Medicaid funding shift.

“Gov. Cuomo’s shameless threat to New York families is absolutely offensive,” Hawley said. “New York State needs to join the rest of the nation and pay for Medicaid instead of leveraging the program on the backs of homeowners and local governments. We have an obligation to cover our most vulnerable but not in a ‘cradle to grave’ fashion by which our state offers more ‘optional’ benefits than any other state which increases the cost dramatically. We should be encouraging people and businesses to come here for the job opportunities and not because we promise these taxpayer-funded handouts.”

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County Legislature to vote today on resolution backing Collins’ plan to shift local Medicaid costs to state

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 March 2017 at 1:37 pm

Orleans pays $8.5 million annually to Medicaid program, accounting for about half of county tax burden

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature is expected to vote today in support of the “Collins Amendment,” a recent push by Congressman Chris Collins (R-Clarence) in the proposed new healthcare law that would shift the county share of Medicaid costs in New York to the state.

The move would save upstate counties about $2.3 billion, and would spare Orleans County $8,542,626, which is what the county currently pays towards Medicaid. That represents 52.3 percent of the county’s $16,322,820 tax levy, according to the New York Association of Counties, which supports the push to rid the counties of paying towards Medicaid.

New York is unusual is requiring counties to help fund Medicaid, a health insurance program for poor residents. The New York counties and New York City pay $7.5 billion to the program each year. In the other 49 states, only $2.2 billion is contributed by local governments for Medicaid.

“Year after year, Albany’s leadership relies on counties to foot the bill for New York State’s out-of-control Medicaid costs,” Congressman Collins said in a statement. “Enough is enough. This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families.

The Collins amendment would spare upstate counties from paying towards Medicaid, but not New York City, where taxpayers there contribute about $5 billion annually towards Medicaid.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would struggle to pick up the increase from the counties, and hospitals, many already struggling to survive financially, would be forced to close with reduced revenue as part of President Donald Trump’s healthcare bill, called the American Health Care Act.

Cuomo faulted Collins and the Trump administration for pushing the cost shift as a move to secure more votes from upstate Republican lawmakers.

‘This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families.’ – Congressman Chris Collins

Tom Reed, a Republican congressman for the Southern Tier, said the Collins amendment convinced him to vote in favor of the Trump healthcare plan. Reed, in a news release on Tuesday, said the amendment would be a big tax lift in upstate.

“It’s time for the state to get its act together and quit putting the burden on upstate families and businesses,” Reed said in a statement.

Besides Reed and Collins, other Republicans in New York’s GOP congressional delegation have backed the “Medicaid Local Share Limitation” proposal, including John Faso (NY-19), Claudia Tenney (NY-22) and Elise Stefanik (NY-21).

The County Legislature’s resolution states that property taxes are high in upstate, and eliminating the local share for Medicaid would provide much needed local tax relief.

“Unfunded mandates such as Medicaid make up the largest portion of our county budget placing immense pressure on our ability to provide the services our residents expect and deserve at a reasonable cost,” the resolution states. “This amendment will allow us to be able to provide much needed tax relief to our constituents and provide more funds to improving our aging infrastructure.”

The Legislature meets at 4:30 p.m. today in the legislative chamber at the County Clerks’ Building, 3 South Main St.

Currently, New York State ranks second highest in the nation in both Medicaid spending per year ($60 billion) and spending per Medicaid beneficiary (44 percent more than the national average), according to Collins.

In addition, while New York State accounts for only 6 percent of the national population, New York accounts for 11 percent of total Medicaid spending. The outsized portion of the Medicaid burden counties are being forced to pay is creating a significant financial hardship, Collins said.

Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, said in a statement on Tuesday that Collins should have the federal government pick up the difference from the counties, not the state. She called Collins, “Mr. Trump’s bag man,” using the amendment to get votes for an unpopular health care proposal.

“If Mr. Collins wants to buy votes let the federal government pick up the share rather that the people of New York,” Hochul said. “Local county taxes or state taxes New Yorkers still pay. One way or another, it is still coming out of New York taxpayers’ pockets.  Let Mr. Collins help New York State and his district by having the federal government pay – that is why he is in Washington. He could easily help pay by reducing the $150 billion tax cut to the richest 1 percent of Americans or buying one less tank from Trump’s record defense budget. Why make the people of his district pay for his politics. We do know Mr. Collins is adept at corrupt financial schemes but this is the ultimate insider trading scam.”

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Orleans reduces unemployment rate in January compared to 12 months earlier

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 March 2017 at 10:51 am

The unemployment rate in Orleans County was 6.7 percent in January, which was down slightly from the 6.9 percent in January 2016.

The county actually had about 300 fewer people working in January compared to January 2016 – down from 16,700 the previous January to 16,400. Despite fewer people working, the unemployment rate went down because there were about 100 fewer people on unemployment, about 1,200 total, according to state Department of Labor data.

The DOL reports the state’s private sector job count increased by 123,600 during the 12 months to 8,035,600. The state’s unemployment rate of 5.0 percent was down from 5.3 percent in January 2016. Nationally, the rate was 5.1 percent in January, a decrease from 5.3 percent in January 2016.

Several counties topped a 7 percent rate for unemployment in January, including nearby Niagara at 7.1 percent. Other counties near Orleans have lower unemployment rates: Monroe, 5.0; Erie, 5.5; Genesee, 5.8; and Livingston, 5.8.

Wyoming County had the highest rate of the GLOW counties at 7.3 percent unemployment in January.

Nassau County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 4.1 percent and Hamilton was the highest at 9.4 percent.

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GO ART! approves grants to support many arts and cultural events in Orleans, Genesee

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 March 2017 at 8:40 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: Bill McDonald and his wife Kay play in Medina from a boat in this photo from July 2015. They are part of the Old Hippies band which is calling itself “The Traveling Towpath Troubadours” for a canal concert series. The band travels to canal towns by boat.

The Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council has announced funding for many cultural programs in the two counties. The $63,084 was presented on March 2 to 24 grant recipients in Orleans and Genesee.

GO Art! has now administered the New York State Council on the Arts’ Decentralization Regrant Program for 30 years

The grant recipients for 2017 include:

Orleans County

• The Arc of Genesee Orleans, sponsored by Orleans County Chamber of Commerce, (Open Mic & Art Show) – $2,375

• Lee-Whedon Memorial Library (“Finally Fridays!”) – $2,800

• Lyndonville Lions Club (Music Fun in the summer in Lyndonville) – $3,800

• Orleans County Chamber of Commerce (Traveling Towpath Troubadours: Bicentennial  Celebration of the Erie Canal) – $5,000

• Village of Albion (Concerts on the Canal) – $2,673

• Village of Holley (Concerts at  Canal Park) – $1,000

• World Life Institute Inc. (Voices from Earth: Pottery Experience in Orleans County) – $4,908

• Yates Community Library (More Than Just Books ) – $4,400

The Who Dats, including guitarist Marty Hobbs, played to a big crowd by canal in Albion in June 2016.

Genesee County

• The Arc of Genesee Orleans (Art Show and Film Festival) – $2,394

• Batavia Concert Band (2017 Summer Concert Series) –$4,250

• Batavia Players (Summer Musical) –$1,750

• Byron-Bergen Public Library (Art and Music in the Community) – $2,250

• Genesee Chorale (Genesee Chorale 2017 Season) –$4,000

• Batavia Players (Spring After School Program) –$1,427

• Jill Pettigrew (NYS School for the Blind 150th Anniversary Permanent Ceramic Tie Mural) – $3,559

• Ted Canning sponsored by Genesee Symphony Orchestra (Steel Band Residency) – $1,725

• David Burke (Byron-Bergen Public Library Exterior Mural) – $2,500

“If you enjoyed any of the events or public art work created by the recipients, please note that the Decentralization Grant Program (DEC) is probably in danger of being cut or disseminated by Federal Budget cuts that is being proposed,” said Gregory Hallock, assistant director for GO Art! “If you care about art and culture in your life at the grass roots level, let your legislators know that we need funding to continue to promote art and culture in our community.”

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State legislators push for raises for direct care workers who serve people with disabilities

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 March 2017 at 10:57 am

‘We’re having a staffing crisis because we’re not funded to pay them more than a fast food worker.’ Donna Saskowski, executive director of the Arc of Genesee Orleans

The State Senate and Assembly have both put in an additional $45 million in the state budget for pay increases for direct care workers for people with disabilities.

The raises are needed to stabilize the workforces for many agencies that serve people with disabilities, said Donna Saskowski, executive director of the newly merged Arc of Genesee Orleans.

Donna Saskowski

“We’re having a staffing crisis because we’re not funded to pay them more than a fast food worker,” Saskowski said.

The ARC chapters and other agencies that serve people with disabilities receive much of their funding from the state. Saskowski said state increases have lagged in recent years, making it difficult for the agencies to state competitive with their wages.

The ARC chapters are losing some workers to fast food, department stores and other industries, sometimes for entry level positions. That doesn’t seem right to Saskowski, who said her employees are making less money despite the need for more training and responsibility in their direct care jobs.

She is hopeful Gov. Andrew Cuomo will keep the additional $45 million in the budget.

The Arc of Genesee Orleans has more than 500 employees. Satkowski said many of them are so dedicated to the agency they have picked up second jobs so they can continue to serve people with disabilities. The pay increase would be a big boost for the workers and their familes, she said.

State Senator Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) is chairman of the Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. He announced on Thursday the Senate Republican Majority’s 2017-18 budget plan includes $45 million to support wage increases for direct care professionals.

“This is a tremendous step on an issue that is very dear to me – one that we have been working on diligently over the past year,” he said. “Senate Republicans are standing shoulder to shoulder with direct care professionals, individuals in the disability community, and nonprofit agencies who care for our most vulnerable population across the state. These employees deserve a fair living wage, and we will continue to fight for them in our state capital. This goes beyond the state’s fiscal obligation to these providers – it’s a moral imperative to help those most in need and we cannot leave them behind.”

Direct care professionals provide critical state services for individuals with autism, serious brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental and intellectual disabilities, Ortt said.

Currently, direct service professionals earn an average of $10-$13 per hour – just above the state’s minimum wage. To adequately meet the needs of direct care workers, the proposal provides $45 million annually to help ensure competitive salaries while reducing turnover rates and overtime costs for the nonprofits, and recruit qualified staff for the difficult work. Without new funding for direct care workers, the salary gap with minimum wage workers will lead to increased vacancies in the field as qualified individuals seek less strenuous work, such as in the fast food industry, Ortt said.

“We have lost people to better paying jobs,” Saskowski said today. “We’re looking for a fair wage.”

A final state budget is expected to be adopted by April 1.

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Counties like Collins’ push to relieve locals of paying towards Medicaid

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 March 2017 at 11:09 am

Medicaid, a health insurance program for poor residents, accounts for about half of the county tax levy

Chris Collins

Leaders from counties in New York are excited by a proposal by Congressman Chris Collins that would no longer require a local contribution to cover the Medicaid program.

In Orleans County that would cut the county property tax in half, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer.

About half of the $16.7 million in county taxes goes towards Medicaid, a health insurance program for poor and disabled residents.

The county’s current tax rate is $9.86 per $1,000 of assessed property in 2017. If the state took over the county share of Medicaid, the county tax rate could be reduced to about $5. That would save a property owner with an $80,000 house about $400 a year.

Collins, a former county executive in Erie County, wants to see counties in New York freed from paying towards Medicaid, with that cost picked up the state.

Collins is proposing that change as part of a Republican push to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Kathy Hochul

Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor who lost a re-election bid for Congress to Collins, has fired back at Collins’ proposal, saying it would be costly for the state.

The counties used to pay 25 percent of Medicaid’s cost in New York. The state has capped the county share, which is now about 13 percent, Hochul said.

The state also has allowed counties to collect an extra penny in sales tax to help pay for Medicaid.

In addition to shifting $2.3 billion from county share to the state, the Republican plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act would result in lost federal funds and jeopardize hospitals, Hochul said.

“This ill-conceived plan would cost his home state approximately $2.3 billion,” Hochul said in a statement last Friday to the media. “Unbelievably, that’s on top of the cost of the Republican Affordable Care Act repeal plan – another $2.4 billion. Translation: Rep. Collins is proposing a tax increase on New Yorkers to the tune of $4.7 billion. This one-two punch would destroy all the hard work the Governor and Legislature have accomplished in the last six years to lower taxes across the board and achieve the lowest spending increases in recorded history. New Yorkers will be at risk of losing their healthcare, hospitals will be forced to lay off workers, and our vulnerable elderly will find it much harder to afford nursing home care.”

Few states require counties to pay towards Medicaid. It is a prime factor in New York’s higher property taxes, compared to most states, according to the New York State Association of Counties.

NYSAC issued its own response to the Collins proposal, and was critical of Hochul’s rebuke of the plan.

“The federal legislation introduced by Congressman Collins attempts to do what the State has been politically unwilling or unable to do,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “It provides real mandate relief for counties, so that counties can begin to reduce property taxes in the State.”

County leaders agree that property taxes are too high in New York, especially compared to other states, Acquario said.

The counties in New York contribute $7.5 billion to Medicaid, he said. In most states, the federal and state governments split the cost.

“We are disappointed that the State’s Lt. Governor, who has been a friend to counties, would oppose an action that would reduce property taxes and take a position against the state’s county government partners,” Acquario said. “The Governor’s administration can’t have it both ways. They cannot keep shifting costs to counties and force us to continue paying for their programs on the hand, and then demand lower property taxes on the other.”

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National Grid makes progress in restoring power in Orleans

Photo courtesy of Wayne Litchfield: Trucks are lined up on West Avenue in Medina last night.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 March 2017 at 9:08 am

2,500 remain without electricity in county

National Grid, which has brought in numerous crews from outside the area, made progress since last night in restoring power to Orleans County and Western New York.

There were about 6,000 National Grid customers without power in Orleans County last evening. That number has been reduced to 2,576 as of 8:45 a.m. today.

Orleans County currently has the most National Grid customers without power. Monroe has 1,985 and Genesee, 1,383. National Grid reported there remain 6,573 customers without power in upstate. After the wind storm on Wednesday, the company lost power to 140,000 customers.

In Orleans, Shelby has been restored and outages remain in the following towns (with estimated time of restoration later today): Albion, 60 customers, 10 p.m.; Barre, 229 customers, 7 p.m.; Carlton, 511, 2 p.m.; Clarendon, 194, 10 p.m.; Gaines, 110, 2 p.m.; Kendall, 160, 10 p.m.; Murray, 309, 10 p.m.; Ridgeway, 175, 7 p.m.; and Yates, 414, 2 p.m.

The Red Cross has a shelter at the Kendall Town Hall, 1873 Kendall Rd. No one stayed overnight in the shelter last night.

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Genesee, Orleans officials meet to discuss possibility of shared jail

Staff Reports Posted 9 March 2017 at 4:56 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Orleans County Jail was built in the early 1970s and has a capacity for 82 inmates.

County leaders from Genesee and Orleans counties met this afternoon in Batavia to discuss the merits of pursuing a regional jail facility.

The concept of a shared facility has been discussed informally in the past. But, this is the first time county leaders have met formally on the subject.

Genesee and Orleans Counties have a long and successful history of partnering to provide services including a cross jurisdictional sharing arrangement in the area of Public Health and Youth Bureaus which are considered fairly unique in New York State, county leaders said in a news release following the meeting on the jail.

“This is an initiative that we take very seriously,” said Orleans County Legislature Chairman Dave Callard. “Our long friendship with Genesee County provides an opportunity to have frank discussions and try extraordinary things for the mutual benefit of our taxpayers.”

The Orleans County Jail was built in two stages in the early 1970s. The county recently spent about $1.5 million in a series of improvements at the jail, which has a capacity for 82 inmates.

The Genesee County Jail was built in 1902-03 with an addition put on in 1985, boosting capacity to 97 inmates.

The Genesee County Jail was constructed in 1902-03 at 14 West Main St. The jail then had 10 to 15 cells. Genesee County put a brick addition on the jail in 1985. There is now capacity for 97 inmates.

The counties plan to apply for a state grant to hire a consultant to see if a shared jail has merit, said Chuck Nesbitt, Orleans County chief administrative officer.

All correctional institutions in New York State are regulated and overseen by the Commission on Corrections. Regional jails are widely used across the United States, but remain illegal in New York State, an obstacle that would require state legislation to overcome.

Current state law requires that each county in New York “maintain a county jail” (County Law, Section 217) and that each county sheriff shall have custody of the county jail.

County jails are funded almost entirely by local taxpayers.  When local jails find themselves with insufficient space to house the current inmate population, the facility must obtain a variance from Commission on Corrections or rely on boarding inmates out to other facilities at significant cost to the local taxpayer.

A possible first step is to apply to New York State for funding to study the concept of regionalizing including capacity, capital needs, governance, transportation, alternatives to incarceration and legal obstacles, the county leaders said in the news release.

Another logical step is to seek changes to the law from the State Legislature to overcome legal obstacles to a regional partnership.

“I’m excited that our talks have begun and that we all agree that we need to think ‘outside the box’ regarding a regional approach to our mutual jail issues,” said Ray Cianfrini, Genesee County Legislature chairman. “Orleans County has been a valuable partner in past joint ventures by merging our health departments and youth bureaus and we are confident we can work together again to the benefit of all involved.”

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Nearly 10,000 without power in Orleans County

Dave Ingerson shared this photo of a tree that was knocked down on Elm Street in Medina. Trees and wires have been taken down throughout the county today, resulting in numerous power outages.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 March 2017 at 3:52 pm

National Grid says power estimated to be restored at 3 p.m. on Thursday

Nearly 10,000 National Grid customers in Orleans County are without power, among the 103,672 National Grid customers who have lost electricity due to the high winds knocking down trees and wires in Upstate NY.

Orleans County has been hit hard by the wind with 9,802 of National Grid’s 18,221 customers without power, that’s more than half of the customers in Orleans County. National Grid said it expects power to be restored in Orleans at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Other nearby counties also have extensive power outages, including Genesee, 16,016 without electricity; Niagara, 24,135; Monroe, 8,752; and Erie, 8,445.

Bruce Landis shared this photo of downed wires on Johnny Cake Lane in Barre. A big tree fell down on that road.

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