By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 January 2017 at 11:36 am
Photo by Tom Rivers: Scott Baker, owner of Park & Play in Cazenovia, installs new playground equipment at Bullard Park last June. A state grant from Sen. Rob Ortt for $50,000 paid for about half the cost of that equipment.
ALBION – The Village of Albion was awarded $649,629 in grants in 2016, which village officials said was a big turn on its investment in a grantwriter.
“Those are pretty good results,” Mayor Dean London said during Wednesday’s Village Board meeting.
The village in 2015 hired J O’Connell & Associates from Clarence at $34,000 annually to put together grant applications for the village.
The firm had five successful grant applications in 2016, highlighted by $499,605 from the state for improvements at Bullard Park, including a new splash pad, amphitheater and other upgrades.
Other successful grants included:
• $75,000 from the state “Local Initiatives Support Corporation” to address “zombie” properties – a remediation plan for vacant houses.
• $50,000 for Bullard Park from the State. Sen. Robert Ortt through the State and Municipal Facilities Program. Those funds covered about half the costs of the new playground at Bullard.
• $23,344 in a drinking water fluoridation grant through the State Department of Health.
• $1,500 from the Landmark Society of Western New York for study of the chapel at Mount Albion Cemetery.
J O’Connell & Associates submitted a report detailing the grant activity for 2016. The firm also noted a $500,000 grant from the state for Main Street improvements was denied. The village wants to pursue that funding again in 2017.
O’Connell also applied for a grant for a historic marker from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, but was denied in that request.
Other grant applications are pending, including a $267,110 request through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for pagers, and $2,000 from the Rochester Area Community Foundation towards a playground.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 January 2017 at 10:09 am
ALBION – The Village Board approved two resolutions on Wednesday seeking more state AIM funding and also money for hosting two prisons in the community.
The board voted after seeing the resolutions and issues detailed in the Orleans Hub. Click here to “Editorial: Increasing AIM funding would be big boost to poverty-stricken villages” and click here to see “Editorial: NY should give ‘prison towns’ funds for being hosts to sprawling sites with a negative stigma.”
The AIM issue, where New York gives $277 in aid per capita to city residents and only $7 to village and town residents, has vexed the village for several years.
The Albion Village Board has gone on the record previously seeking an end in disparity for Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.
Trustee Peter Sidari said AIM funds for Albion on par with the City of Salamanca’s AIM dollars would have a dramatic impact in Albion.
Albion and its 6,056 residents receive $38,811 in AIM funding. Salamanca in Cattaraugus County is nearly the same size with 5,815 people. Salamanca gets $928,131 in AIM funding.
“First thing we could do is lower the taxes, that’s the biggest thing,” Sidari said if the AIM funding for Albion was at Salamanca’s level.
Albion’s village tax rate of $17.66 per $1,000 of assessed property is one of the highest in the region despite the village reducing staff in recent years.
“We could build up different areas,” Sidari said. “But first and foremost is too allay some of the taxes.”
While the AIM disparity has raised the ire of many villages for years, the idea of a host community benefits package for a “prison town” seems to be a new concept. Albion is believed to be the first municipality to pass a resolution asking the Governor and State Legislature to provide revenue for communities with prisons.
Orleans Hub, in an editorial on Wednesday, suggested the state provide $1 each day per inmate for the host community.
Albion has two prisons with about 2,000 inmates total. If the state provided $1 per day for each inmate, in Albion that would add up to $730,000. Orleans Hub suggested divvying up that money using a typical PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) plan used by the Economic Development Agency. The EDA takes the tax rates from each municipality and calculates a pro-rated share of the money based on the rates.
With that formula, 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. 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, $1 per inmate per day would add up to about $20 million annually to be shared among the “prison towns.”
Communities with landfills, industrial-sized wind turbines and video gaming centers all receive financial compensation for having those facilities. (The communities with video gaming centers received $29.3 million from the state in 2016.)
The Albion Village Board is sending the resolutions to Gov. Cuomo, local members of the State Legislature and also the New York Conference of Mayors, hoping that group would take up the issues in its legislative committee.
Village Trustee Eileen Banker, chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Hawley, abstained from voting on the resolutions, although she said she supports both proposals.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 January 2017 at 9:29 am
Photos by Tom Rivers: Bonnie Seelbinder, a recruiter/specialist with ATB Staffing Services, discusses job options available locally at a job fair on Wednesday at Genesee Community College in Albion. She touted jobs in light industrial, clerical and other entry level positions.
ALBION – About 150 people attended a three-hour job fair on Wednesday, inquiring about a range of job opportunities in Orleans County.
There were 23 businesses or agencies at the site looking to hire people for jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, human services and other businesses.
“We are looking for outgoing, energetic people who are go-getters,” said Michelle Spies, quality control coordinator for Weed Man in Albion.
The business is looking for employees to work in sales, outdoor marketing and as technicians.
The job fair was organized by the Orleans County Job Development Agency with support from GCC and the Albion Rotary Club. Job Development said there are more than 200 positions open in the county.
Virtual Polymer Compounds on Ridge Road in Medina is expanding and looking for workers in sales and fabrication. The company manufactures fiberglass manhole covers, benches, equipment shelters and other products.
The classrooms at Genesee Community College were used for companies and agencies to present job options to the prospective applicants on Wednesday.
Dan Bryndle, business development manager for the company, said VPC is looking for job applicants with a carpentry or building background.
“We are looking for fiberglass craftsmen, people who can manufacture our products,” he said.
Katie Harvey, a personnel assistant for Orleans County, discusses positions available in local governments, including custodians, clerks and caseworkers.
Holli-Pac in Holley also is looking to hire people. The fruit and vegetable packing plant has 65 employees. It has an immediate need to hire 4-5 people, and long-term needs another 5 or 6 additional staff, said Cindy Romanowski, human resources director for Holli-Pac.
Orchard Manor in Medina also was at the Job Fair, looking to hire registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants.
“There’s always going to be jobs in healthcare,” said Patty DiNardo, human resource director for Orchard manor.
She said the company has tuition assistance for eligible staff looking to improve their education, such as CNAs looking to become LPNs.
Orchard Manor has about 200 employees and currently has six jobs open.
“There is a lot of potential in healthcare,” she said.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2017 at 8:22 pm
GAINES – The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce is planning its annual Legislative Luncheon for Jan. 20 when local and state elected officials discuss community issues and ways to improve the business climate.
The event will be at Tillman’s Village Inn from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. RSVPs are due this Friday. So far more than 60 people have committed to attending, said Rebecca Charland, director of the Chamber of Commerce. Call (585)-301-8464 or email email@example.com for more information.
State Assemblyman Steve Hawley and County Legislator Lynne Johnson have confirmed their participation, Charland said.
In addition, other speakers include Madelyn Genovese, Community Relations Director for State Sen. Robert Ortt; Ken Pokalsky of the NYS Business Council; and local attorney Nathan Pace who will serve as moderator.
Charland said people attending have already submitted questions about education, sales tax, zombie properties, wind energy and promoting Orleans County.
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (NY-21) have introduced the Family Farm Relief Act of 2017, legislation to move the H-2A Agricultural Visa program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture to better meet the unique labor needs of farmers and agricultural businesses.
“The last thing our farmers need is for the federal government to make it harder for them to make ends meet,” said Congressman Chris Collins. “Access to a willing and available labor force is absolutely critical for Western New York’s agriculture community, particularly our dairy farmers. I am proud to join my colleague Congresswoman Stefanik in introducing this common-sense legislation to streamline and improve the H-2A visa program.”
The Family Farm Relief Act of 2017 takes practical measures such as allowing visa applicants to fill out H-2A applications on paper or online, requiring a user-friendly online system, and ending burdensome requirements on advertising and prevailing practice surveys.
The current H-2A visa program is unworkable, especially for the dairy farms across our nation. The H-2A visa program does not currently provide a category for year-round livestock workers, including dairy. This has caused difficulties for dairy farms that need employees year-round. This legislation addresses this oversight, by creating an H-2A category for these workers.
Additionally, the legislation also allows farm cooperatives and other agricultural associations to apply for workers for their members, makes the program more workable for dairy and other livestock operations, and requires reporting to Congress if delays occur in the H-2A Visa application process.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our North Country economy and I am pleased to introduce this important bill to address the labor shortages facing our farmers,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “When I travel the district speaking with our farmers, I often hear about how unnecessary delays in worker visas lead to difficulty meeting production goals. This commonsense legislation simply puts the H-2A agricultural visa program in the hands of those who best understand the specific needs of our farms.”
“Immigration reform that allows for both seasonal and year round farm labor has been a longtime priority for New York Farm Bureau. For too long, the federal H2A guest visa program has been cumbersome, prone to delays and too rigid to fit the needs of both farmers and their employees. We thank Congresswoman Stefanik for taking the lead on the The Family Farm Relief Act that will provide real reform and address a critical issue in New York’s diverse agricultural community,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau President.
By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 11 January 2017 at 5:22 pm
Photo by Kristina Gabalski: Grace Azzolino is the new children’s librarian at the Community Free Library in Holley.
HOLLEY – A fresh new face at the Holley Community Free Library is helping to create new programming for the library’s youngest patrons.
Grace Azzolino, who received her master’s in library science degree last June, joined the Holley Community Free Library staff as children’s librarian Jan. 3.
“Things are going well,” she said of her new job. “I’m in the midst of coming up with new ideas.”
The creation of a children’s librarian position was made possible by a state grant obtained by Senator Robert Ortt, Library Director Sandra Shaw has said.
In addition to having a children’s librarian who can focus on children’s programming, the library will also start Saturday hours beginning Feb. 4.
Saturday hours will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the months of February through May, and September through December. The library will be closed on Saturdays in June, July and August.
Azzolino said Saturday, Feb. 4, is “Take a Child to the Library Day” and the library will celebrate with a special reception planned at 10 a.m. to initiate the new Saturday hours as well as welcome her as children’s librarian. She said Senator Robert Ortt is expected to attend.
New weekday hours beginning Feb. 4 are Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.; and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Summer weekday hours will be Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.; and Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a 10-point proposal to advance strong ethics and good government reforms to rebuild the public’s trust and restore confidence in New York’s elected representatives. The comprehensive package of reforms includes:
• Advancing a constitutional amendment limiting outside income and creating a full-time legislature;
• Advancing a constitutional amendment imposing term limits for elected officials;
• Requiring members of the Legislature to obtain an advisory opinion before earning outside income;
• Advancing legislation to close the “LLC Loophole;”
• Instituting Public Financing and enacting a number of other campaign finance reforms;
• Subjecting local elected officials to financial disclosure requirements;
• Promoting Increased Transparency Through Comprehensive Reforms to the State Freedom of Information Law;
• Expanding the State Inspector General’s authority to SUNY and CUNY not-for-profits;
• Creating new Inspectors General for the Port Authority and the State Education Department; and
• Ensuring greater oversight of the state’s procurement process.
“State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust,” Governor Cuomo said. “We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them. We have been doing historic work at the state level – the government is doing more than ever before – but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do – and I am not going to stop until I get there.”
Since entering office, Governor Cuomo has fought aggressively for comprehensive ethics reform beginning with the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 which increased transparency and accountability throughout state government. This relentless effort continued last year with the Governor’s historic agreement with the State Legislature to further advance critical election, lobbying, and enforcement reforms — including first-in-the-nation legislation to curb the power of independent expenditures and end coordination in political campaigns unleashed by the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.
This year, the Governor is working to build upon this track record even further through a comprehensive ethics package that addresses a number of fundamental issues that have enabled corrupt behavior to persist in New York State government. These reforms include:
Advancing a Constitutional Amendment Limiting Outside Income
The Legislature’s part-time structure allows professionals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences to serve the public. Yet concerns have been raised about potential conflicts of interests that may arise from income legislators derive from other employment. To strike the right balance between public service and private ventures, the Governor is proposing a constitutional amendment to be put before the voters that would limit outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their base salary. This 15 percent limit is the same limit our federal government places on federal legislators’ outside income.
Advancing a Constitutional Amendment Imposing Term Limits for Elected Officials
Current term limits require members of the Legislature to seek re-election every two years, yet there are no limits on the number of terms they may seek. Governor Cuomo is proposing a constitutional amendment to create four-year legislative terms for members of the Senate and the Assembly. The proposed constitutional amendment would also impose eight-year term limits for new members, and impose term limits for statewide officials.
Requiring Members of the Legislature to Obtain an Advisory Opinion Before Earning Outside Income
Currently, legislators may earn income from private ventures without being required to obtain any analysis or approval regarding whether that income presents conflicts of interest with their duties to the public. The executive branch, in contrast, is required to submit requests for approvals to a conflict check analysis in order to head off ethical issues. Because legislators do not have to seek an opinion of outside income from the legislative ethics commission, and the commission does not have to issue any such opinion, legislators may receive little to no guidance in thinking through inherent conflicts.
As such, the Governor is proposing legislation which would require all legislators to seek an advisory opinion from the legislative ethics commission before earning outside income. To further support in their deliberations and discussions regarding outside income and conflicts of interest, as well as reinforce the public’s trust in the process, a designee from the Office of Court Administration would serve on the commission. By examining compensation from non-state activities on a case by case basis, this measure would help guide our elected representatives, prevent conflicts of interest, and increase the public’s trust in all their elected officials.
Closing the LLC Loophole
To preserve open, free, and fair elections that are not captured by wealthy public interests, state law limits the amounts that both corporations and individuals may donate directly to state candidates. However, because of a quirk in the way that present election law is interpreted, wealthy individuals and corporations can use Limited Liability Companies (“LLCs”) to avoid New York’s campaign donation limits. This “LLC Loophole” in campaign finance law has allowed special interests to circumvent both contribution limits and disclosure requirements. The Governor proposes closing the LLC Loophole for all elected officials to even the playing field so that rich and poor New Yorkers alike have their voices heard in our political process.
Subjecting Local Elected Officials to Financial Disclosure Requirements
State elected officials are not the only ones who face conflicts, or potential conflicts, of interests. Local elected officials and agents of municipalities are equally prone to such concerns, and should be subject to the same disclosure requirements as their state counterparts.
Therefore, the Governor is proposing that any local elected official who earns more than $50,000 per year in a government salary, as well as all County Executives, County Managers, and all Chairs of County Boards of Supervisors file the same financial disclosure statements that state employees file with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or a similar form to be approved by the state. This means that municipal employees would provide the same information in their financial disclosure statements as state employees, including his or her spouse’s or partner’s income. Sunlight, in this instance, goes a long way towards assuring the public that those entrusted with government service are fulfilling their duty to the public.
Instituting Public Financing and Enacting Additional Campaign Finance Reforms
Every day, ordinary New Yorkers struggle to make their voices heard in our political system. No matter the issue, candidates are incentivized to focus on large donations over small ones. The only way to truly fix this problem is to institute a public financing system for political campaigns that matches funds from small donations. Governor Cuomo is proposing to do just that by instituting a voluntary public financing system that matches small donations with public funds. Only then will all New Yorkers, not just a select few, gain the power to make their voices heard.
New York law also continues to allow unlimited contributions to party “housekeeping” accounts by individuals and corporations. These accounts are designed to support non-campaign party activities, but instead provide another mechanism for big donors to impact political campaigns. New York also still allows a campaign’s intermediary, known as a “bundler,” to pass large groupings of individual contributions to a single campaign without disclosing the bundler’s identity. Governor Cuomo is proposing to address both issues by placing a $25,000 contribution limit on housekeeping accounts and requiring all “bundlers” to disclose their identities.
Promoting Increased Transparency Through Comprehensive Reforms to the State Freedom of Information Law
The New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) governs the public’s right to access government records and provides transparency for citizens into the workings of state government. Governor Cuomo is proposing a comprehensive reform of FOIL to improve transparency and promote openness in state government, including requiring proactive disclosure of certain records.
But transparency cannot just be limited to the Executive—everyone must be held to the same standard. The Governor is therefore proposing that FOIL apply equally to the Legislature. Additionally, the Governor is proposing that both FOIL and the state’s Open Meetings Law apply to both JCOPE as well as the Legislative Ethics Commission to further ensure transparency, accountability, and increase public confidence in all aspects of state government.
Expanding the Authority of the New York State Inspector General
New York’s State Inspector General is charged with ensuring that state government, its employees, and all who partner with the state meet the highest standards of integrity and accountability. To that end, there have been recent reports of financial abuses at, and within, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY), and their affiliated not-for-profits.
While the State Inspector General investigates these abuses within SUNY and CUNY, this statutory authority does not currently extend to the affiliated nonprofit entities that work in concert with the Universities. Therefore, the Governor is proposing to increase the Inspector General’s jurisdiction to include oversight of these entities. The Inspector General would be authorized to investigate complaints of corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse within each university and its affiliates, and to refer potential criminal findings within these entities for prosecution.
The Governor is also proposing to broaden the Inspector General’s authority to include all state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY. This would allow the Inspector General to oversee the policies of any affiliated nonprofit organization and foundation of each respective university.
Creating New Independent Inspectors General for the Port Authority and State Education Department
Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation that would create a New York Port Authority Inspector General who would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting any illegal behavior as it pertains to New York-related Port Authority conduct. Every New York commissioner or managerial employee will be required to report conduct concerning corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse, by any person related to his or her employment with the Authority to the New York Port Authority Inspector General.
The Governor is also proposing creating a new, independent Inspector General to oversee and investigate allegations of corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse, by any person within the State Education Department (SED). Unlike other state agencies, SED is not currently overseen by any investigative entity. The SED Inspector General would be appointed by mutual agreement between the Senate and Assembly.
The respective Inspectors General would also have the power to refer potential criminal findings within these entities for prosecution.
Enacting Procurement Reforms
Despite existing legal safeguards, conflicts of interest and unlawful conduct may jeopardize the impartiality and objectivity of the current procurement process. This risk is further heightened by the significant amount of dollars spent by state and local public agencies, which exceeds tens of billions of dollars annually.
The Governor is therefore proposing the creation of a Chief Procurement Officer to oversee the integrity and uniformity of procurement practices across the state and ensure state procurement staff are prepared and positioned to conduct effective and ethical procurements. To achieve these ends, the Chief Procurement Officer will spearhead a comprehensive review of current procurement practices across all state entities and relevant affiliates in order to establish best practices and implement uniform policies and procedures. These processes will be efficient, outcome-focused and designed with proper safeguards so public funds are spent with the utmost integrity. Finally, the Chief Procurement Officer will lead the development of additional statewide procurement training and knowledge sharing opportunities and coordinate with the State Inspector General on the integrity of the process.
It is also critical to prevent state contract bidders from improperly influencing the procurement process. To this end, the Governor is proposing new measures which would prohibit individuals, organizations or business entities that submit bids, quotes, or responses to state contract offers from making campaign contributions to any officeholder in the branch of government awarding the contract while the decision is pending, and for six months following the contract award.
Finally, under current practice, the Office of the State Comptroller, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of General Services either undertake reviews and audits or process payment of contract vendors and/or grantees that have multiple projects with the state. However, they lack a single system to track payments and audits of these entities and fail to coordinate their efforts in these areas on a routine basis. This should change and in order to do so, the Governor is proposing legislation that will direct these entities, along with the Office of Information Technologies and the Chief Procurement Officer, to collaborate on a study and make recommendations regarding initiatives to better enable the public to track state contracts and audits.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2017 at 3:39 pm
The Murray Town Board passed a resolution on Tuesday asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to end the large disparity in AIM funding between cities and villages.
The Town Board moved on the issue on Tuesday, a day after Orleans Hub urged local municipal boards to pass resolutions about the gap in per capita funding with Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. There is a huge gap in per capita AIM funding between cities ($277 per resident on average) and villages and towns (an average of $7 per resident).
John Morriss, the Murray town supervisor, said Murray has passed similar resolutions before and wants to press the issue again.
Morriss, a Holley resident, said the village has aging infrastructure, and tries to offer a quality services with police, streets, water, sewer and other quality of life issues.
“In little Holley our waterlines are antiquated and the roads need to be fixed,” Morriss said. “We have a lot of older people and they don’t have the extra money to pay.”
The town resolution was sent to Gov. Cuomo, State Assemblyman Steve Hawley and State Sen. Robert Ortt.
“We gladly passed it,” Morriss said. “If they can’t out it on the table to discuss, it will never go anywhere.”
To see the article Monday about the AIM disparity, click here.
File photo by Tom Rivers: The tower of the Main Street lift bridge in Albion is pictured in this photo from March 2014. The lift bridge was built as part of the canal’s transitioning to the barge canal about a century ago.
Press Release, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that after her year-long push, the New York State Barge Canal has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior.
“The New York State Barge Canal has played a pivotal role in the growth and development of not only New York State but the entire country. It facilitated and shaped the course of settlement in the Northeast, Midwest and Great Plains, and established New York City as the nation’s premiere seaport and commercial center,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I was proud to fight for this designation because the canal is a symbolic reminder of New York’s excellence from the 1800s to this present day, honoring generations of our history and industry. Today, the New York State Barge Canal gets the recognition it truly deserves as it officially becomes a National Historic Landmark.”
In April, Senator Gillibrand first called on the National Park Service to designate of the NYS Canal as a National Historic Landmark. After the National Historic Landmarks Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board moved to approve the designation in November, Gillibrand renewed her pushed and urged the U.S. Department of the Interior to deliver the final approval needed to officially designate the NYS Canal as a National Historic Landmark.
The Beals Road bridge in Ridgeway is pictured during the winter. The bridge was built during the barge canal expansion.
Gillibrand was also instrumental in the New York Barge Canal being added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 2014, expanding opportunities for federal historic tax credits and other resources to support economic development initiatives near the Barge Canal, as well as positioning the Canal for designation as a National Historic Landmark.
The New York State’s Barge Canal system will celebrate its 192nd year of continuous operation next year. Also, the New York State Barge Canal will celebrate its Centennial in 2018.
The NYS Barge Canal extends through Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo and includes the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, and the Champlain Canal, stretching 525 miles across New York State.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2017 at 7:40 am
Photos by Tom Rivers: Kevin Sheehan, a former Albion deputy mayor and village trustee, said the Albion Police Department is top notch and he wouldn’t want to lose them in a consolidated law enforcement agency in Orleans County.
ALBION – Some residents are adamant they don’t want to lose the Albion Police Department.
Others say the village taxes are far too high and having the county provide police in the villages would provide much-needed tax relief for villagers.
Residents were given a chance to comment in two public meetings Tuesday about a law enforcement study.
The Center for Government Research has been hired by Orleans County to take on the study with input from the four villages with police, and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department. The study is looking for ways to streamline costs and run a more efficient police service.
That could mean all the departments remain as they are with some shared services, such as more joint training, or perhaps there will be a move to countywide model with the Sheriff’s Department taking over for the village departments.
Kevin Sheehan, a former Albion deputy mayor and village trustee, said he doesn’t want to see the Albion PD gone through a consolidation.
Kevin Doherty, an Albion village resident, said he appreciates the local police, but he said they account for about half of his village tax bill. He believes policing services could be maintained with the cost spread out with a consolidated force in the county.
“I think we are top rate in Albion,” Sheehan said during a meeting at Hoag Library attended by about 40 people. (There was another meeting later on Tuesday at the Ridgeway Fire Hall.)
He credited Roland Nenni, the police chief, for pushing to have the officers trained with up-to-date equipment. Sheehan said Albion was the first department in Orleans to have laptops in the patrol cars.
Village resident Kevin Doherty agreed the Albion police provide a quality service, but Doherty said the department accounts for about $8 of a high village tax rate (over $17 per $1,000 of assessed property).
“I’m telling you that you are bleeding me dry,” Doherty said during the meeting. He also said village residents may not see diminished services if the county assumed the service.
Sheehan said he worries the village would see less service with a county-wide model.
“We can’t go cheap on this,” Sheehan said. “We cannot cheap out on law enforcement.”
When he was on the Village Board, the village cut back on brush and road work, but wouldn’t budge with police protection.
CGR has initial data on the costs for law enforcement in each community (not including benefits). Here is a snapshot of each community with a law enforcement staff:
Village of Albion
13 full-time officers
2 or 3 always on duty
$1,019,265 total cost
$181 per capita cost
Village of Medina
11 full-time, 1 part-time
2 minimum on each shift
$902,833 total expense
$152 per capita cost
Village of Holley
2 full-time, 9 part-time
1 minimum staffing
$118 per capita cost
Village of Lyndonville
1 part-time officer
$28 per capita
Orleans County Sheriff’s Department
Orleans County – outside village population: 28,605
Orleans County total population: 42,204
25 full-time officers
3 minimum staffing
$3,503,233 total cost
$83 per capita (countywide)
The local governments combined are spending $5,686,689 for law enforcement.
This slide shows a breakdown of crime handled by the different police agencies in Orleans County. Amelia Rickard, a research assistant for the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, is pictured leading a discussion Tuesday at Hoag Library in Albion.
CGR has worked on 70 government efficiency studies the past five years, including the dissolution plan for the Village of Medina that was rejected by voters. The Orleans County law enforcement study has already set a new record for CGR by having 1,082 people complete a 15-question on-line survey.
“That’s incredible,” said Mary Rowland, Senior Project Manager for Highland Planning, which is doing the survey. “That is more than we have ever had in a project.”
She went over some preliminary findings from the survey. (Residents have until Jan. 25 to fill it out. Click here to see the survey.)
There is a nearly 50-50 split in respondents so far who live in either a village or outside the village. Sixty percent responded they feel safe with 18 percent saying “very safe.”
The leading crime concern, topping 70 percent of the respondents, was drugs.
Of the respondents, so far 65 percent said they would favor shifting to the Sheriff’s Department.
Rowland asked for a show of hands from the crowd who would support a consolidated police force.
The group declined to raise their hands, saying they wanted more information. Stan Farone, an Albion village trustee, said the study so far leaves many unanswered questions about levels of service and cost.
“We don’t have the information to answer the question,” Farone said. “Really it’s ridiculous right now because we don’t have the right information out there.”
Farone said he is inclined to keep the village police.
Amelia Rickard, a research assistant for the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, is helping with the study of law enforcement services in Orleans County. She is speaking during a meeting at the Hoag Library in Albion. There was another meeting later at the Ridgeway Town Hall.
Carol Tibbits, an Albion village resident, also doesn’t want to give up the village police for Sheriff’s deputies. “Do not touch the village police, no way, not ever,” Tibbits said.
The village police know the community and the “bad guys,” another resident said.
Mike Christopher of Holley said he would favor the Sheriff’s Department taking over the Holley Police Department, which has two full-time officers and nine part-timers. Christopher said Holley tends to have a revolving door of officers who are often unknown by the community.
“They’re very green and we don’t have full-time coverage,” Christopher said.
A county-wide force would result in standardized pay, training and equipment for all officers, he said.
He doesn’t see village residents losing in service if the Sheriff’s Department replaced the village police departments and established substations in Holley and Medina, as well as the base of operations in Albion.
“If there would substations, we’d all be happier,” Christopher said.
A committee of law enforcement leaders and elected officials are on a committee, working with CGR to compile data on existing services and consider options for how law enforcement could be provided in the future.
There will be more public meetings in the future, perhaps in March or April, when options are analyzed and are ready to be presented to the public.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 January 2017 at 9:48 pm
Photo by Tom Rivers: Mark Kruzynski, director of finance for Medina Central School, is pictured on Dec. 13, going over $34 million in work to the school district as part of two propositions that went before voters on Dec. 21. Residents supported the capital project with about 90 percent of the votes in favor of the work.
MEDINA – The school district will soon have a new superintendent, and he’s very familiar with the district’s operations.
Mark Kruzynski was high school principal before transitioning to the district director of finance. Kruzynski will start as superintendent on Jan. 16.
Wendi Pencille, Board of Education president, announced Kruzynski’s hiring this evening, about a week after the board didn’t select any of the three finalists for the position.
“Mr. Kruzynski will be an excellent leader for our district, bringing his many Medina experiences to his new role as superintendent,” Pencille said in a statement. “His student-centered focus combined with his understanding of curriculum and instruction, school finance and sound personnel practice will continue the tradition of educational excellence in which our community takes great pride.”
The board intends to fill Kruzynski’s job as director of finance. He will work in tandem the next month with Tom Cox, who is the current interim superintendent.
Kruzynski has also been actively involved in the planning for a $34 million capital project at the district, which was approved by voters last month.
Pencille praised Kruzynski for his dedication to the district, and for stepping in as acting superintendent on June 23, when Jeff Evoy passed away unexpectedly a day before before high school graduation.
“The Board is excited about Mr. Kruzynksi leading our district particularly after observing his success as our High School and Middle School Principal and, most recently, as the Director of Finance and as the Acting Superintendent during the very difficult time surrounding Mr. Evoy’s illness,” Pencille said.
Remains chairman of the Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities
Provided photo: Rob Ortt was sworn in on Jan. 4 by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
Press Release, State Sen. Rob Ortt
Senator Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) today was named as a member of the Standing Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. Temporary President of the state Senate and Majority Leader John Flanagan announced the committee assignments during legislative session this afternoon.
The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee oversees the development of legislation and policy related to energy and communications sectors. Committee members aim to promote competitive markets, support private investment, streamline regulations, create jobs and keep consumer costs down.
Priorities include modernizing the state’s energy generation, transmission and distribution; facilitating expansion of renewable and clean energy technologies; and expanding high-speed broadband and other new communication technologies to underserved areas of the state.
Senator Ortt said, “I truly look forward to serving on the Senate Committee on Energy – on an issue of vital importance to our community and our entire state. With the greatest generating capacity in the state, the Niagara Power Project is a substantial component of the state’s energy portfolio, and plays a critical role in the Western New York economy. I’m dedicated to continuing our region’s success with traditional major sources of energy – like Niagara and Somerset – while exploring innovative technologies of tomorrow like solar and geo-thermal to maintain and create good, local jobs. I believe we can meet the significant capacity demands throughout the state and that Western New York’s workforce and ingenuity will be a critical part of it. We can do this while protecting our environment and ensuring local residents play a significant role in decision-making.”
Senator Ortt will remain as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. He is also a member of the following Senate Standing Committees: Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs; Local Government; Higher Education; Environmental Conservation; Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; and Civil Service and Pensions.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today proposed a bold, multi-faceted proposal to combat every angle of the heroin and opioid crisis in New York State.
The Governor’s proposal builds on the success of the legislative package he signed in June to increase access to treatment, expand community prevention strategies and limit the over-prescription of opioids in New York. The proposals aim to eliminate insurance barriers and further expand access to effective treatment, curb overprescribing, and get fentanyl and other synthetic opioids off the streets.
“New York has made great strides in combatting the devastating epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction, but this crisis continues and we must continue to do everything in our power to combat each facet of this complex health emergency,” Cuomo said. “This multipronged plan addresses each component of heroin and opioid addiction – prevention, treatment, and recovery – in order to help break this cycle of misery and save lives.”
The six-point plan put forward in Cuomo’s State of the State address is outlined below:
• Eliminate prior authorization requirements to make substance use disorder treatment available to all
• Add fentanyl analogs to the New York controlled substances schedule to subject emerging synthetic drugs to criminal drug penalties
• Increase access to life-saving buprenorphine treatment by recruiting health care providers to become prescribers.
• Establish 24/7 crisis treatment centers to ensure access to critical support services
• Require emergency department prescribers to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program registry to combat “doctor shopping”
• Create New York’s first recovery high schools to help young people in recovery finish school
Since 2014, Cuomo has implemented a series of aggressive reforms to combat heroin and opioid addiction, including:
• Limiting initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain from 30 to 7 days
• Expanding insurance coverage for substance use disorder treatment
• Increasing access and enhancing treatment capacity across the state, including a major expansion of opioid treatment and recovery services
• Implementing the comprehensive I-STOP law to curb prescription drug abuse
• Launching a public awareness and prevention campaign to inform New Yorkers about the dangers of heroin use and opioid misuse and the disease of addiction
• Assembling a task force to propose initiatives to tackle the heroin and opioid epidemic.