Tuesday, June 7, 2016

[UPDATE] Weird connections, checkered histories mark Midtown proposals

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 1:31 PM

UPDATE 10 a.m., June 8 —- It's now being reported that the Senecas didn't submit a proposal. The city apparently put the information together based on its discussions with the Seneca Nation. 


OK, so we’ll call them the casino proposal and the “anti” casino proposal.

The City of Rochester received two project pitches for the chunk of land known as parcel 5 at Midtown downtown. One, as expected, is a combined casino-performing arts center submitted by the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The other, which seems less like a proposal than a thesis statement, is an offer to create 400 jobs and a promise to assemble state and local cognoscenti to finally make a downtown performing arts center happen.
The latter was submitted on behalf of Thomas Wilmot, chair of Wilmorite Management Group.

Frankly, though, I don’t know why the city would take a chance on Wilmorite after what happened with the Sibley Building. (A Wilmorite company that technically owned the building defaulted on promised payments and essentially skated on millions in debt. And the situation kept Sibley, a major downtown anchor, in stasis for years.)

The Senecas say that they’ll build a casino, but they’re restricted to only video game terminals and video slots. Their proposal also promises a 3,000-seat performing arts center and job preferences for residents of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.

The presumption is that RBTL would program the PAC. But the Seneca Nation would undoubtedly seek to make the Midtown parcel sovereign land and if that sovereignty applies to the PAC, too, I’m not sure how RBTL fits in. Maybe RBTL and the nation work out a side agreement?

In its proposal, Wilmorite says that it will get Rochester residents jobs at Lago, Finger Lakes Raceway, and Batavia OTB and bus them there for free. The company will go into greater detail on its entire pitch, it says, if and when the city shows interest.

At least part of Wilmorite’s proposal is undoubtedly motivated by self-interest. The company certainly wants to protect its Lago casino, which is being built in Seneca County.

An interesting point in all this is that Delaware North is named by Wilmorite as one of the companies that has committed to providing some of the 400 jobs for Rochester residents. But Delaware, which owns Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, tried unsuccessfully to block Wilmorite’s Lago casino in court. 

And the D&C reported last week that Delaware offered donations to local ministers in exchange for speaking out against a Rochester casino. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Week Ahead: Events for the week of June 6

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 9:39 AM

Edgewater Resources will hold a community information session on the proposed mixed-use development at the Port of Rochester from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8, at the Port Terminal Building, 1000 N. River Street. 

City staff from the departments of Environmental Services and Neighborhood and Business Development will also participate in the session.

Edgewater Resources has been selected to develop 2.8 acres of city-owned land in the new Marina Zoning District between North River Street and Lake Avenue as a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The company has submitted a revised site plan for the proposal, which includes a 69-room hotel, 27 condominiums, and retail spaces. The city has opened a 20-day public comment period on the proposal, which ends June 15.

Edgewater will provide drawings and architectural renderings of the proposed project at the meeting and company representatives will be available to answer questions. City employees will be available to discuss the site plan review process and the city’s public investment at the new marina and the Port Terminal Building. SG Marina, the city’s marina operator, will also be available to discuss marina operations.

To view the site plan: cityofrochester.gov/siteplanproject. Written comments on the proposal can be mailed to the Bureau of Planning and Zoning, City Hall, 30 Church St., Rochester, NY, 14614. Or e-mail to Jason.Haremza@cityofrochester.gov.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7, on a proposed new housing project, Cobbs Hill Village, at 645 Norris Drive across from Lake Riley. 

Rochester Management wants to build a four-story, 52-unit affordable apartment complex, but the project has raised concerns that it will alter the character of Cobbs Hill Park and block views. 

Tuesday's meeting is at New Life church, at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Rosedale Street. 

City Council’s review of Mayor Lovely Warren’s proposed 2016-2017 budget continues this week. Warren has proposed a $517 million plan that increases spending but lowers taxes for homeowners and businesses.

Council will hold hearings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7. Council sets aside a block of time to publicly review the budget of each city department:

• Neighborhood and Business Development, 9:35 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.;
• Information Technology, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.;
• Finance, 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
• Police Department, 3:05 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
• Emergency Communications, 4:35 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A hearing on the Rochester City School District's proposed 2016-2017 budget will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8. Council will hold a joint public hearing on the budget with the Rochester school board at 5:30 p.m. the same day. 

All of the meetings/hearings will take place in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lej backs law tied to dissolving LDC's

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 11:37 AM

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo says that she expects to refinance the debts and contracts of three county-linked local development corporations and then dissolve the quasi-governmental organizations by the end of the year.

Those plans depend on whether the state Assembly and Senate pass legislation allowing the county to borrow money to buy out those contracts and debts. Republicans Joe Robach and Rich Funke sponsor the legislation in the Senate, while Democrats Joe Morelle and Harry Bronson sponsor a matching bill in the Assembly. This morning, the County Legislature unanimously passed a home rule measure, which is basically an official communication stating that the county government wants the law.

Dinolfo says that the state legislation is the first in a series of steps that the county needs to take in order to assume the functions performed by the LDC's and the assets they hold.  Ultimately, taking over those functions and assets will save the county more than $12 million, Dinolfo says.

"Certainly it creates more transparency and accountability," Dinolfo said to reporters after this morning's Legislature meeting. "These are essential government functions that really do belong in the hands of county government and the people who are here, so they can provide essential oversight of those functions."

Dinolfo wants to dissolve Monroe Security and Safety Systems LDC (M3S), Upstate Telecommunications Corporation (UTC), and Monroe Newpower.  She campaigned on eliminating the county's LDC's, particularly M3S and UTC, which were at the center of a recently-concluded public corruption case.  Dinolfo told legislators that as she and her staff reviewed the details of M3S and UTC, they found that the county could save around $8 million by taking over the functions of Monroe Newpower and dissolving it.

Legislature President Anthony Daniele has been in the Legislature since 2008 and his caucus has defended the county's use of LDC's.  The concept of LDC's is useful in all governments, he said, but by eliminating the three LDC's in question, the county will realize cost savings from lower interest rates. Dissolving the LDC's will also put the public's mind at ease, he said.

"We couldn't forsee problems in the leadership at the time we put the LDC's into place," he said.

Democrats disagree. For years, they've pointed out that LDC's operate without adequate oversight, creating an environment ripe for abuse. When the Legislature created M3S, Democrats tried to attach a provision requiring all of its contracts to come to the Lej for approval. The Republican majority rejected that idea. Ultimately, however, rigged and inflated contracts involving M3S became an issue in a criminal case brought by the state Attorney General's Office.

Democratic Minority Leader Cynthia Kaleh supported the home rule message and state legislation, and said she's glad to be a part of cleaning up the LDC's. But she also gave "a hearty but sober — and I hate to say it — I told you so."

Below is a video of Kaleh speaking to reporters. 

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

County closer to dissolving troubled LDC's

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 1:45 PM

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo got the local development corporation legislation she wanted from the Senate and Assembly. The County Legislature will meet at 8:15 a.m. on Friday to vote on a technical measure necessary for the State Legislature to pass the bills.

Under current state law, the county can borrow money to buy or repair property, but not to pay off service contracts. The state legislation would provide Monroe County with specific exemptions to that prohibition so it can pay off service contracts tied to three local development corporations: Monroe Security and Safety Systems Local Development Corporation (M3S), Upstate Telecommunications Corporation (UTC), and Monroe Newpower Corporation.

The legislation is a crucial aspect of Dinolfo's plan to dissolve the LDC's, two of which —  M3S and UTC — were at the center of a recently concluded public corruption trial. 

Republicans Joe Robach and Rich Funke sponsor the Senate legislation, while Democrats Joe Morelle and Harry Bronson sponsor the Assembly measure.  The legislation would allow the county to issue 20-year bonds to pay off the following contracts:
  • An agreement between the county and Monroe Newpower , under which the county buys energy from the LDC;
  • A county public safety communications contract with M3S;
  • A county information technology contract with Upstate Telecommunications.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

UPDATED: Bello says Dinolfo is messing with his budget

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 12:54 PM

  • Adam Bello
This post has been updated with a comment from the county administration.

It's going to be a long haul to the November elections. And not just with the presidential race; the local stuff is going to be pretty heated, too, by the looks of things.

The latest skirmish involves the office of County Clerk Adam Bello, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in March by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the administration of County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, a Republican. And it centers on the clerk's office budget.

The administration started taking funding for three auditor positions from the clerk's office budget on April 1, a move that will add $120,000 in costs for 2016, according to a statement from Bello's office.

The administration didn't inform Bello's office of the change, the statement says; staff uncovered it during routine budget monitoring.  The release says that as far back as staff can tell, the positions were never paid through the clerk's budget. The 2016 budget placed the three auditor positions under the Finance Department.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Week ahead: Events for the week of May 31

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 9:48 AM

ColorBrightonGreen.org will hold the Brighton Eco-Fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 5. The fair consists of a wide range of green vendors, nonprofits, and activities for children, as well as information on topics such as recycling, water conservation, and availability of green products. The event will be held at Brighton High School, 1150 Winton Road South.

The Smoking and Health Action Coalition will present “Airing Big Tobacco’s Dirty Laundry: How the Tobacco Industry Influences Your Community,” from 4 p.m. to 7 pm. on Thursday, June 2. Learn about the tobacco industry’s impact on communities and hear from a former employee of big tobacco. The event will be held at the Thomas Ryan center, 530 Webster Avenue. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

City Council’s review of Mayor Lovely Warren’s proposed 2016-2017 budget starts this week. Warren has proposed a $517 million plan that increases spending but lowers taxes for homeowners and businesses.

Council will hold hearings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 2. Council sets aside a block of time to publicly review the budget of each city department:
• Council/Clerk, 9 a.m. to 9:10 a.m.;
• Administration, 9:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.;
• Environmental services, 10:50 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
• Recreation and youth services, 1:30 p.m. to 2:55 p.m.
• Library, 3 to 4 p.m.
• Fire Department, 4:05 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The next set of hearings is on Tuesday, June 7. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Monroe County Legislator Mark Muoio will hold a city housing forum from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at The Community Place, 145 Parsells Avenue.

Muoio and other local officials with talk about safe, stable housing in the city. Housing attorneys and a city code enforcement officer will be at the forum to answer questions.

Climate, environmental justice, and union activists from across New York will gather in Albany on Wednesday to rally for a state powered entirely by renewables. The event is organized by New York Renews, a coalition of social, environmental, and union groups.

A bus to the rally will leave the Park and Ride lot next to St. John Fisher College at 6 a.m., and will return at 7:30 p.m. For more details and to reserve a seat: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ny-renews-march-on-albany-tickets-25623277914. BY JEREMY MOULE 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Diverse schools? Survey shows the public may be ready

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 5:20 PM

Great Schools for All continues to push for the creation of a network of theme-based magnet schools that are socially and economically diverse — enrolling students from the city as well as the suburbs. The group released a survey today that seems to confront one of the most deeply entrenched issues in a region widely recognized for its segregated school systems: whether urban and suburban parents are willing send their children to a diverse school environment.

For decades, the answer to that question has been a resounding "No!" But the survey, conducted by the Rochester research firm  Metrix Matrix and funded by the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, seems to show that opinions are softening.

The survey reached 602 parents of school-age children, and was almost equally divided between the city and the suburbs. Participants were parents of students in public, charter, and private schools, and even some parents of home-schooled students. 

Eighty-three percent of parents said that it is somewhat or very important that their child's education involve attending a school with children from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds; 69 percent said they would consider sending their child to a magnet school that is half low-income and half middle class; and nearly 75 percent said they would consider sending their child to a magnet school even if it is outside their home district — and that number increased when parents were asked if they would send their child to a high school outside their home district.

Great Schools' leaders say that the survey reflects a set of attitudes that are transitioning from an older set of values. Rochester is engaged in a community-wide discussion about race, poverty, and school climate, and this may mean new educational opportunities, they say.

At the very least, it shows that most parents recognize that their children will likely attend colleges or pursue careers where they will have to work effectively with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and world views. Failure to do so will almost certainly limit their success later in life. 

But survey aside, that doesn't mean that the respondents will act correspondingly to their answers. The parents weren't asked directly if they would consider a magnet school that's located in the city, and it's been shown that people answering questions on sensitive subjects like race, religion, and abortion may give answers they believe are socially acceptable and not necessarily how they will act. 

But even if public attitudes have moved from a firm "no"  to a "maybe," that's progress.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Barnhart leaving WROC, political run likely

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 3:35 PM

If you go by the rumors, WROC anchor Rachel Barnhart plans to challenge Democratic Assembly member Harry Bronson for his seat.  And that fact that tomorrow is her last day at the station makes the scenario more likely.

Barnhart announced her departure this afternoon in Twitter and Facebook posts; her contract with WROC was set to expire at the end of this month, anyway.  The Twitter post was brief, but the Facebook message mentioned a forthcoming announcement of some sort. 

"I'm not giving up the fight to give you a voice and make Rochester a better place," she wrote in her post, which is embedded below. "My heart is telling me it's time to make a difference in a different way. I'll have more on future plans in the coming days."

Candidates can start petitioning for ballot lines on June 7, and the signatures they collect must be filed with the Board of Elections between July 11 and 14. Some in political circles expect an announcement from Barnhart this weekend, though she says she hasn't set a date to announce her "future plans."

Bronson was first elected to the Assembly in 2010 and, for the third time, he faces a challenge from Republican Peter Vazquez, who lives in Henrietta.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Brockport voters reject dissolution

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 9:50 PM

Brockport voters have again said that they want to keep their village government, but with a slightly smaller margin than in 2010.

The village clerk's office reports that 817 voters opted against dissolving the village, compared to 632 in favor. In 2010, voters rejected the proposal 959 to 662, and state law protected the village from another voter-initiated dissolution measure for four years. Village resident Rhett King filed a petition earlier this year to hold the vote, and it'll be another four years before a voter can petition for another dissolution election.

The village is located in the Town of Sweden, which would have been responsible for providing services to Brockport residents if the village government dissolved. Dissolution opponents said that the village government provides necessary services for residents, particularly code enforcement and police, and that the town and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office just  couldn't provide services at the same level. 

Dissolution supporters said that getting rid of the village government would lower taxes. 

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Dinolfo tries I-Square damage control

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 1:52 PM

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinfolo isn't changing her story on I-Square, but she's released some e-mails and memos to back it up. 

An emotional, contrite Dinolfo held a press conference this morning to explain, as she put it, what she knew, when she knew it, and how she knew it in this scandal that has engulfed the county over the last several weeks, overshadowing everything else. I-Square is a development in Irondequoit invoked by GOP boss Bill Reilich in a misguided attempt to smear new Democratic county clerk Adam Bello. 

 Dinolfo also apologized to the public, to I-Square owners Mike and Wendy Nolan, to the media, and to current and former members of the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency board. She said that she'll announce changes to the county-COMIDA relationship on July 1.

"It happened on my watch and I am the county executive," Dinolfo said. "The buck stops here."

The I-Square controversy isn't really about the project; it's about what Reilich said about the project, where he got some information, and the way he used that information. As of today, four of seven COMIDA board members, including its chair, Theresa Mazzullo, have resigned and called on Dinolfo to disclose exactly what happened. And that's what Dinolfo attempted to do this morning.

It bears mentioning, though, that the board members cited their personal integrity and reputations as their reasons for leaving the board. No current or former board member has expressed concern or anger over being used by Reilich and Roj. Their concerns seem to be limited to perception. 

Reilich's shot at Bello should have been a routine exercise — the kind of thing you expect in local politics — but then he dragged I-Square into it, claiming that the project is failing and that it is somehow Bello's fault. Soon after, he said that I-Square was in violation of its tax incentive agreement with the East Irondequoit School District, the town, and the county.  COMIDA's attorney produced a memo backing up Reilich's statement, which was distributed to local press.

Continue reading »

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