Locals need to show candidates some of the challenges in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 May 2014 at 12:00 am


What a missed opportunity. We could have made a case to a possible future governor of New York. At the very least, Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive and GOP candidate for governor, is an influential person, a man you want as an advocate to help solve your community problems.

But I bet Astorino thinks all is well in Orleans County. Astorino made three stops in Orleans County last Thursday, and he saw some of our brightest success stories. You can’t blame local government and Republican officials for wanting to show off the county.

They took him to Precision Packaging Products in Holley, Western New York Energy’s ethanol plant in Shelby and the Olde Pickle Factory in Medina, which is the base for Baxter Healthcare. These are all juggernauts.

Astorino’s tag line in his campaign is “Winning or Losing?” He criticizes Cuomo for an exodus of residents and jobs. The message about a broken state seemed out of sync while he stood in the lobbies of growing businesses.

In a county with a high unemployment rate, oppressive village tax rates, and many closed bridges and vacant buildings, I question the decision to just showcase our successes.

I would have had him give his speech in front of the dilapidated former Holley High School, a building in disrepair that sadly sits at a gateway into Orleans County. We could use some state resources to either revive the building or have it taken down.

I would have given him a ride along the Lake Ontario State Parkway, and hit some of the potholes and taken the detours so he would have a feel for the condition of that road.

I would have stopped by the closed canal bridge on Hindsburg Road in Murray, or Brown Street in Albion or the one-lane lift bridge in Knowlesville. There are several choices for shut-down or nearly closed canal bridges.

We could have also driven over the Clarendon Street bridge in Albion. I would have told him the costs recently jumped and the federal and state governments both refused to adjust their budgets, instead sticking the village with the entire increase. The Feds and state are supposed to pay 95 percent of the project, but now the bridge will likely be demolished and blocked off because the village can’t afford the replacement.

I’d swing by Bullard Park and show him some of the playground equipment still in use after 50 years. The village sought state help for upgrades, but was denied the past two grant cycles.

I’d explain the structural discrimination the state has set up against villages, how comparable small cities get about $150 per person in state aid but villages only get $5 to $10 per person. With the same state aid as small cities – nearly $1 million more a year – Albion could upgrade its playground, fix its bridge and fill in pot holes.

I’d take the governor candidate to City Hall in Medina. The police department and fire departments both work out of the building. Medina toyed with becoming a city about a century ago, but opted to stay a village. That was a bad decision. It has meant very little in state aid to help provide services to the community.

The burden on the village is so heavy that Mayor Andrew Meier and some community leaders believe it’s best if the village government vanishes, with the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway expected to pick up the services. That would help to spread the tax burden for the many services provided by village taxpayers, services that often go outside village boundaries.

The leaders of the two towns are fighting that process. Medina could work around the towns and ensure a strong future if it had a strong partner in the State of New York, which currently picks winners and losers with its municipal aid policies. Unfortunately for Orleans County, we haven’t had the state’s blessing.

In many ways, Orleans County with its crumbling infrastructure and crushing village taxes provided the perfect backdrop for Astorino and his campaign against Cuomo.