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Pandemic perspective: County tourism officials optimistic visitors will return to Orleans

Posted 4 May 2020 at 6:02 pm

‘The spirit of travel will be a necessary and prominent component of our return to everyday life after the NY Pause is lifted and must be promoted, supported and protected at all costs.’

(Editor’s Note: Dawn Borchet is the county’s tourism director and Lynne Menz is the marketing manager for the Tourism Department. They wrote this article for the start of National Travel & Tourism Week.)

By Dawn Borchert and Lynne Menz

The 2020 Orleans County Tourism Guide is 48 pages. The dominant photo on the cover shows a sailboat during a striking sunset. There are also photos of the chapel at Hillside Cemetery near Holley (showcasing Medina sandstone architecture), two kids with large salmon and the Canal Culvert, the only place where traffic goes under the Erie Canal. The guide has a theme of “Great Lake Adventure & Canal Town Culture.”

It seems futile to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week during a pandemic that we haven’t seen the likes of in our lifetime! But we would be remiss not to share what tourism means to Orleans County and speculate how we’ll fare this summer. A proclamation was signed by our legislature in April proclaiming May 3 to May 9, 2020 as National Travel and Tourism Week in Orleans County, NY, and “we urge the citizens of Orleans County to join us in recognizing the critical role this industry places in Orleans County”. Highlights of the proclamation are as follows:

  • Tourism is the foundation of a healthy workforce, whereby Tourism Industry Employment remains the 3rd largest Industry in New York State, supporting 15.8 million jobs in the U.S. in 2019, including 9 million directly in the travel industry and 6.8 million in other industries.
  • Spending by travelers has aided state and local governments alike, generating $180 billion in tax revenue last year to support essential services and programs nationwide.
  • Nearly 253 million visitors traveled to New York State in 2018, generating an economic impact of $114.8 billion, including direct spending of $71.8 billion and state and local taxes of $8.9 billion.
  • According to the NY State DEC Anglers Survey for 2017, the total annual economic impact to Orleans County from sportfishing alone was $27 million with $5.1 million in local and state tax revenue.
  • The spirit of travel will be a necessary and prominent component of our return to everyday life after the NY Pause is lifted and must be promoted, supported and protected at all costs.

The Orleans County Tourism Department is funded through occupancy tax which has continually increased each year, with a record of $58,000 collected in 2019. This 4% “bed tax” is collected by our motels, inns, lodges and vacation rentals which is then matched by NY State through the I Love NY marketing campaign. In 2020, we began working with a record high budget of $120,000 to promote tourism in Orleans County, but, we are currently at risk of losing the state funds due to the pandemic. However, that’s not going to stop our momentum to promote tourism in Orleans County!

We just recently published the 2020 Orleans County Travel & Adventure Guide and we’re in the process of distributing them throughout the northeast at interstate travel centers, AAA offices, airports, convention centers and sending it to those planning a visit. The guide is the largest to date (48 pages) and loaded with historic and natural attractions to explore as well as places to shop, dine and stay. We expanded on our trails feature and even included a list of ice cream shops this year! The guides are currently available at the Orleans County Administration Building and will be stocked at the four county libraries (designated as official Orleans County Visitors Centers) as well as several of our tourism partners (museums, lodging, advertisers) as soon as they reopen.

Orleans County Tourism is involved in several co-op projects with neighboring counties. We recently unveiled the 100 Must See Miles on the Erie Canal brochure in partnership with Visit Rochester and Wayne County Tourism. This brochure showcases 50 unique points of interest along the Erie Canal in the 3-county/100 mile stretch between Medina (Orleans) and Clyde (Wayne County). We are also included in two new regional websites: the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council (LOSPC) – and the GLOW region’s updated brand, “Fresh Air Adventures”, which is anticipated to go live before the summer.

File photo by Tom Rivers: Lyndonville’s Fourth of July celebration, capped by fireworks, is among the community events that have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between January and April, Dawn Borchert, our Tourism Director, represented Orleans County at travel and outdoor shows touting Orleans County and especially our ideal location. Shows included the NY Times World Travel Expo, the Harrisburg Outdoor Show, AAA Shows in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the Fly Fishing Expo in New Jersey with Ron Bierstine of Oak Orchard Tackle & Lodge. Meeting travelers face-to-face has been invaluable to find out what the consumer is interested in and introducing them to the variety of Orleans County’s assets.

Aside from visitors attending weddings, reunions and family functions, we have found those who come to Orleans County are generally from the Northeast US and visit primarily for fishing, craft beverage touring, shopping and being near water, specifically the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. In this pandemic, while the large cities’ tourism and convention bureaus are taking devastating economic hits, rural communities such as ours are expected to fare better while travelers are looking for “socially distant” activities such as camping, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.

A recent survey polled 1,000 NYS residents across different age groups and the results support our speculation regarding traveling post-quarantine in NY State: 57% are attracted to local areas with natural attractions and smaller communities. Travelers will be avoiding long trips, 71% will travel by personal vehicles (avoiding public transportation – airplanes, trains, cruises) and opt for stay-cations this summer. The activities that are expected to experience significant decrease in attendance are the amusement parks, casinos, theaters/concerts and museums with high capacity.

We are saddened by the fact that so many of our hometown events have been cancelled this summer – our events that can pass for a backdrop in a Hallmark movie. The Memorial Day Parades, Strawberry Festival, Independence Day Festival, Holley and Albion’s Summer Fests and several concert series are being shelved for the health and safety of our community. We remain optimistic that after the NYS Pause is over, we expect that our restaurants, shops, marinas and campgrounds will be back in business and our vacation rentals occupied with visitors taking advantage of our rural location while maintaining social distancing. And, we anticipate our communities will be spontaneous and creative, yet responsible when it comes to entertainment.

We’re reminded of the final scenes from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” when all the Whos from Whoville came out of their homes on Christmas morning and joined hands in celebration despite having their Christmas presents and decorations stolen. Their joyful spirit couldn’t be broken, and subsequently “the Grinch’s heart grew three times that day!” We predict that day is just around the corner! (Except we will be donning our homemade designer masks, remain 6’ apart and refrain from holding hands!)

We have so much to be grateful for here in our corner of the world that many of us take for granted – Lake Ontario, the “Oak”, the historic Erie Canal and the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge – just to name a few of our natural assets waiting to be navigated, fished and explored. Coupled with strong communities teeming with pride, spirit and creativity, why wouldn’t anyone want to make Orleans County this summer’s destination?

Wishing you and yours the safest National Travel & Tourism Week!

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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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Editorial: Increasing AIM funding would be big boost to poverty-stricken villages

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 January 2017 at 1:39 pm
File photo: A smashed sign shown in the winter of 2014 in the village of Albion is symbolic of the rough roads villages are charting due to miniscule aid from the state. Cities get far more in per capita funding than villages.

File photo: A smashed sign shown in the winter of 2014 in the village of Albion is symbolic of the rough roads villages are charting due to miniscule aid from the state. Cities get far more in per capita funding than larger villages despite providing similar services.

It’s a new year, a time of goals and initiatives to better ourselves, our community, our state and country.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a “State of the State” address today. He has put out at least 15 proposals in the past week or so. Cuomo says he wants to rev up the economy, help Middle Class families and improve infrastructure, among many issues. The governor and state legislators generally don’t have much to say about rural NY, especially Orleans County.

Orleans Hub has tried before to at least get our community on the radar screen of Cuomo and the State Legislature. We’re going to follow Cuomo’s lead in putting out proposals.

Our top issue is reforming the AIM program. The state sets aside $715 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. Cities get almost all of that money, 90 percent, with a few crumbs for towns and villages.

For about three years, Orleans Hub has tried to highlight the alarming disparity in state aid between cities and villages. Some of the local Village Boards, Town Boards and the County Legislature passed resolutions in 2015, asking the State Legislature and governor to boost AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) for villages and craft a plan for a fairer distribution of the money.

Local elected officials seemed to forget about the issue last year, even though it’s a shocking form of structural discrimination that is a leading culprit in the sky-high village taxes around here.

The cities get a per capita of $277 per resident in AIM while villages and towns only get $7 per resident.

Consider that Albion (population 6,056) and Medina (population 6,065) receive $38,811 in AIM funding and $45,523, respectively. Sherrill, the state’s smallest city with 3,071 people in Oneida County, gets $372,689. Salamanca in Cattaraugus County is nearly the same size at Albion and Medina. Salamanca gets $928,131 for a city of 5,815 people.

If Albion and Medina received what Salamanca did in state aid, the two villages could cut their taxes by about 40 percent. No longer would these villages be near the top of the list for most oppressive tax burdens in the Finger Lakes and Western New York.

Medina and Albion also are high poverty communities, topping the 20 percent threshold. Normally that level of poverty would draw local and state action, a push for attention and resources. But not for Albion and Medina.

If the state gave Albion and Medina more AIM funding, even at $100 per resident, the residents in these poverty-stricken villages would get significant relief in their wallets. They would have more money to spend at local businesses, boosting our local economy. None of the state or regional poverty plans include our local village residents. The cities get all of the attention and resources.

Check out this chart to see the discrimination, and ask why doesn’t the governor, the State Legislature and our local political establishment fight for fairness? It’s discrimination, plain and simple.

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 in 2013-14 (The state aid numbers haven’t changed for several years.) Population is from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 population count. Orleans Hub calculated the per capita numbers.

Orleans Hub would like to again challenge the local municipal officials to at least pass formal resolutions seeking a fairer distribution of AIM funds. The local officials should lobby, and do a public protest about the issue. I would suggest forming a village coalition and marching the length of the canal. That might be ambitious this year. So maybe just cover the length in Orleans, or Western New York with groups of residents, police officers, firefighters, children – who all are treated as second-class citizens by the AIM program. A march for fairness would generate some publicity and put pressure on the governor and state legislators.

But, first off, let’s start the year with resolutions demanding equity in state aid. Here is sample resolution that the local boards are welcome to use or tweak.

RESOLUTION No. 1, January 2017

WHEREAS, New York State provides $715 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities each year, and 90 percent of that goes to upstate cities;

WHEREAS, the AIM funding per capita is $277 per city resident and only $7 for residents in towns and villages;

WHEREAS, there are 549 villages with a combined population of 1,918,032 in New York State, including four (Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina) in Orleans County with a population of 14,770;

WHEREAS, many villages wrestle with the same problems as cities, with aging infrastructure, blighted housing, abandoned commercial sites, brownfields and increased crime rates;

WHEREAS, villages are similar to cities with a high concentration of senior citizens and low-income families;

WHEREAS, villages mirror cities as centers for culture, civic and religious life, especially in rural counties;

WHEREAS, villages are like cities with many important community structures – churches, courthouses, schools and other public buildings – that do not pay taxes, shifting the tax burden for those sites to other residents in the village or city;

WHEREAS, the state’s tiny share of AIM funding for villages has put villages at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining businesses and residents;

WHEREAS, the huge disparity in AIM funding between the cities and villages is a form of state-sponsored economic discrimination, resulting in much higher tax bills for village residents and a diminished quality of life;

WHEREAS, the erosion of the village tax base has shifted a greater burden of town, county and school district tax burden outside the village, punishing the outside-village residents as well;

WHEREAS, the high tax rates in the village encourage suburban sprawl and development of green space and farm land for housing tracts, industrial parks and “Big Box” stores;

WHEREAS, village residents are no less a New Yorker than a city resident;

RESOLVED, the Legislature/Town Board/Village Board/Board of Education, call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to adopt a fair formula for sharing AIM funding so village residents can enjoy municipal services and their homes without being taxed to death.

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, Assemblyman Michael Norris, and all others deemed necessary and proper.

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Villages see sales tax share fall as town assessments grow

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 December 2016 at 1:48 pm

Sales tax from county for villages falls $25K over 4 years

Photo by Tom Rivers: Downtown Albion is pictured in this photo from December 2015.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Downtown Albion is pictured in this photo from December 2015.

ALBION – The sales tax for the four villages in Orleans County – Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina – has fallen by about $25,000 in the past four years because the assessed values of the towns are going up while the villages are shrinking in assessed value.

The county has a sales tax formula that freezes the share to the 10 towns and four villages at $1,366,671. That amount hasn’t changed since 2001, even though the sales tax has grown from about $9 million in 2001 to over $15 million.

However, the amount for the villages and the six towns with villages can vary annually as the assessed values change for the municipalities. If town values increase at a rate more than the villages, those towns with villages will get more of the village sales tax.

The share for the four villages in 2013 was $404,661 of the sales tax. The village share fell to $400,681 in 2014, to $398,111 in 2015, to $391,230 in 2016 and now the biggest drop yet, $379,265 for 2017.

The sales tax for the individual villages dropped the following from 2013 to 2017: Albion, $180,457 to $164,617; Holley, $47,595 to $45,671; Lyndonville, $15,626 to $15,316; and Medina, $160,988 to $153,661.

The villages’ loss has been the the gain for six towns, especially for the Town of Albion, which pocketed more than half of the total increase for the towns. Here is how the towns’ shares changed from 2013 to 2017: Albion, $111,754 to $124,978; Gaines, $85,317 to $87,933; Murray, $111,372 to $113,295; Ridgeway, $123,488 to $129,171; Shelby, $101,116 to $102,760; and Yates, $65,929 to $66,239.

The four other towns without villages did not have a change in their sales tax share. Those towns receive the following: Barre, $64,536; Carlton, $95,418; Clarendon, $116,261; and Kendall, $86,813.

Going back even farther paints an even more dismal picture for the four villages.

Since the county froze the share to the villages and towns, the village share peaked at $211,669.32 for Albion in 2004 (down about $37,000 to $164,617.48 in 2017). Medina dropped about $20,000 from $173,592.02 in 2002 to $173,592.02 in 2017. Holley hit a high of $62,549.14 in 2002 – 15 years later it’s down to $45,671.04. Lyndonville was at $18,591.94 in 2002 and has slid to $15,316.57 in 2017.

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Cable company merger will fill in many gaps for high-speed Internet in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 December 2016 at 9:42 am
File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

Orleans County has about 3,600 households without access to high-speed Internet, but that number would shrink to 77 as part of the Charter Communications and Time Warner merger.

Charter Communications has to make broadband Internet access available to an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in new York over four years as part of the merger.

Charter’s plan would nearly cover the remaining gaps in Orleans, leaving 77 households without access. Charter would also make significant improvements in Niagara County, reaching all but 943, with most of those gaps in rural eastern Niagara County.

Orleans and Niagara officials have been working together the past four years to bring more high-speed Internet to the two counties.

The state announced a $500 million broadband push last year, but Orleans and Niagara held off from applying because they wanted to see what Charter’s plans were for the two counties.

“It’s a great Christmas present,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator who has been working on the broadband initiative with David Godfrey from Niagara County. “It’s not 100 percent but it’s great news.”

Johnson and Godfrey say the remaining unserved areas after Charter’s work may be too small to get a vendor to step in and provide the service. The state funds, and possibly federal money being pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), may be able to reach the last mile so the entire counties are covered.

Johnson is pleased Charter has Orleans in its build-out plan. She believes about four years of work, of identifying unserved households and pressing the state and federal government about the lack of high-speed Internet, paid off with Charter putting Orleans among the 145,000 to be served.

The state and industry maps for service were wrong before, Johnson said. The state and broadband companies had said 97 percent of Orleans was covered. But local government officials and a consultant went house to house and identified a much bigger unserved population – about 3,600 of the approximately 20,000 households in Orleans didn’t have access to high-speed Internet.

The four villages – Albion, Holley Lyndonville and Medina – all have 100 percent access. But out in the country it’s a different story. There are entire segments of some rural roads with no high-speed Internet access.

Orleans officials will be meeting with Charter later this month to discuss the build-out. Johnson will urge the company to fill all of the missing gaps. She also wants Orleans to be early in the build-out that will be spread over four years in the state.

“This is truly a win for the two counties,” Johnson said.

Godfrey also is pleased with the plan for more service in Niagara.

“It’s quite amazing how much they will do,” he said.

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Pride Pak’s facility awes dignitaries

Photos by Tom Rivers: Pride Pak has been praised for the appearance of its new vegetable processing site on Maple Ridge Road in Medina.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2016 at 10:10 am

MEDINA – Fred Miller worked at Lipton in Albion as a young man. The plant closed in 1980, putting hundreds of people out of work.

Miller would go on to run a hardware store in downtown Albion. He also is an Orleans County legislator.

Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, welcomes about 300 people to the ribbon-cutting and opening celebration for the company’s new facility in Medina. Chapman credited CEO Steve Karr, lower left, with pushing the project to completion.

Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, welcomes about 300 people to the ribbon-cutting and opening celebration for the company’s new facility in Medina. Chapman credited CEO Steve Karr, lower left, with pushing the project to completion.

On Wednesday he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the new Pride Pak vegetable processing site in Medina, a 68,000-square-foot building. Pride Pak has plans for expansion, with two more similar-size buildings.

Seeing the building stirred memories for Miller, of the busy Lipton plant that provided jobs for hundreds of working class families.

“This is wonderful to see,” Miller said inside the spacious Pride Pak, a 280-foot-long building where employees trim, clean and pack salads for Wegmans and other Pride Pak customers. “It reminds me of the old days when I went to Liptons.”

Pride Pak was looking at the former Bernz-O-Matic site in Medina, but decided to build new on Maple Ridge Road. The new facility didn’t need a costly retrofit and the site has room for the future expansions.

Steve Karr, Pride Pak CEO, said the company didn’t go cheap with the new building. It wanted an attractive facility on an important gateway in the Medina community.

Steve Karr, company CEO, thanks the Medina community for a warm welcome for Pride Pak.

Steve Karr, company CEO, thanks the Medina community for a warm welcome for Pride Pak.

Mike Sidari, the Medina mayor, thanked Karr and Pride Pak for such a nice addition to Maple Ridge Road. Not only will the company employ up to 300 people at full build-out, but it added a beautiful site on a busy corridor, Sidari said.

“It’s an inviting building as you come into the village,” Sidari said.

The grand opening celebration on Wednesday included fancy hors d’oeuvre appetizers, and local beers and wines, as well as a band playing. A warehouse was turned into a room for fine dining.

“We’ve been to a lot of ribbon cuttings,” State Sen. Robert Ortt said, “but none like this. This is truly amazing.”

Ortt said Pride Pak’s decision to build its first U.S. facility in Medina shows that rural Orleans County welcomes business.

“You don’t have to be in Rochester to attract a world-class headquarters,” Ortt said. “They have invested here in Medina, in Orleans County, in Upstate New York, in the United States of America.”

Warehouse space in Pride Pak was transformed into a party on Wednesday.

Warehouse space in Pride Pak was transformed for a festive celebration on Wednesday.

Pride Pak has one packing line in place and is working to get more on line. The packing equipment allows the company to double the rate of trimming, cleaning and packing vegetables for the salads.

Medina, the Town of Shelby, Orleans County and Empire State Development all worked to provide incentives for Pride Pak, and to get infrastructure in place for the new building and the future expansions.

Steve Karr thanked the government officials for their work with the project, which is about a $20 million investment for phase 1.

Steve Karr, the Pride Pak CEO, is pictured in overalls in mid-October when he was working with contractors helping to measure and connect lines that day. He is pictured in the warehouse space, which was the scene for an upscale party on Wednesday.

Steve Karr, the Pride Pak CEO, is pictured in overalls in mid-October when he was working with contractors helping to measure and connect lines that day. He is pictured in the warehouse space, which was the scene for an upscale party on Wednesday.

Karr said about 50,000 man hours went into the facility’s construction. He has been working 80 hour weeks in Medina to move the project along.

He was wearing a suit on Wednesday for the grand opening. But much of his time the past year was in overalls, helping with construction projects at the site.

Karr’s work ethic is legendary at the company. Robert Chapman, Pride Pak’s vice president of sales and marketing, said Karr’s determination made the ambitious project a reality on a tight schedule.

“Steve Karr is the most hard-working and committed man I’ve ever seen,” Chapman told about 300 people during the grand opening celebration. “It is Steve’s hard work and dedication that made this project in Medina possible.”

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