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Metro ink - 11-22-06

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WATER PLANT HEARINGS SET

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will hold two public hearings on November 30 on the Monroe County Water Authority's controversial plan for a new plant in Webster.

Technically, the principal issues have to do with the water the plant would suck in from LakeOntario: an average of 35 million gallons a day. That intake, the quality of that water, the more than 1 million gallons of backwash from the plant's filtering system that'll go back into the lake each day: all those are subject to public comment. So is possible effect on coastal erosion. There are even two small patches of wetland --- together totaling a little less than 7 acres --- that will be disturbed if the project is approved.

But the water plan has drawn criticism from environmentalists and from Democrats in the CountyLegislature for other reasons. They're questioning whether a county with a declining population needs another water plant and its attendant capital costs. And they charge that the plant will hasten sprawl. Those issues, too, can be addressed at the November 30 hearings.

The first is from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the PenfieldTown Hall, 3100 Atlantic Avenue. The second is at 7 p.m. at the SpryMiddle School, 119 South Avenue in Webster. You can also submit written comments at the hearings or send them to the DEC's Office of Hearings and Mediation Services, 625 Broadway, Albany 12233-1550, by Friday, November 24.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


HIGH FALLS HOPES DASHED?

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A little over six months in business, and the Saddle Ridge Entertainment complex at HighFalls has closed, at least for the moment. The sign on the locked doors this past weekend blamed the closing on electrical problems. But Lewis Norry of Norry Management (which owns the property) explains it differently.

"There are some things going on here that required them to be closed right now," Norry said on Monday. And he referred to "certain things you have to do when you have a lease."

He wouldn't elaborate. "Not until we have a little bit more resolved with them," he said, adding that Saddle Ridge isn't necessarily closed for good. "Hopefully they'll re-open very shortly," he said. "Or we'll get somebody else in here right away."

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Mayor Bob Duffy expressed both disappointment and optimism.

"Our Economic Development Department stands ready to assist the parties involved to resolve any issues or help the landlord secure a new tenant," he said.

Duffy's statement also stressed the importance of mixed-use development in HighFalls, including "residential elements to attract retail, entertainment, and other services."

--- Frank De Blase


MONROE'S MONEY

It's too early to tell much about the proposed MonroeCounty budget for 2007, but at least there are no big surprises.

The CountyLegislature will have about a month to consider Maggie Brooks' proposed budget, which she unveiled last week. In her proposal, spending will be up a bit, to $1.02 billion. The books haven't closed yet on the 2006 budget, but at the moment spending stands at about $1.001 billion.

Brooks had initially projected that there'd be a deficit next year of about $45 million, which she later revised to about $30 million. In her proposed budget, she has closed that gap with $23 million in revenue from new sources --- energy savings, leasing space on the county's fiber-optic network, and energy produced at the Mill Seat Landfill --- and $9 million in Medicaid savings.

Over the next few weeks, municipalities and interest groups will be digging into the 700-page budget document. But a few things are worth noting.

Brooks ended her budget address talking about a possible $100 million deficit two budget cycles from now. This has become boilerplate for Brooks' budget addresses, and there's a danger that the public will think she's crying wolf. The budgets she presents are inevitably balanced, as they must be, by law. But the problems she faces are real. To solve them, she's still pushing what she calls her "community solution." She wants to raise sales tax by three-quarters of a penny. And she wants to opt into a complex arrangement in which the state would take over the county's Medicaid costs in exchange for most of the county's sales-tax revenue.

State legislators will have to approve the sales tax increase, and Democrats in the Assembly have already said they won't do that. In addition, county legislators will get intense pressure from the city, suburban towns, and suburban school districts, since the Medicaid plan could lower their share of the sales tax. Brooks showed on Tuesday night that she was willing to continue to use that plan as a stick in negotiations.

"We don't want to get into that debate of what to take from our municipal partners," she said following her budget speech. The implication is that the county would take up that debate if forced to.

But if Brooks' back is to the wall when it comes to a long-term solution, she's won one important victory. She has presented the last budget she'll have to before her reelection bid next November, assuming that she runs again.

This budget kept taxes "stable" (in her words) and contained no draconian cuts. Brooks won't have to present another budget before voters next evaluate her performance. Any Democrat running against her next fall won't have much of an opening for an attack.

--- by Krestia DeGeorge


WITH WHIPPED CREAM

Media critic Michael Miner, reporting in the alt-weekly Chicago Reader on possible Gannett interest in buying the Chicago Tribune: "Handing the Tribune to Gannett would be like turning over the New York City Ballet to RadioCityMusic Hall."

THE SEARCH BEGINS

The same search company that pulled Superintendent Manuel Rivera away from Rochester to head Boston's schools has been hired to find his replacement.

Last week, the School Board approved a contract with Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler to conduct the search. The fee: $100,000. The firm has placed school superintendents and high-level executives in large urban districts throughout the country, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

"We hope to begin interviewing by February at the latest," says the board's vice president, Malik Evans. "I'm hoping we have a candidate identified by April," he says.

"Our biggest concerns were finding a superintendent with experience in an urban district, and one with sensibility for working with diverse communities," says board member Tom Brennan. "We're also looking for someone who can make a commitment and stay a while, because stability is important."

The district received interest from 200 firms, which it narrowed down to 13. Brennan says it was Hamilton, Rabinovitz's contacts in education, including colleges and universities, that helped it land the job.

No salary range for the superintendent's position has been decided.

"The board is entirely in agreement that we are going to conduct this search out in the open, with as much community engagement as possible," Brennan says. "This is not going to be conducted behind closed doors."

--- Tim Louis Macaluso


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