Canal Corp. leader expects state funds for canal bridges, infrastructure

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 April 2016 at 12:00 am

Touts new state budget in visit to Orleans

Photos By Tom Rivers – Brian Stratton, director of the NYS Canal Corp., went over highlights of the new state budget in a visit to the legislative chambers of the Orleans County Legislature on Thursday.

ALBION – The state budget brings good news to Orleans County residents, with a boost in the minimum wage, a Middle Class tax cut, more aid for schools, and numerous other funding options for municipalities to address aging infrastructure, and spur economic development, the director of the NYS Canal Corp. said in a stop Thursday in Albion.

Brian Stratton met with about 25 local officials in the legislative chambers of the Orleans County Legislature. Stratton and other many of the governor’s cabinet are discussing the new state budget in stops throughout the state. Stratton was also in Seneca Falls on Thursday.

Stratton said the higher minimum wage will benefit the state’s economy and residents. The new budget deal calls for phased in increases that bring the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and $12.50 for most of Upstate by the end of 2020. If the economy struggles, Stratton said there is a safety value “if catastrophic failure.”

He said the economy added jobs after six of the last nine times the minimum wage was increased in New York.

The County Legislature formally opposed raising the minimum wage in a recent meeting.

“That is the great debate: will it move the economy forward or will it have a depressing effect?” David Callard, the Legislature chairman, said on Thursday.

Callard said his top concern remains property taxes. He said the county and local governments have worked to share services, reduce staff and consolidate some departments. He said the state should follow that example.

Stratton said the state has been paring personnel costs.

“We’ve been doing that,” he responded to Callard. “We’ve retrenched, we’ve contracted. We’re all in this together.”

Stratton said the property tax cap, enacted by the governor and State Legislature, tries to limit property tax growth to about 2 percent. Sometimes the cap is lower because it’s tied to inflationary increases. The state has also capped the increase to counties for Medicaid and introduced a new less generous public pension tier that eases some of the financial pressure on municipalities, Stratton said.

He noted the budget includes more incentives for local governments to pursue consolidation to reduce layers of government.

Stratton said New York is in a much stronger position in the five-plus years Andrew Cuomo has been governor. The unemployment rate has dropped dramatically in all regions of the state, and the number of jobs has increased, Stratton said.

The budget includes a $27 billion commitment for infrastructure in Upstate. Stratton expects some of that money will address aging canal infrastructure, including some of the bridges that are more than a century old.

Many of those bridges in Orleans County have reduced weight limits, been closed or limited to one-way traffic. Orleans County officials in recent years have been pressing the state to spend more on repairing or replacing the canal spans.

Ed Morgan, the Murray town highway superintendent, said there are 10 canal bridges in Murray. He told Stratton many of the bridges are not properly posted by the state. He called it a public safety issue.

Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management coordinator, thanked the state for grant funds to help upgrade 911 emergency dispatch centers, but Banker told Stratton more funding would be helpful to make the systems interoperable with nearby counties.

The county also has made maintenance of the Lake Ontario State Parkway a top priority. Kendall Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata said the recreational route is in deplorable condition.

“It’s a horrible stretch of road,” Cammarata said. “The Parkway is the gateway to the east and the west. People aren’t taking it because it’s not drivable. It’s not a convenience issue, it’s a safety issue.”

Stratton said there are “many, many needs” in the state for the infrastructure. The funds haven’t been earmarked yet for projects.

He also highlighted an increase in school funding, a middle class tax cut, $500 million for Broadband, a $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a poverty reduction initiative, and a $200 million increase to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure.

“With this budget, New York will continue to lead the way forward,” Stratton said.

He also addressed the switch in the canal’s operation and maintenance from the Thruway Authority to the New York Power Authority. Stratton said the Thurway Authority was a great steward of the canal the past 25 years, spending about $1 billion in the 524-mile long system.

The NY Power Authority is a good fit for the canal, where 27 hydroelectric power systems use canal water, he said.

“We think this is a great economic opportunity by partnering with the New York Power Authority,” Stratton said. “The canal is a wonderful historic treasure and economic engine.”