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From green space to gathering place 

It's a rare day when citizens approach their government and ask to be taxed. But that's exactly what the South Wedge Planning Committee is doing.

            The group has approached Rochester City Council with a petition and a proposal to create a special tax assessment district. The extra revenue from the district --- located around the intersection of South Avenue and Alexander Street --- would help pay for the upkeep of a small green space there (pictured) that SWPC hopes to improve. An inner ring of properties would see their assessment increase by 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, while an outer section would pay half that.

            Last month, while the proposal was winding its way through committee, owners of about 60 percent of the affected property, and a little less than half of the total number of lots, had signed the petition. That's within the city's guidelines for establishing such a district.

            "I think those numbers are pretty impressive given the diverse ownership in the area," says SWPC Executive Director Dan Buyer.

            If the proposal receives city hall's blessing later this month, construction could begin by October, says Buyer. The green space has existed at the intersection since the city took over ownership in the 1980s. Armed with state, city and arts council grants, SWPC is hoping to spruce up the place with paving stones, decorative arches, and game tables (with chess and checker boards) among other improvements. "The concept of the park is really to create a gathering place," he says.

            The improvements are part of a bigger vision for the area, says Buyer. "It's not just an effort for that one green space; it's an effort to revitalize the entire Wedge Point neighborhood," he says. "It's one piece that really goes into having an attractive community."

--- KrestiaDeGeorge

Prozac nation

This little late-July blurb from Reuters just seems too good not to share:

            During a telephone conversation with a reporter about job quality, a campaign worker for President Bush suggested American workers unhappy with their jobs should find new ones, or just pop the prescription anti-depressant Prozac.

            Apparently, the comment was directed to a colleague who was transferring the reporter's phone call. And the reporter just happened to overhear the remark. When confronted by the reporter, the staffer, Susan Sheybani, said "Oh, I was just kidding."

            Pretty funny stuff. At least all those dissatisfied working Americans can have something to laugh about as they go out and grab new work. And if that doesn't happen easily, they can always plop some of their hard-earned money down for a Prozac prescription.

            In fact, the Prozac might come in handy when these workers realize how stiff the competition for employment is these days. Nearly 1.1 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001.

Goodbye, casino

It was a thrilling run. But Rochester's dreams (or nightmares) of a downtown casino came crashing down last week, with reports out of Albany that settlement talks between the state and two Indian tribes --- the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the Cayuga Nation of New York --- had unraveled.

            News that Rochester could become home to a downtown casino began surfacing several months ago, with reports that the local commercial real-estate development firm Wilmorite had begun bankrolling the Seneca-Cayugas. Wilmorite owns several area suburban malls like Eastview. It also owns the SibleyBuilding, and owes the city more than $13 million in taxes, delinquent loans, and late fees on that property.

            The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe wanted to replace MidtownPlaza with a casino and put a hotel and gambling facilities across Main Street in and around the SibleyBuilding, effectively removing both properties from the tax rolls. As part of the deal, the tribe would also build a 2,800-seat performing arts center.

            Shortly after the downtown casino plans were made public, Governor George Pataki said he was not negotiating for a Rochester casino. Then, in a bizarre attempt to play newsmaker, the Democrat and Chronicle had the polling company Zogby International issue a poll simply asking MonroeCounty residents if they favored a casino in their county.

            Fifty-one percent of the respondents said they did. Only 38 percent said they didn't.

            And the D&C took the information from its poll to write an editorial about how the County of Monroe is indeed interested in a Rochester casino. Meanwhile, talks between the tribes and the state were dissolving. And now it appears that the land claims will have to be settled in court.

School Band-Aid

State legislators unveiled a school-aid proposal Monday that would give Rochester nearly $25 million more than last year --- but $8 million less than district officials say is needed. The district is also receiving $7 million less from city hall than it asked for, so district officials will be scrambling to find further cuts in a budget that's already considered by some to be about as sparse as can be.

            The aid is part of the latest-ever state budget. Governor George Pataki said Monday he expected it to pass this week, but disagreements over spending in other sections of the budget still remain. City school officials have not said how they plan to reduce their budget to bring it in line with the new figures.

Deep freeze

Just over a week after Maggie Brooks' Budget Advisory Team released its recommendations, the county executive announced a county-wide hiring freeze.

            Brooks has already introduced legislation to change the county's budget process, implementing the first of the group's "key recommendations" (see "The Pressure's On," City Newspaper,August 4-10). The second of those called for 400 to 500 county jobs to be slashed. There are 626 full- and part-time positions unfilled, according to a press release from Brooks' office.

            The press release makes no mention of a connection to the team's report, From Crisis to Stability, but includes a quote from Brooks parroting its title: "As we work to emerge from crisis to stability, a hiring freeze will impose necessary fiscal and budgetary discipline to ensure that the only positions filled are those which are absolutely necessary." Monroe County Communications Director Larry Staub did not return phone calls Monday afternoon.

            Some exceptions to the freeze might be made for health and public safety positions, if department heads can demonstrate that they're essential. Brooks could be facing a 2004 budget deficit of about $25 million according to some estimates.

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