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Metro ink - 12-13-06 

PLAYING BY THE BOOK

click to enlarge The Sibley Library's Peter Coppen --- and a thousand-year-old illustration. - PHOTO BY JOE BELL
  • photo by Joe Bell
  • The Sibley Library's Peter Coppen --- and a thousand-year-old illustration.

The inner vault of the Sibley Library at the EastmanSchool is a cool, arid room housing rare books and manuscripts. When visitors walk in, they often ask to see the oldest thing in the collection. Archivist David Peter Coppen is happy to oblige.

He pulls down the Rochester Codex, a book written between 1070 and 1103 in southern Germany. Its heavy, cream-colored vellum pages contain treatises on the arts of the Middle Ages, including one on music by Hermannus Contractus, the premiere German music theorist of his day.

This amazing volume arrived in Rochester in 1929 in the arms of librarian Barbara Duncan, who was sent to a Berlin auction with a ton of money and the order, "Buy something that we can talk about!"

Visitors are always impressed by its pristine condition, Coppen says.

They're even more excited, however, when he opens the second oldest volume in the Sibley collection, the Admont-Rochester Codex. This manuscript, which dates back to between 1170 and 1103, includes writings by Odo, Abbot of Cluny; Berno, Abbot of Reichenau; and, again, Hermannus Contractus.

"In my eight years at Eastman, I've shown this book to visitors with varying degrees of erudition," Coppen says. "From medieval scholars to non-musicians, they all have the same general response."

They gasp and go silent when they see what's drawn on the back page.

It's a human hand.

More than a simple sketch, it's one of the oldest known examples of the Guidonian hand, a system used in Medieval Europe to help singers learn music.

Each portion of the hand represents a note. The lowest is indicated by the tip of the thumb. The highest, three octaves up, is represented by a spot on the back of the hand.It's named for its inventor, Benedictine monk Guido of Arezzo (born around 991), who also developed solfeggio, the "do-re-mi" scale.

Nearly a thousand years ago, someone traced his hand on a piece of paper. There it is. You can see it.

"People are awestruck," says Coppen.

--- Brenda Tremblay


BUDGET BUSTING

Four people.

That's how many showed up to speak on December 7, at the only hearing on the 2007 MonroeCounty budget prior to the CountyLegislature's vote.

That vote was to take place on December 12, as this issue of City Newspaper was going to press. But given the Republicans' strong control of the legislature, the vote would be almost a formality. And given the small interest in the budget hearing, the public may not care.

Maybe there was a low turnout because everyone trusts the Brooks administration to create a great budget. Or maybe people don't believe that their input would make a difference.

But there could be another reason: that hardly anyone has a good handle on what's in the budget. For the first time in recent years, the proposed budget was released after the fall elections. That left scarcely a month for the public to review it, ask questions, and make recommendations before the legislature's deadline for voting on it.

Dr. Jeff Kaczorowski, executive director of the Children's Agenda, suggested as much at last week's hearing. Kaczorowski is one of a few in the non-profit sector who reliably provide analysis of the budget at the annual hearing. This year, he said, he'd only just finished his analysis the morning of the hearing.

Kaczorowski had mostly kind words about the budget itself. But he did say that the county relies too heavily on foster care, which, he said, is neither the most effective nor the least expensive way to serve most children.

Kaczorowski also said that the county doesn't have enough staff in Child Protective Services. Since 2003, child-protective reports have risen by 14 percent, he said, while staff levels have remained the same. In July 2005, the scalding death of 2-year-old AJ Gibson made headlines. While investigations found that the county wasn't directly to blame, the state faulted it for lax oversight. And according to a survey of child-protective caseworkers earlier this year, many caseworkers blamed the oversight problem in part on inadequate staff levels. The average caseload for investigators in 2005 was 25, more than double the recommended 12.

Criticism from Jim Volpone, head of the Civil Service Employees Association (the union with the most county employees), paralleled Kaczorowski's.

"We're getting to the point where we believe the county is losing money because of the lack of staff," Volpone said. Without enough staff to properly evaluate applications for social services, he said, staff members often make mistakes. Sometimes they approve benefits that ought to be denied, which costs the county money. Other times they deny benefits that should be granted. And if those residents are eligible for the benefits, they often apply again. That creates additional work.

Prior to the public hearing, Budget Director Bill Carpenter discussed the proposed budget before members of the legislature's Ways and Means Committee. It was mostly a boilerplate presentation, but the question and answer session between administration officials and legislators revealed one interesting tidbit.

The county has cited a $24 million revenue item that balances the budget. In the budget document, mention of the sources of this money is vague. County officials have identified a few of them, including the sale of electricity generated at the Mill Seat Landfill and the leasing of bandwidth on the Pure Waters Districts' fiber-optic network. (At Thursday's hearing, county officials acknowledged that they're also considering selling the county's tax liens.)

What's interesting is that in the case of the Mill Seat electricity and the bandwidth, officials admitted that the money would come not from the sale or lease of those assets, but from "securitization."

Rather than directly selling the energy from Mill Seat or leasing the excess bandwidth, the county would sell off the rights to the revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Then, instead of receiving payments each year from those who bought the energy or leased the bandwidth, depending on how the deal was structured, the county would get a single payment, next year, from the sale of the rights to each of those revenue streams. It would use those single payments to close the 2007 budget gap. And it wouldn't receive revenue in the subsequent years.

"It's a classic one-shot financing technique," said Finance Director Steve Gleason.

Based on unsolicited bids, Gleason said, county officials estimate that they could fetch between $13 million and $16 million for the sale of tax liens.

By selling the rights to the revenue from the Mill Seat electricity for the next 10 years, the county could get between $3.7 million and $4.3 million. And selling the rights to the revenue from a 10 or 20-year lease of the fiber-optic network could net between $10 million and $20 million, according to Gleason.

That would total more than the $24 million needed to close the budget gap. "It is our hope that we don't have to exercise all of these revenue opportunities," said Gleason.

Whether they do use them all or not, they'll be in the same position next year. While these one-shots close the budget gap this year, they do nothing to address the continuing growth in expenses.

Gleason, Carpenter, and Maggie Brooks herself all use that problem to push their chosen solution --- a sales tax hike coupled with a mechanism whereby the state takes most of the county's sales tax revenue and pays its Medicaid bills. But important partners like the City of Rochester and many towns and school districts in the county aren't on board with Brooks' plan.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


RITE-AID REVISES PLAN

A plan to build a bigger Rite-Aid at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Goodman Street is back.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll succeed.

"It certainly is a better plan than the one we saw in the summer," says City Zoning Director Art Ientilucci. But that's far from a ringing endorsement.

"We have to remember it's relative," he cautions. "The plan we reviewed earlier this year was certainly very substandard."

The major change in the new plan is that the Rite-Aid building now goes all the way to the corner of Monroe and Goodman. In previous iterations, it was set back anywhere from 20 to 25 feet.

The new plan preserves the façade of the old Monroe Theater, which currently houses Show World. It also preserves two houses on Amherst Street that would have been demolished under the previous plan, and it includes more window exposure on Monroe Avenue.

It's now up to the city, and Ientilucci in particular, to decide whether the plan requires an Environmental Impact Statement. The decision to require one last time killed the project, Ientilucci says. And while he didn't say which way he's leaning on this version, his description of the EIS is telling. The decision to require one doesn't hinge just on traditional environmental issues like soil, water, or air quality.

"It's traffic, it's historic resources, it's neighborhood design," Ientilucci says. If the city does require an EIS, the developer, Fred Rainaldi, will have to submit one before the plan can move forward. And the EIS will be subject to a public hearing. If the city doesn't require an EIS, Rainaldi will still need to seek special permits and variances from the Zoning Board and Planning Commission.

"I would say the earliest it would get to them would be February," says Ientilucci.

Meanwhile, HighlandHospital's plan to build a four-story parking garage on South Avenue is already in the EIS phase. Ientilucci says he expects that the hospital will have the statement prepared sometime in January. The city is requiring an EIS mainly to get the hospital to explore alternatives to its current design.

"I'm confident that they can come up with a design that will work for them and work for the neighborhood," he says.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


THE GUILD AND GANNETT

click to enlarge ink---gannett.jpg

The Democrat and Chronicle newsroom union has overwhelmingly voted down a contract offer that the paper's management has described as its "firm, final, and best."

The Newspaper Guild of Rochester rejected the contract by a 51 to 4 vote on December 1.

What happens next? This is where things could get interesting. When the company announced the "final" offer a month ago, the union was taken a bit by surprise since, officers said, talks had been improving. But the "firm, final and best" language paves the way for Gannett to declare an impasse and impose the contract.

In a one-page communiqué to its membership, union leaders told editorial staff members after the vote that they hoped the lopsidedness of the vote against the contract worked to their favor.

"The Guild's bargaining committee will formally notify the company in a letter today and stress that the overwhelming margin (93 percent of the vote against the proposal) demonstrates the need to return to the table to find a middle ground on outstanding differences," the letter read. The Guild will also ask the company to keep a federal mediator, which it just recently admitted, at future bargaining sessions.

The company hadn't said previously whether it would seek to impose the contract, releasing only terse, single-sentence statements about its long-running dispute with the Guild. (It's company policy not to comment on personnel issues.)

D&C spokesperson Tom Flynn e-mailed this response to City's request for a comment on the contract vote: "A decision on that contract was entirely in the hands of its membership. We have nothing more to say at this time, out of respect to our employees.

--- Krestia DeGeorge

HELP WITH THE SEARCH

Expect to hear a lot more about filling the region's highest-paid public office. The Rochester School Board is launching a program to involve the community as it looks for a replacement for Superintendent Manuel Rivera. In surveys mailed to more than 15,000 randomly chosen parents, the district will ask for input on qualities needed in a superintendent. About 5,000 copies of the survey will be sent to community leaders, and anyone can fill out the survey online at the district's website: www.rcsdk12.com. The surveys will be mailed in January.

The School Board's search committee will also hold a series of public input meetings. The first two are scheduled for Wednesday, January 3, and Thursday, January 11. Locations haven't been determined.

--- Tim LouisMacaluso


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