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Cultivating a collection 

Librarian Carolyn VanNess wants to take the Rochester Civic Garden Center Library off any "best-kept secret" lists. She wouldn't mind a few more people knowing that over 4,000 horticultural volumes are tucked into the second floor of RCGC's home in the Warner Castle.

            The collection was begun in the late '40s, and includes books on gardening, landscaping, flower arrangement, how-to books, current and back issues of gardening magazines, flower catalogs, and historical books, including over 250 from the 19th century. And they are all cataloged and shelved and recommended by 12 volunteers, supervised by VanNess.

            "This was something I was raised to do," VanNess says. "I am a farmer's daughter." After retiring from her 20-year job as a Rundel Library reference librarian, she became certified as a master gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Then she turned her eye to the collection at the Garden Center Library.

            VanNess is trying to update the collection. She wants to add books that will reflect trends in landscaping and gardening, like the recent interest in memory gardens, or the fact that perennials are, after a few annual-loving decades, back in vogue. So she is shopping for books on daylilies, primroses, and hostas. They'll find room on the neat narrow shelves next to books on wildflowers, cacti, butterflies, shrubs, vegetables, trees, and organic gardening.

            VanNess carefully chooses what new books she will add to the collection (she finds the new gardening books are beautiful, but expensive) and is slowly discarding older books that are outdated or just poorly written. And yes, literary quality does apply, even in horticulture. VanNess finds "a great deal of charm in garden writing." Garden essays especially, she says, make great winter reading. And browsing seed and bulb catalogs is what gets her through to planting season.

            Anyone can visit the Garden Center Library at 5 Castle Road. The library is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Info: 473-5130,

--- Erica Curtis

Medicaid under knife

All over Monroe County these days, you hear people going for Medicaid's jugular. Usually the attacks are prefaced by a wish for a "state takeover" of the county's share of the Medicaid funding burden. The secondary wish is for Albany to "bring Medicaid in line with what's done in other states" --- i.e., slash the program.

            Up in the State of Maine, a cautionary tale is unfolding. Recently, Governor John Baldacci unveiled a set of cuts. Among other things, says the group Maine Equal Justice Partners, Baldacci would place limits on the amount of physical therapy available to recipients and impose co-pays for some programs used by the poorest people. "We need to get the savings now" to balance the budget, Baldacci told the Bangor Daily News.

            Cuts will surely put Maine's health systems out of balance. And we wonder, will news like this soon be coming out of Albany as well as Augusta?

Waging a battle

When it comes to the minimum wage, New York State is out of step with much of the neighborhood. State law sets the minimum at $5.15 per hour, same as the current federal rate. Not all wage earners are covered, of course: Food-service workers have a minimum wage of $2.90 to $3.30 per hour; tips are supposed to bring them up to par.

            Pennsylvania and New Jersey follow the fed rate, too. But most of New England is ahead of the pack. Here are the federal Department of Labor statistics: Rhode Island and Maine, $6.15 minimum; Vermont, $6.25; Massachusetts, $6.75. Connecticut, now at $6.90, will jump to $7.10 on January 1. On the other hand, Ohio's minimum is $4.25; this drops to $2.80 for employers with gross annual sales under $150,000. (Luckily, the federal rate supersedes that of individual states whose minimums are lower.)

            Now a new coalition has formed to boost New York's minimum to at least $6.75. The coalition --- including ACORN, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, Citizen Action, Fiscal Policy Institute, Working Families Party, Jobs With Justice, and others --- wants the state legislature to act. The Assembly, says a coalition backgrounder, has passed good bills in recent sessions, but there's a chronic logjam in the Senate.

            Using employment figures for 2002, the Albany-based Fiscal Policy Institute calculates that 6.1 percent of Monroe County's wage-earners would benefit from such a hike. Those are the more than 22,000 local workers who now make between $5.15 and $6.74, according to the FPI. Remember that fact when you're told that "everybody" around here already makes around seven bucks an hour.

One down, two to go

R. Anthony LaFountain will take George Wiedemer's place representing the ninth district in the county legislature.

            LaFountain's appointment was announced by lej president Dennis Pelletier on December 16.

            LaFountain has been a member of the Penfield Town Board since 1986. He has served as chairman of the town's Community Services Committee, deputy supervisor, chairman of the Public Works Committee, and has held other positions within the town.

            LaFountain, a Republican, is a department director at Eastman Kodak Co. He lives on Woodside Drive in Penfield. His appointment is effective January 1, 2004.

            Wiedemer resigned his seat after winning election as Penfield town supervisor in November.

            Pelletier has yet to announce replacements for Republican legislators Tracy Logel, who will become supervisor of the town of Chili in January; and Sean Hanna, who resigned earlier this month.

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