Orleans legislators say they have county on the right track
RIDGEWAY – Taxes are down, businesses are moving in, and the county is tackling other needed projects, from replacing bridges and culverts to laying the groundwork for high-speed Internet.
That was the message from six incumbent Orleans County legislators who spoke on Saturday during the Orleans County Republican fall rally at the Ridgeway firehall.
“If you like to be involved and do good things for the people of Orleans County, then the Orleans County Legislature is the place to be,” said David Callard, the Legislature chairman.
He spoke to 250 people on Saturday during the rally at the Ridgeway firehall. Callard of Ridgeway is the longest-serving legislator with 22 years on the county board.
He said the county’s fiscal position is strong after selling the county nursing home. The sale from the nursing home and the annual relief from having to subsidize the facility with tax dollars has allowed the county to reduce taxes by 1.5 percent in 2015, Callard and Legislator Lynne Johnson of Lyndonville noted. (Callard serves as a county-wide legislator from the west end of the county.)
The Legislature also approved taking out an $8 million bond to replace bridges, culverts and roofs (on Public Safety Building and County Administration Building), while also adding two new pole barns for the highway department to cover expensive equipment, including a paver.
Callard said the county and the Orleans Economic Development Agency are positioning Orleans to agricultural economic development projects. Pride Pak is the latest to announce a big investment in the county – $15 million for a new vegetable processing and packaging plant in Medina. That facility is expected to be ready in June 2016 with 85 to 100 employees. Additional expansions could bring the workforce up to 200 employees.
Other agriculture-related businesses – Western New York Energy in Medina, Intergrow Greenhouses in Gaines, Lake Ontario Fruit in Gaines, and H.H. Dobbins in Lyndonville – have also recently made big investments.
Callard said the county has more land with infrastructure in place that can attract more businesses.
The Legislature has seven members with six Republicans. The GOP isn’t running a candidate against Fred Miller, a Democrat from Albion. Ed Morgan, the Republican Party chairman, said Miller has done a good job in his first term on the Legislature.
Two of the Republicans, Johnson and Don Allport of Gaines, have opposition on Nov. 3. Johnson is challenged by Paul Lauricella of the Conservative Party while Allport faces James White, a Democrat.
Each of the six Republican legislators were given a few minutes to speak at the rally on Saturday.
Allport highlighted the partnerships through Orleans and Genesee counties in sharing a public health director and board of directors. The shared staff has saved Orleans $400,000 annually, said Allport, a county-wide legislator from central Orleans.
“We are leading the state,” he said about the shared service initiatives with Genesee.
Allport is a past chairman of the board for The Arc of Orleans. That agency has also approved a merger with the Genesee County ARC. The merger should reduce costs for the two counties while maintaining services for people with developmental disabilities, Allport said.
He also highlighted efforts by the Mental Health Department to improve services, including same-day service for walk-ins.
John DeFilipps of Clarendon serves on the EDA board and he said the agency has the county well positioned for new businesses and expansions with shovel-ready sites. DeFilipps is an at-large legislator from the east side of the county.
He noted Pride Pak’s $15 million commitment to the new site in Medina, the prospect of a new hotel in Medina and a “virtual spec” building at the Medina Business Park.
The county also stepped up with three e-waste sites to collect TVs and other hosuehold electronics after they were being thrown in ditches because of a state law that banned them from being accepted with curbside trash pickups.
DeFilipps and Johnson both highlighted the effort to bring high-speed Internet to the community. Johnson is the county’s representative on the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance.
That two-county partnership has the two counties prepped and in good position to benefit from $500 million available from the state to expand high-speed Internet service, especially in rural underserved areas.
“The students, farmers and businesses all need it,” Johnson said about the fast Internet. Johnson represents a district that includes Yates, Ridgeway and a portion of Shelby.
Legislator Bill Eick serves a district that includes Barre, Clarendon and most of Shelby. He also is on the county’s Highway Committee.
He said Orleans will use about $5 million of the $8 million bond to replace six bridges and some culverts. Those projects started last year.
The state and federal government used to pay up to 95 percent of the bridge replacement costs, but that money has been hard to come by recently. The county took out the bond last year after several bridges were in danger of being closed.
Eick said harsh winters and heavy equipment are taking a toll on the bridges, culverts and roads.
“It’s going to be an ongoing issue,” he said about the infrastructure. “They’re not lasting.”
The county will continue to press the state and federal governments to help pay for the bridge and culvert work, Eick said.
Ken DeRoller of Kendall represents a district that includes Kendall, Murray and Carlton. He said the canal bridges, with several at weight reductions or closures, pose a challenge for businesses, farms, school buses and emergency equipment. The county continues to push the state to better maintain the bridges at higher weight limits.
DeRoller highlighted successes in public safety, including the work of the Major Felony Crime Task Force, which includes officers from the Sheriff’s Office, and Albion, Medina and Holley police departments.
The Task Force has made 905 drug arrests since 2007, and has a nearly 100 percent conviction rate, DeRoller said, and also has seized $840,000.
The county also started a Traffic Diversion program in 2010 which keeps that ticket revenue, up to $150,000, with local courts, while giving motorists the chance to have their tickets reduced, DeRoller said.
He also noted a drug take-back program, led by jail superintendent Scott Wilson, has collected nearly 3,000 pounds in unused prescriptions, keeping that medicine from being abused and also being flushed into local waterways.