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Orleans County

County Legislature approves 2018 budget with 2.5% percent tax increase

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt, up front at podium, goes over details in the county’s $69.8 million budget for 2018. The public hearing was Monday evening in the Orleans County Courthouse.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 December 2017 at 9:06 am

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature on Monday unanimously adopted a $69.8 million county budget for 2018 that increases taxes by 2.5 percent.

The tax rate will increase by 19 cents or 1.9 percent to $10.05 per $1,000 of assessed property.

The budget is just barely below the state-imposed tax cap due to carryover the county had in recent years when the budgets were below the tax cap.

The Legislature and county department heads had to work to trim the budget to get under the tax cap. Four full-time positions were eliminated.

The budget increases taxes by $421,913 to $17,150,323 in 2018. Three factors are the main culprits for the increase: $273,618 more in expenses at the jail, the loss of Seneca Gaming Pact revenue at $230,000 and an additional $202,845 in Medicaid spending.

“We struggled to get under the allowable growth because of the loss of revenue from the Senecas and with the increased costs in the jail and with Medicaid,” Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer, said during a public hearing on Monday at the County Courthouse.

The county faces added expenses at the jail partly due to state regulations against isolating or segregating some inmates, Nesbitt said.

The Senecas and the state are in a dispute other sharing revenue from the Seneca casinos with the state and local governments. The issue could be resolved soon, or it may be under contention for years.

“We’re hoping it’s coming back,” Nesbitt said about the funds. “But it’s iffy.”

The county will also be spending $96,234 more for animal control next year as the county assumes the financial and legal responsibility for the service throughout Orleans. The county will add an animal control vehicle and staff.

The budget also includes $4,523,550 for infrastructure, including culverts and bridges. Most of those costs will be funded by the state and federal government.

A projected growth in sales tax revenue helped contain the tax increase. The county is budgeting for $610,000 more in sales tax.

The budget keeps contributions to some agencies flat, while giving some an increase. The funded agencies include:

• Libraries, stay at $10,000

• Orleans Economic Development Agency, from $170,000 to $180,000

• Sportsman’s Federation, stays at $1,000

• Soil and Water Conservation District, from $80,000 to $92,500

• Cooperative Extension, stays at $240,000

• GO Art!, stays at $3,000

• The Cobblestone Museum, which sought a $7,500 county contribution, is out of the budget as a line item. However, the Legislature approved $3,000 for the museum from the county’s contingency account.

The fee for solid waste and recycling service will be $212 in 2018, which is up $5.

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Forum shows heartache with opioid crisis

Photos by Tom Rivers: Kim Lockwood, left, of Medina and Kathy Hodgins, director of treatment services for GCASA in Orleans County, address 100 people during a community forum on Thursday night about the opioid crisis. Several people in the county have lost their lives to fatal drug overdoses recently, including Courtney Kenward, 27, of Medina, who died on Nov. 12. She is pictured in the on the screen. The event was held at the Calvary Tabernacle Church, the former Medina High School.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2017 at 9:50 am

‘We are bleeding and we are dying. We have to stop these drugs from coming into our community.’ – District Attorney Joe Cardone

Tami Ashton speaks about her daughter’s addiction which ultimately claimed her life on June 27, 2016 at age 34.

MEDINA – There was anger, despair, frustration and hope – all expressed on Thursday night during a community forum about the opioid crisis in the community, which has caused several recent deaths and devastated many families.

“We’re done burying our kids,” said Tami Ashton. “We need to come together as a community and do something and the time is now.”

Her daughter, Christina Ashton, died from a drug overdose on June 27, 2016. Christina had been clean for 19 days. Her mother left the house for a 40-minute errand. When she came back, she found her daughter slumped over and not breathing in the backyard. Someone dropped off heroin and her daughter took all of it. Christina was 34.

“It’s killing our children and destroying our families,” said Ashton, who has become an addiction recovery coach with GCASA.

Thursday’s forum was attended by about 100 people and lasted more than 2 hours. Three people shared how their drug addictions escalated, nearly killing them.

Tiffany Neroni shared how drugs nearly killed her when she was a teen-ager. She has been sober now for a decade.

Tiffany Neroni was only 11 when she started smoking marijuana and taking pills with an older boyfriend. Drugs took over her life as a teen-ager. Her family had to send her away to get the treatment she needed, and not to be a danger to her siblings.

Neroni once was so high she didn’t come home for several days. A missing persons report was filed and she was found in Rochester.

She has been sober now for 10 years and wants to help others as a peer advocate, helping to ensure there is support after an addict completes treatment. Families of addicts also need services, Neroni said.

The addicts “have strengths and skill sets,” Neroni said. “They are valuable to the community.”

With treatment and support, they can be dedicated employees, business owners and other community assets.

A husband and wife from Niagara County shared their story of drug abuse that nearly claimed their lives. The husband needed to be revived with Narcan after a heroin overdose.

The husband was working in construction and injured his back. He took prescribed painkillers. When the prescription expired, he continued to use painkillers and turned to more hardcore drugs, including heroin, which were cheaper to buy than painkillers.

He committed crimes to pay for drugs, and was jailed for burglary and grand larceny. A drug diversion program through Niagara County, which required treatment, helped him to stop the cycle of drug use and crime.

District Attorney Joe Cardone said there is an epidemic of drug addiction in the community and country. “I’m angry about what’s happening in our society.”

His wife also had been using drugs for many years. She credited Vivitrol for helping her to stay clean. Vivitrol is a treatment that blocks the effects of opioid addiction. She hasn’t felt the triggers or pull to use drugs for more than a year.

District Attorney Joe Cardone has been the county’s top prosecutor for about 26 years. The drug crimes when he started tended to be misdemeanors with marijuana and recreational drugs.

Now, the county is facing an “epidemic” with heroin laced with fentanyl which is proving deadly, Cardone said.

“We are bleeding and we are dying,” the DA told the crowd. “We have to stop these drugs from coming into our community.”

He said the best way to fight the drug problem in the county is keep people from using it. He urged residents to let law enforcement know if people are selling drugs in the community. Cardone said he is frustrated with residents who blame others for “snitching” to law enforcement. Cardone said those tips to law enforcement can save lives and prevent misery in the community.

Doctors overprescribed painkillers for years which he said has fueled the national drug problem.

“Every small town in the United States has drugs,” he said. “We have to stop the flow of drugs into our country.”

Her praised the effort by GCASA and the Sheriff’s Office to have more treatment and services for residents battling drug addiction.

“Thank God for GCASA. Thank God for the sheriff and what he is doing,” Cardone said. “But it’s only a Band Aid.”

Kathy Hodgins, the director of treatment services for GCASA in Orleans County, said there are many services available in the county to assist people fighting addictions. She urged people to stop by GCASA in Albion, 249 East Ave., or call at (585) 589-0055.

Don Snyder, a chaplain for the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, wants the community to lift the stigma for people suffering from drug addictions.

The Sheriff’s Office has started a new CARES program that links people leaving the jail or treatment programs with volunteer mentors.

Don Snyder, a retired chaplain who worked in state prisons, is volunteering as a chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office and helping people go through the training to become a mentor or recovery coach.

Addicts recover “in different ways and at different speeds,” Snyder said. He urged the community to not attach a stigma to people fighting addictions.

Many have been pulled into drug abuse through painkillers, or from using drugs to mask other pain or childhood trauma.

Scott Wilson, the county’s jail superintendent, said the jail has stepped up its services for addicts connecting them to treatment programs, health insurance and Vivitrol. The county pushes to have a transition from the jail to GCASA or another treatment program.

Sheriff Randy Bower said Narcan has proven a life-saver in the county with 26 people saved from a fatal overdose this year in Orleans County. Those are just the calls to the 9-1-1 center. Bower said more Narcan doses may have been administered without a 9-1-1 call.

GCASA has been offering Narcan training and giving away the doses. On Thursday, there was a training at the end of the meeting and people were given Narcan nasal sprays.

“Narcan continues to make a difference in saving someone’s life,” said Diana Fulcomer, a prevention educator with GCASA.

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County looks to extend exemption for Cold War vets

Photo by Tom Rivers: David Kusmiersczak of Medina speaks in favor of keeping a tax exemption for Cold War veterans during a public hearing on Wednesday.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 November 2017 at 9:58 am

ALBION – Orleans County plans to keep a tax exemption for Cold War veterans. The exemption is due to expire on March 31, 2018.

The county enacted the exemption 10 years ago and it is due to sunset. The exemption is good for up to 10 percent or a maximum of $4,000 off the assessed value of a property.

With a county tax rate of about $10 per $1,000 of assessed property, the maximum exemption would save a Cold War veteran about $40 in county taxes.

There are about 100 veterans in the county currently receiving the exemption, said Dawn Allen, the county’s director of Real Property Tax Services Department.

Earl Schmidt, the director of the county’s Veterans Service Agency, has been pushing county officials to renew the exemption. During a public hearing on Wednesday, Schmidt said some counties may have a gap in the exemption due to it expiring. He doesn’t want that to happen in Orleans County.

“We are ahead of the game,” Schmidt said.

The exemption is good for eligible veterans who served in the military from Sept. 2, 1945 to Dec. 26, 1991.

The exemption also includes up to $20,000 off the assessment value for property owned by disabled veterans.

David Kusmiersczak of Medina urged the Legislature to continue the exemption.

“This will help all of us,” Kusmiersczak said during the public hearing.

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County approves extending motel tax for 3 more years

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 November 2017 at 8:33 am

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature extended the motel tax for another three years. The “occupancy tax” is an additional 4 percent tax at motels, bed and breakfasts, lodges and vacation rentals.

The revenue is used to support the county’s tourism department. The revenue from the motel tax has been growing in recent years, and the county expects more growth with a new hotel coming to Medina.

The county’s budgeted amount for the motel tax has grown from $27,500 in 2015, $33,000 in 2016, $39,000 in 2017 to $42,000 tentatively budgeted for 2018.

The county started a 4 percent tax on lodging in 2004. The extension lasts until Dec. 31, 2020.

BriMark Builders has proposed a new 58-room hotel, Cobblestone Inn and Suites, on Maple Ridge Road in Medina, next to Pride Pak and almost across the street from Genesee Community College. County officials expect the hotel to open late in 2018.

In other action during Wednesday’s meeting, the Legislature:

• Approved purchasing Taser equipment for six probation officers from Axon Enterprises Inc. The five-year agreement includes $1,762 the first year and $2,232 annually in years two through five for a total contract of $10,690 over five years.

• Approved a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance for $5,069 for matching funds to purchase bullet-proof vests for the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office.

• Approved an agreement between the Sheriff’s Office and Voiance Language Services of Tucson, AR. The company will provide over-the-phone translation and interpretation services at 75 cents per minute on an as needed basis for three years.

• Authorized using a $1,990 grant for the Sheriff’s Office to purchase child safety seats from the Evenflo Company.

• Authorized Dale Banker, director of the Emergency Management Office, to spend $186,099 in a State Homeland Security Grant from 2016 for the following: $161,358 for Harris Radio 800 MHz radio system equipment and software upgrades to Finger Lakes Communications; $11,550 for installation, programming and testing of both AES Encryption and Phase 2 TDMA to Radio Technologies; and $13,191 for annual hardware and software maintenance agreement at the Emergency Management Office.

• Authorized filling the vacant full-time director position for Weights and Measures.

• Appointed the following to two-year terms on the Oak Orchard Watershed Board: Ed Morgan, the chairman from the Soil and Water Conservation District; Guy Smith of Albion; Peter Smith of Albion; and Jon Peglow of Barre.

• Appointed the following to the County Planning Board: Kevin Johnson of Clarendon, Russell Bosch of Clarendon (alternate), Andrew Kludt of Kendall, Monica Seeler of Holley (alternate), Gary Daum of Yates and Ed Urbanik of Yates (alternate).

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Joanne Best named new county public defender

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 November 2017 at 7:48 pm

ALBION – Joanne Best was appointed today to be Orleans County’s next public defender.

Best of Clarendon will succeed Sanford Church, who is leaving the position to serve as the next county judge. Church has been the public defender for about two decades.

Best, who has a law office in Brockport, worked as an assistant public defender under Church.

She was appointed to a two-year term, effective Jan. 1, at an annual salary of $80,662.

John DeFilipps, the Legislature chairman, congratulated Best on the appointment and noted she will be the first woman to serve as the county’s public defender, representing low-income residents accused of crimes.

The office represents indigent defendants in Orleans County Court, thirteen local Justice Courts, and the New York State Parole System.

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County raises income eligibility for disabled residents to qualify for tax exemptions

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 November 2017 at 7:35 pm

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature voted today to raise the eligibility levels for disabled residents to qualify for reductions on their county taxes.

The county in 2007 passed a local law that capped the income levels at $11,399 for disabled residents to receive an exemption. (At $10,500 to $11,399 in annual income, a disabled resident was receiving a 5 percent discount on county taxes.)

Residents, in the amended law, can now have incomes up to $23,899 and receive a 5 percent exemption on their county taxes.

The previous law gave disabled residents a 50 percent discount on their taxes if their income was $3,000 or less annually. Disabled residents can now have incomes up to $15,500 annually and qualify for the 50 percent reduction.

The county has a sliding scale exemption rate, ranging from 50 percent off to 5 percent.

Here is the new schedule:

Annual Income             Tax Exemption

$15,500 or less              50%

$15,500.01-$16,499.99  45%

$16,500-$17,499.99       40%

$17,500-$18,499.99       35%

$18,500-$19,399.99       30%

$19,400-$20,299.99       25%

$20,300-$21,299.99       20%

$21,200-$22,099.99       15%

$22,100-$22,999.99       10%

$23,000-$23,899.99       5%

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Transportation facility taking shape in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 November 2017 at 9:55 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Workers from LeFrois Builders are shown on Tuesday on the roof of the new transportation facility in Albion for the Regional Transit Service.

The new $4 million facility is expected to ready in mid-2018. The 13,000-square-foot is located behind the Orleans County Highway Department on West Academy Street.

RTS has run a public transportation service in Orleans County since 2003. It has six buses in the county, and they are parked outside by the County Highway Department on West Academy Street.

The new facility will allow the buses to be parked inside. The building will include eight indoor bus bays, three bus maintenance bays, a vehicle wash bay, storage for parts and materials, administrative office space, a break room with kitchenette, and designated parking.

Federal aid funneled to the state will pay 80 percent or about $3.2 million of the cost, while the state pays 10 percent and RTS pays the other 10 percent, Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS, said during a June ground-breaking for the project.

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Hawley says 7 canal bridges in line for major repairs in Orleans

Photo by Tom Rivers: Motorists use the Bates Road canal bridge this afternoon to cross the Erie Canal in Medina.

Posted 27 November 2017 at 8:16 pm

Press Release, State Assemblyman Steve Hawley

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) proudly announced today that seven single-lane bridges that cross the Erie Canal throughout Orleans County will be receiving major repairs.

Bridges in the towns of Murray, Albion, Gaines, Medina and Ridgeway will undergo concrete and steel truss repair as well as painting in some circumstances.

“I am pleased to announce that a number of bridges throughout Orleans County will be rehabilitated,” Hawley said. “These bridges were built around the turn of the 20th Century and have carried countless residents closer to their destinations, but no one should have to hold their breath crossing them. Routine maintenance and construction of local infrastructure is paramount to ensure our community is safe and functioning at its best, and that starts with secure and reliable bridges.”

A list of bridge repairs are as follows: Bennetts Corners Road, Telegraph Road and Transit Road in Murray; Densmore Road in Albion; Gaines Basin Road in the Town of Gaines; Bates Road in the Village of Medina and Marshall Road in the Town of Ridgeway.

Construction is anticipated to begin this coming summer and expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

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County radio system upgrades reduce some scanner police channels

Posted 27 November 2017 at 12:22 pm

Changes will make Orleans County’s radio interoperable with Genesee’s

Press Release, Orleans County and Doherty Communications

ALBION – Contractors and programmers have been upgrading Orleans County’s multi-million dollar public safety/public service radio system for approximately six weeks.

One of the most noticeable results for county residents is the loss of some of the police channels to scanner listeners.

“While it was not the principal reason for the upgrades, one result is that four additional talk groups have been encrypted, which means that any radio receiving the signal will hear nothing if it doesn’t have the de-cryption key,” said Kevin Doherty, whose local company manages the Radio and the 911 systems under contract to the county. “That includes actual radio system users. If a public safety radio isn’t programmed with the key, the affected talk group is silent for that user.”

Doherty added that the main reason for the hardware, software and programming changes is to integrate the Orleans County system with Genesee County’s, which is also manufactured and installed by Harris Communications.

“The key word is inter-operability, that is, making it as easy as practical for radio users from different agencies and now different counties to talk to each other,” he said.

Federal grant guidelines are moving users like Orleans County to a common platform, one which encrypts police communications.

“After the updates, we had encryption on the system and took a few of the existing talk groups out of the scannable mode,” Doherty said. “Scanner listeners can still hear police dispatches, as well as fire and ambulance transmissions, highway and OTS.”

Grant guidelines also call for reducing the number of 911 and dispatch centers, which Orleans County did in the early 1990’s, consolidating Medina’s 911 answering point into the county’s. Orleans County was also an early adopter of inter-operability within the county when the first, EF Johnson trunking radio system was installed at about the same time.

Every radio user had the opportunity to connect with every other user through template programming. Now, the county will permanently be in a network with Genesee County to provide the same interoperable functions. Work is being performed through a grant received by Genesee County from New York State’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and is anticipated to be completed by year’s end. Sharing those resources will result in better coverage of fringe zones in each county, Doherty said.

Further plans are in process for a similar result through different technologies with Monroe County. Those changes, when adopted, are projected to improve radio system connectivity in the Village of Holley and Orleans County’s east side.

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Unemployment numbers mostly unchanged from year ago in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 November 2017 at 8:42 am

The unemployment rate in Orleans County for October was 5.2 percent, which was slightly higher than the 5.1 percent in October 2016, according to data from the New York State Department of Labor.

The DOL reports that there were 16,700 working in Orleans in both October 2016 and 2017. There were also 900 people on unemployment during that time. (The DOL rounds its numbers to the nearest hundred in its reports.)

While the unemployment rate in Orleans slightly increased, the rate dropped in New York State from 4.8 to 4.6 percent. Nationally, the rate fell from 4.7 percent in October 2016 to 3.9 percent last month, according to the Department of Labor.

The counties in New York with the lowest unemployment rates include Columbia County at 3.4 percent, Saratoga at 3.7 and Yates at 3.8.

Bronx has the highest rate at 6.6 percent, followed by St. Lawrence at 5.7, Oswego at 5.6 and Allegany at 5.5.

The other local GLOW counties include Genesee at 4.3 percent, Livingston at 4.5 percent, and Wyoming at 4.4 percent.

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