Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Judge voids Southern Tier village's water sales

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:28 AM

A judge's ruling calls for a halt to the Village of Painted Post's water sales to a Shell subsidiary, SWEPI, LP. The company was using the water to frack wells in Pennsylvania. Under the agreement the village would have received a minimum of $3.2 million over a five-year period.

In 2012, Painted Post officials signed a five-year agreement with SWEPI, which would have allowed the company to withdraw up to 1 million gallons of water a day from a village aquifer. A land lease was also part of that agreement.

Several environmental groups — including the Sierra Club — as well as several residents sued the village and the company in an attempt to halt the sale. The lawsuit argued that the deal didn't undergo proper environmental review. Earlier this month, State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher heard arguments in the case and yesterday he issued an injunction to halt the water sales. In his decision, he ruled that the village did not conduct an adequate environmental review before entering into the water sale agreement, which he voided. The village "short circuited" a state environmental review process, he wrote.

In a story published yesterday, the Corning Leader said it's unclear whether the decision will be appealed. The article also says that, under the ruling, the village would have to redo the environmental review and negotiate a new agreement if it wants to sell more water to SWEPI.

State anti-fracking activists, including groups in Rochester, focused on the lawsuit because of the fracking angle.

Fisher's decision is attached below:

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Week Ahead: Prop 8 and DOMA Supreme Court hearings, RCSD budget, city budget forum, keeping an eye on pawn shops

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 9:44 AM

The US Supreme Court will hear a legal challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act beginning on March 27. In anticipation, a local collaborative group that includes representatives of the LGBT, religious, and labor communities will hold a couple of events this week.

Under DOMA, marriage is limited to one man and one woman in the eyes of the federal government. DOMA affects everything from veterans’ benefits and Social Security survivor benefits to the estate tax.

Light the Way to Justice — Rochester will host a panel discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 25, at the Gay Alliance Community Center, 875 East Main Street. The title of the discussion is "The DOMA Decisions — Equality on the Line." According to a press release, legal experts and LGBT advocates will offer background on DOMA and Prop 8 (California's law that says only marriage between a man and a woman is valid. The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Prop 8 beginning on March 26) and "explore potential impacts of the decisions on taxation, health and aging, veteran spousal benefits, immigration equality, and other areas."

The second event is a candlelight vigil from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, outside the Federal Office Building, 100 State Street. According to the press release, "speakers will explore the theme of Remembering Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall."


The second of four Voice of the Citizen budget forums is on Wednesday, March 27. The 2013 to 2014 budget has a gap of about $28 million. At the meeting, Mayor Tom Richards will describe the city’s fiscal situation and share some proposed cutbacks. Your job is to tell him how you feel about those proposals.

Primary areas for discussion will include: taxes, fees, and new revenues; police and fire services; pensions; youth and library neighborhood services: infrastructure, public facilities, and neighborhood real estate; federal funding reductions and sequestration; and organizational efficiencies.

The meeting is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at School 1, 85 Hillside Avenue in the gymnasium. Park in the lot on the side of the building. The entrance is on the side of the building facing the parking lot. Christine Carrie Fien

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will make two presentations of his $728 million budget proposal for the 2013 to 2014 school year.

The first is tonight, Monday, March 25, to school board members. The second is on Tuesday, March 26, to the general public. Parents, teachers, and residents will be able to ask questions at the latter meeting. Both meetings are at the school district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street, at 5:30 p.m.

Vargas’s budget calls for increasing the district’s reading teachers, increasing the number of schools with longer hours, and offering more sports and athletic programs.

The budget has a $50.2 million gap, which Vargas says will be closed mostly through attrition in teaching and non-teaching positions, with few layoffs. Tim Louis Macaluso

When it meets Monday afternoon, the Monroe County Legislature’s Agenda/Charter Committee will take up legislation regarding pawn shops and some secondhand stores.

The legislation was introduced by Republican Carmen Gumina of Webster, and would require dealers to hold any secondhand merchandise “coming into their business” for 14 days, says Gumina’s letter introducing the legislation.

The legislation would also require pawnbrokers, secondhand dealers, and jewelry and coin exchanges to get a renewable license from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. And it would require the shops to upload photos of all secondhand merchandise into the electronic records database kept by the sheriff’s office. They’d have to upload the photos within 48 hours of receiving an item.

In his introductory letter, Gumina says that several local communities already have similar laws on the books. And the legislation says that the county law, if passed, would not supersede those local laws.

The Agenda/Charter Committee meets at 6 p.m. in the Legislature chambers at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street.


Sometime this week, New York State legislators should finalize New York’s 2013 to 2014 budget.

The State Senate passed several bills this weekend, though it’ll have to return to session to pass more. The Assembly plans to hold session on Thursday, after leaders postponed a planned Sunday session.

Last week, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders outlined their budget agreement. The agreement includes an increase in education aid, a provision to raise the minimum wage, several education initiatives, and a property tax rebate checks for some homeowners.


At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, state Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher will hear arguments in a lawsuit against the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Attorney Eileen Buholtz is suing to invalidate the RPO board’s January 23 annual meeting, including the results of board member elections. Buholtz ran for a board seat as a write-in candidate, and in her lawsuit she argues that RPO officials didn’t properly notify all of the organization's members who would have been eligible to vote.

In the lawsuit, Buholtz also alleges that RPO officials didn’t recognize write-in ballots submitted at the annual meeting.
Buholtz filed a previous legal challenge against the RPO, but Fisher ruled against her. Jeremy Moule

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Few layoffs in RCSD budget for next year

Posted By on Sun, Mar 24, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will present a final draft of his $728 million budget for next year to board members. The budget adds 10 new reading teachers specifically for students in grades K-3, according to a background document provided by the district.

Vargas plans to move forward with longer school days in up to 10 schools next year. All City High and Northeast College Prep already offer students longer days. And he plans to increase the number of athletic programs available to students, which will increase the number of students who can participate in sports.

Though the number of classroom teachers will increase, total teaching positions will decrease. And so will non-teaching positions. "Few layoffs will be required," according to the document provided by the district.

Vargas will hold a public meeting on the budget on Tuesday, March 26, at central office at 131 West Broad Street, at 5:30 p.m.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lawsuit challenges state gun control laws

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 4:21 PM

An NRA-backed lawsuit against New York officials seeks to gut much of the SAFE Act, a package of gun control laws enacted earlier this year. Specifically, the lawsuit asks a judge to invalidate the assault weapons ban and the ban on high-capacity magazines.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several plaintiffs, including Beikirch Ammunition Corporation — an East Rochester gun shop — and state Assembly member Bill Nojay, who filings say owns "AR-type firearms." The law includes a provision banning assault weapons, which it defines as semi-automatic pistols and rifles that take detachable magazines and have one military style feature, like a flash suppressor or pistol grip. AR-15 style rifles fall under the ban, though the law allows current owners keep their firearms if they get a permit.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York and challenges provisions of the SAFE Act on constitutional grounds. The first sentence of the filing explains:

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State officials announce budget deal

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Last night, legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that they were near an agreement on the 2013-14 budget.

Details were few at the time of their press conference, which is embedded below. However, the governor's office just sent out a press release with more information. Included in the budget is:
· An approximately $1 billion increase in education aid.
· An increase in the minimum wage. Over the next three years, the wage would increase from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour.
· Rebate checks for middle-class homeowners with children. Homeowners will get $350 as long as they have at least one dependent child and make between $40,000 and $300,000.
· Initial funding for 10 Innovation Hot Spots, essentially high-tech incubators affiliated with colleges and universities.
· A $50 million Innovation Venture Capital Fund to invest in companies translating research into marketable products.
· A provision establishing "a bar exam for teachers." Under the agreement, the budget would include a list of education initiatives and reforms, many of which were included in Cuomo's executive budget proposal.

The press release is available here, and includes more information on what's in the budget.

Continue reading »

RCSD Superintendent Vargas prepares final budget

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 10:43 AM

This has been the quietest budget season in recent memory for the Rochester school district. There’s been no talk about cutting teachers, but there are some worries.

Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is banking on Governor Cuomo’s “pension smoothing” proposal to help reduce the district’s $52 million budget gap for the 2013 to 2014 school year. He’s been counting on it to shave about $16 million to $20 million off the gap.

Cuomo proposed a deal that would allow municipal governments and school districts rocked by rapidly rising pension costs to pay a lower, flat rate of contributions over the next 25 years. The entities would get to cash in on their expected savings from the revisions Cuomo made to the pension plan last year.

Vargas was supposed to make a final budget presentation tonight to board members, but the meeting was cancelled until the governor and the legislature reached a budget deal.

That seems to have occurred and the budget smoothing piece is included, but there is still some opposition to the idea. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has to sign off on the deal because he oversees the pension system, and he’s been skeptical about the proposal.

Where does this leave Vargas? Even with the pension smoothing, he'd have to make up for a remaining $30 million hole. He’s also on record saying he will not cut music, arts, and physical education teachers.

And where will this leave his special programs like expanded learning, not to mention some of the proposals board members want to see?

He may be betting that attrition from the current staff will solve the problem.

Stay tuned.

Vargas will be making his final budget presentation to the board on Monday, March 25, and there will be a public forum on the budget on Tuesday, March 26. Both meetings will be held at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street, at 5:30 p.m.

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Court cases could decide fate of fracking bans

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM

News broke this week that a state Supreme Court justice upheld the Town of Avon's ban on fracking. Lenape Resources, a Western New York drilling company, sued the town and the Department of Environmental Conservation to overturn the ban.

Several news outlets reported that Avon is the third community whose fracking ban survived a legal challenge. But the general issue of whether towns have the ability to implement the bans is still alive in the courts. The Associated Press reports that state Appellate Division judges will hear arguments in two appeals cases today. One involves a ban in the Town of Dryden, near Ithaca, and the other involves a ban in Middlefield, near Cooperstown.

Dozens of New York communities have banned fracking, often using zoning laws that prohibit the broader category of oil and natural gas extraction, regardless of how its done. Typically, the communities say drilling amounts to industrial activity inconsistent with community character. As Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg explained it to the Associated Press, the communities aren't regulating oil and gas drilling, they're regulating land use. And judges, so far, have backed that approach.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Local events coincide with DOMA hearing

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

The US Supreme Court will hear a legal challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act beginning on March 27. In anticipation, a local collaborative group that includes representatives of the LGBT, religious, and labor communities will hold a couple of events next week.

Under DOMA, marriage is limited to one man and one woman in the eyes of the federal government. DOMA affects everything from veterans benefits and Social Security survivor benefits to the estate tax.

Light the Way to Justice — Rochester will host a panel discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 25, at the Gay Alliance Community Center, 875 East Main Street. The title of the discussion is "The DOMA Decisions — Equality on the Line." According to a press release, legal experts and LGBT advocates will offer background on DOMA and Prop 8 (California's law that says only marriage between a man and a woman is valid. The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Prop 8 beginning on March 26) and "explore potential impacts of the decisions on taxation, health and aging, veteran spousal benefits, immigration equality, and other areas."

The second event is a candlelight vigil from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, outside the Federal Office Building, 100 State Street. According to the press release, "speakers will explore the theme of Remembering Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall."

RCSD teachers say discipline is still a serious problem

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Disruptive, disrespectful, and violent student behavior is a serious problem in some city schools, say some teachers I've spoken to recently.

Poor student behavior and meaningful discipline has been a problem in some city schools for years. The problem was so serious that it resulted in an overuse of suspensions: thousands of students were sent home for both short and long-term suspensions.

Former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard introduced in-house suspensions as a way to curb the significant amount of instruction time students were missing as a result of suspension. The approach nearly caused a revolt among teachers when it was first introduced several years ago. And even though adjustments were made, in-house suspensions continue to be a problem, many teachers say.

“They [students] get sent to one of these rooms and you may have a second grader sitting next to an eighth grader,” a teacher complained. “It just doesn’t work.”

And several teachers said there are few problems that concern parents more than worries about student safety and spending classroom dealing with disruptive behavior.

The New York State Education Department’s Violent Incident Report was last issued for the 2010 to 2011 school year, and the data supports the teachers’ concerns at some schools.

During the 2010 to 2011 school year, East High reported having two assaults without a weapon, 49 altercations, 82 disruptions, 18 weapons found through screening, and one riot. And Wilson Magnet High School reported seven weapons found through screening, and more than 500 disruptions.

The stakes for teachers now are higher than they were then, however, because of the new teacher evaluations. Student behavior problems can have a direct impact on a teacher’s evaluation.

The district is in the process of conducting its own internal audit involving student behavior and suspensions, which could shine new light on the issue. But some teachers say they doubt it will make a difference.

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[UPDATED] Lovely Warren will run for mayor

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 9:14 AM

[UPDATED 7 p.m.] During Wednesday's meeting of east-side Democrats, City Council President Lovely Warren announced that she's running for mayor. Warren will hold a press conference on Friday morning.

Incumbent mayor Tom Richards won two of the three committees by fairly significant margins. Richards and Warren tied in the 29th District, with 13 votes each.

Committee members also heard from the 11 candidates running for five open seats on City Council: five incumbents and six newcomers. There are also two candidates for City Court, with two open seats.

Original story: Here it is, folks. Word on the street is that Lovely Warren will announce her mayoral bid on Friday morning. If true, Warren, who is president of City Council, will run a Democratic primary election against incumbent Mayor Tom Richards.

Warren hasn’t been returning calls all week.

Lovely Warren

Three city legislative districts: 21, 23, and 29 meet tonight to make their endorsements for mayor, City Council, and City Court. Warren, according to several sources, has not approached those committees and it is not clear if she will show up tonight, even though she’s a member of the 21st District. (The 24th district doesn’t meet until March 30.)

It may be to Warren’s advantage to bypass the committee process. If she didn’t do well with the committees — and Richards is a strong candidate — it could damage her going into the primary.

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