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New Legislature chairwoman says county pushing forward with several initiatives

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 January 2018 at 8:37 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, speaks during the Legislative Luncheon on Friday. About 85 people attended the event at Tillman’s Village Inn. The luncheon was organized by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.

ALBION – The county is moving forward with several initiatives, including a $10 million expansion of the County Administration Building on Route 31.

Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, cited that project, as well as $5 million infrastructure work with roads, bridges and culverts as big efforts for the county government this year.

She spoke on Friday during a Legislative Luncheon organized by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson said the county has stepped up services, including adding a full-time tourism director, adding another full-time animal control officer, and working on a land bank with Niagara County, and also waterfront development plans along Lake Ontario and the Erie Canal. The county also took the lead with an upcoming study on the public water resources in the county, looking at village and town water infrastructure to see if there can be efficiencies in delivering the service.

The County Legislature last week also announced its plans to declare the opioid epidemic and its effect on the county “a public nuisance.” The Legislature also wants to establish a cost recovery procedure for the county’s expenditures incurred for services due to the epidemic. The county in September voted to join a growing number of municipalities in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling an opioid crisis.

“We’ve taken the offensive,” Johnson said about opioid lawsuit.

The county will also continue to press for lower Lake Ontario water levels. Johnson has been a vocal critic of Plan 2014 approved in December 2016. She worries that the shoreline faces more flooding this year because the lake is 9 inches higher than a year ago, she said.

She also wants to see progress on high-speed Internet. Orleans and Niagara County have formed the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance with one of the main goals to expand broadband Internet in the two counties.

“Rural broadband is the number one priority for NORA,” she said. “We have not given up on that.”

Johnson said the county will take the case to Washington.

The county representatives were asked at the luncheon about the 22,000-square-foot addition planned for the County Administration Building and whether any sites were considered in the village.

Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer, said only the Arnold Gregory Office Complex on South Main Street would have been a possibility and that site is already nearly full. The county wouldn’t want to see that building come off the tax rolls, Nesbitt said.

The addition will accommodate the Public Health Department and Board of Elections, which are currently outside the village in space owned by Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC. Comprehensive acquired the nursing home and the neighboring public health building as part of the $7.8 million acquisition on Jan.1, 2015.

The county also has already been approved for a $3,682,748 state grant towards the addition and a $200,000 grant through State Sen. Robert Ortt’s office to help with the project.

“If we didn’t get those grants we probably wouldn’t have moved forward with the project,” Nesbitt said.

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