Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monroe County's Obamacare benefit

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Heading into 2014 budget preparations, Monroe County officials anticipated a 1 percent increase in Medicaid costs. Instead, the county should see a decrease.

During last night's County Legislature Human Services Committee meeting, officials acknowledged that the decrease is due to the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The benefit to the county's 2014 budget was "$6 million and change," said County Chief Financial Officer Robert Franklin.

Through Obamacare, the federal government is reimbursing states for a larger share of their Medicaid costs. And since New York is one of only a few states that require counties to pay Medicaid costs, it has to pass much of the additional funding on to the counties.

Monroe's budgeted Medicaid costs would drop to $181.7 million under the 2014 proposal, down from $184.2 million in 2013.

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County officials say day care subsidies are a state issue

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Local children's advocates and faith groups have flooded County Executive Maggie Brooks' office in recent months with letters requesting a $1 million increase in local funding for low-income child day care subsidies.

But the push is apparently not sitting well with county officials. During a Legislature committee meeting last night, Kelly Reed, commissioner of the Department of Human Services slapped back at the local advocates. She said they are trying to put state funding cuts "at the feet of local taxpayers." Reed was asked to speak to the child day care subsidies by committee chair Debbie Drawe, a Republican.

"This is a battle being fought in the wrong legislative chamber in the wrong city," Reed said.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Student behavior: Vargas dares to go there

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 at 3:02 PM

When Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas presented his proposal for college-run schools last week, it was just one piece of a larger package of steps needed, he said, to improve student achievement.

The full pac
RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO.
  • File photo.
  • RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.
kage includes improving financial management to reduce the hand-wringing over budget gaps; working with BOCES to  revive  a technical careers program for students interested in fields like auto repair, HVAC, and  plumbing; eliminating the summer reading loss by offering more summer reading development programs; and improving student behavior.

While college-run schools grabbed the most attention, improving student behavior may be more imperative. And it could be even more difficult to pull off.

RCSD teachers and principals have struggled for years with large numbers of students who are disruptive and disengaged. And many teachers and principals say that discipline is enforced inconsistently and that they receive little support from some parents and the administration.

In a recent meeting with parents, one district father told Vargas that he had no choice but to withdraw his child from a city school after he visited the school during lunch time. Most of the cafeteria staff was breaking up fights, he said. The experience convinced him, he said, to place his child in a different school system.

It was obviously not the first time Vargas heard a parent say this. Parents report seeing students roaming the halls in some schools. Last year a group of residents near East High School said they were fed up with students using marijuana on their way to and from school — leaving their trash behind in the neighborhood. 

And a gun was fired recently on East Main Street while a large group of students gathered near the Liberty Pole. These often-disruptive gatherings have prompted much community discussion. And after the gunfire incident — no one was injured — a frustrated Mayor Tom Richards pressed Vargas to find a solution. 

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Dems attack big pay raise proposed for Sheriff O'Flynn

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Last night, County Legislature Democrats had a chance to question county officials about a proposed $37,000 raise for Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn. The Sheriff's Office is within the purview of the Legislature's Public Safety Committee.

But Dems help back. They appear to be holding their questions until the Lej's Ways and Means Committee meeting on Thursday, December 5; the public hearing on the budget will be held at the same meeting. 

But Democrats did send out a press release yesterday denouncing the raise. They included a letter to County Executive Maggie Brooks requesting that O'Flynn appear at the Ways and Means meeting.

"Nobody in government deserves a $37,000 pay raise in one year while serving in the same position," Legislator Michael Patterson said in the press release. "This proposal is tone deaf and brain dead and should not be allowed to stand."

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Monday, November 25, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: County committees to examine Brooks's budget proposal

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Legislators will discuss County Executive Maggie Brooks 2014 budget proposal during committee meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

On both days, the meetings start at 4:30 p.m. and will be held in the Legislature chambers at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street. Four committees meet each day.

The Human Services Committee meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, will likely see the most intense questioning. Democrats will try to draw out the details of how the budget proposal would affect social services. Children’s advocates are alarmed over a proposed decrease in the local share of child day care subsidies.

Brooks has proposed an approximately $1.2 billion budget for 2014. Under the plan, the property tax rate would be $8.99 per $1,000 assessed value. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Could Buffalo and Rochester both be solar manufacturing hubs?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM

The state's economic development arm will invest $225 million to build a high-tech and green energy business hub in Buffalo. The money is going toward infrastructure and building construction at a 90-acre site, RiverBend, that is the former home of Republic Steel.

And yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the manufacturing complex's first committed tenants, both based in California: high-efficiency LED light manufacturer Soraa and solar cell maker Sileveo. The companies will invest $1.5 billion and will create a combined total of 850 jobs, says a press release from Cuomo's office.

This is good news for Buffalo. Like every larger city in upstate New York, the Queen City has suffered from industrial decline, so investment and jobs are sorely needed. 

But as a Rochesterian, I'm troubled by the news. I worry that it conflicts with active, ongoing efforts to remake the Eastman Business Park — the former Kodak Park — into a magnet for clean-tech and renewable energy research, commercialization, and manufacturing. On several occasions, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council leaders have said that the state considers Eastman Business Park to be one of its top economic development priorities.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day care subsidies: What Maggie Brooks didn't say

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 5:35 PM

When Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks presented her 2014 budget proposal recently, she said that the county would provide more funding than the state required for child day care subsidies. And as a result, she said, no families currently receiving child day care subsidies would lose their slots.

But Brooks chose her words carefully. She didn't say that the county plans to increase the funding it's putting toward child day care subsidies, just that it was providing more than the minimum requirement.

And a local advocate says that the budget proposal actually decreases the amount the county pays toward day care subsidies by approximately $1.3 million, says Dr. Jeff Kaczorowski, president of the Children's Agenda. Each year, the Children's Agenda analyzes county spending on child and family programs.

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Dems call for Legislature to investigate LDC's

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 3:45 PM

UPDATE 5 p.m. — Staff for Legislature Republicans just sent along this statement from Majority Leader Steve Tucciarello>
"Ms. Andrews and her colleagues clearly don’t grasp the complexity of the ongoing review. Not only would her proposal jeopardize the integrity of the Attorney General's investigation, I also fail to understand why Ms. Andrews thinks she is more qualified than respected law enforcement officials to conduct this review."

Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature say they want a committee of legislators to take over an internal investigation into two county-linked local development corporations.

As a result of an investigation by the attorney general's office into the two LDC's, Upstate Telecommunications Corporation and Monroe Safety and Security Systems LDC, four people are facing criminal charges. One of the defendants is Robert Wiesner, husband to County Executive Maggie Brooks. The men are accused of participating in a bid-rigging scheme.

In July, Brooks hired a Buffalo-based law firm to assist the county with legal work related to the investigation. She also directed one of the firm's partners, former state Attorney General Dennis Vacco, to conduct an internal investigation of the LDC's.

During a press conference this afternoon, Democrats released a proposal to turn the investigation over to a committee of three Republican legislators and three Democratic legislators, which would replace Vacco. The committee would have subpoena power — meaning that it could request documents for review and compel people to testify under oath.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rochester Police Chief Sheppard to retire

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM

UPDATE, Nov. 20, 10:55 a.m.: Mayor-elect Lovely Warren sent over a statement, reacting to Sheppard's announcement. The statement follows the blog. 


Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard is retiring at the end of the year. Sheppard apparently sent an e-mail this morning, breaking the news to the department. 
James Sheppard. - FILE PHOTO
  • James Sheppard.

Many speculated that Sheppard's days were numbered soon after Mayor-elect Lovely Warren's victory in the September primary  election. Warren and Sheppard have not publicly clashed, but it's been clear for some time that Warren is not completely happy with the operation of the RPD. Among other things, she questioned why a police substation was put in the Sibley building downtown, when downtown is generally regarded as the safest place in the city. 

Sheppard has been a major presence in the community since taking over following the abrupt departure of former chief David Moore in 2010. He has made numerous appearances all over the city in an effort to improve police-community relations. 

But there have been setbacks, too, including a parking-ticket "fixing" scandal, and perceived favoritism for police officers caught on camera running red lights. There's also the ongoing problem of large groups of unruly youth starting fights throughout the city. 

Warren and some other members of City Council (Warren is currently City Council president) pulled Sheppard aside after a video surfaced of a Rochester police officer striking a pregnant woman in the head. Some members of Council, including Warren, felt that Sheppard was too quick to take the officer's side, and that it sent the wrong message to the community. 

Sheppard will hold a press conference at noon today to make the retirement announcement official. 


"Today I join with many others across the city in thanking Chief James Sheppard for his many years of service. I wish him well in all his future endeavors."

Hugs and hisses: Liz and Mary Cheney

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 9:49 AM

The hugs and hisses between the Cheney sisters is more than a celebrity girl-fight. The daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney went at it when Liz Cheney, in her bid for the Senate seat in Wyoming, told Fox News recently that she’s against same-sex marriage.

Mary flipped when she watched her sister dis same-sex marriages like her relationship with her spouse Heather Poe on national television.

But it’s important to remember that this is a political family and with mom and dad’s support, Liz is hoping to make it a political dynasty. That may be difficult. Her campaign from most reports is in trouble, which may explain why she reached into the conservative tool box for a social issue like same-sex marriage.
  • File photo.

There's another story here that has nothing to do with politics. The Cheneys have been supportive of daughter Mary, and as far right as the Cheneys are on most issues, Dick has publicly supported marriage-equality for some time. He says he also supports his daughter Liz in her right to have a different view.

The other story is one that many in the LGBT community know too well. Their loving and committed relationships — and more recently marriages in some states — often aren't accepted by some family members. And the disapproval is based on something that’s ephemeral; often not at all personal.

The couple may be well-educated, successful, and productive members of society. They may be a perfectly caring and responsible match — what most parents would hope for in their in-laws. But the relationship is still rejected. And the sharp exchanges between the Cheney sisters show just how deep and raw these emotions are, and how capable they are of dividing families. (I can't imagine how aunt Liz will explain this to her sister's children.)

There are no simple explanations, either. When Poe challenges Liz on social media and reminds her of the love and support she once showed to her, her sister, and their children, Liz rebuffs with the usual contradiction, "I love you,” followed by a string of qualifiers and conditions.

Families across America have been dealing with this for a long time, some more progressively than others. The Cheney's family feud may have shown us that the advances in the gay movement are less predicated on political alliances and coalitions and more on familial love. 

Given some time, our loved ones often come around, and I'm betting Liz will, too.

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