Albion fire chief appointed county coroner

Rocky Sidari


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 January 2015
ALBION – Rocky Sidari, Albion’s fire chief the past five years, has been appointed one of three county coroners.


Sidari took the oath of office and was sworn into the position on Friday. He responded to his first call on Friday night at a fatal Carlton fire. Sidari worked with Scott Schmidt, a veteran county coroner, on the call.


Sidari said he will shadow Schmidt and another coroner, Charles Smith, as part of his training. He also expects to attend a conference for coroners.


“There is a lot to learn and each call is different,” Sidari, 42, said on Sunday.


He was appointed coroner by the Orleans County Legislature on Jan. 14. He fills a vacancy created when Joe Fuller of Albion resigned after being elected Albion town justice.
Sidari is a familiar face to many local residents and the emergency services community. He has been an officer with the Albion Fire Department for about 20 years. He works as a general mechanic at the Orleans Correctional Facility in Albion.


He also is part of the county’s critical incident stress management team, which helps firefighters with a stress debriefing after a fatal fire or serious car accident.


Sidari said he will strive to be a calming presence as coroner, especially for grieving family members of the deceased.


“I’ve built up a lot of relationships in the community,” he said. “Maybe it will be comforting for a family to see someone they know.”

 

Sidari said he will step back from fire chief in April.

 

"I wanted something that would fill that gap," he said about his willingness to serve as coroner. "I'm definitely looking forward to the next chapter of my life."

 

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Moreland Commission looked at Hawley’s outside income

Local assemblyman was found to not abuse office for financial gain


Photo by Tom Rivers
State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, says he was one of 13 state legislators investigated by the Moreland Commission for outside income. Hawley, owner of an insurance company in Batavia, says he was cleared in the probe.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 January 2015
ALBION – State Assemblyman Steve Hawley says he was subpoenaed by the Moreland Commission, the state commission established to root out public corruption, about two years ago and forced to turn over business records from his insurance business in Batavia.


“There’s an old adage: ‘If you have nothing to hide, comply,’” Hawley said.


He turned over a list of clients, employees, family members, advertisements, political materials, income taxes and property taxes. It was an exhaustive collection of documents.


After three months of reviewing those records, to see if Hawley was making money in kickbacks or abusing his public office for financial gain, Hawley was cleared and found to not be misusing his office, he told about 75 people on Friday during a Legislative Luncheon at The Village Inn.


That wasn’t the case for the leader of the State Assembly. Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly since 1994, on Thursday was accused of corruption by the U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Silver was arrested on public corruption charges and accused of using his position to obtain $4 millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Sheldon Silver

 

Bharara investigated Silver after Gov. Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission last March. Bharara said on Thursday more state officials could face corruption charges.


Hawley said he has strived to avoid any conflicts of interest in his 36 years in the insurance business. He has been asked to give insurance quotes for fire departments, school districts and municipalities, but has always declined.


Hawley and many of the Republican members of the State Assembly have called on Silver to resign. At the very least, Hawley said Silver should step down as Assembly speaker on a temporary basis until the case is resolved. The Assembly needs a leader to negotiate with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos about the budget, Hawley said.


“It’s a shame, a debacle, a travesty for the people of New York,” he said about Silver.


Hawley would like to see the top leadership positions in the State Legislature capped at 8 years. Silver has been in his post for more than two decades.


Hawley was surprised to see only two out of more than 100 Democrats in the State Assembly call on Silver to resign. Hawley said that is indicative of the iron-fisted rule Silver has over the Democrats in the Assembly.

State Sen. Rob Ortt addresses about 75 people at the Legislative Luncheon at The Village Inn on Friday.


State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, also addressed the Chamber of Commerce on Friday. Ortt said he will try to be an “antidote” to the corruption in the state capitol.


Ortt served as North Tonawanda mayor for five years until he was elected in November, succeeding George Maziarz. Ortt was a member of the National Guard and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.


He said he will advocate for a streamlined state government with less red tape, regulations and taxes on businesses.


He also said he would work to bring more state resources to local governments that need revenue to keep up with roads, bridges and other government services.


Ortt has been named chairman of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. In that position, he said he will be an advocate for people with developmental disabilities and their families.


Many developmentally disabled residents are being cared for by their elderly parents. Ortt said the state needs to provide more resources to ensure developmentally disabled residents have safe places to live, especially when their parents can no longer care for them.


“They need a champion, a person of influence in Albany,” Ortt said.

 

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Legislature leader says selling nursing home one of county’s best decisions

Photo by Tom Rivers
Lynne Johnson, vice chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, said selling the county nursing home has proved a wise decision, saving local taxpayers millions of dollars. She was one of the speakers on Friday during the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 January 2015
ALBION – It was a controversial choice, and resulted in lots of protesting and public disapproval. But the decision to sell the Orleans County Nursing Home has proved a good one, Legislature Vice Chairwoman Lynne Johnson said.


“Selling the nursing home is the best thing we’ve ever done as a Legislature,” Johnson told about 75 people on Friday during the Legislative Luncheon.


She was one of the featured speakers during the event at The Village Inn. The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce organized the luncheon.


Johnson had legislators in attendance all stand up for supporting the nursing home sale. The $7.8 million sale became final on Jan. 1. It removed what had been about a $1 million annual expense to local taxpayers. That deficit was forecast to hit $2 million or more annually, especially as federal Intergovernmental Transfer Funds dry up.


“Job well done, gentlemen,” Johnson told the legislators.


The new owner, Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC, took over the nursing home on Jan. 1, acquiring the 120-bed Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center.


The new owner has kept 99 percent of the former county employees, Johnson said. The company has also offered benefits and seniority for the employees.


With the nursing home out of the county budget, legislators cut taxes by 1.5 percent and reduced the tax rate from $10.11 to $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property for 2015.


The county also committed to an $8 million bond for a series of bridge, culvert and county building projects in the next three years. That annual payment will be covered from $260,000 in gambling money approved by the state, Johnson said.


“The sale of The Villages takes the pressure off,” Johnson said. “We can rebuild our bridges and culverts.”


The county cleared a major milestone in 2014, wrapping up $7 million upgrade to its emergency management system, Johnson said.


The county is now working to expand broadband Internet coverage throughout Orleans, especially in the outlying rural areas that do not have high-speed Internet. Four companies have submitted bids for expanding broadband in the county. Those proposals are being reviewed.


The timing of the project fits with Gov. Cuomo’s push to extend broadband throughout the state.


“We stand ready to go after that money,” Johnson said about the governor’s broadband initiative.


Johnson told the Chamber crowd that county leaders are vigilant and active in fighting a plan to regulate Lake Ontario water levels.


Orleans, Niagara and other southshore lake counties worry a new plan for lake levels will lead to more extreme highs and lows in the lake, putting commercial and recreational businesses at risk, while also eating up valuable lakeshore property due to erosion.


“When property owners assessments go down, it affects all of Orleans County,” she said.


Johnson and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey travelled to Washington, D.C. in July to press the counties’ concerns about the plan from the International Joint Commission. Johnson said it was unprecedented for a county legislator to visit the nation’s capital and press a cause on behalf of the county.


She praised the partnership with Niagara County and their two-county Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance.


“NORA gives us a bigger voice for concerns,” Johnson said.

 

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Orleans sees big jump in sales tax revenue

Photo by Tom Rivers
Downtown Albion is decorated for the holidays in this file photo.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 January 2015
ALBION – Orleans County saw its sales tax revenue jump 6 percent in 2014, an $883,457 increase, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.


State-wide, sales tax was up 3.00 percent, from $26.74 billion in 2013 to $27.54 billion in 2014. Orleans had the biggest gain among the four rural GLOW counties.


Genesee County had a slight decrease, down 0.16 percent or $62,107, from $38,057,036 to $37,994,929.


Wyoming County's 2014 revenue was almost identical to the 2013 sales tax. The county increased by 0.13 percent or $22,255, going from $16,831,191 to $16,853,446.


Livingston County saw a sizable increase, growing 2.97 percent or by $899,100, from $30,229,388 to $31,128,489.


Orleans saw the most growth of them all, increasing 5.96 percent from $14,819,904 to $15,703,362.


While Orleans saw the biggest rate of increase, the county still lags in sales tax per capita. Wyoming County, with 42,155 residents, has almost the same population as Orleans with 42,883 residents, according to the 2010 Census.


However, Wyoming collects about $1.1 million more in sales tax than in Orleans. The sales tax is an indicator of the economic health of a community, and the money also reduces pressure on property taxes and helps pay for government services and programs.


In Wyoming County, the per capita for sales tax was $399.80 in 2014. In Orleans, the county averaged $366.19 per resident. The sales tax also includes money spent by visitors.


Livingston and Genesee do far better than Orleans and Wyoming. Livingston, population 65,393, has a sales tax per capita of $476.02, while Genesee County (population 60,079) has a per capita for sales tax at $632.42, about $266 more than in Orleans.

 

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Sheriff Hess won’t seek re-election

Sheriff Scott Hess

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2015
ALBION – Scott Hess, Orleans County’s sheriff for nearly 12 years, intends to retire after Dec. 31, ending a 31-year career in law enforcement.


Hess said today he won’t seek re-election as leader of the Sheriff’s Department. Prior to being sheriff, Hess was police chief in Albion for five years. He worked with the Albion PD for nearly 20 years.


“I’m looking forward to my next challenges in life,” Hess said today.


He has led the Sheriff’s Department with technology upgrades, including improvements in the dispatch operations. Hess also oversees the Orleans County Jail, which recently received more than $1 million in upgrades, staving off pressure from the state for a new jail.


Law enforcement agencies in the county also created a SWAT team under his watch.


Hess praised the law enforcement officers for their commitment to the community. He also said the county has made the resources possible for upgrades in the department.


“It’s been a collaboration with others,” Hess said. “I really can’t take any of the credit. We’ve accomplished many things working with the legislators and staff.”

 

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Hawley, other GOP assemblymen call on Sheldon Silver to resign

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 January 2015
Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the State Assembly for about two decades, was arrested today on public corruption charges and accused of using his position to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.


The speaker is accused of accepting $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.


State Assemblyman Steve Hawley issued a statement calling on Silver to resign.


“Speaker Silver owes it to his legislative colleagues, the State of New York and his tens of thousands of constituents to step down as speaker,” Hawley said. “Speaker Silver owes the public an explanation for his actions, and it would be outrageous and irresponsible to allow him to continue his Assembly duties while he faces a possible indictment for corruption charges.

 

"It is time for members of the Assembly Majority to do the right thing and elect new leadership that will serve our state with a greater sense of honor and dignity. We have important business to conduct as public representatives, and the upcoming budget negotiations deserve our utmost attention. Silver’s resignation would allow us to continue the people’s business.”


Hawley made his comments after Silver turned himself in to the FBI this morning following an investigation about incomplete financial disclosures required by state law.


Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said in a statement that it's “imperative” Silver step aside as speaker.


“His resignation as speaker is in the best interest of the Assembly, of the state and the best way for us to conduct the business that we are elected to do. We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York state."


Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, said Assembly Democrats support Silver.


“I am continuing to support the speaker and I would say that the members, overwhelmingly in the conversation that we just had, are continuing their support,” Morelle said at a news conference. “There is a strong feeling, as I think we should all reflect on, that there is a presumption of innocence and we have every confidence that the speaker is going to continue to fulfill his role with distinction.”


Assemblyman David DiPietro, R–East Aurora, also called on Silver to resign.


“Speaker Silver, D-Manhattan, is appearing in court today on bribery and fraud charges. Does this surprise anyone?” DiPietro said. “It’s more of the New York City corruption issues being brought to Albany. The people deserve better than this. You cannot expect Silver to negotiate in good faith with anyone. He must step down effective immediately. This chamber can’t afford any more embarrassment by this man.”

 

Common Cause of New York issued this statement with Silver’s arrest:


“The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver by federal authorities for undisclosed income further reveals the crucial role the Moreland Commission played in bringing corruption in New York State government to light,” said Executive Director Susan Lerner. “This sad development underscores, yet again, the sorry state of ethics enforcement in New York.


“These circumstances make it particularly egregious that the statutorily mandated Review Commission which was supposed to have been appointed by the governor and legislative leaders to review and evaluate the performance of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission was never named. Common Cause/NY supports requiring New York's Legislature to work full-time for New Yorkers along with strict limits on outside income.

 

"In the meantime, New York State needs stricter disclosure laws requiring elected officials to fully open their books to public scrutiny and a wholesale overhaul of ethics laws and enforcement. New Yorkers deserve a Legislature that does not function under a persistent and permanent ethical cloud. Common Cause/New York urges the U.S. Attorney and Speaker Silver to do everything possible to facilitate an early trial to resolve these troubling charges.”

 

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Governor's budget, State of State draws praise and concern

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2015
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of State address this afternoon, as well as a $141.6 billion budget proposal.


The governor wants to direct billions to the upstate economy, and overhaul the education system including teacher evaluations.


He wants high-speed Internet available state-wide, and significant investments in roads, bridges and infrastructure.

 

Some reactions include:

 

New York Farm Bureau:


“If we want to have a growing agricultural sector in New York, it’s important for the State of New York to partner with the industry and invest in growing our farm economy,” said Dean Norton, NYFB president. “Governor Cuomo’s State of the State offered some worthwhile plans to continue supporting family farms. We appreciate the funding for conservation easements in both the Southern Tier and the Hudson Valley. The money will help eligible farms reinvest into their operations in these two regions, but the focus on boosting agriculture in New York must be a statewide approach, committing resources to better infrastructure, greater market access and critical research and development.


“New York Farm Bureau is also supportive of the additional money for the Environmental Protection Fund. This will assist farms in achieving environmental stewardship goals, as greater assistance is needed across the board for water quality programs, soil and water conservation, controlling invasive species, and statewide farmland protection projects.


“An additional $50 million to transform the Great New York State Fairgrounds is also welcome news. Upgrading the facilities will reflect modern day agriculture in the state and will invite even more people to walk through the turnstiles to see the great things happening on our diverse farms across New York.


“However, New York Farm Bureau has serious concerns about attempts to raise the minimum wage to $10.50. The financial impacts of the current scheduled increase to $9 has yet to play out and already the Governor looks to raise it even higher. This proposal comes at a time when the prices farmers receive for many of their commodities are dropping. It will be a drag on the farm economy should this additional hike become a reality.”

 

New York State School Boards Association:

 

“Governor Cuomo today delivered a broad, sweeping vision for reforming the public education system,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.

 

“We admire the governor’s willingness to take on such bold initiatives as reforming the cumbersome teacher disciplinary process, repairing the state’s broken teacher and principal evaluation system, and rewarding exemplary teachers.

 

“But state aid to school districts should not be held hostage to education reforms. Without knowing how much state funding they will receive, school boards will not be able to properly develop their budgets and estimate their tax levies.

 

“We are concerned that the governor’s speech made little mention of anything positive about public education. Schools need relief from the Gap Elimination Adjustment and a greater investment in Foundation Aid, not an expansion of charter schools or adoption of education tax credits.

 

“Even the governor’s $1.1 billion funding proposal – which is only available if lawmakers adopt his package of reforms — falls way short of the amount schools need to sustain current programs.

 

“While we support efforts to improve student achievement in chronically underperforming schools, we would oppose those solutions that unduly place blame on elected school board members for issues that may be beyond their control.

“The governor’s proposals represent a starting point. We look forward to working with lawmakers to support New York’s public schools.

 

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia:


“A plan to expand broadband Internet access will be beneficial to the more rural parts of my district, and I look forward to hearing more about the proposal. I am concerned that Gov. Cuomo’s small-business tax cut plan is not structured in a manner that allows business owners to expand and hire more employees.

 

"The proposed cut is less than one-tenth of what the legislature gave to Hollywood film executives to entice them to produce movies in New York State. We need to get our priorities straight and protect family-owned businesses that have been in New York for generations.

 

"Furthermore, I am concerned that the governor’s plan does not properly fund agriculture in a way that will protect our farmers and allow their businesses to stay in New York and be passed down from generation to generation.”



New York State Bar Association on raising the age of criminal responsibility:


“The New York State Bar Association has long supported raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18,” said President Glenn Lau-Kee. “We look forward to studying Governor Cuomo's proposal.


"Every child accused of a nonviolent felony deserves a second chance. Research demonstrates-what parents intuitively know-that 16- and 17-year-old kids lack the maturity and judgment to understand the legal consequences of their actions. A criminal record at a young age can shadow a lifetime, affecting an individual's future education and employment.


“Raising the age of criminal responsibility will help all children to embark a more positive path to adulthood. Providing troubled teenagers with support and guidance can help them turn around their lives.”

 

New York State Public Employees Federation:

 

“We have some concerns with the budget plan unveiled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo today,” said PEF President Susan M. Kent. “First, the proposed 2015-16 budget proposal includes no funding increases for state agencies. With agency budgets remaining flat, understaffing will continue and needed public services in communities will decline. Yet, the governor emphasized how he believes in community and that ‘the New York way is one for all, and all for one.’


“The governor spoke about the billions of dollars in settlement funds the state has received and how he has earmarked the money. PEF members were directly responsible for bringing that $5.4 billion into New York. We believe the governor and the Legislature should recognize the value of the work done by the professional workers represented by PEF in securing the settlement by ensuring funds from the windfall are reinvested, in part, to state agencies to maintain and improve public services in all New York communities.”

 

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network on proposal toregulate of e-Cigarettes:


“Governor Cuomo listened to a recommendation that we and other groups made to his staff in December and we are encouraged by his comments regarding a proposal to make electronic cigarettes be subject to New York State’s Clean Indoor Air Act in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, and other places that do not allow smoking," said Michael Burgess, NY government relations director for American Cancer Society Cancer Action.

 

"If enacted, this would protect against second hand exposure to nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals found in these products. It will also help ensure that enforcement of existing smoke-free laws is not compromised, and that the public health benefits of smoke-free laws are not undermined.


“Governor Cuomo’s proposal also includes prohibiting the use of flavored nicotine in e-cigarettes. This measure, in addition to including electronic cigarettes in the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, would help protect young people from the potentially harmful effects of these products.


“In the last year, there has been a significant increase in the sale of electronic cigarettes nationally and usage among high school students nationally has doubled within a recent one-year period. ACS CAN applauds the governor’s proposed regulations and will continue to work with the governor and state legislators to protect New York residents with the potential risks associated with electronic cigarettes.”

 

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Nearly 1,500 fewer people working in Orleans compared to 2007

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2015
The number of people working in Orleans County has fallen by 1,438 people or an 8.4 percent drop from November 2007 to November 2013, according to a report out today on The Daily Yonder, a website devoted to rural issues.


The Daily Yonder (click here) put out the information a day after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, when the president outlined recent gains in the economy.


However, The Daily Yonder reports “Rural America” has yet to recover with 556,000 fewer jobs in rural counties in November 2014 compared to the same month seven years ago, before the recession officially started.


In Orleans County, there were 18,461 working in November 2007, and 1,113 unemployed.


That number fell to 17,023 working in November 2014, and 1,240 unemployed. The county’s unemployment rose from 5.7 percent in November 2007 to 8.5 percent in November 2014, according to The Daily Yonder.


(Editor’s Note: The Daily Yonder seems to be using data from November 2013. That’s when the county’s unemployment rate was 8.5 percent. In Orleans County, the rate was at 6.8 percent in November 2014. The Department of Labor reported that 17,000 people were working in Orleans in November 2014, with 1,200 unemployed.)


While rural counties saw the ranks of workers drop in the seven years, the number of workers in cities grew by 1.8 million during the time frame.


Chautauqua County in Western New York saw one of the biggest drops in jobs, down about 9,000 during the seven years.

 

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Gillibrand, Collins react to State of the Union

Staff Reports Posted 21 January 2015
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence, both issued statements following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night.


U.S. Rep. Chris Collins:


“Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas. Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another. The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the high way.

“What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers. Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:

 

“Tonight President Obama presented a plan to ensure a fair shot at the American dream for anyone willing to earn it. As I travel throughout the state, New Yorkers tell me they are still struggling even as the economy begins to show signs of recovery. They want action from Congress to ease the burden of the basic costs of living so they can provide for their families, afford to send their kids to college, work good paying jobs, and retire with dignity. Now, Congress must do its part to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to expand economic opportunity for hard working families.

“I had hoped the President would use this opportunity to demand that we also make college campuses safe. Last week I personally urged the President to shine a national spotlight on the need to flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for sweeping sexual assaults under the rug. I was honored to have Emma Sulkowicz as my guest tonight who represents the grassroots movement of young women holding Congress and the system accountable. I will continue to fight to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill that will finally force colleges and universities across the country to face this problem head-on with the goal of making safe campuses for America’s students a reality.

“The President's goals for an expanded middle class, a fairer tax system and a better shot for hardworking families should rise above political party, and I am hopeful Congress will use his ideas as a starting point for real action.”

 

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State has interest-free loans for municipal sewer upgrades

‘Hardship status’ will help poorer communities access funds for projects

File photo by Tom Rivers
The Village of Albion in the past has used interest-free funding from the Environmental Facilities Corporation for upgrades at its sewer plant near the corner of Butts Road and Densmore Street.


Staff Reports Posted 20 January 2015
Local municipalities eyeing improvements for their sewer plants may be able to use interest-free funding from the state for projects.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state is making it easier for municipalities with fewer than 300,000 people to obtain interest-free financing for up to 30 years to improve wastewater collection and treatment systems. The funding would come through the Environmental Facilities Corporation.

 

The first communities to take advantage of the new hardship program are the City of Olean in Cattaraugus County and the Village of Malone in Franklin County. The EFC Board of Directors on Jan. 15 approved a $12.7 million no-interest loan to upgrade the Village of Malone’s wastewater treatment plant, along with a $19 million loan package for the City of Olean, including $18 million interest-free, to expand and upgrade that city’s wastewater treatment plant.


With this zero-interest financing from EFC, Olean will save $425,000 and Malone $300,000 over the cost of financing these projects on their own.

 

“With more communities eligible for interest-free financing, we will kick-start projects that had been held up,” said EFC President and CEO Matthew Driscoll. “Interest-free loans can be a great incentive for municipalities to move forward on projects that will not only protect the environment but also could spur new opportunities for economic development. With a hardship designation, a community is also eligible to extend this interest-free financing into a long-term loan of up to 30 years, resulting in even-more savings for ratepayers.”

 

Under this new hardship policy, EFC is streamlining its application procedures and providing local governments with an additional month, until March 2, to apply for Clean Water loans. Now municipalities at or below the state’s Median Household Income level of $55,603 based on the 2010 census automatically qualify for a hardship, zero-interest loan.


Previously, municipalities had to demonstrate hardship status by submitting numerous financial and income measurements, in addition to the MHI, as well as design factors that calculate the hydraulic and organic loading rates in a proposed treatment system.

 

For eligible communities with a population of 300,000 or less and that are below the state’s Median Household Income, hardship financing will now be available. The financing can be used by qualifying local governments for projects with total costs up to $25 million, with the first $18 million in EFC financing at a zero-interest rate, and repayment of up to 30 years.


State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said the EFC change will make it easier to access funding for smaller governments and towns, allowing them to upgrade their infrastructure.


“I am excited about the availability of these new zero-percent loans,” Hawley said. “This is a case where a decision has the potential to positively impact communities and residents at the local level. Many local governments in my district struggle to keep taxes low and finance community projects due to costly state mandates and rising healthcare costs. These interest-free loans will hopefully absorb some of the financial stress placed on our local governments and allow them to finance long-term design and construction of more efficient wastewater infrastructure systems. In doing so, we can employ local construction groups, protect the environment and allow for more efficient removal and purification of our resident’s wastewater.”

 

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Schumer says federal funding at stake for rural hospitals

Staff Reports Posted 19 January 2015
Federal funding that provides $600,000 annually to Orleans Community Health/Medina Memorial Hospital is in jeopardy of going away, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said.


Schumer said Low Volume Hospital (LVH) and Medicare Dependent Hospital (MDH) Programs provide $16 million in aid to 24 rural hospitals in New York each year.


This funding is essential because the hospitals are often under serious financial pressure due to a lower volume of patients than their urban and suburban counterparts and they also receive a higher percentage of Medicare beneficiaries, Schumer said.


The annual funding for these hospitals is set to expire in April if it isn’t extended by Congress. Schumer said he is introducing bipartisan legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would extend these programs for an additional year.


Schumer said that these hospitals play a major role in keeping quality of care high across New York State and are a critical source of jobs.


“Rural hospitals are both essential to the quality of Upstate healthcare and are the lifeblood of rural communities throughout New York State,” Schumer said in a statement. “These hospitals serve a vital public need, employ several thousand New Yorkers across the state, and they deserve our support in their continuous efforts to provide the highest level of care to residents.”


Besides the $600,000 for Medina Memorial, other rural hospitals in WNY that receive the funding include: Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville, $246,000; Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, $715,000; Nicholas H. Noyes Memorial Hospital in Dansville, $488,000; Westfield Memorial Hospital in Chautauqua County, $57,000; and Wyoming County Community Health System in Warsaw, $800,000.


“If this funding were to go away, it would put our hospitals, patients, and employees in the lurch, and could effectively pull the plug on a lifeline for rural hospitals all over the country,” Schumer said. “The clock is ticking, and that is why I am pushing Congress to pass this bipartisan bill before it is too late. I am going to fight for the survival of this program the same way our upstate hospitals fight for their patients.”

 

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Cuomo pushes $1.7B property tax relief plan

Assemblyman says plan doesn’t address root cause
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 January 2015
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a $1.66 billion property tax credit program that he says gives relief to homeowners and renters who need it most.


The governor wants to provide tax relief to homeowners or renters whose tax property tax burden exceeds 6 percent of their income. In Upstate New York, the governor said that would be 543,299 beneficiaries at an average relief of $781. State-wide there would be 1,311,567 beneficiaries at a $956 average, the governor announced this week.


His proposal creates a new Real Property Tax Credit for households whose tax property tax burden exceeds 6 percent of their income. Taxpayers with incomes below $250,000 would qualify for this credit, and the credit is valued at up to 50 percent of the amount by which property taxes exceed the 6 percent burden threshold, according to the governor’s office. Click here for more information.


State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) criticized Cuomo’s proposed property-tax relief plan as having little concrete backing and not addressing the root cause of unfunded mandates.


Hawley also said that the plan is simply a temporary fix and does not address the oppressive tax structure in New York State.


“Gov. Cuomo’s proposal is a convenient way to avoid addressing the root cause of high property and school taxes: unfunded mandates,” Hawley said. “I agree that tax cuts should be a focus during this year’s budgetary process, but Gov. Cuomo’s proposal does not address the rigorous and oppressive tax structure in New York State.”


Cuomo’s proposal is expected to be part of his budget to be released next week.


“This proposal is based on a surplus that does not yet exist and apparently could only exist if the Legislature made several billion in cuts over the next few years,” Hawley said. “A better solution for tax relief would be broad-based tax cuts for all New Yorkers and not just select groups, as Gov. Cuomo has done.”

 

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Ortt backs legislation to overturn SAFE Act

Press Release, State Sen. Robert Ortt Posted 16 January 2015
ALBANY – On the second anniversary of the signing of the NY SAFE Act, State Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) joined other state lawmakers in pushing to repeal the law on Thursday.


Ortt sponsored a handful of bills introduced by State Sen. Kathy Marchione and State Sen. Mike Nozzolio. The bills would overturn what Ortt said is the unconstitutional SAFE Act.


“The SAFE Act was a terrible piece of legislation passed in the dead of the night without proper public or even legislative input,” Ortt said. “It failed to protect a single New Yorker, turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, and infringed on our constitutional rights.”


Sen. Ortt is proud to put his name alongside Sen. Marchione’s and Sen. Nozzolio’s bills. Together, Ortt said they are all committed to protecting the Second Amendment.


“When I was elected as Senator, I vowed to be the voice of many concerned constituents who vehemently said they wanted this law repealed,” Ortt said. “I want those people to know I have not forgotten about them.”


The bills include amending the criminal procedure law and other laws relating to the suspension and revocation of firearms licenses; private sale or disposal of firearms, rifles, or shotguns; amending the penal law in relation to large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

 

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Employee of the Year works with children, adults in abuse

Photo by Tom Rivers
Dione Harrington, a supervisor with the Department of Social Services, was named the Orleans County Employee for the Year for 2014.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2015
ALBION – Dione Harrington admits her job will sometimes keep her awake at night. She sees many children and senior citizens in neglect and abuse.


Harrington and a team of caseworkers at the Department of Social Services will work to improve the situations, sometimes bringing in law enforcement or other support services for parenting or drug addictions.


She has worked in DSS for 24 years, including the past 14 years as a supervisor with child protective, adult protective and domestic violence cases.


Harrington and the DSS staff consistently rank in the top 10 in New York on the performance measures mandated by the state for child protection investigations, said Nola Goodrich-Kresse, a public health educator and vice president of the Employees Assistance Program.


The EAP on Wednesday named Harrington the county “Employee of the Year.” She was presented a plaque during the Orleans County Legislature meeting.


The caseloads for Harrington and six child protective caseworkers have jumped, from about 300 child protective cases in 2001 to about 700 now.


Harrington said a surge in drug problems in the community is responsible for most of the rise in child abuse and neglect.


“The big issue is drug abuse,” she said. “It is a horrific problem in the county and all over. It can impair a parents’ ability to be a parent.”


Harrington said her co-workers and many service providers “genuinely care about kids,” trying to improve their situations and make them safe and healthy.


She will often direct services to families from Drug Court, the Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, the Care Net Center of Greater Orleans, and other agencies.


“You cannot focus on what has happened to the child,” Harrington said she will often tell her staff. “You just focus on it not happening again.”


However, she said the cases can be troubling.


“You still bring it home with you at night,” she said.

 

She oversees two investigators in elder abuse. For seniors, that is typically financial exploitation, Harrington said.


She collaborates with legal and human services professionals, and she continues to earn their respect, Goodrich-Kresse said.


Harrington was named Employee of the Month last February. The EAP committee considered the honored employees from each month and then picked a top employee for the year.


Other employees recognized for going “above and beyond their duty” the past year include Wayne Krull in highway, William Culverwell in buildings and grounds, Karen Wygal in nursing home, James Halstead from the Sheriff’s Department, Tammy Vanwycke in the nursing home, Onnalee O’Connor in the Legislature’s office, and C.J. Laubacher from the Sheriff’s Department.

 

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Oratorical winner says citizens need to be more informed and committed

Photo by Tom Rivers Posted 14 January 2015
ALBION – Meredith Patterson, winner of the Orleans County American Legion Oratorical Contest, shared her winning speech with the County Legislature today. Patterson, a junior at Albion, calls on citizens to better understand the U.S. Constitution and commit themselves to being active participants in the government.


Patterson said the Constitution is a job description for Americans.


“How long do you think you would be employed if you didn’t understand your job description?”

 

Orleans County Legislator John DeFilipps is at left and Mark O'Brien, director of the County Mental Health Department, is in back at right.

 

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