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Howard B. Owens's blog

Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Photo: Cherry Blossoms behind Upton Monument

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, photos, Upton Monument

upton_cherryblossoms.jpg

The cherry blossoms (or I assume they are cherry blossoms) are in bloom behind the Upton Monument outside the Old Court House at Main and Ellicott streets.

BTW: We still might get thundershowers today and tonight, and there's still a chance of snow on Friday night.

Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 9:26 am

State's Chief Judge paying rare visit to Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, courts

judge_jonathan_lippman.jpgNew York's top jurist, Jonathan Lippman, will be in Batavia April 23 for Law Day at the Genesee County Courthouse.

It may be the first time a Chief Judge of the State of New York has visited Batavia.

County Court Judge Robert C. Noonan said a chief judge has never visited Batavia in the 35 years he's been involved in the local legal community, and he doesn't believe a chief judge visited during his father's time practicing law in Batavia, which goes back another 35 years.

"It is possible that this is the first time the Chief Judge EVER came here (of that, I am not certain), but this is a big event and we in the legal community are excited at the prospect of Judge Lippman's visit," Noonan told us in an e-mail.

Noonan anticipates a large turnout, with members from the legal community in Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties expected to attend. The event is open to the public, but space will be limited.

The Chief Judge will make a presentation at 9:30 a.m., and the one-hour session is likely to include time for questions and answers in a Town Hall format.

Lippman was appointed to his current position in January 2009 by Gov. David Paterson. Before that, he was Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, First Department. His legal career spans six decades. A full biography is available here.

Recent news items involving the Chief Judge:

  • Lippman wrote the opinion on a unanimous decision limiting the scope of police search warrants, prohibiting, in certain cases, the search of persons who just happen to be in a house subject to search.
  • Lippman has called the lack of pay raises for the past 10 years for State judges "demoralizing."
Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 8:26 am

State Budget News: Union givebacks, Wall Street taxes, and still no budget

post by Howard B. Owens in budget, new york, taxes

Some members of public employees unions in New York are bucking their union bosses and saying they should give back their 4-percent raises, according to Associated Press.

"I talked to my friends and neighbors who are losing their jobs and taking pay cuts and for me to get a raise, I functionally have to ask them to pay for it," Regan said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said he hasn't heard from anyone who opposes his view.

In other budget news, a group calling itself Better Choice for Budgeting Campaign, is calling on higher taxes and closing tax loopholes for Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers.

“When you look at hedge fund managers making millions and millions of dollars and Wall Street having caused a great deal of the economic turmoil we find ourselves in, they should really help pay for it,” said Sen. Neil Breslin.

And while New York's budget is a week late today, Albany's Democrats and Republics are squabbling over procedure, according to the Times-Union.

Senate Democrats gathered on Wednesday to roll out an ambitious set of reforms to New York's budget process. Republicans shot back that the majority would do better to devote their time to the work at hand, and lambasted Democrats for failing to follow budget reforms that are already on the books.

Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 7:23 am

Wanted suspect faces charge for allegedly running from police

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy

The 17-year-old who was allegedly the subject of a manhunt in the City of Batavia on April 2 has been charged with an additional crime stemming from the search.

Christopher Allen Laird, of 30 South St., Le Roy, has been charged with obstructing governmental administration, 2nd.

Batavia Police and Sheriff's Office police, at least one State Trooper and a State Police helicopter were out looking for Laird the morning of April second in the area of State and North streets.

Laird was not captured that day, but was arrested in Le Roy on April 5. Laird was wanted on a warrant for alleged violation of probation stemming from a burglary charge.

Laird was the subject of a manhunt, also involving the State Police helicopter, on Sept. 23, 2008, following a burglary, 3rd, charge. Laird reportedly went missing a few days before, and was spotted in Elba. He was eventually found, according to reports, at a Transit Road residence where he had been accused of stealing a Polaris Trail Blazer off-road four-wheeler.

The Sheriff's Office put out a wanted notice for Laird on Feb. 2. He apparently remained at large until his arrest a few days ago.

Laird is being held without bail. His next scheduled court appearance is April 14.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Consultant's memo makes clear, sale not the only option being considered for nursing home

post by Howard B. Owens in Genesee County Nursing Home

The county wants to look at a range of options for dealing with its financially troubled nursing home, according to a memo written by a consultant the county plans to hire.

The scope of work planned by the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester is detailed in a memo from its director of human services analysis, Donald E. Pryor. The memo was released at the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The study will involve numerous interviews with key stakeholders, an examination of past operational and financial history and comparisons with other facilities around the state.

CGR will look at least a dozen options for changing the status of the nursing home, including both keeping the operation as it is or selling it. Even closing it will be an option considered.

"CGR now understands clearly that the County is not currently considering the 'sell' option, and that there are many options that you wish to explore in more detail before you do consider that option, if you indeed ever do," Pryor writes.

"Thus this memo reframes the original proposal in that spirit, with the intent of exploring the implications, pro and con, of a number of options the County may wish to consider along a continuum of possible change, ranging from no change (status quo) to closure of the Nursing Home facility, and many options in between."

Among the other options Pryor discusses are bed licenses to a third-party operator, conversion of the nursing home to a free-standing, not-for-profit facility, renegotiating agreements with the employees union, creation of a public benefits corporation, and better marketing of the facility.

"Rather than focus on an RFP process designed to determine the possible interest and viability of entities who may be interested in the possibility of purchasing the County Nursing Home, our revised proposal deletes all reference to that RFP process," Pryor writes. "Instead, the focus of this revised proposal is on an objective assessment of the strengths, limitations and overall implications of a wide range of options for the operation, management and possible disposition of the Nursing Home and its companion Adult Home."

The memo was part of the final contract provided to the Ways and Means Committee for review and approval. The committee unanimously approved sending the contract to the full legislature for review and possible approval.

The memo states that the $62,000 consulting fee will cover all in costs, including travel and any other expenses.

For previous nursing home coverage, click here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 9:40 pm

County could see a jump of $3 million in retirement benefits over next two years

post by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, Scott German

The number of retiring Genesee County workers over the next two years could increase county expenses by as much as $3 million.

That's according to figures released Wednesday by County Treasurer Scott German at the Ways and Means Committee meeting.

Afterward, he said the looming increase is troublesome.

"I’m very concerned about that because I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to come up with that kind of money without raising taxes," German said.

In other items German shared with the legislators:

  • The recent tax foreclosure auction turned a slight profit for the county of $6,900.  Initially, German didn't think the auction was profitable -- the amount spent by auction winners compared to the amount of property taxes owed -- but the early figures included interest payments on the back taxes, which did not need to be included.
  • The county has a fund balance of $9 million for 2009. This is up $397,022 from 2008. The fund balance is a measure of all money either collected or due the county from various sources, such as property taxes and state and federal sources. It doesn't necessarily mean the money is in the bank or that it has even been received.
  • The county's bond rating was bumped two grades to AA-. German noted that a two-grade bump is very rare and is "reflective of financial policies being practiced by the County Legislature and Treasurer's Office."
  • Interest earnings continue to decline. Earnings in 2009 dropped to $412,000, which is half the earnings of 2008, at $700,000. And 2008 was half of 2007, which was $1.4 million.
  • Revenue from sales tax dropped in 2009, which is the first drop since 2003 and only the second drop since 1991. Sales tax revenue is expected to be flat in 2010.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm

County job bureau positions elminated

post by Howard B. Owens in Jobs Development Bureau, unemployment

Four people who are charged with helping unemployed workers get back on their feet are now looking for jobs themselves.

Today, the Ways and Means committee authorized the elimination of two full-time and two part-time jobs with the Genesee County Job Development Bureau.

The layoffs were necessary because of cutbacks in state funding for the program.

"If those funds are replenished and restored to the county, we would certainly look at reinstating those jobs," said Ways and Means Chairman Hollis Upson.

The two full-time jobs are employment and training counselors. One job was eliminated effective April 1. The other position terminates April 21.

The other positions eliminated were part-time clerk-typist positions.

The layoffs reduce the county budget by $76,990.

The Job Development Bureau will, however, continue to provide services to the area's unemployed.

“This is just a shrinking of staff," Upson said. "The same services will still be available, the same contacts are there, the same liaisons between the Department of Labor, Genesee Community College, local employers, are all still there."

Genesee County's unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent, and recently as many as 100 local residents who have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more started losing benefits.

The resolution authorizing elimination of the positions must still be approved by the full legislature.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Batavia man trapped under car rescued by local trio

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, accident, Swan Street

swanheroes.jpg

Fast action by three people on Swan Street this evening saved a Batavia man from possible serious injury after a car he was working on slipped off a jack and trapped him.

The man, Dean Case, started yelling and two men nearby heard him as well as two boys.

The boys, Peter and Philip, ran to get their mom, Kim Koziol, who called 9-1-1. Jeremy Fitzsimmons and his friend Josh Fye, who was visiting from Darien, rushed to see what was going on.

They said all they could see was Case's legs sticking from under the car. Fitzsimmons ran to get a jack and Fye pushed the car from behind to keep it from rolling back further onto Case. Koziol then came with two wheel ramps and pushed them behind the rear tires to help hold the jacked-up vehicle in place.

Case, who was working on his transmission, stood up immediately after he was pulled from under the vehicle, and he was fully conscious. Fitzsimmons said his first words were, "Next time, I'm calling L&L."

A short time later, Officer John Zola and Batavia Fire personnel arrived on scene. Mercy EMS transported Chase to UMMC for evaluation.

Fitzsimmons and Fye demurred when asked if they were heroes. "We were just in the right place at the right time," Fye said.

swanstreet_rescue.jpg

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

Nobody really knows how bad deficit is, says state's finance chief

post by Howard B. Owens in budget, new york

The official deficit number is $9 billion, but years of accounting tricks aimed at hiding deficit spending masks New York's true fiscal picture, according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

For years, governors and legislators used a grab bag of fiscal gimmicks to cover up the growing gaps between revenue and expenditures. Those gimmicks are now so widespread and so embedded in Albany budgeting, DiNapoli said, that they have essentially rendered the state’s balance sheet immaterial.

One common device is the “sweep,” where the state grabs a surplus from an another entity — say, the Battery Park City Authority — to cover recurring expenses in the general fund, the state’s main bank account and the one that is required to be kept in balance.

Officials have also moved many day-to-day operating expenses out of the general fund and into other funds, hiding spending growth and hiding the true cost of running the government. For example, Governor Paterson’s proposed budget uses $40 million from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which is supposed to pay for parkland acquisitions, to pay salaries and other expenses of the state’s environmental and parks agencies.

Read the whole story.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 7:58 am

State Police still investigating case in Alabama of dogs shot at woman's home

post by Howard B. Owens in animals, Alabama, crime

A State trooper is still investigating the case of two dogs that were found shot dead by their owner Saturday night on Bloomingdale Road in Alabama.

State Police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons said a person has admitted shooting the dogs (his name is not being released at this time), but said he did so because the dogs had health problems.

The man is somebody the woman knows.

The dogs were turned over to the Department of Environmental Conservation for examination.

Gibbons said the case remains open.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Two car accident, minor injuries, on West Main, Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, accident

A two-car accident on West Main Street, Batavia, reportedly caused minor injuries.

The two cars have pulled into the Parisee's parking lot and West Main is not blocked.

City Fire and Mercy EMS are responding.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

News outside our window: Police help stalled motorist, with help

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

policepushcar.jpg

This minivan became disabled as it turned from East Main Street to Bank Street, Batavia, and was partially blocking the intersection.

A Batavia police officer arrived, spoke with the driver, the boy got out of the passenger side and helped the officer push it out of the way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

Police Beat: Two alleged DWI arrests

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy

Jared Michael Stalker, 26, of 8874 Hartshorn Road, Batavia, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater, aggravated unlicensed operation, failure to keep right, and consumption or possession of alcohol in a motor vehicle. Stalker was stopped by Sgt. Brian Frieday at 4:11 a.m., Saturday, on Hartshorn Road in Batavia.

Vincent J. Monteiro, 31, of Buffalo, is charged with DWI. Monteiro was stopped by State Police on the Thruway in Le Roy at 3:09 p.m., Saturday.

Accidents from the State Police blotter:

9:28 a.m., April 4, Arrow Hawk parking lot (Bloomingdale Road), Alabama, two vehicles; Driver 1: Richard A. Ferris, 55, of Interlaken; Driver 2: Zulfiqar A. Syed, 44, of Rochester. No injuries reported.

3:29 p.m., April 4, Kendall Road, Le Roy, two vehicles; Driver 1: Cortney Lee Green, 16, of Byron; Driver 2: Russell A. Lyons, 49, of East Bethany. No injuries reported.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 9:30 am

Fallen tree narrowly missed cars

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, weather

treedown.jpg

Murrie Hokenson sent along this picture of a tree that fell in his neighbor's yard on Sunday.  The neighbors are the Szczesnys, and one son was visiting from New Jersey. His car was narrowly missed by the falling limb. The other son, Father Szczesny, normally parks right where the tree fell, but was tied up with Easter duties at the time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 7:56 am

Rollover accident with minor injuries reported in Alexander

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, alexander

A rollover accident with minor injuries has been reported at 3227 Stannard Road, Alexander.

Alexander Fire and Mercy EMS responding.

UPDATE 8:02 a.m.: No injuries. Mercy EMS canceled. "The vehicle is quite a way down in a gully."


View Larger MapR

Monday, April 5, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Peace garden efforts moving forward; Terry Anderson expected to lend support

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, hlom, Peace Garden, Terry Anderson

holm_peacegarden.jpg

With a nod of approval (no official vote could be taken) from the Legislature's Human Services Committee today, Marilyn Drilling and Barb Toal are ready to push forward with plans for a peace garden next to the Holland Land Office Museum.

They need to raise $55,000 in the next 11 months, and Drilling said a key component of the fundraising campaign will include a dinner with Terry Anderson as the keynote speaker.

terry_anderson.jpgAnderson, who was held captive in Lebanon for more than 6 years, from 1985 to 1991, hasn't visited his hometown of Batavia in 19 years.

He didn't want to make it 20, said Drilling, executive director of HLOM, and he agreed to support the peace garden effort at no cost to the organizers.

"Who better to talk about peace than a man who spent so much of his wonderful life behind locked doors," Drilling said.

The dinner is planned for Sept. 9.

The county owns the land next to the museum and must approve any new use of the strip of real estate hard against the Tonawanda Creek. To grant approval, the Legislature must receive a finished plan, which includes at least the potential of approvals from the City of Batavia and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as contract language from County Attorney Charles Zambito and final engineering plans.

Without that, the Human Services Committee couldn't even poll members for consensus, but it was clear there were no objections from members for pushing forward with the project.

"Of all the people I've heard talk about it, I don't think I've heard anybody say they're not in favor of it," said Hollis Upson. "It's very interesting the amount of outpouring and number of volunteers who support it. It's been vary contagious."

Drilling is concerned that without a sense that the county supports the project, it will impede fundraising, which needs to proceed now.

There are 20 countries with official Peace Gardens, which is an international effort to promote and recognize peace among nations. The Peace Garden Foundation promotes the effort and was founded by current president Paula Savage, a resident and native of Batavia. The Batavia garden would be an honorary, not official, member. It would feature the 20 flags of the countries with official gardens.

Each country would be represented by its flag, and flag poles would be sold for donations of about $2,500 each, according to Drilling.

Drilling sees the peace garden as a natural extension of HLOM, helping to bring in tourists.

Toal, who chairs the local Peace Garden Committee, said it's a natural fit for Batavia and the strong interest in the region from War of 1812 enthusiasts.

Batavia, she said, served as a key defense in stopping the British advance after Buffalo was destroyed. Many tourists interested in the War of 1812 make the trip to Batavia, she said, and the peace garden at HLOM would be an appropriate destination point.

No county funds would be used in building and maintaining the peace garden, which is why, Drilling said, it's important to get started on fundraising now.

Monday, April 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Rochester-based non-profit selected as nursing home consultant

post by Howard B. Owens in Genesee County Nursing Home

To help the county decide the future of its troubled nursing home, a search committee has recommended Center for Governmental Research as the consultant to study the county's options.

jay_gsell.jpgCounty Manager Jay Gsell said CGR was selected because it has no vested interest in the outcome of the research -- it doesn't own, operate, manage or develop nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

"The committee looked at the eight proposals and felt that CJR was the most neutral," Gsell said.

CGR will be asked to review the total range of options for the nursing home, which Gsell said could result in 10 to 20 possible recommendations. These include, of course, selling it, as well as having it operate under private-benefit corporations, public authority and management firms.

"The list is almost as creative or as plentiful as anybody in New York State would come up with that would be legal," Gsell said.

When asked what his response would be if some people said the county was still primarily focused on divesting itself completely of the nursing home, Gsell that is not even close to true.

"We can’t even, at this point, entertain that notion," Gsell said. "The county legislature is not prepared to make that kind of assessment, and from the legislators I’ve talked to, that’s not even on their radar screen. I can’t say that somebody hasn’t thought about it or that it's not an option somewhere down the road, but we’re not even close to making that kind of recommendation or having any information to say that’s even one of the top recommendations."

As for CJR, it's a non-profit firm based in Rochester. It's "About" page on its Web site says: 

George Eastman, the visionary leader who created Eastman Kodak, founded a bureau of municipal research in Rochester, NY in 1915 “to get things done for the community” and to serve as an “independent, non-partisan agency for keeping citizens informed.” Over more than nine decades CGR has grown from a bureau focused on the needs of one city into an organization with far broader reach.

Today, the Legislature's Human Services Committee approved the selection of GCR. The Ways and Means Committee will be asked to review the contract before it goes to the full Legislature for approval.

Previous coverage: Click Here.

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