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Governor looking for best ideas to revitalize canal corridor

Posted 18 May 2019 at 10:50 am

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Photo from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office: A new tugboat was named after women’s rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton during an unveiling in Rochester on Friday, when the Erie Canal opened for its 195th season. The canal played a significant role in the women’s rights movement.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced a sweeping initiative to examine how the 195-year-old Erie Canal can be reimagined for the 21st century in an effort to boost local economies, inspire new opportunities for tourism and recreation, and strengthen environmental resiliency along the historic waterway.

A key pillar of this initiative is the Governor’s Reimagine the Canal Task Force.

“The Erie Canal corridor is one of New York’s most iconic assets and remains a key economic driver for the region and the state,” Governor Cuomo said. “The Canal helped make New York the Empire State and this initiative will reimagine the canal and adapt it for new uses in upstate communities, furthering upstate New York’s unprecedented growth.”

“The New York Canal System is not only an iconic recreational destination, it is also an essential part of our economic past, present, and future,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who made the announcement. “As we kick-off the 2019 Canal season, we launch the next phase of Reimagine the Canals with a task force to guide bold and innovative new ideas. In addition, we celebrate the Erie Canal’s role in shaping the flow of ideas throughout our history by dedicating a new vessel in honor of New York suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her legacy as a leading voice and activist for voting rights inspires us today as we work to secure full equality for all women.”

The Governor’s groundbreaking initiative will:

• Identify potential new uses for the Erie Canal aimed at improving the quality of life for New Yorkers

• Evaluate how the Erie Canal can support and enhance economic development along the canal corridor

• Find new opportunities to enhance recreation and tourism along the Erie Canal

• Assess how the Erie Canal can help mitigate impacts from flooding and ice jams to improve resiliency and restore ecosystems in canal communities

• Identify opportunities for using Erie Canal infrastructure to expand irrigation for Western New York farms

To help meet those goals, Governor Cuomo has created a task force that is an outgrowth of the Reimagine the Canals Competition, held last year by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation. The competition rewarded the best ideas to enable New York’s canals to serve as an engine of economic development or spark new forms of recreation. This task force will explore many of the ideas that the competition has already produced. The New York Power Authority operates the Canal Corporation as a subsidiary.

“There are 147 communities along the Erie Canal and we should do everything we can to help them become more resilient,” said Brian U. Stratton, Canal Corporation director. “Just as it transformed New York when it opened nearly 200 years ago, the Erie Canal can be transformed so it remains an essential piece of the fabric that defines upstate New York.”

File photo by Tom Rivers: The task force may look for ways for farmers to utilize canal water. This photo from June 2016 shows a siphon just west of the Keitel Road bridge in Albion. Area farmers struggled in drought conditions that year.

The task force will be chaired by Joanie Mahoney, New York State Thruway Authority chair and former Onondaga County Executive, who will also oversee outreach in Central New York. Former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, will serve as regional co-chair in Western New York, while Joseph Martens, former Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, will serve as co-chair in the Mohawk Valley. Other members will be announced in the coming weeks.

The panel is also expected to examine how canal infrastructure can be used to increase the reliability of the water supply to farms in Western New York—which now draw water from the Canal—and can enable additional land to be used for agriculture.

Helping guide the task force will be the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a part of the State University of New York. It will work to engage stakeholders and canal communities, a process that will include a series of public meetings across the state where residents, business owners and municipal leaders can provide input on the Canal’s future.

The reimagining initiative builds on successful efforts by Governor Cuomo to invest in the canal corridor, including the Downtown Revitalization Initiative and Taste NY, which have stoked new industries, businesses and housing in canal communities.

Harnessing the Canal’s full potential to attract more tourism and recreation is a key focus of the Initiative. There are 1.6 million trips taken annually on the Erie Canal Trailway, the former towpath used by mules and horses to pull barges in the canals’ early days. The Trailway is part of Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail, which at 750 miles will be the largest state multi-use trail network when completed in late 2020.

The navigation season on the Canal System, which includes the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals, runs today through October 16. About half of the system, including parts of the Erie Canal, along with the Champlain and Oswego canals, had their openings postponed due to high water flows stemming from heavy rains and snow melt.

For the third straight year, tolls have been waived for recreational vessels

Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky said, “Reactivating former industrial waterfronts has fueled economic growth throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and it’s only fitting that the Erie Canal-a game changer for the New York State economy when it opened—will further help to create jobs and opportunity in the communities along its banks.”

Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “The Erie Canal is an important water source to a number of farms along its western banks. This task force offers the opportunity to now look at expanding the use of the Canal to minimize the risk of drought on our farms and support the production of high-value crops, specifically fruits and vegetables.”

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$14 million upgrade of Rt. 531 is complete, Cuomo says

Posted 14 February 2019 at 9:12 pm

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced work is now complete on the second and final phase of the $14 million Route 531 Terminus Project in the towns of Ogden and Sweden, Monroe County.

The redesigned highway will ease traffic flow and enhance safety along the Route 531 corridor, a critical transportation link that serves thousands of motorists traveling between Rochester’s interstates and Orleans County. The highway is also a major access point for the SUNY Brockport campus, the Rochester Tech Park and westside communities in Monroe County.

“The Route 531 Terminus Project is one of many infrastructure investments we’re making in this region and across the state to improve travel and promote expanded access to businesses, schools and local neighborhoods,” Governor Cuomo said. “These projects help to revitalize upstate communities and continue to support our goal of moving the Finger Lakes Forward.”

Under construction since 2017, the project was intended to create a more efficient and easier-to-navigate junction of Route 531, Route 36 and Route 31 (Brockport-Spencerport Road).

Phase two of the project, which began in May 2018, created a direct connection between Route 531 and Route 31 through a newly constructed roadway west of Route 36, which transitions from a four-lane highway to a two-lane arterial road. The new roadway was first opened to traffic in August of 2018.

Additional safety enhancements made as part of the project include:

• Widening of Route 31 from the Route 531 intersection west to Gallup Road and adding a center median to separate eastbound and westbound travel lanes;

• Transforming the previous stretch of Route 31 into a cul-de-sac to provide access to residences north of the newly constructed Route 31; and

• Constructing continuous two-way left turn lanes on Route 31 between Gallup Road in the Town of Ogden and Salmon Creek Road in the Town of Sweden.

New York State Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas said, “Enhancing safety and improving access for the thousands of motorists in the region that rely on this expressway is vital to not only the local economy, but our goals in modernizing our aging infrastructure. This project will benefit both Monroe and Orleans counties for years to come.”

Senator Robert G. Ortt said, “The completion of the Route 531 Terminus Project upgrades is welcome news for those New Yorkers who use this expressway on a daily basis, whether it be for transport to work or use in everyday life. Throughout the Western New York region, transit problems are continuing to be identified and successfully resolved, allowing for easier mobility across the region. Although upgrades to state roads and highways are not glamorous projects, they are responsible for some of the largest impacts on the daily lives of our state’s residents. This Terminus project is no different.”

State legislator urges Orleans municipalities to protest governor’s cuts in AIM funding

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 January 2019 at 6:49 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: State Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, speaks during the Legislative Luncheon today at Tillman’s Village Inn. About 100 people attended the event organized by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.

ALBION – Orleans County towns and villages are urged to fight proposed cuts in the governor’s budget that would take nearly $300,000 away from the local municipalities.

State Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, said the state should be increasing aid to towns and villages, especially given the big disparity in funding provided to cities.

“We need our money,” Norris told about 100 people during today’s Legislative Luncheon. “Not only do we need it restored, but we need it increased.”

The governor’s budget cuts Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) by $290,276 to Orleans County, which already receives a tiny sum compared to counties with cities.

The four villages in Orleans – Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina – would all be wiped out in AIM, while eight of the 10 towns in Orleans would go to zero in AIM funding.

The governor proposed eliminating the funding unless it represented more than 2 percent of a town or village’s budget. Two towns in Orleans are just above the 2 percent threshold. So the governor proposed that Murray keeps its $44,677 and Albion, its $46,944.

The other villages and towns would lose the following in AIM funding, going from the amount listed to zero:

Villages ($108,371 total)

Albion, $38,811

Holley, $17,786

Lyndonville, $6,251

Medina, $45,523

Towns ($181,905 total)

Barre, $12,486

Carlton, $13,680

Clarendon, $11,416

Gaines, $21,323

Kendall, $21,299

Shelby, $45,007

Ridgeway, $46,273

Yates, $10,421

The governor has proposed cutting $59 million from the $715 million in AIM. The cities’ AIM is not touched, nor are villages and towns where AIM accounts for 2 percent or more of their budgets.

Norris urged the towns and villages to pass resolutions opposing the cuts and send those official stances to the governor and local state legislators.

“I encourage all of you to get on the record  right now so we can have backup to take to Albany,” said Norris whose district includes Shelby in Orleans, as well as portions of Niagara and Erie counties.

Many of the local towns and villages have protested the AIM program before, sending resolutions to the governor and state legislators about the unfairness of the aid. Cities get far more per capita than towns and villages.

For example, the Village of Albion (population 6,056 in the 2010 Census) has been getting $38,811 in AIM or $6.41 a person. The Village of Medina, population 6,065, has been receiving $45,523 or $7.51 a person.

Those villages have more people than some cities in the state. For example, Salamanca in Cattaraugus County has 5,815 people and receives $928,131 in AIM or $159.61 per person. Sherrill in Oneida County has about half the residents as Albion and Medina. Yet, the small city of 3,071 people receives $372,689 or $121.35 per capita.

The total AIM budget has been $715 million in recent years, and hasn’t been changed until the governor proposed cuts in 2019-2020.

State Sen. Robert Ortt said Republicans in the Senate could have be counted on to stop any proposed cuts in AIM. But now that they are out of the majority, Ortt said the cuts could go through.

“If the Senate were in Republican control I have no doubt that would go back,” he said about the AIM cuts.

Ortt said it’s upsetting to think the proposed AIM cuts may be part of strategy by the governor, treating the upstate town and villages as “pawns” in budget negotiations.

To see a previous Orleans Hub article on the AIM disparity, click here.

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Reimagined Erie Canal includes beer armada and pocket neighborhoods

Photos by Tom Rivers: Madison County Assistant Planning Director Jamie Kowalczk accepts the $1.5 million first place prize in the Reimagine the Canals competition. Madison County proposed the development of “Pocket Neighborhoods” which would be attractive to millennials, families and seniors who want to live in places that are walkable to shopping, restaurants and other amenities. Kowalczk is joined on stage by Gil C. Quiniones (left), who is president and CEO of the New York Power Authority. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also celebrated the winning proposals today.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 October 2018 at 10:25 pm

State announces winners of Reimagine the Canals contest

ROCHESTER – A reimagined Erie Canal includes an armada of boats passing along the canal carrying people tasting craft beers. The future also will see some of the open spaces and former industrial areas along the canal turned into “pocket neighborhoods,” which are within walking distance to shopping and amenities.

The State Canal Corp. and New York Power Authority today announced the winners of a Reimagine the Canals competition. The two winners were picked from seven finalists and 145 initial entries.

The $2.5 million competition shows the state isn’t content to have the canal be a historical piece, said Gil C. Quiniones, New York Power Authority president and CEO.

“The message from the governor is clear: the canals still matter,” Quiniones said at today’s announcement.

The second-place winners of the Reimagine the Canals competition walk across the stage at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester to accept their award. The Erie Armada team, led by Parks & Trails New York and the event-planning firm Area4 based in New York City will receive $500,000 to implement their proposal. Rory McEvoy, left, is co-founder of Area4 and James Meerdink is project director for Parks & Trails.

The Imagine the Canals competition surpassed its goal of drawing out ideas to better capitalize on the canal system, which Quiniones said is an important asset for economic development, tourism and to support agriculture.

The canal system now falls under the domain of the Power Authority. Quiniones embraced the reimagine competition. NYPA and the Canal Corp. are working on the long-term strategy for the canal, and Quiniones said many of the proposals in the competition may be included in the long-term plan.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is greet by Brian Stratton, director of the State Canal Corp.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is optimistic the state will continue to make funding available to help finance some of the initiatives in the Reimagine competition.

The canal, which opened in 1825, was critical in the development of the state and nation. Hochul said the canal did more than move goods.

“It is the flow of ideas,” she said.

Many of the human rights movements, including abolition and women’s suffrage, gained momentum because the canal allowed leaders and residents to promote those ideas.

“It’s the Equal Rights Inspiration Corridor,” she said.

The canal competition put “actionable” ideas for review. The following were the winners:

• Pocket Neighborhoods: The first place entry seeks to build pocket neighborhoods along the Erie Canal and Erie Canalway Trail. Homes would surround a common greenspace and have direct access to the Canal to respond to the growing preference of millennials, families, and seniors to live in a place that is walkable to shopping, restaurants and other amenities.

A pilot project would be built in the Village of Canastota, Madison County, about 25 miles east of Syracuse. The expectation is this project—which would involve a public-private partnership—could be replicated in other communities.

“The pocket neighborhoods project will remind people that the canals are not only a great place to visit but a great place to live,” Quiniones said.

The team, which will receive $1.5 million to further develop its plan, includes the Madison County Planning Department, STREAM Collaborative – an Ithaca architecture and design firm, and Camoin Associates – an economic development consultancy based in Saratoga Springs. The judges cited the project as a model for how land use could be shifted away from the canals’ industrial past to residential and mixed uses.

• Erie Armada: The second winner seeks to create Erie Armada, a multi-day festival and boat race centered on breweries creating human-powered boats that could be made from items common to the industry, such as barrels and beer cans. The race would include parties at the start and end of each 15-mile race that would feature music, local food offerings and craft beverages, including beers created specifically for the armada. The first armada is planned to go between Baldwinsville and Phoenix in Central New York, but other locations are being considered for the future.

Brian Stratton, Canal Corp. director, said the canal is an important asset for the state for tourism, recreation, economic development and agriculture.

The jury commented that the proposal would support new recreation and tourism in the canal corridor and bring a younger audience to the region, while also supporting the local heritage of the canal system. New York was once a leading grower of hops, which were shipped across the nation and abroad via the Erie Canal. The Erie Armada team, led by Parks & Trails New York, event-planning firm Area4 based in New York City and advisor Joe Gustainis of Caledonia, will receive $500,000 to implement their proposal.

New York is home to 400 breweries, up from 95 just six years ago, as well as for the growing number of wineries, distilleries and cideries in the state.

“The canals have long been a source of inspiration and wonder,” said Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation director. “The projects that were announced today are poised to make a real difference in how people use and interact with our canals.”

The state announced the Reimagine competition last year. It sought unique ideas to continue to transform the New York State Canal System into an engine of economic activity and a magnet for tourism and recreation.

“With the winners of the Reimagine the Canals competition now selected, we can continue to tap into one of New York’s most underutilized assets and help this statewide resource reach its full potential,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “There is no doubt these winning ideas will continue to inspire new, creative ideas that will invigorate the canals and draw visitors to one of our most iconic assets for years to come.”

In all, the competition drew 145 entries from nine states and seven nations, with an international panel of judges—including some of the world’s leading canal experts—narrowing the field to seven finalists.

The competition was held as New York celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Barge Canal—now known as the New York State Canal System—which includes the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals. The state also continues to mark the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, construction on which began 201 years ago. Next year, will mark the 200th anniversary of the first boat trip taken on the Erie Canal, from Rome to Utica.

John Kast, an Albion fruit and vegetable farmer, was featured in a video promoting using the canal to help irrigate farms. That project was a finalist but wasn’t picked for financing.

Other finalists included:

• Go the Distance: this initiative will look to develop overnight accommodations for recreational users of the canal system. The team includes the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor from Waterford, NY; Gray Slate Partners from Troy, NY; 2K Design from Clifton Park, NY and Dorgan Architecture & Planning from Storrs, Conn.

• Canal Winterlocks: seeks to develop winter-time uses for the Erie Canal, potentially including skating, hockey, winter festivals and cross-country skiing. The team includes Clare Lyster Urbanism and Architecture and John Ronan Architects, both from Chicago and Urban Engineers from Philadelphia.

• Intra-Works: installations of art and sculpture to forge a cultural identity that links up the Canal System. The team includes the architecture and planning firms Collective Studio from New York City and WRT and Interface, both from Philadelphia.

• Western New York Irrigation: this plan will build off the canal’s water infrastructure to expand its irrigation capabilities. The team includes SUNY ESF Professor Stephen Shaw, C&S Companies of Syracuse and the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

• Upstate Archipelago: this team is developing designs for resilient water landscapes that also provide public recreation space and wildlife habitat. The team includes Cornell Design, Ithaca; Cornell Cooperative Extension and H+N+S, a landscape architecture firm based in the Netherlands.

For more information about the competition and to watch videos about each project, visit

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Orleans sees itself as statewide leader for shared services, municipal cooperation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 September 2018 at 10:35 am

‘The things we’re doing here are extraordinary.’ – Chuck Nesbitt, county chief administrative officer

File photos by Tom Rivers – Employees at Modern Disposal Service pick up trash in Albion in this photo from August 2013. The countywide contract, at $212 per household in 2018, offers big savings for local residents, county officials said. Orleans may be the only county that has a county-wide garbage collection contract.

ALBION –  Municipalities in Orleans County have worked together for many years to reduce costs in providing government services, a mission that has extended with partnerships in Genesee County.

Many of the town supervisors, county legislators and village mayors met Thursday evening for a public hearing on a shared services plan that will be sent to state Department of State next week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 required the shared service plans in the 57 counties outside New York City.

In Orleans, the villages, towns and county have been sharing long before it was a Cuomo decree.

The governments in Orleans have been doing it “out of necessity” for many years, to try to bring down costs, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer.

“Orleans County is and has been at the forefront,” he said during Thursday’s shared service meeting at the County Administration Building. “The things we’re doing here are extraordinary.”

The local governments have moved beyond “low-hanging fruit,” he said. Courts have been consolidated, and the health departments in two counties have a shared board and staff, a first in the state.

There is county-wide garbage collection, animal control services, dispatching and many other intermunicipal services. Just recently the county’s mental health department has teamed with local school districts to have mental health staff based in schools.

“It is clear that Orleans County continues to leave no stone unturned when searching for opportunities to do gain efficiencies and savings for our taxpayers,” Nesbitt writes in a letter to the Department of State. “This has been a long term, ongoing and very effective effort of our leadership.”

As part of the latest shared service plan, the county and the 10 towns in Orleans will formalize a long-standing practice where the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes vehicle and traffic tickets at the town courts. The DA’s Office provides the service without charging the towns.

“The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes the V & T tickets on a handshake deal,” Nesbitt said during Thursday’s meeting.

The county will continue to fund the service, but wants a formal agreement with signatures from the town officials.

Some counties bill towns to prosecute the vehicle and traffic tickets. If Orleans charged the towns, Nesbitt said it would be a bill for about $165,000 ($3.85 multiplied by 42,883 residents).

That savings for the towns will be noted in the shared services plan to be submitted to the state.

The county has taken the lead in a plan for providing water and sewer services for the county. A consultant has completed the first draft for a study that will look at water plants, transmission lines, pump stations, storage tanks and other infrastructure, as well as the personnel to run the systems.

The county and villages also studied law enforcement services, including the possibility for a county-wide agency with no village police departments. That didn’t get any traction from the villages.

Nesbitt, in his letter to the Department of State, listed the following shared service successes:

• Nationally recognized cross jurisdictional shared services in public health Orleans and Genesee Counties

• First in New York State joint Board of Health, Orleans County and Genesee County

• Founding member of 14 county Behavioral Health network and numerous community partners, Integrity Partners for Behavioral Health

• The New York State Leader in Justice Court Consolidation

• Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA), joint advocacy for regionally significant issues such as rural broadband, Plan 2014 – lake levels and regional shallow draft harbor dredging

Bill Oliver, a dispatcher for Orleans County, takes a call at the Orleans County Public Safety Building in this photo from April 2015. Dispatchers respond to about 33,000 calls a year.

• Countywide solid waste and recycling program

• Countywide 9-1-1, Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)

• Countywide Self-Insurance program for Worker’s Compensation

• Countywide Town/County shared services and mutual aid agreements for highway services

• Countywide Town/County snow and ice removal agreements

• Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming Workforce Investment Board

• Town and county level shared services in real property assessment including three coordinated assessment programs and contracted county assessment

• County and Town level – Centralized real property database services and Pictometry Imaging contract

• County level inter-municipal agreement for tax mapping, Orleans County and Genesee County

• Countywide animal control services

• School-based social services caseworkers

• School-based mental health satellite clinic offices

• County Level – Shared Crisis Services Hotline, Orleans County and Genesee County contract with Niagara County

• Multi-Agency Land Bank, Niagara Orleans Regional Land Improvement Corporation, Orleans County, Niagara County, City of Niagara Falls, City of Lockport, City of North Tonawanda

• Cooperative Mental Health Continuing Day Treatment, Orleans County and Genesee County

• Town and County level cooperative Property and Casualty Insurance purchasing – NYMIR

• Town and County level cooperative energy purchasing MEGA and NYMEP

• County level cooperative health insurance procurement the Alliance of Western New York

• County level shared Youth Bureau – Orleans County, Genesee County and the City of Batavia

• Stop DWI education inter-municipal agreement with Genesee County Youth Bureau

• County and several towns cooperate to provide a countywide E-Waste Program

“I would put this list against anyone else in the state,” Nesbitt said at Thursday’s meeting. “This is no longer low-hanging fruit. This is the real deal.”

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Orleans has fifth most population loss among 62 counties since 2010

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 March 2018 at 12:36 pm

The latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau have been released and the numbers show that Orleans County has the fifth largest population loss among the 62 counties since 2010.

The population is down 4.4 percent or by 1,900 residents from the 42,883 in the 2010 Census. Orleans is now at 40,993, according to the population estimates in 2017. The county is down another 362 people from the 2016 estimate.

Statewide, the population has grown 2.4 percent or by 471,297 since 2010 when the population was 19,378,102. However, the upstate population has declined 1.0 percent or by 61,668 (from 6,339,276) in 2010. Downstate has grown by 4.1 percent or by 532,965 people from 13,038,826 in 2010, according to the Census data compiled by The Empire Center.

Orleans is one of 8 counties with 4 percent of more population loss since 2010, according to the report. Rural counties are leaders in population decline.

Other counties with bigger losses than Orleans include:

• Hamilton County, 62nd of the 62 counties, has the biggest percentage drop at 7,3 percent, down 351 people from 4,836.

• Delaware, 61st, is down 6.2 percent or 2,979 from 47,980

• Chenango, 60th, shrank 5.2 percent or 2,614 from 50,477

• Tioga, 59th, is down 5.0 percent or 2,547 from 51,125

• Orleans, 58th, declined 4.4 percent or 1,900 from 42,883

The nearby GLOW counties also experienced losses.

• Wyoming ranked 53rd out of the 62 counties with 3.9 percent drop or decline of 1,662 from 42,155

• Livingston, 35th, is down 2.4 percent or 1,594 from 65,393

• Genesee, 40th, declined 3.5 percent or 2,213 from 60,079

The Bronx, grew 6.2 percent, and added 86,052 from 1,385,108, to lead the state in population growth.

To see the report from the Empire Center, click here.

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News station in Buffalo highlights how state’s AIM program is grossly unfair to villages

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 February 2018 at 10:15 am

A news station in Buffalo has published a piece on the state’s inequitable AIM program, which grossly favors cities over villages and towns. Click here to see “Short Changed: How a State Aid Program is Generous to Cities, Stingy to Towns and Villages.”

WGRZ on Tuesday focused an investigative report on Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, and how the $714 million in state revenues for municipalities are not distributed on a per capita basis among cities, villages and towns.

WGRZ highlighted the disparity between two neighboring communities in Chautauqua County. In Fredonia, the state gives $89,000 in AIM funding for the 11,000 village residents. Dunkirk, only a few miles away, has 12,000 residents but gets $1.6 million in AIM. Dunkirk happens to be a city.

In Orleans Hub’s nearly five years of existence we have frequently written about the state’s unfair AIM program and how it offers crumbs to villages and towns, while propping up cities. The lack of AIM is one of the main culprits in why the villages in Orleans County have among the highest tax rates in the region.

We don’t begrudge the cities their money. The densely populated areas deserve more AIM because those municipalities bear the brunt of providing so many public services with police, water, sewer, fire protection, streets and other many programs. The villages and cities also have a higher concentration of poor residents, aging housing stock and century-old infrastructure. The cities and villages are centers for civic life with government buildings, schools, churches and other tax-exempt properties.

Villages function as mini-cities but only get a tiny fraction of what a city gets per capita in AIM. Cities get an average of $277 per capita from the state while the towns and villages only get $7 per capita. (Most of the smaller cities get about $100 to $150 per capita with bigger cities getting much more.)

The Village of Albion and its 6,056 residents receives $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. The difference: Salamanca is a city.

The lack of AIM is particularly painful for a county like Orleans, where there are no cities. We don’t get at least one municipality with the resources to offer the park upgrades, well-maintained streets and sidewalks, and other “curb appeal” that attracts residents and businesses. We do what we can on a shoe string, and still have crushing taxes because almost the entire village and town budgets are on the backs of the local taxpayers. In cities, residents only cover a fraction of the budgets because the state aid pays for so many services and programs.

It’s disappointing this clear inequity and structural discrimination against village and town residents doesn’t get mentioned much in the media or by state legislators. It should be a top priority and a frequent call for reform.

We are glad to see WGRZ shined a light on the issue.

We’ve published the following chart many times in recent years. Here it is again. You should feel your blood boil if you live in Orleans County. Equitable AIM is the transformative change we need to help stop the population losses, the shrinking tax assessments and other decline we see in our communities.

City (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Salamanca (Cattaraugus) $928,131 5,815 $159.61
Dunkirk (Chautauqua) $1,575,527 12,563 $125.41
Batavia (Genesee) $1,750,975 15,465 $113.22
Sherrill (Oneida) $372,689 3,071 $121.35
Norwich (Chenango) $1,089,279 7,190 $151.50
Waverliet (Albany) $1,210,193 10,254 $118.02
Cortland (Cortland) $2,018,330 11,183 $180.48
Beacon (Dutchess) $1,537,478 15,541 $98.93
Gloversville (Fulton) $2,302,592 15,665 $146.99
Johnstown (Fulton) $1,388,910 8,743 $158.86
Canandaigua (Ontario) $1,119,304 10,545 $106.15
Geneva (Ontario) $1,942,613 13,261 $146.49
Rensselaer (Rensselaer) $1,137,317 9,392 $121.09
Mechanicville (Saratoga) $662,392 5,196 $127.48
Ogdensburg (St. Lawrence) $1,708,659 11,128 $153.55
Village (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Albion (Orleans) $38,811 6,056 $6.41
Medina (Orleans) $45,523 6,065 $7.51
Holley (Orleans) $17,786 1,811 $9.82
Lyndonville (Orleans) $6,251 838 $7.46
Brockport (Monroe) $110,171 8,366 $13.17
Fredonia (Chautauqua) $89,140 11,230 $7.94
East Aurora (Erie) $50,569 6,236 $8.11
Le Roy (Genesee) $34,391 4,391 $7.83
Geneseo (Livingston) $72,701 8,031 $9.05
Whitesboro (Oneida) $73,012 3,772 $19.36
Cobleskill (Schoharie) $36,461 4,678 $7.79
Massena (St. Lawrence) $132,671 10,936 $12.13
Potsdam (St. Lawrence) $111,864 9,428 $11.87
Bath (Steuben) $103,906 5,786 $17.96
Monticello (Sullivan) $46,903 6,726 $6.97
Newark (Wayne) $65,833 9,145 $7.20

Source: New York State Division of Budget for state aid. Population is from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 population count. Orleans Hub calculated the per capita numbers.

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Editorial: Orleans County is chock-full of fun, without the big-name drama

Photos by Tom Rivers: Bryce Wilson, a Little League player for Carlton, is mobbed by his teammates after crossing the plate for a home run during a game last July.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 February 2018 at 9:57 am

(Editor’s Note: Each year I write, in about 500 words, the welcome message for the Orleans County Visitor’s Guide, which is published by the Lake Country Pennysaver. The new issue will be out soon. I encourage others to write a pro-Orleans essay. You are welcome to send them to

No casinos. No big-name bands or professional sports. We don’t even have a movie theater. You’d think there was nothing to do in Orleans County.

Wrong. I can tell you every weekend there are lots of things going on. Local business associations and civic groups keep community festivals and celebrations going throughout the year. There is always something to do.

But it isn’t “big time.” It’s very much “small town.” And that’s a good thing.

Kids still play baseball and the games are often thrilling nail-biters, played until the last light of dusk. You will see kids with huge smiles riding in the back of a pickup, on their way to the ice cream stand to celebrate after a game.

High school football is still popular and Albion and Medina can count on big crowds for “Friday night lights.” People show up in droves for the football, the pep band, the popcorn, the home town pride.

Our school districts put on musicals that are regularly recognized as among the best in the area by the Rochester Broadway Theater League.

The local 4-H Fair is alcohol-free but that hardly makes it a bore. About 30,000 folks attend the week-long event each year making Orleans the most popular youth fair in the state. The community supports the 4-H kids showing their animals and participating in many contests, including a pie-eating showdown.

The Grease Pole competition at the annual county fair provides a lot of laughs as the teams test their mettle and endurance in getting to the top.

One of the fair’s biggest draws: The greased pole climbing contest. It’s an Orleans tradition, with about 1,000 people gathering each night to watch teams try to climb a utility pole slathered in grease. It’s quite a spectacle, watching the teams slip and struggle, with many completing the tough challenge, gobs of grease covering their clothes and embedded in their hair.

The fair also has a midway, carnival games, deep fried dough, taffy, fireworks and a very entertaining karaoke contest. A local grocery store employee is among the crowd favorites with his high-energy country music renditions.

We still have parades with fire trucks, Scouts, and veterans in the Honor Guard. The local marching bands give their best show of the year in the local parade. People still line Main Street, sometimes a couple hours early, to see the patriotic displays.

We still do campfires, fly kites, and talk to neighbors on our porches. We have tournaments for kickball, bocce, bowling, horseshoes and darts.

Turn off your cell phone and enjoy a walk on a nature trail. In the fall you’ll see leaves floating by in some of the streams.

Fishing remains big here, whether by boat, casting from the pier at the Oak Orchard Harbor, or pulling on the waders and trying our luck in local creeks. Even the most camera-shy people lose any reluctance to pose for a picture when they have caught a 30-pound Chinook salmon.

You still see kids selling lemonade from tables in their driveways, kids riding bikes or skateboards down the sidewalks, or Boy Scouts filing into the parish hall for the annual Pinewood Derby.

The church bells still ring from steeples that were built more than a century ago.

The only Elvis sightings we’ve had are a nearby impersonator at the Super Cruise in Medina, when Main Street is blocked off for about 300 classic cars.

I guess Orleans County hasn’t hit the big time. But that’s just fine by us.

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Editorial: GOP State Senate blueprint for NY should include equitable AIM funding for villages

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 January 2018 at 7:52 am

The Republicans in the State Senate last week presented a “Blueprint for a Stronger New York.” The state senators in the majority want to reduce property taxes, especially for senior citizens.

Their proposal: freeze school taxes for the elderly and eliminate those taxes for seniors in 10 years.

The Senate majority also wants to make the tax cap permanent, limit state spending increases to 2 percent annually and boost the property tax rebate by 25 percent.

The blueprint falls short, mainly by neglecting to address that AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) funding from the state has been frozen for several years. That $715 million goes to cities, towns and villages. Cities get 90 percent of the money. The town and villages get morsels.

Cities get an average of $277 per capita from the state while the towns and villages only get $7 per capita. (Most of the smaller cities get about $100 to $150 per capita with bigger cities getting much more.) The cities are population centers and are public service-intensive, with police, parks, streets, fire and ambulance, water and sewer, cemeteries, and other services.

Towns don’t tend to offer services to that level, but villages often do – yet there is little state aid to help with the cost. That is a main driver in the villages sky-high tax rates, especially in Orleans County where the situation is compounded by a small sliver of the local sales tax going to villages. More sales tax would bring down the village tax rates in Orleans, but county officials say it would then push up the county rate.

Giving the villages AIM funding at even $100 per capita (still about a third of the city average) would bring down village tax rates by about 20 to 25 percent in Orleans County. In Albion and Medina, the largest local villages – each with about 6,000 people – $100 of AIM per person would be about $600,000 per village.

I would argue villages with police officers should get far more in AIM (because they are saving the state from adding troopers or the county from adding more deputies). These villages also have a higher concentration of poverty and elderly residents.

Consider that the Village of Albion and its 6,056 residents receives $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. The difference: Salamanca is a city.

It’s disappointing that more AIM funding didn’t even make get a mention in the “Blueprint for a Stronger New York.”

If the State Senate Republicans were serious about easing the taxes of some of the poorest senior citizens in the state, the GOP would push for more AIM for the villages.

If the GOP wanted to make rural New York more business friendly, it would push for more AIM for villages. Right now, many new businesses set up just outside villages, avoiding the village tax while still tapping village water and sewer lines, and having access to their population centers.

If the GOP was serious about stemming the population decline in our small counties, it would insist on more AIM funding for villages.

If the GOP wanted to put more money in the pockets of young families, it would demand more AIM funding for villages.

The State Senate Republicans, who represent many villages, should consider the structural discrimination imposed on the villages by the state, which redistributes so little in AIM to villages.

Give the chart below a look and ask how villages are supposed to function, providing critical government services without overwhelming taxpayers? The crumbs of AIM funding force villages to resort to property taxes for most of their revenue.

These villages can’t even get on the radar of the state politicians. There is no plan for the 2 million village residents in New York, who are about 10 percent of the state’s population.

City (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Salamanca (Cattaraugus) $928,131 5,815 $159.61
Dunkirk (Chautauqua) $1,575,527 12,563 $125.41
Batavia (Genesee) $1,750,975 15,465 $113.22
Sherrill (Oneida) $372,689 3,071 $121.35
Norwich (Chenango) $1,089,279 7,190 $151.50
Waverliet (Albany) $1,210,193 10,254 $118.02
Cortland (Cortland) $2,018,330 11,183 $180.48
Beacon (Dutchess) $1,537,478 15,541 $98.93
Gloversville (Fulton) $2,302,592 15,665 $146.99
Johnstown (Fulton) $1,388,910 8,743 $158.86
Canandaigua (Ontario) $1,119,304 10,545 $106.15
Geneva (Ontario) $1,942,613 13,261 $146.49
Rensselaer (Rensselaer) $1,137,317 9,392 $121.09
Mechanicville (Saratoga) $662,392 5,196 $127.48
Ogdensburg (St. Lawrence) $1,708,659 11,128 $153.55
Village (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Albion (Orleans) $38,811 6,056 $6.41
Medina (Orleans) $45,523 6,065 $7.51
Holley (Orleans) $17,786 1,811 $9.82
Lyndonville (Orleans) $6,251 838 $7.46
Brockport (Monroe) $110,171 8,366 $13.17
Fredonia (Chautauqua) $89,140 11,230 $7.94
East Aurora (Erie) $50,569 6,236 $8.11
Le Roy (Genesee) $34,391 4,391 $7.83
Geneseo (Livingston) $72,701 8,031 $9.05
Whitesboro (Oneida) $73,012 3,772 $19.36
Cobleskill (Schoharie) $36,461 4,678 $7.79
Massena (St. Lawrence) $132,671 10,936 $12.13
Potsdam (St. Lawrence) $111,864 9,428 $11.87
Bath (Steuben) $103,906 5,786 $17.96
Monticello (Sullivan) $46,903 6,726 $6.97
Newark (Wayne) $65,833 9,145 $7.20

Source: New York State Division of Budget for state aid. Population is from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 population count. Orleans Hub calculated the per capita numbers.

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2 congregations say ‘win-win’ with shared church building

Photos by Tom Rivers: Linda Glantz, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Albion, preaches during this morning’s service held at Christ Church, an Episcopal Church. The United Methodists have their service at 9:30, followed the Episcopalians at 11 a.m.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 February 2017 at 5:08 pm

2 years ago United Methodists in Albion started holding services at Episcopal Church

Christ Church holds services for the United Methodist Church at 9:30 on Sundays, followed by the Episcopalians at 11 a.m.

ALBION – Two church congregations have been sharing a building for almost two years now, and the partnership has gone extremely well, leaders from both the United Methodist Church and Christ Church said today.

The United Methodists have been holding services at Christ Church, an Episcopal Church building, since Easter in April 2015. The United Methodists left their historic building at the corner of Platt and East State streets. That building faces a costly roof repair that church members said would take $1 million to fix. That proved too much for the congregation.

They have had the building up for sale and the North Point Chapel, which currently meets at the Arnold Gregory Memorial Complex, has submitted an offer. The sale needs a final approval from the state Attorney General’s Office.

North Point is the church that paid for fireworks in Albion on July 5 for three years. North Point has scheduled a 10 a.m. service on April 2 for the church launch at the former United Methodist building. Click here for more information.

“It will be nice to see the building rejuvenated,” said Reid Cole, chairman of the United Methodist church board of trustees.

He has been a part of the church for more than 50 years, since he was a kid.

The United Methodist Church building has been vacant for about two years. North Point Chapel has submitted an offer than has been accepted by the United Methodists, but needs final approval from the State Attorney General’s Office.

Cole and other United Methodists praised the Episcopalians for sharing their building at 26 South Main St.

“The Episcopalians have been more than welcoming,” said Marie Follett. “They have been wonderful.”

Follett attended services at the United Methodist building for more than 50 years. She continues to play the organ for church services. The United Methodists also have choir practice on Wednesday at Christ Church.

The United Methodists have their hymnals and songbooks on a cart and hand them out for their services. There are about 30 to 50 regular attendees on Sundays for the 9:30 service.

“It’s been good to be able to share space,” Follett said.

The churches share the costs for heating, snow plowing and cleaning services. That has helped the Episcopalians.

Each congregation goes to each other’s community dinners, and other celebrations.

“It’s been a win-win,” said Jan Cheverie, a member of the Christ Church vestry.

Christ Church holds services at 11 a.m. That later service worked well with scheduling for the United Methodists, which have had an earlier worship time.

Jan Cheverie, serving as acolyte during this morning’s Episcopal service, extinguishes the candles at the end of the service.

The United Methodists have a coffee hour after their service, and sometimes that stretches until after the Episcopal service. Members from both congregations can find themselves socializing until well after noon.

Linda Glantz became pastor on July 1 of the United Methodist churches in Albion and Holley. She is pictured inside Christ Church today. Glantz is leading both United Methodist churches in planning for the future.

Linda Glantz started as the United Methodist pastor on July 1. She also leads the United Methodist congregation in Holley.

She said the Albion congregation experienced a loss with leaving its building that was its home for more than 150 years. Now the focus is on the future and being a vital congregation for years to come.

The church leadership is meeting to focus on the next steps – including where to hold services. The United Methodists may decide to stay long-term in the shared role with Christ Church, or it may look for another spot. The church leadership will weigh that decision.

“It is a process to get the church from healing to seeing what the future holds,” Glantz said.

The United Methodists are going to meet the next few weeks in the fellowship hall for church services. That way they can decorate for the Lenten season. Right now there is some shuffling of sacraments and other elements in between the two services.

The Episcopalians are grateful to see their historic building, the oldest of the church buildings at the Courthouse Square, being better utilized, said Kevin Doherty, a warden with the church.

“A used church building is much better than an unused one,” he said after today’s services.

During announcements today at Christ Church, Doherty urged the group to attend an Ash Wednesday observance this Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. led by the United Methodists.

The Rev. Judy Hefner, supply priest for Christ Church, shares an announcement at today’s service. Hefner is holding a prayer devotional that the United Methodists have available for the everyone.

Judy Hefner, the church’s priest, also held up a prayer devotional made available by the United Methodists. She urged the congregation, which today numbered 10, to read the booklet. She said she would include it in her own daily devotionals.

Hefner, a supply priest, said there hasn’t been any hard feelings among the two congregations, which have different styles of worship.

“It’s been good to be able to share space,” she said.


Marie Follett plays the organ at the Christ Church. Follett has been a member of the United Methodist Church for more than 50 years.

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