Monday, November 12, 2012

Week ahead: Truancy funding vote, Pittsford development discussion, Brooks’ budget plan, Vargas ‘conversations’

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Tom Richards.
  • Tom Richards.

Rochester City Council will decide on Tuesday night whether it’s willing to chip in $15,000 for a new, cooperative truancy effort with the Rochester school district and the United Way.

The measure faced a rough ride through Council’s Public Safety Committee last week — the last stop before a vote of the full Council. The school district’s history of low performance and failed programs clearly worked against it. The committee did ultimately approve the legislation, which has the support of Mayor Tom Richards. Richards said during the committee meeting that the legislation is an honest effort by the school district to get a grip on its chronic truancy problem. The city can’t just sit back and criticize, he said: it has to try to help.

The Council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. Christine Carrie Fien

Pittsford Village trustees will discuss a proposed development for 75 Monroe Avenue when they meet Tuesday night.

A Mark IV subsidiary wants to develop the former Monoco Oil site into an upscale apartment complex and restaurant. The 75 Monroe Avenue site is located along the Erie Canal at the village’s edge. The developers are pursuing permits and site plan approval.

Mayor Bob Corby says there’s no definite schedule for when the board will vote. The Village Board members still have concerns about the scale and mass of the project, as proposed, as well as building heights.

“The project needs to have a scale that’s appropriate to the village of Pittsford,” Corby says.

Village Board members will discuss their concerns during the meeting; an agenda posted on the village’s website says that discussion should start at 8:30 p.m. The board previously closed its public hearing on the project, though the board does have an item on the agenda for general public comments later in the meeting. The meeting itself begins at 6:30 p.m. Jeremy Moule

By Thursday, County Executive Maggie Brooks must present her budget proposal to the County Legislature. County law sets a deadline of November 15, but there’s a chance Brooks will release her proposal before then maybe as early as tomorrow. Legislators typically receive copies of the next month’s proposed legislation at their previous month’s full meeting, and this month’s meeting is this Tuesday at 6 p.m.

The county’s current budget projects a $48.1 million deficit heading into 2013, which the administration says is due to mandated services. The county budget hovers around $1 billion, and odds are good that Brooks will keep the property tax rate at $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The question is how she’ll do that and bridge a deficit. Jeremy Moule

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will hold two of his “Conversations and Coffee” meetings this week: Tuesday, November 13, from 7 to 9 a.m., and Wednesday, November 14, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The meetings are open to the public and Vargas typically answers questions on almost any topic, although this week he is expected to talk about the draft master plan for the district’s buildings. The plan recommends closing as many as five city schools. Both meetings will be held at the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street in the third floor conference room.

The Rochester school board will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday, November 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s central office. The meeting is being held a week early this month because of Thanksgiving. So far the agenda includes only routine items such as tenure approval. Tim Louis Macaluso

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Mayor has to win over Council on truancy effort

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Loretta Scott. - FILE PHOTO

There were a few oddly intimate moments during yesterday’s City Council committee meetings. Council has to decide whether it’s willing to chip in $15,000 for a new, cooperative truancy effort with the Rochester school district and the United Way.

Mayor Tom Richards supports the program, but had a tough time convincing two of the three members of Council’s Public Safety Committee to go along. The RCSD’s history of low performance and failed programs clearly worked against it.

Committee members Adam McFadden and Lovely Warren said any effort to get a grip on truancy is doomed to fail unless the RCSD improves its record keeping. The school district in the past has not kept accurate attendance records, but officials now say they’ve got a handle on it.

At one point, Richards seemed to almost plead with McFadden to go along.

“Adam, we’ve got to stick with them,” he said. “This is the school district we’ve got.”

Richards said that Rochester school district Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is trying and that the city can’t just criticize: it has to try to help.

McFadden did end up supporting the legislation, as an act of faith in Richards, he said.

Committee member Loretta Scott said she doubted the program would succeed, but that it’s encouraging to see the school district reach out to the city. She voted in favor, too.

Committee member Matt Haag said the program is a good trust-building exercise between City Hall and the school district, and voted in favor.

The legislation goes to the full Council for approval on Tuesday, November 13.

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City Council advances land bank legislation

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 8:48 AM

When City Council meets next Tuesday, it'll take up legislation to form a land bank corporation.

Last night, a Council committee voted unanimously to advance the legislation. No members asked questions on the proposal.

Land banks are new to New York State, but several are now up and running, including one in greater Buffalo. The entities are intended to help governments with foreclosure powers — the city in this case — address vacant properties. State legislation gives them flexibility in dealing with tax-delinquent and abandoned properties that local governments do not automatically possess.

Under the City Council legislation, the land bank corporation will not have eminent domain powers. It'll be used to bolster existing programs for demolitions, to acquire and rehabilitate housing, and to combine smaller lots into developable parcels. The land bank will be able to buy tax liens and foreclosed properties from the city, which gives the city an avenue to dispose of foreclosures outside of auctions where the properties must be sold to the highest bidder. (For more on land banks, see this October 17 article).

The proposal does carry some urgency. The land bank needs state approval and applications are due November 30. That application requires a copy of the local law establishing the land bank.

The application also requires a list of the initial board members. The Rochester legislation establishes a legal corporation without a separate staffing structure, a common setup for land banks. The board would have seven members, five of whom are city staff. Two would be appointed. Mayor Tom Richards plans to appoint attorney George Parker, and City Council President Lovely Warren plans to appoint Council Vice President Dana Miller.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-election analysis

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Analysis and insight from City news staff, updated throughout the day on Wednesday.

Tom Richards for Congress?

[2:53 p.m.] Almost neglected to mention that Channel 13's anchors were speculating last night about a possible Tom Richards bid for Congress, should Louise Slaughter ever get tired of serving. That gave me a chuckle, since Rochester had to practically beg-force Richards to run for mayor. But I'm ready to be wrong. Another name tossed out: Lt. Governor Bob Duffy. That speculation is nothing new; Duffy has long been rumored as a Slaughter replacement.

[12:55 p.m.] Collins win isn't a total loss for Democrats

Incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul lost her House race to Republican Chris Collins. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul lost her House race to Republican Chris Collins.

Democratic Representative Kathy Hochul didn’t survive her challenge from Republican Chris Collins, but her loss isn’t all bad news for Democrats.

The Buffalo News reports that Collins won with 50.7 percent of the votes cast yesterday to Hochul’s 49.3 percent. That’s an incredibly thin margin and, for a Democrat running in the most Republican district in New York, a heck of a performance.

Hochul had already proved that Democrats could win the district: she defeated Republican Jane Corwin to win the seat in a 2011 special election — Medicare played a major role in that race. This time, the presidential election brought more people to the polls. Hochul and Collins waged aggressive campaigns, with plenty of negative television ads. Clearly, each candidate’s message resonated with district voters.

It may be tough to pinpoint what ultimately tipped the scales for Collins. Obamacare wasn’t polling well in the district, and Collins supports repealing it. Free trade, agricultural issues, abortion rights, and federal spending also came up during campaign.

The seat will be up again in two years, and Democrats should make a proper run at it. On paper, the district is a tough win. But Hochul has shown her party that it can be done.


[10:37 a.m.] State Senate control still not settled

Ted O'Brien
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Democrat Ted O'Brien won his state Senate race.


Several media outlets are reporting that Democrats are on track to win the 32 seats they need to be the majority party in the state Senate. Democrats are confident that they’ve won the seats, but votes are still being counted in some of the races.

For example, a Democrat has such a narrow lead in one race that the winner will be decided by absentee ballots, reports the Albany Times Union.

Locally, Democrat Ted O'Brien's victory over Republican Sean Hanna added a seat to the Senate's Democratic caucus. The seat was previously held by Republican Jim Alesi.

But IF Democrats do, in fact, have the majority, that doesn't mean they'll all agree on the chamber's leadership. Four Democratic members previously formed their own caucus and the New York Times reports that they "have not said whom they would support as majority leader — a Democrat or a Republican — to control the chamber."

The Times also reports that another Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, hasn't ruled out siding with Republicans.

The last time Democrats controlled the Senate, several members joined with Republicans in a leadership coup, throwing the chamber into chaos and gridlock.

If Democrats do end up with the majority of seats, they'd be wise to settle the leadership question before the start of the January session. The four-member Independent Democratic Caucus started because its members said they'd lost faith in their caucus's leader, Senator John Sampson (see this New York Times story for the details).

Albany's got enough to deal with, it doesn't need another protracted leadership battle.

[10:15 a.m.] SLAUGHTER/BROOKS

Maggie Brooks. - FILE PHOTO

I think people expected more from the Congressional contest
between incumbent Democrat Louise Slaughter and her Republican opponent, Monroe
County Executive Maggie Brooks. (According to unofficial results from the Board
of Elections, Slaughter won about 57 percent of the vote.)


Brooks delayed talking about national issues as long as she
could, and then her replies were either vague or straight from the Republican answer-factory.
In place of real discussion, her campaign repeatedly taunted Slaughter for "dodging"
debates. Brooks challenged her opponent to six debates, Slaughter agreed to
two.

Louise Slaughter. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK

There were also ugly and untrue rumors about Slaughter's health, and contemptible remarks about her age and
appearance — none directly from the Brooks camp, it should be pointed out.


Slaughter's team went right for Brooks' soft underbelly: the
county scandals. That strategy never worked for local Dems, but maybe Slaughter's
money finally got the message across.


Slaughter was also certainly boosted by a strong turnout in
the city and by President Obama's popularity. Slaughter's numbers closely
parallel Obama's in Monroe County. Democrats also have an enrollment edge in
the 25th District, but the district is more conservative than the one Slaughter
currently represents.

Barack Obama is and will continue to be the president of the United States.
  • Barack Obama is and will continue to be the president of the United States.

Maybe voters also understood that no matter what Brooks
promised, she'd have little option as a freshman representative but to follow
the wishes of the House Republican leadership. And those extremist positions
probably don't play well in Monroe County.


What's next? Though a powerful and influential
representative, Slaughter is still a member of the minority party in the House
— which makes it much more difficult to get things done.


Brooks has three years left as county executive before term
limits kick in, but it's doubtful she'll serve them out. A much more likely
scenario is that she steps down — to run for another office, to take another job — to pave the way for her successor, who would be appointed by
the Republicans in the County Legislature. Who would that person be? No obvious
candidate comes to mind, though some town supervisors are salivating — off the
record, of course.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ignoring climate warnings comes at a cost

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 9:30 AM

New York City had warnings that, given a strong enough storm, parts of the city faced serious flooding. Superstorm Sandy made those predictions come true.

Now, city officials and the federal government are talking about what they can do to prevent that sort of flooding in the future. Climate researchers project that sea levels will rise substantially in coming decades and storms could become more severe as ocean waters get warmer. In other words, New York City — and many other coastal communities, for that matter — is at risk of future coastal flooding, just like the kind that's wreaking havoc in Manhattan.

Climate change is real and its effects, existing and predicted, need to be addressed. Yes, there are costs associated with adapting to the changes. A New York Times article says that a storm surge barrier to protect New York City could cost in excess of $10 billion.

But there are costs to inaction as well. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli estimates that Sandy could result in $15 billion to $18 billion worth of "economic loss" for New York. And that's just from one storm in one year. The true cost won't be known for a while.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Week ahead: The election, Preservation Board session on West Main church, and LVW talk on Great Lakes protection

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 10:51 AM

Tuesday is Election Day, so if you’re eligible, go vote. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Monroe County.

City’s coverage of the various races throughout Monroe County is available here. Our endorsement of President Barack Obama is available here. All Monroe County registered voters can vote in the presidential, House, Senate, state Assembly, and state Senate elections.

The county Board of Elections’s online voter tool lets you check your polling place and see who’s on the ballot. — Jeremy Moule

The Rochester Preservation Board meets on Wednesday to help decide the fate of a historic church on West Main Street.

Marvin Maye, owner of the former Westminster Presbyterian Church at 660 West Main, wants to tear down the building and an adjoining house to build a Dollar General store and two additional commercial units on the site. But some neighbors and neighborhood groups say a Dollar General store would not fit with the revitalization going on in that area of West Main, which borders the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood and Bulls Head in southwest Rochester. They want to find a new use for the church, such as for an indoor mall or west-side performance space.

Wednesday’s meeting is at 6 p.m. in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. The Preservation Board’s decision is meant to offer guidance to the Zoning Board, which has the final word on whether the church survives. That board meets on Thursday, November 29. — Christine Carrie Fien

SUNY Brockport Professor Joe Makarewicz will discuss aspects of the Great Lakes ecosystem at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Brighton Town Hall, 2300 Elmwood Avenue.

Makarewicz’s presentation is part of a Rochester League of Women Voters event examining a position on Great Lakes protection taken by the League of Women Voters of Michigan. He’ll explain how the Michigan organization’s position will help Leagues in New York advocate for Lake Ontario.

The Michigan League has called for limiting use of fragile shoreline areas, preserving wild and pristine areas, guarding against inappropriate or excessive water use and destruction of wetlands, and non-toxic control and removal of invasive species. The Rochester chapter concurs with the Michigan position, says a press release from the League. — Jeremy Moule

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Fire chief announcement expected soon

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 4:02 PM

The City of Rochester should have a new fire chief soon, says Mayor Tom Richards. In an interview this afternoon, Richards said he expects to announce a replacement for former Chief John Caufield shortly. Caufield left the department in the spring to become mid-Atlantic regional director of the National Fire Protection Association. He had been chief since 2007.

Salvatore Mitrano, executive deputy chief of the Rochester Fire Department, has been serving as interim chief while the city searches for Caufield's replacement.

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O'Brien leads Hanna in Siena poll

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 8:43 AM

This morning, the Siena Research Institute released poll results that show Democrat Ted O'Brien ahead of Republican Sean Hanna in the state Senate's 55th District.

The poll results show that, of the 476 likely voters interviewed, 50 percent said they'd vote for O'Brien, while 39 percent said they'd vote for Hanna.

On the issue of who's waged a more negative campaign, 42 percent said it's Hanna and 23 percent said it's O'Brien. District residents have received many mail pieces from an anonymous group, Common Sense, making false or misleading attacks against O'Brien.

Siena's release on the poll is available here.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Now's a good time to talk about FEMA cuts

Posted By on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 8:49 AM

During last night's debate between Maggie Brooks and Louise Slaughter, WROC anchor Maureen McGuire asked the candidates whether, in light of Hurricane Sandy, they'd supporting cutting funding for or eliminating FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Both candidates said they want to keep FEMA intact and preserve its funding. But Brooks' response had another element; she tossed out the idea that now's not the time to be talking about what either presidential candidate or Congressional leaders want to do with FEMA. Brooks said:

"What concerns me is that we haven't even recovered from Hurricane Sandy — we still have devastated areas in downstate, we still have a lot of people who are displaced from their homes and are struggling and need our help right now — and already we are seeing Democrats and Republicans in Washington talk about who's going to cut money from FEMA. It's already become a political football. and I think that's unfortunate because at a time of disaster we need the government — the federal government — to step in and respond to those requests for assistance as quickly as possible. We don't have time to sit here and discuss who's going to cut what from the program. We need the federal government to be there and to provide that assistance so that our families can get back on their feet and get back to normal as quickly as possible."

I agree with some of Brooks' points. When people have been affected by a disaster and need help, the government absolutely must respond as fast and effectively as it can. And Brooks is clear that she wants FEMA to be spared from cuts for that very reason.

What bothers me is her notion that now is not the time to talk about politicians' plans for FEMA. Now is the perfect time to talk about that, while FEMA is in the spotlight and its successes, failures, and needs will be clearly visible to the public. (Likewise, now's the time for politicians to talk about and act on climate change adaptation.)

What's there to discuss? In the short term, if Congress doesn't pass a budget by January, FEMA could lose $900 million in funding. In the long term, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both want to take away some degree of funding for the agency. Their plans are a bit complicated — and Romney's lacks detail — but the Washington Post has a brief but helpful explanation here. Though in a Post article published today, Romney says he "will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs."

In the five days that remain before the election, FEMA funding should be one of many issues discussed by House and Senate candidates.

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