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Orleans County

Courthouse dome needs $140K in repairs

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 November 2018 at 7:56 am

File photo by Tom Rivers: The Orleans County Courthouse dome is an iconic landmark in Albion. This photo was taken on May 5, 2015.

ALBION – The dome for the Orleans County Courthouse needs $140,000 in repairs. County officials have set aside the funds in the 2019 budget.

The dome has several leaks. Inside the dome are about a dozen buckets to collect the dripping water after it rains.

The county will have a rubberized coating put on the dome to protect it from leaks, said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer. That new coating will last for at least 25 years, he said.

“We want to preserve that asset for the county long-term,” Nesbitt said Monday during a public hearing on the county’s proposed $71.0 million budget.

The courthouse, which was built in 1858, is the focal point of the Courthouse Square, a district on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $140,000 repair on the dome is among $3,181,106 in capital projects for the county in the 2019 budget.

Most of the projects are in the highway department and include $1.5 million in road work, which is funded through the state with CHIPS – Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program.

CHIPS money will also pay $185,000 for a 10-wheel dump truck, $55,000 to replace a 3-ton dump truck and $69,365 toward dump truck leases.

The county will also do $669,000 of preventive maintenance on four bridges, with $535,000 from the federal TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) and $134,000 from the county.

The highway department will also do $100,000 of patching and sealing county roads with the county paying that expense.

Other capital projects will also be 100 percent funded by the county: $143,452 for vehicles in the Sheriff’s Office, $14,140 for a jail van lease, $9,000 to add a vehicle for animal control, $46,000 for computer services upgrade, $14,000 for wireless point to point project for computer services, $11,000 for Public Safety Building rewire for computer services, $6,645 for generator at Veterans Service Agency, $9,000 for a pickup truck lease for Weights and Measures, and $9,000 to replace the UTV (all-terrain vehicle) at the County Marine Park.

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DOT announces $11 million will rehab 7 canal bridges in Orleans

Posted 26 November 2018 at 3:16 pm

First bridge to close for work is Bennetts Corners Road, with last of 7 to be complete in 2020

Press Release, NYS Department of Transportation

Photo by Tom Rivers: Erie Canal is pictured on Dec. 8, 2017 in Albion with the Gaines Basin Road bridge in the background. This bridge is one of seven that will be worked on in Orleans County.

New York State Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas today announced the start of a $10.7 million project that will rehabilitate seven historic Erie Canal bridges in the Orleans County towns of Murray, Albion, Gaines, Ridgeway and the Village of Medina.

The rehabilitation work, to be completed in the next two years, is necessary to raise legal weight limits on the bridges and will provide safe access for residents, local farms and businesses, which are vital to economic activity across Orleans County.

“All New Yorkers know the importance and history of commerce along the Erie Canal, especially in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, which is home to nearly 70 percent of the canal bridges in the state,” Acting Commissioner Karas said. “By investing in this critical infrastructure today, we are helping to preserve that history and maintain the integrity of these bridges for years to come.”

The project has identified for rehabilitation seven single-lane truss bridges constructed between 1909 and 1914. The locations of the bridges over the canal include:

• Bennetts Corners Road, between Route 31 and Gulf Road, in the Town of Murray.

• Telegraph Road, between Route 237 and Groth Road, in the Town of Murray.

• Transit Road, between Route 31 and West Brockville Road, in the Town of Murray.

• Densmore Road, north of Route 31, in the Town of Albion.

• Gaines Basin Road, between Albion Eagle Harbor Road and West Bacon Road, just north of the Albion Correctional Facility, in the Town of Gaines.

• Bates Road, between Telegraph Road and Portage Road, in the Village of Medina.

• Marshall Road, between Route 31 and School Road, in the Town of Ridgeway.

The canal bridge on Telegraph Road in Murray is pictured in February 2015.

The bridge carrying Bennetts Corners Road over the Erie Canal will be the first of seven to close, beginning on December 3rd, for up to six months. Each bridge will be worked on consecutively through Summer 2020.

The work on these bridges will include installing high-strength galvanized steel to replace steel floor systems, low chords, gusset plates, and truss elements. Bridge railing and guide rail on the bridge approaches also will be improved and each bridge will be repainted. The alignments and profiles of the bridges will not change.

“Since being elected in 2014, I have advocated for these long-awaited improvements to our canal bridges, many of which are in my district,” said State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. “I am pleased to see that many of these bridges are getting much needed improvements. These bridges are vital in ensuring quick and reliable routes for many residents, businesses, and local farms in Orleans County.”

The improvements will require each bridge to be closed to traffic for up to six months at a time, although access to businesses, including public boat launches, will be maintained throughout construction. The approaches to each bridge will be open for local traffic. Work will be done on some of the bridges simultaneously. Pedestrian access to the Erie Canal Trailway also will be maintained throughout construction.

“Safe, reliable and robust infrastructure is the backbone to healthy economic development and one of the many aspects of a flourishing society, and there are few matters more pressing than addressing the insufficient conditions of our area’s bridges,” said State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia. “These seven bridges are not only paramount to our emergency services, daily commuters, agriculture and farm equipment and interstate travelers, but are part of the Erie Canal system’s distinct history. I am pleased to see such a large investment in Orleans County’s infrastructure and look forward to improved travel this spring.”

Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, said, “The Orleans County Legislature is extremely pleased to see that the New York State DOT is continuing to move ahead with plans to ensure the long-term viability of our transportation system. We have made significant efforts to clarify our concerns and priorities and the State has in turn made an effort to understand and respond to those concerns.”

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State rail funding includes work on Falls Road Railroad that runs through Orleans

Staff Reports Posted 20 November 2018 at 9:45 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: This photo from Sept. 9, 2015 shows the Falls Road Railroad in Albion. The railroad runs through Orleans County near Route 31, and stretches from Lockport to Brockport.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday announced $27.1 million to fund rail and port improvement projects across New York State, including $900,000 for the Falls Road railroad, which runs from Lockport through Orleans County to Brockport.

The grants, from the Governor’s Passenger and Freight Rail Assistance Program, will support projects that strengthen infrastructure and economic development vital to the movement of goods throughout the state.

“New York’s rail and port infrastructure is critical to local economies across the state, and these grants will not only support existing commercial activities but to help attract new business investments as well,” Governor Cuomo said. “With these improvements, we can keep these economic engines running, and ensure safe and efficient travel for both passenger and freight customers statewide.”

The funding for Falls Road Railroad, which is owned by Genesee Valley Transportation in Batavia, includes bridge repairs and track rehabilitation.

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Volunteers write 1,000 Christmas cards for soldiers

Photos by Tom Rivers: Pam Allen and her daughter Savannah left messages in these cards that will be sent to soldiers on a Naval ship.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 November 2018 at 2:10 pm

ALBION — The call went out for volunteers to send Christmas cards to soldiers overseas. Catherine Schmidt wasn’t sure what kind of response she would get.

On Sunday afternoon, about 40 people filled out about 1,000 cards. Schmidt had 500 with her, and needed to get more.

She said a card with a hand-written message goes a long way in making soldiers feel appreciated while they are deployed far away from family.

“It lifts the spirits of soldiers who can’t come home,” she said on Sunday at 39 Problems, an Albion restaurant and bar that hosted the card-signing.

Schmidt is the volunteer coordinator of the recently started PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer-to-Peer program in Orleans County. The program aims to connect veterans to services and social events.

She set a goal of 900 cards. That is how many are deployed on the Naval ship. The additional cards will likely to sent to other soldiers.

This group was among the volunteers sending cards to soldiers on Sunday. They include, from left: Fred Heschke, Jim Freas, Adam Johnson, Steve Johnson, Catherine Schmidt, Lurando Mata, Earl Schmidt and Lisa Mannella.

The volunteers added artwork, jokes and messages from the heart in their cards, Schmidt said.

Cards will be accepted until Nov. 30 and can be dropped off at the YMCA in Medina or the Orleans County Veterans Service agency on Route 31 in Albion.

Pam and Savannah Allen were happy to spend a couple hours on Sunday writing cards with a personal message for veterans deployed overseas.

Savannah Allen thanks a veteran in her message in the card.

Erica Miller, back right, brought her children and a friend to write messages to soldiers. Myleigh Miller is at right and her brother Garrett is in back. Zoe Cusson joined the family for the event. Zoe decorated her cards with reindeer and Myleigh added jokes to her messages.

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County Tourism announces photo contest winners

Staff Reports Posted 18 November 2018 at 7:53 pm

The winner of the 2018 Orleans County Tourism Photo Contest has been announced. Sharon Gavenda won with her picture, “Summer Morning on Lake Ontario.”

This is the third year the Orleans County Tourism Department has sponsored the contest. There were 11 judges who picked their top five photos, and five honorable mentions from 45 images. Those photographs captured the essence of Orleans County – including 11 sunsets, landscapes, wildlife and architecture.

“Blue Heron” by Ann Kimmel came in second.

Judges were asked to consider:

Does the subject have a tourism draw? Is this an interesting attraction worth traveling to? Is it current?

Quality: Is the photographer skilled in using interesting design elements such as depth-of-field, perspective, texture, symmetry or contrast? Is this image “Magazine Cover Worthy”?

“Only in the OC” – Is the image iconic to Orleans County or could this picture be taken anywhere? Does it represent Orleans County’s character?

The WOW Factor: Does the image spark a positive emotion in you?

The I-GOT-IT! Factor: Was the photographer in the right place at the right time?

Photographer’s identities were not disclosed to the judges. Results were based on responses the judges ranking the images from 1 to 10 and the highest score determined this year’s winners.

To see the top 10 in the contest, click here.

“St. Mary’s Sandstone & Glass” by Kellie Hurrell was third overall.

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Local law enforcement trained in crisis intervention

Photos by Tom Rivers – Pictured front row from left: Deputy Joe Laudico, Sheriff Randy Bower, Deputy Adam Hazel, Albion police officer Robert Wagner, Albion police officer Christopher Glogowski and Dr. Don Kamin, a clinical psychologist and instructor in the Crisis Intervention Training Program. Back row: Orleans County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Doyle, Medina police officer Richard Messmer, Deputy Joshua Martek, Orleans County Jail Superintendent Scott Wilson, Medina police officer Stephen Gross, Medina Police Chief Chad Kenward, Albion police officer Will Francis and Albion police officer Sean McElhinny.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 November 2018 at 5:04 pm

Orleans County Sheriff Randy Bower congratulates Sgt. John Doyle for completing the week-long class in crisis intervention training. In back are Danielle Figura, mental health clinic coordinator for Orleans County, and Medina Police Chief Chad Kenward.

MEDINA – About a dozen law enforcement officers in Orleans County took a week-long class last week in crisis intervention, learning techniques to de-escalate situations with people suffering a mental health issue.

This is the second time the class has been offered in the county. The first was about two years ago. There are now about 30 officers trained through the program, which was funded with a state grant by the New State Office of Mental Health. State Sen. Robert Ortt is chairman of the Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. Ortt has been a strong supporter of the program, which has been offered throughout the state.

Medina had two officers take the class last week. Police Chief Chad Kenward said the techniques have been used in the field, and have helped officers recognize a person with a mental health issue and better respond to the crisis.

“It has helped us to talk them down from hurting themselves and others,” Kenward said after the class’s graduation ceremony on Friday afternoon.

The state has been funding a Crisis Intervention Team Training Program for law enforcement officers to better understand the myriad of mental health issues, and to learn strategies to de-escalate a potentially volatile situation.

A goal of the training is also for police to connect people in crisis with treatment, rather than jail, when appropriate.

Sheriff Randy Bower said the skills through the program has helped reduce the inmate population at the county jail, and better connect people to the help they need.

“It has helped us to better serve the people we are tined to protect,” Bower said.

Dr. Don Kamin, a clinical psychologist and instructor in the program, shared many scenarios and strategies with officers to help them identify if a person if in a mental health crisis and how to lead them to accept help and not be combative.

We went over different disorders and how officers can recognize those and respond to people in distress. The class reviewed behavioral health issues such as trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide assessment and intervention, excited delirium, anxiety and emotional distress. Officers learned communication skills with a focus on de-escalating the crisis.

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Proposed county budget would raise taxes 2.5%, maintain services

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 November 2018 at 10:39 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: County officials on April 25 break ground on a new $10 million addition to the County Administration Building. The 2019 budget includes the first debt payment of $437,629 for the project.

ALBION – Orleans County officials have put together a tentative $71,031,480 budget for 2019 that increases spending by 1.86 percent and would raise taxes by 2.51 percent.

There will be a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 26 on the budget. That hearing will be at the Orleans County Courthouse. To see a copy of the budget, click here.

The tax levy, what the county collects in taxes, would increase by $419,921, from $17,150,323 to $17,570,244 for 2.51 percent. However, the tax rate would go up 5 cents or 0.5 percent, from $10.05 to $10.10 per $1,000 of assessed property.

Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer, filed a copy of the tentative budget on Wednesday. He is the county budget officer.

“The $71 million budget recommendation continues a consistent and stable approach to investment in the county infrastructure, the organization and ongoing fiscal stability,” Nesbitt said in his budget message.

Nesbitt, county legislators and department heads wanted to maintain core county services and stay within the tax cap. The budget complies with the tax cap, leaving a $25,393 cushion under the cap, Nesbitt said.

The budget bears the burden of funding about 40 state programs, Nesbitt said. The state offers partial reimbursements for some of the programs. But the costs left to the county are a main driver in the tax levy, especially the Medicaid program.

“Counties are charged with responsibilities by New York State,” Nesbitt said. “The state then under funds these programs or doesn’t fund them at all.”

The tentative budget includes $16,662,210 to cover the nine state mandated programs, which is 95 percent of the property tax levy. The county contribution to the state programs is up $359,700 from 2018.

A 23,000-square-foot addition to the County Administration Building is under construction. A new bond payment for the project begins next year at $437,629 for that project. There are two major obligations being retired in 2020 for the courthouse and 2022 for the radio system that should begin to relieve that pressure going forward, Nesbitt said. Those two payments account for $683,693 in the 2019 budget.

The budget funds 430 positions and includes some additions. The Sheriff’s Office has added a School Resource Officer at the Kendall and Lyndonville school districts, with each district paying $100,000 for the deputy. Buildings and Grounds is adding an employee to assist with Solid Waste and Recycling as well as additional maintenance, and the District Attorney’s Office has budgeted for an additional part-time assistant DA to cover new duties related to Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility.

In his budget message, Nesbitt notes the county continues to share some funds with the towns and villages, including $1,366,671 in sales tax, a number that has been frozen since 2001. However, county officials say many smaller counties do not share any sales tax with towns and villages. The county is budgeting for a $560,000 increase in sales tax next year, which will help absorb some of the rising expenses.

The county will pay $1.9 million for the local chargeback for community colleges in 2019. In some counties, that bill is sent to the towns.

The county will maintain funding to several outside agencies in 2019.

The Cooperative Extension receives the most funding of an outside organization at $240,000. That is the same as 2018. The organization didn’t seek an increase in 2019.

Other funded organizations include:

• The Orleans Economic Development Agency is budgeted for $190,000, up from $180,000. The EDA requested $190,000.

• Soil and Water, $92,500, same as 2018, requested $100,000

• Four public libraries, $10,000, same as in 2018, requested $42,883;

• Mercy Flight $5,000, same as 2018;

• Sportsman’s Federation, $4,000, up from $1,000, requested $4,000;

• GO Art!, $3,000, same as 2018, requested $4,000

• The Cobblestone Museum also requested $7,500 but remains out of the budget as a line item. The Legislature the past two years have approved $3,000 in end-of-the-year funding,

The budget also calls for 2 percent raises for the seven county legislators. Their pay will go from $17,778 to $18,133 for the chairwoman, $13,442 to $13,711 for the vice chairman, and $11,850 to $12,087 for the other legislators.

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Unemployment rate in Orleans falls to lowest level in generation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 November 2018 at 8:10 am

The unemployment rate for Orleans County in September was 3.7 percent, the lowest rate in nearly 20 years. It was also 3.7 percent in October 2000. The 3.7 percent rate is the lowest level for Orleans since at least 1990, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor.

The county’s unemployment rate in September 2017 was 5.2 percent. The number of people working in the county increased from 16,700 to 17,200 from September 2017 to September 2018, while the number of unemployed dropped from 900 to 700.

The unemployment rate for the county has been steadily decreasing in recent years. In Orleans, the annual average unemployment rate has declined from 9.7 percent in 2012, 9.1 in 2013, 7.7 in 2014, 6.4 in 2015, 5.7 in 2016, 5.9 in 2017 and 5.5 percent the first nine months this year.

The county’s unemployment rate was over 10 percent not that long ago. It was 11.2 percent in January 2013 and 10.6 percent in February 2013.

Statewide, the rate fell to 3.8 percent in September, down from 4.6 percent in September 2017.

Bronx had the highest unemployment in the state at 5.4 percent in September. In upstate, St. Lawrence and Allegany had the highest at 4.5 percent. Columbia County had the lowest rate at 2.8 percent.

Other nearby counties and their unemployment rates include: Genesee, 3.3; Livingston, 3.5; Wyoming, 3.2; Niagara, 4.1; Monroe, 3.8; and Erie, 3.7.

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Orleans is first county to implement diversion program for people caught driving without insurance

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 November 2018 at 4:03 pm

File photo by Tom Rivers: District Attorney Joe Cardone is shown speaking at a community forum on Nov. 30, 2017. He is leading the effort for the new program to compel motorists to get insurance.

ALBION – Orleans County is expanding a traffic diversion program to include people caught driving without insurance.

The county since 2010 has had a traffic diversion program for many first-time traffic offenders for infractions such as speeding, failure to yield, and failure to obey a stop sign.

They pay a $200 fee and enroll in a defensive driving class. In exchange, the ticket is dismissed. In fact, it will never show up on the driver’s record. In more than eight years, the fees paid just passed $1 million, said Susan Howard, the coordinator of the program and also the assistant district attorney.

That money has all stayed with local municipalities, and has been shared by the county, towns and villages.

About 5,000 people have participated in the program since its inception. The county beginning on Nov. 1 expanded the program to include people without automobile insurance.

If there are no other infractions, the drivers will likely be accepted in the program. The fee is $400, and they must get car insurance and complete a test about safe driving.

District Attorney Joe Cardone has been leading the effort to expand the program. The county is partnering with the New York Public Safety Company, which will provide mobile license plate readers to patrol cars for law enforcement agencies in the county.

New York Public Safety Company will receive $140 of the $400 fee. The company will also help manage the insurance diversion program and is looking to open an office in Albion.

“There is a great cost to community of people driving without insurance,” Cardone said.

With the diversion program, people who are caught without insurance won’t face criminal charges. And they will be spared up to $2,500 in fines and other costs. They also won’t lose their license.

If they complete the program, pay the $400 fee and show proof of insurance, the ticket will be dismissed.

“Our diversion program has been extremely successful,” Cardone said today. “Orleans County is now first in state to do it with insurance. We expect some of the other counties will do it.”

Lou Piccone, a former Buffalo Bills wide receiver, is the New York director of New York Public Safety Company. He said the goal of the program is compliance, to have all motorists get insurance.

That should reduce the premiums for the people who have been paying for insurance, because right now they pick up the costs for those in accidents without coverage, he said.

“No one should be on the road uninsured,” Piccone said today by phone.

The company is partnering first with Orleans, and then expects to expand the program in the state.

“It’s a manageable county,” Piccone said about Orleans. “There is a diversion program already in place and that allows the county to put this in play very easily.”

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County’s Employee of the Year is dedicated to helping adults in crisis

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 November 2018 at 4:46 pm

Photo courtesy of Lisa Stenshorn: June Seager, left, was recognized today as the Orleans County Employee of the Year. She is congratulated by Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature.

ALBION – June Seager was honored today as the Orleans County Employee of the Year during a recognition program at Tillman’s Village Inn.

Seager has worked the past 15 years as a caseworker for the county, including the past three as an adult protective caseworker with residents 18 and older.

Most of the cases involve elderly residents at risk. They may be financially exploited, or suffer from a physical disability or mental health issue.

“I love my job,” Seager said today. “It’s rewarding knowing that you’re helping someone else who would otherwise be alone.”

The Employee Assistance Program through the county government workforce recognizes an Employee of the Month. An Employee of the Year is then picked from those 12 exceptional workers.

“This employee provides assistance with those that are neglected by others, self-neglected, financially exploited and homeless,” said Jack Welch, the county’s personnel director. “This employee has been able to connect with the adults, assisting them with whatever they need, advocating for their needs and truly improve the lives of some of the hardest to serve in Orleans County.”

He praised Seager for exuding kindness and compassion.

“She has the ability to handle tough conversations with the clientele when needed,” Welch said.

Seager spent her first five years working for the county in the Child Protective Unit of Child and Family Services. She was then a school-based caseworker in Holley.

Seager then transferred to the county’s Foster Care unit and continued to work with children and families. In that role she provided needed services, including transportation, casework counseling, networking with county agencies, court representation, supervising and modeling proper supervision during visitation.

The employees of the months for the past year were:

October 2017 – June Seager (Social Services),

November 2017 – Brian Marsceill (Sheriff)

December 2017 – Cathy Williams (Social Services),

January 2018 – Samantha Koons (Office for the Aging)

February 2018 – Pamela Chatt (Job Development)

March 2018 – Cynthia Troy (Public Defender)

April 2018 – Michael Schultz (Sheriff)

May 2018 – Marc Petrin (Buildings & Grounds)

June 2018 – Katrina Rodriguez-Paeth (Public Health)

July 2018 – Alyssa Thomas (Mental Health)

August 2018 – Nancy Traxler (Veterans)

September 2018 – Jason Barnum (Sheriff)

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