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News briefs 1.14.04

Sledding scene 101

Carrie Fessner, a senior at Virginia's George Mason University who grew up in Greece, has been sledding at Durand Eastman Park for years. Now that it's seasonably cold, she and her friends are ready to pile into a disorganized carpool and hit the slopes once more.

            They never considered themselves renegades. But according to Eric Johnson, special events assistant for the Monroe County Parks Department, sledding at Durand puts the sledder at risk and irreparably damages the golf course's putting green. The 18th hole, for instance --- one of Fessner's long-time favorites --- is considered unsafe because its run is too small for its large slope.

            Johnson prefers the hill located behind the ski lodge at Northhampton Park. It's safe, he says, and a good ride. "That hill is huge," he says.

            Johnson and several other sledders determined sledding safety several years ago by measuring each hill's slope as compared to its run, while also looking at other factors like the number of trees and other obstacles in the area. They determined that Northhampton's hill is proportionately gargantuan with a slope of 465 feet and run of 160.

            Johnson, his entourage, and his orange plastic toboggan also especially enjoyed their visits to Ellison Park, which is closer to the city --- "it's got two hills in one location. You get a good thrill off them," he says --- and the less-centrally-located Black Creek Park.

            "Half the hill is steep, and the other half is not nearly as steep," Johnson says of Black Creek's hill. "You could have an older brother and a little brother going on the same hill, and they'll both like it."

            Fessner isn't yet sure which park she and her friends will visit this winter. She's just glad there's finally enough snow on the ground to take advantage of the opportunity before she flies back to Virginia.

            For more information, visit Monroe County's web site at or call the Parks Department directly at 256-4950.

--- Jennifer Weiss

Bye, bye Bill?

The buzz is that Bill Nojay's leaving the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority might not have been his own idea. Nojay insists that's not true.

            Authority chairman since 1996, Nojay says he knew last July --- when both US Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer voiced their support for the transit center -- that his time with RGRTA was over.

            "My work was done," he says.

            Nojay informed then-County Executive Jack Doyle of his decision and Doyle, Nojay says, asked him to stay until after the November elections. Nojay informed new County Executive Maggie Brooks of his decision after that time, he says.

            Nojay has absolute confidence, he says, that Brooks, in cooperation with Mayor Bill Johnson, will make the Renaissance Center --- a combined transit center, Performing Arts Center, and MCC Advanced Technology Education Center --- a reality.

            Nojay will stay on as authority chairman, a volunteer position, until the governor appoints a replacement.

            He does not see a role for himself in the Renaissance Center.

            Nojay plans to devote his time to his newly formed political action committee, "We the People USA." The committee will promote citizen involvement in their communities, job-growth policies in Upstate New York, and promote candidates.

            The PAC should have a website up by the end of the month, Nojay says. He's also been promoting his PAC's philosophy in two-minute commentaries on 17 radio stations across Upstate New York since December.

            Nojay is not ruling out a run for public office in the future, although he has nothing planned at the moment.

            "You can't predict or plan," he says. "You see what opportunities become available. If there's a fit, there's a fit."

            Nojay has been a ubiquitous presence on the Rochester scene --- outspoken and often controversial. He admits, unapologetically, that one senator's description of him as a "lightening rod" is accurate.

            "I call it the way I see it, and that rankles some people," he says. "I don't care about people disagreeing with me" as long as their thoughts are presented in an informed and civil manner.

            "That's what makes America great," he says.

Food stamps, by the numbers

Under enrollment in the federal food stamp program costs Monroe County $876,160 monthly, or approximately $10.5 million a year, according to a new report issued by the Nutrition Consortium of NYS.

            Still, the county's participation rate --- 87 percent --- is the highest in the state.

            "I think Monroe County has worked hard to try to make sure that people can access the food stamp program," says Consortium spokesperson Cathy Roberts, citing Monroe's nutrition outreach and education program, which helps people through the food-stamp application process.

            Released last month, the report analyzes participation trends from January 1995 to September 2003. In January 1995, there were 75,508 Monroe County residents enrolled in the program --- 56,222 of them also received temporary assistance from the county. In September 2003, there were 69,188 enrolled --- 30,103 of those were also receiving temporary assistance. The number of residents getting food stamps without any other form of cash assistance from the county jumped approximately 103 percent in that period.

            "I suspect that Monroe County, like a lot of counties, was working hard to try to get people off of cash assistance," Roberts says. "Most people who left cash assistance, unless they got really terrific jobs, they probably were still eligible for food stamps."

            Monroe County had 79,311 residents eligible for food stamps in September 2003, according to the report, and 69,188 recipients. That means that 10,123 people --- approximately 13 percent of those eligible --- were not receiving food stamps at that time.

            "We like to call it a wake-up call for county leaders, because we feel that the USDA and the state government have worked hard to improve the program and to try to increase program access," Roberts says. "Now we want to make sure that counties are doing the same thing."

            Copies of the report are sent to the chief elected official in each county as well as to social services.

            Food stamp benefits are 100 percent federally funded. For every food stamp dollar that's issued and used, according to the report, $1.84 is generated in local economic activity.

            Localities in New York State lose more than $1 billion per year in federal food stamp revenues, the report concludes.

Bill kill

Some hopeful Rochesterians have been circulating material about the National Economic Security and Reformation Act, said to be lurking deep in the labyrinths of Congress. "NESARA," which has its own slick website (, was supposedly "signed into law" in 2000 but also supposedly won't be revealed till some unspecified propitious moment.

            The fanciful act's provisions include some odd things: abolishing the "illegal" IRS; requiring the president and vice president to resign summarily and be replaced by "constitutionally acceptable NESARA designates," and helpfully "zeroing out credit card balances" and other debt for everyone. People are urged to contact the World Court and demand intervention.

            But there are dangers for true believers, too. For example, NESARA literature suggests that people pay no more than the minimum payment on their monthly credit card bills. They're given to believe that through NESARA, all debts will eventually be paid off by a higher power. Following such advice could increase a person's debt load tremendously, of course.

            City resident John Forster says he heard about the bill two years ago. "It appears there are things going on behind the scenes that will bring it to 'announcement,'" he says. "We the people have been misled; it's stuff like this that lets us know we have been misled in many ways." Forster says he and a friend passed out 150 fliers explaining the bill at a Human Rights Day event here in early December. So keep an eye out.