Hochul’s visit as lieutenant governor called ‘historic’
ALBION – David Callard said it was “historic” day for Orleans County today when Kathy Hochul, the state’s lieutenant governor, visited the county. Hochul didn’t just make a quick stop and deliver a speech.
She sat down in the conference room at the legislative chambers in the County Clerks Building before giving her speech. She wanted to hear from county officials and other local leaders about issues in the community.
Callard is the Legislature chairman. He has been on the County Legislature for more than 20 years. Seldom does a lieutenant governor stop in the county. Hochul’s successor, Robert Duffy, didn’t make any official stops in Orleans the previous four years. Duffy lived close by. He is the former Rochester mayor.
After giving a half-hour speech at the library, highlighting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, Hochul also stopped for a tour of CRFS, a site with 600 employees in Albion. (Hochul also stopped at the Village House for about 20 minutes with the Orleans Hub editor to discuss issues in the community.)
Callard appreciated that Hochul wanted to hear from many in the community.
“This is probably a first when the lieutenant governor has visited the county and also visited with the Legislature,” Callard said. “We have a very good rapport with the lieutenant governor.”
Hochul represented the county as part of a seven-county Congressional District. Hochul, a Democrat, lost a close election to Chris Collins in a Republican-dominated district in November 2012. She said she is thankful to Gov. Cuomo for giving her the opportunity to return to public service.
She noted that she was in Orleans County 52 times during her 18 months in Congress. She said she sees “tremendous opportunity” in Orleans with the Erie Canal, “charming downtowns” and a historic flavor that could draw more tourists and small businesses.
During her visit with the local officials, Callard said the group pushed for Broadband funding for the county, better maintenance of canal bridges and state roads, more regulation for “zombie houses,” where properties are foreclosed by banks but left in limbo. Those houses, often left to rot with no contact person, have devalued nearby properties as well, Callard said.
Callard and Eileen Banker, a trustee for the Village of Albion, also asked Hochul to look into the disparity of state aid between villages and similar-size small cities.
The villages only get about $7 per capita in state aid while small cities typically get $100 to $150 in aid per capita.
“It’s disproportionate,” Callard said.
The county officials would like to see the state assume more of the Medicaid cost, easing that burden from county governments, which would result in lower county property taxes, Callard said.
Orleans and Niagara counties have been working together to bring high-speed Internet access to underserved rural pockets of the counties. Internet providers have submitted proposals for the work.
The cooperative effort between the two counties over the past few years comes at an opportune time when the governor wants $500 million of the $5 billion in bank settlement funds devoted to Broadband.
Cuomo wants Internet download speeds available at 100 megabits per second. Nowhere in Orleans County does that speed currently exist. According to state data, all but 6 percent or 2,383 of the county’s 42,883 people have access to Internet service with at least 6 megabits per second.
The governor wants the faster Internet service in place state-wide by Jan. 1, 2019, which will be a “major undertaking” especially in the mountainous rural areas, Hochul said.
“The governor is committed to give our businesses, our schools and our people a competitive advantage,” Hochul said.
She visited the county today after being invited by Callard during a recent Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council meeting in Rochester. Callard was pleased to see Hochul seize the chance to connect with local officials and present the governor’s policy initiatives.
“She has been and is a friend of Orleans County,” Callard said.