Deputy Albany County Executive Brad Fischer, who has been with County Executive Dan McCoy's administration since its inception two years ago, will leave next month to take a post at the state Gaming Commission, the Times Union has learned.
Fischer, an attorney and former counsel to state Sen. Eric Adams, is expected to start Jan. 6 as the Gaming Commission's director of policy development and external affairs, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McCoy, in a interview, confirmed Fischer's departure but declined to discuss the nature of his next job.
"Brad's moving on, and I wish him well in his next venture," McCoy said.
Fischer, 34, has spent the vast majority of his time with the county in behind-the-scenes roles, mostly as McCoy's director of operations. He was elevated to deputy county executive in September following the arrest of his predecessor, Christine Quinn, on a felony drug charge. Quinn remains with the county in another role.
Fischer, who led McCoy's transition team, joined county government about two months before McCoy took office at the beginning of 2012.
His jump to the Gaming Commission comes as the panel ramps up for what's sure to be a busy year in the wake of last month's vote to amend the state constitution to allow for the development of seven Las Vegas-style resort casinos.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the commission's siting committee, which is charged with setting the ground rules governing how developers will apply, could issue its request for proposals for the first four upstate casinos as soon as January.
Fischer's departure has been rumored for some time.
As for who McCoy might tap to replace him, one name that has been the subject of considerable speculation in recent weeks is that of Mayor Jerry Jennings' longtime deputy mayor, Philip Calderone.
With Jennings leaving office at the end of the month and many of the top officials in his administration dispersing to other jobs in state government and elsewhere, the future of Calderone, one of the mayor's closest confidants, has been the subject of wide speculation.
Calderone, a former deputy county attorney under County Executive Michael Breslin who joined the Jennings administration as director of operations in 1996, was a guiding force on many of the most complex policy issues facing the city, including its annual budgets and the landmark negotiations that secured Albany a promise of a half-billion dollars in payments from the state over three decades to compensate for property tax money lost to the Empire State Plaza.
Calderone's hand in many of the day-to-day operations of the city and in the administration's dealings with the Common Council, though often not obvious to the public, often freed Jennings to do the job he unabashedly loves: being Albany's chief lobbyist and cheerleader in the halls of the Capitol and elsewhere.
In many ways, the deputy county executive's role is similar, often acting as an intermediary between the executive's office and a County Legislature with which McCoy, a Democrat like Jennings, has frequently clashed.
McCoy declined to discuss who he has approached about succeeding Fischer, but acknowledged he has been in talks with several people.
"We're in the process, and we're down to the final three candidates," McCoy said. "I'll make my decision in the near feature."
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The state attorney general has shut down two women who bought puppies for cheap online or got them for free and then sold the sickly animals for profit to unsuspecting customers.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday that the women have been permanently barred from selling animals or becoming licensed pet dealers.
Schneiderman said his office reached an agreement with Carissa Seaman, who he said illegally resold more than two dozen puppies in one year. He said she bought them on Craigslist or got them for free and kept them in poor condition without veterinary care.
He said Seaman, of Cleveland, 20 miles northeast of Syracuse, offered to sell a 5-week-old St. Bernard puppy that had fleas to two undercover investigators in July.
Schneiderman's office also obtained a court order against Stephanie Arcara of Buffalo, who posed as a puppy breeder, but the puppies she sold were actually bought on Craigslist. Schneiderman said malnutrition, fleas, filth and illness existed among the pets and that Arcara sometimes misrepresented the breed.
More than 1,100 companies have inquired about participating in the newly established START-UP NY program, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said on Thursday.
"They are engaged with potential partners," Zimpher said of SUNY campuses at a hearing before the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
Under the START-UP program, which goes into effect Jan. 1, entrepreneurs who launch a business or expand one in a designated area near a SUNY campus get a 10-year tax holiday, including property taxes and income taxes for employees. It's being touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a way to bring new businesses into the state.
Zimpher didn't elaborate on the nature of the inquiries.
Some of the plans are farther along: Joining Zimpher at Wednesday's hearing was SUNY Binghamton campus President Harvey Stenger, who said a Boston-based cybersecurity company with connections to the area is looking to return to Binghamton under the tax-free program. If that happens, it would also hire students, he said.
Critics of START-UP, including public sector unions, have questioned the state's willingness to give up tax revenues from new businesses. But others, such as Zimpher and Stenger, have pointed out the surplus of unused space around some SUNY campuses as industry has fled the upstate region in recent decades.
The Binghamton area has lost about 20,000 IBM jobs over the years, Stenger said.
He believes that "incubator" space for new companies, which is currently on campus, can eventually move to empty offices in downtown Binghamton.
Zimpher also told lawmakers that she's trying to get all the SUNY campuses into a "constant" fundraising mode to bring in more private donations to augment state support and tuition revenue.
Wednesday's hearing delved into how SUNY is using state aid as well as a tuition increase that the governor and lawmakers approved in 2011. That plan allows $300 tuition hikes each year for five years through 2016.
Tuition (exclusive of room and board, and other fees) is $5,870 this year.
While Zimpher praised the five-year plan as providing a predictable increase in funding, Frederick Kowal of United University Professions, the union that represents SUNY professors and other employees, said that state support has gone down over the long term, placing more of a burden on students and their families.
"Students' tuition dollars are being used to partially offset the gap in state support," said Kowal.
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The Cuomo administration directed agencies hosting an information technology conference next week to open a "VIP reception" to all attendees, not just private sponsors.
"The event reception was opened up at the administration's request," said William Schwarz, a spokesman for Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who will attend the NY Innovates conference hosted by the Health Department and its affiliate, Health Research Inc. Both agencies pay Shah's salary. The two other hosts are the state Office of Information Technology Services and the NYS Forum, of which DOH and OITS are dues-paying members.
The hosts have been soliciting private sector companies, many of which are current or prospective state contractors, to pay up to $15,000 to underwrite the cost of the four-day conference at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Sponsors were being encouraged to invest in the conference with the incentive of attending a cocktail reception at the Troy school with state officials and special guests; their logos and company names would also be advertised.
Schwarz would not say why non-sponsors are now being admitted to the Wednesday event, other than that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office mandated the change. A Cuomo spokesman had no immediate comment.
The about-face came after a Times Union article on Monday about the state's reliance on private contributors to pay for conference sponsorships with the promise of face time with public officials. The article prompted Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the co-chair of Cuomo's anti-corruption panel, in a radio interview this week to call conference planners "tone deaf."
The University at Albany, the OITS and the NYS Forum will host the 17th Annual Cyber Security Conference at Empire State Plaza in Albany in June, and are asking private companies to pay for booths and sponsorships.
The June conference will offer networking opportunities. Sponsors who pay $10,000 will have extra benefits such as access to the conference attendee list a week before the conference and opportunities to market their brands.
A spokeswoman for the OITS did not return calls seeking comment.
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BUFFALO — Another round of lake-effect storms is expected to dump an additional 12 to 18 inches of snow on parts of western and northern New York where some towns already are buried from earlier storms.
The National Weather Service says bands of storms coming off eastern Lake Ontario are expected to drop up to 1½ feet of snow Thursday across the Tug Hill Plateau area in northern Oswego, southeastern Jefferson and Lewis counties. Meteorologists say that region is reporting snowfall totals of 44 to 50 inches from lake-effect storms that began Tuesday.
Some areas near the eastern end of Lake Erie south of Buffalo have received more than 2 feet of snow this week, and forecasters say another foot or more is likely by the times the storms taper off on Friday.
— Associated Press
The question of where to put your money in the race for a Capital Region resort casino is becoming more complicated.
As one developer pursues a tract of land on the outskirts of Albany, the owners of the Saratoga Casino & Raceway are bankrolling an advocacy group to help make their case.
David Flaum, a Rochester commercial builder with ties to casino companies, has approached the owners of the former Tobin First Prize packing plant, according to people involved. Flaum contacted principals of Exchange Street Associates and the Albany County Industrial Development Authority, both of which have rights to the 34-acre site off Everett Road.
"There is some discussion," said Robert Ganz of Exchange Street Associates. "There is nothing signed at this moment."
Ganz, an Albany lawyer, said more than one developer has approached his group recently. Flaum Management Co. has been aggressively searching for opportunities to build a casino in New York, and has proposals for resorts in the Catskills and near Rochester. Flaum could not be reached for comment.
Ganz's group, which has held lease / purchase rights on the tax-exempt Tobin site since 1988, pays $9,000 a month to the county IDA. Under terms of the deal, the group could purchase the site for a dollar immediately and take control of the title next year.
The group has had limited success over the past 25 years finding tenants. The acreage is currently 10 percent occupied, though the main plant is empty.
"I think it would be a wonderful spot for a casino," said Gary Domalewicz, chairman of the IDA. "People could get there from Albany." He added that he has introduced a resolution to the County Legislature to welcome a gambling development.
While part of the site lies in the city of Albany — where Mayor-elect Kathy Sheehan is not supportive of a casino development — most of the land is part of Colonie. Both jurisdictions voted against the casino expansion amendment to the state constitution that passed in a statewide vote last month. The change allows for up to seven commercial casinos in New York, with the first four in three areas of upstate: the Capital Region, Southern Tier and Catskills / Hudson Valley.
Flaum has had a potential Catskills casino site, the former Shawanga Lodge, in the works for years. He also entered into a development agreement with the Seneca Indian Nation for a potential Monroe County casino in the tribe's exclusive gambling territory.
His search for sites in the Capital Region may include other locations, including in Rensselaer County, according to people in the casino industry. Domalewicz said the Tobin site, which is within walking distance of the Capital OTB Clubhouse Race Book, is ideal because of its proximity to I-90.
Meanwhile, backers of an expected casino bid by Saratoga Casino and Raceway on Wednesday announced the formation of Destination Saratoga. Led by Dan Hogan, former chairman of the state Racing & Wagering Board, as well as city resident Marcy Taylor and former Deputy Mayor Hank Kuczynski, the group wants to see the existing racino and harness track on Jefferson Street selected as the region's new resort casino.
In a news conference at Lillian's Restaurant, the group's members argued that the decade-old video lottery terminal facility was best suited for casino gambling.
"Let's face it — gaming has been a part of Saratoga's history," Taylor said. "I believe this particular initiative will enhance that whole project."
The group's formation marks a change in what has so far been a one-sided advocacy effort against casino-style gambling.
An organization calling itself Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion has rallied for months against a casino in the city, citing the potential harm to quality of life.
"They are protecting their investment and rallying around their investment," SAVE spokeswoman Sara Boivin said, referring to the formation of Destination Saratoga. " ... We want the voices of the majority to be heard. For us, this is clearly not a done deal. If it was, they wouldn't need this group."
The racino's owners aren't hiding their sponsorship of the pro-racing Destination Saratoga group, which is noted on its new website, http://destinationsaratoga.com. Its public relations are being handled by the prominent SKD Knickerbocker firm.
Hogan and others said they think tourism, horse racing and the racino would suffer if another community lands the casino. The new resort would generate hundreds of jobs and an estimated $11 million a year for the city and Saratoga County to split, supporters said.
"We're not talking about a Vegas-style casino," Hogan said. "We're talking about a Saratoga-style casino. There's a big difference."
At 7 p.m. Monday, racino representatives will attend a casino forum hosted by the county Chamber of Commerce and Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau in the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The competition to win the new casino will be especially fierce in the Capital Region, which many developers view as the most promising of the three territories for two principal reasons: its suitably large population base from which to draw customers, and less anticipated competition than in the other regions.
Other Capital Region sites mentioned as targets of potential casino developers include along the Mohawk River in Schenectady and the de Laet's Landing project along the Hudson River in Rensselaer.
A siting board that will be appointed by the New York Gaming Commission next year will review applications for casino licenses.
Applicants will likely be serious and well-financed developers. There will be a non-refundable, $1 million application fee to pay for background investigations. And a license will likely cost tens of millions of dollars more: An early draft of the casino bill approved by the Legislature last summer had proposed $50 million, but the final law left that detail to be worked out later.
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The Capital Region has gone from worst to almost first in the state economic development mega-millions sweepstakes.
Eight local counties will share $82.8 million, the second-largest amount awarded in the state, for projects ranging from building a Schenectady harbor along the Mohawk River to the rehab of a 18th-century Rensselaerville Dutch barn to boost agri-tourism.
Wednesday's announcement, which was greeted by an eruption of cheers from the crowd assembled for a highly orchestrated, "American Idol"-like ceremony at the The Egg, marked a stark reversal from last year's competition, in which the Capital Region finished dead last after a disappointing 2011.
The Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council was named among the five top performers in the state. Of the total award, $30 million is access to tax-free bonds, and $8.8 million in jobs-related tax credits.
The region and two neighboring top-placing zones — the North Country and Mohawk Valley — won $265.5 million for a swath of northeastern New York stretching from the Canadian border to Columbia and Greene counties in the south to Utica in the west.
"I couldn't be more pleased," said Albany Medical Center CEO James Barba, co-chair of the Capital Region council. He said the council this time aggressively sought broad-based input on what should form the backbone of its plan.
"We had an email list of over 14,000 people who received monthly emails from us," Barba said. "It was all about communication, reorganization of our work plan and just saying 'We know where these projects are, we're going to go out and help you apply to us.'"
Among the larger local projects that will be funded are infrastructure improvements in the first phase of Albany Med and Tri-City Rentals' joint $110 million rehabilitation of three blocks of Albany's Park South neighborhood, which will receive $2.4 million of the nearly $4 million the council requested.
A key theme of the region's most recent application was "rebuilding cities," with Albany as its centerpiece.
But the biggest wish on the council's list, $15 million for a proposed movie studio on the former ALCO site in Schenectady, was shut out of funding — the second blow to the project. Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed an expansion of state tax credits on film production that would have applied to Schenectady County and the proposed 200,000-square-foot production studio.
David Buicko of site developer The Galesi Group said he still believes the project would be a boon for the region. He said his company and the firm behind it, Pacifica Ventures, will likely push ahead looking for other funding streams.
"I wouldn't say it's dead," Buicko said.
Galesi could console itself with good news: In addition to Park South, some of the other largest grants also went to urban projects, including $5 million of the $10 million requested for Galesi's proposed waterfront mixed-used development also on the former ALCO site.
That project is proposed to include residential, retail and hospitality components, as well as a harbor to attract local boaters and Erie Canal travelers.
There was also $1 million for Pantera Development's mixed-used Dockside Loft project on Troy's riverfront, $2.9 million to Proctors in Schenectady for the Downtown District Energy Expansion, and $950,000 for Columbia Development's rehabilitation of Albany's decrepit Wellington Row on State Street.
The University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering — winner of a $4 million grant last year to turn Albany's landmark Kiernan Plaza into a high-tech incubator — will receive another $5 million for a digital workforce training center, the so-called DO-IT Center, and to help relocate Tech Valley High School to the NanoCollege campus.
"I think higher education has a critical role to play in driving the economic vitality of cities," said UAlbany President Robert Jones, who co-chaired the panel alongside Barba. "We call all of these entities — like medical schools and hospital systems — 'anchor institutions.' We're here for the long term, and so therefore we have to have a very deep commitment to doing what we can do above the normal day-to-day activities to drive the economic vitality of this city. Because so goes the city, so goes the region."
Another major Capital Region project not funded was a $5 million request to help build a direct connection to Albany International Airport from Northway Exit 4.
All together, the state's 10 regions will share nearly $716 million through the competitive grant system. Only Long Island, which will receive $83 million, got more than the Capital Region.
Cuomo, who created the regional economic development councils after taking office in 2011 to force local governments to work together in their pursuit of state funding, said the challenge was much more difficult than it seems.
"It sounds easy: Everyone around cooperate, don't compete, forget the lines on the map; politicians all cooperate, join arms, sing 'Kumbaya' — one vision for the region. It's exactly right in concept but very, very hard to do," Cuomo said. "And by the way, it is working. ... We have created more private sector jobs in the state of New York than ever existed before in the state of New York."
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Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its 2013 Person of the Year on Wednesday, saying the Roman Catholic Church's new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.
The pope beat out NSA leaker Edward Snowden for the distinction, which the newsmagazine has been giving each year since 1927.
The former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March as the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. He has emphasized compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception.
He has denounced the world's "idolatry of money" and the "global scandal" that nearly 1 billion people today go hungry, and has charmed the masses with his simple style and wry sense of humor. His appearances draw tens of thousands of people and his (at)Pontifex Twitter account recently topped 10 million followers.
"He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way," said Nancy Gibbs, the magazine's managing editor.
The Vatican said the honor wasn't surprising given his resonance with the public.
"The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. "But if the choice of Person of Year helps spread the message of the Gospel — a message of God's love for everyone — he will certainly be happy about that."
An industrial site in New York City that once was used to process radioactive material, including some sold to the government for the Manhattan Project, is still emitting worrisome radiation and should be designated a Superfund cleanup site, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.
The contaminated land in the Ridgewood section of Queens was the home, until 1954, of the now-defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Co., which handled radioactive thorium extracted from monazite sand.
Today, the site is occupied by an auto repair shop, a warehouse, a deli and other small businesses. Environmental officials have long known about the contamination but didn't initially consider it a health concern. More recent radiation surveys indicated that some workers on the block may face a slightly elevated risk of getting cancer, particularly at the auto shop.
The EPA already has installed $2 million worth of radiation protections, including layers of concrete, lead and steel under building floors and sidewalks.
It also plugged up a hole in the basement of a nearby public school that was leaking low levels of radon gas into an unused storage room.
Now, the EPA is proposing to make the property the 87th toxic site in New York state to be included in the federal Superfund program.
Regional EPA administrator Judith Enck said it is too early to tell what kind of cleanup program might be required, but she said it "may very well involve a lot of digging" that could necessitate tearing down buildings.
Wolff-Alport operated at the site between 1920 and 1954 and specialized in extracting rare earth metals. Originally, the company considered thorium a waste product and dumped it into the city's sewers until the Atomic Energy Commission ordered it to stop doing that in 1947, the EPA said.
A 2009 survey found radiation levels about 75 times higher than normal background levels. That's not believed to be dangerous, Enck said, but further tests and analysis led to a determination that workers at the auto repair shop, Primo Auto Body, could be exposed to a higher annual radiation dose than called for in federal safety standards.
The mother of a newborn boy has been charged with strangling the infant and leaving his body in a recycling bin in the New York suburbs.
Maria Oliva Guaman-Guaman, 23, made "a full confession" and was arraigned Tuesday night on a charge of second-degree murder, Spring Valley police Chief Paul Modica said Wednesday.
"There were tears, but I can't really say she was remorseful," the chief said. "She told the investigator she didn't want the child, and later on she said, 'I can't afford another child.'"
He said Guaman-Guaman has a 2-year-old daughter, now in the care of child welfare officials.
The county public defender's office, which is handling the case, did not return a phone message. A not-guilty plea was entered at the arraignment, a court clerk said.
The police chief said the murder charge specifies death by strangulation.
After the killing, he said, the mother left the baby's body in a recycling bin near her Spring Valley home, 30 miles north of New York City. That bin was taken to a recycling center in Elmsford, where the body was discovered Nov. 12.
The infant was traced to Spring Valley, and Modica said DNA and "50 to 60" tips helped them focus on Guaman-Guaman. Some women's clothing and a towel were found with the baby.
Modica said Guaman-Guaman is from Ecuador and was deported from the United States in either 2008 or 2009.
The union that represents New York's correction officers will launch a media campaign against closing four prisons as well as several mental health facilities and developmental centers.
"While Gov. Cuomo is focused on New York City, upstate continues to suffer," reads the script of a NYSCOPBA radio ad that is slated to begin airing Thursday in Albany and seven other upstate cities. " ... Let's protect good jobs and services, and not hurt our economy."
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision last summer said it would close four prisons, including the medium-security Mt. McGregor facility in Saratoga County, at the end of July 2014. The agency cited the drop in the state crime rate and the resulting slide in prison population, and estimated that $30 million would be saved annually from the closures.
In a release, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association cited cutting inpatient care at nine psychiatric centers, and the planned shutdown of four centers for the developmentally disabled, including O.D. Heck Center in Schenectady in 2015.
Those closings, also announced last summer, are part of ongoing efforts to move residents into integrated, community settings.
The state has said that workers affected by the closings will be offered new positions at other sites.
"Since Gov. Cuomo took office, 11 (correctional) facilities have already been closed, and hundreds of officers are waiting for transfers within a daily commuting distance of their homes throughout our state," said NYSCOPBA President Donn Rowe in a statement.
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Royal Bank of Scotland has agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims by U.S. and New York state regulators that it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and other countries.
The U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the settlement Wednesday with the bank, which is 80 percent owned by the British government.
It covers alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Sudan, Burma and Cuba from 2005 to 2009. The regulators said RBS channeled about $523 million in transactions to other banks for clients from those countries and concealed the clients' identities in the paperwork.
RBS said in a statement it has cooperated fully with the regulators in their investigation "and deeply regrets these failings."
The bank said it has begun an extensive plan to correct shortcomings in its compliance with sanctions rules.
RBS is paying $50 million to the Fed and $50 million to New York state. A $33 million Treasury penalty was covered by the Fed payment.
— Associated Press
NEW YORK — A cashier at a New York state park in upper Manhattan has been accused of stealing $75,000 worth of fees from the cash register.
Fatima Cooper was arraigned Tuesday on a charge of second-degree grand larceny.
State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott says the 47-year-old Cooper pocketed fees at Riverbank State Park between 2009 and 2011.
Riverbank State Park is a 28-acre park built on top of a sewage treatment facility on the Hudson River.
The park charges fees for use of the pool, the ice skating rink, picnic tables and other facilities.
Cooper is due back in court Thursday. The name of her attorney was not immediately available.
-— Associated Press
ALBANY — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pressing wireless carriers to put safety over profits in his effort to require anti-theft measures to be installed in smartphones.
The Democrat is sending letters Wednesday to the nation's biggest wireless carriers questioning the industry's decision to prohibit Samsung from pre-loading a "kill switch" application. The device can be activated remotely after a smartphone is stolen and render the phone permanently inoperable.
"The epidemic of violent smartphone theft that is plaguing communities across the country is a national threat that requires a comprehensive solution from all aspects of the industry, including manufacturers and cellphone carriers," Schneiderman said.
He wants to put more pressure on companies to install the kill switch app.
-— Associated Press
MINEOLA — A woman has admitted she was hooked on heroin when she raised thousands of dollars by falsely claiming she had cancer, prosecutors and her attorney said Wednesday.
Brittany Ozarowski befriended business owners and others in her community, telling them a tale about undergoing cancer treatments, prosecutors said. Because she was a heroin addict, no one seemed to question her 80-pound appearance as she hobbled on a cane going from store to store leaving donation jars, they said.
Ozarowski pleaded guilty on Monday in Suffolk County Court to a 24-count indictment charging her with grand larceny, forgery and other crimes, district attorney's office spokesman Robert Clifford said.
Although Ozarowski could have faced a sentence of up to seven years in prison, Judge John Iliou said he would sentence the 21-year-old to a drug treatment program for up to two years plus an additional year's probation.
— Associated Press
DEWITT — A truck driver from Rensselaer County and member of the New York Army National Guard is among the Good Samaritans credited with rescuing the driver's captain after the officer's vehicle crashed into a Thruway overpass and burst into flames.
State police say 33-year-old Timothy Neild of Wyantskill was traveling west on Interstate 90 Monday morning when his pickup truck drifted into the median and slammed into a bridge abutment in DeWitt, just east of Syracuse.
Troopers say Raymond Presley of North Syracuse was driving his tractor-trailer by the crash scene, pulled over to help and realized the injured driver was his captain. He and several other motorists pulled Neild from the wreckage just before it was engulfed in flames.
Police say Neild is in critical condition Tuesday at a Syracuse hospital.
Read details of the rescue on Syracuse.com
Calling the state's property tax burden "a crushing tax on people," Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a report recommending a two-year freeze on the rates and the creation of a cap on the percentage of household income that property taxes could consume.
The panel, co-chaired by former Republican Gov. George Pataki and former Democratic state Comptroller Carl McCall, split the $2 billion total price tag for its proposals between property tax relief and changes to taxes that predominantly affect businesses.
The report — the second tax-relief analysis Cuomo has received in as many months — was unveiled at a news conference at SUNY Old Westbury in Nassau County, one of the regions cited by the governor in his baleful description of the effects of high property taxes on state residents.
"You ask any New Yorker about what is their personal income tax rate — nobody knows the income tax rate," Cuomo said. But "they know and they can tell you to the cents how much they're paying in property taxes."
He called New York's property tax cost "disproportionate nationwide," citing Long Island as well as Westchester and Rockland counties as particularly hard-hit. The cost upstate, he said, was equally burdensome when expressed as a percentage of home value.
The panel's freeze proposal — applicable to communities outside New York City — would allow taxing entities to increase their annual budgets by the 2 percent allowed by the state's current tax cap. That limited increase, however, would be paid by the state instead of property owners. Only those residents who live in localities that keep budget increases under the cap would be entitled to the tax break.
In the second year, the extension of the freeze would be contingent on taxing entities making "meaningful concrete steps" to reducing their costs through structural changes — such as sharing services or achieving consolidations, two prescriptions that Cuomo has been pushing for years with little impact.
Peter Baynes, executive director of the state Conference of Mayors, praised the panel and Cuomo for placing such emphasis on property tax relief, but argued that the rise in property taxes in recent years has been a result of reduced state aid and rising costs that are, in too many cases, out of local leaders' control.
"We shouldn't be mandated to comply with the cap without being given the tools to do so," he said, expressing hope that the next state budget would see increased aid to municipalities and mandate relief.
If the freeze passes, Baynes said, "the question is going to be do (homeowners) want compliance with the tax cap in order to get the rebate, even at the expense of local government services that they continue to demand?"
The panel's recommendation for a "circuit breaker" that caps the percentage of household income that could be spent on property taxes lacked specifics, but the report said the mechanism could be structured to provide greater relief to those with the highest proportional burden.
On the business side, the panel recommended reducing the state's corporate income tax rate from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent, the lowest rate since 1968, and dropping the rate for upstate manufacturers to an historic low of 2.5 percent. Manufacturers statewide would see property tax cuts of 20 percent through a new tax credit program.
The 18-a "temporary utility assessment" on energy costs is currently scheduled to be eliminated in 2018; the report recommends mothballing it sooner, beginning next year for industrial customers.
The panel recommended increasing New York's estate tax threshold — the third-lowest in the nation — from $1 million to $5.25 million, mainly to reflect the increase in home value and match the federal threshold. The top estate tax rate itself would be lowered from 16 percent to 10 percent, and the new threshold indexed to rise with inflation.
The most recent analysis from the state Budget Division predicts a $1.7 billion deficit for the end of the next fiscal year. Administration sources insist that figure will only result if the state does nothing to either boost revenue or cut spending, and pointed to the array of options suggested by Cuomo's first tax-relief panel, which made its recommendations last month.
Legislative leaders' reactions varied in enthusiasm. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos was happy to see many GOP proposals rolled into the plan, while the chamber's co-leader, Jeff Klein of the Independent Democratic Conference, said its ideas should be considered "only alongside other, more targeted proposals."
Echoing the concerns of numerous progressive advocates, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said any changes in tax policy "should be premised on a principle of fairness to all New Yorkers, city residents, suburbanites and rural residents alike."
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A modest snowstorm pushed through New England on Tuesday, causing messy travel conditions and widespread school and government closures along the Eastern seaboard despite bringing less accumulation than expected.
With snow totals measured in inches instead of feet, the storm turned out to be more nuisance than menace.
Hundreds of transportation crews treated and cleared highways in New England, where up to 3 inches of snow fell in places. State police in Connecticut reported scores of vehicle crashes and at least eight minor injuries.
Public schools were closed in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and parts of Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some schools in Connecticut were closed, while a few districts in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts canceled afternoon activities.
Flights were delayed in Philadelphia and New York City airports.
In Washington, snow was falling at daybreak, but traffic problems failed to materialize as many workers stayed home. Non-emergency federal employees were granted excused absences, and others were told to telecommute, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said.
The snow ended before the evening commute in Philadelphia, which was socked by a surprise 8-inch snowfall on Sunday; the new storm brought about 2 inches.
In Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the snow persisted throughout the day, with some flakes falling during the evening drive, making for slick road conditions.
In central and southwest Ohio, overnight snowfall made the morning commute slow and messy.
Outside Washington, traffic was light Tuesday morning. With temperatures hovering around freezing, highways that had been plowed and treated were passable, but conditions began to deteriorate after 8 a.m. as the pace of the snowfall increased.
The usually bustling Springfield Metro station was nearly deserted. Those who did have to work said the lack of traffic made the slushy roads easier to navigate.
"I wish it was like this all the time — minus the snow," said Maelin Traylor, of Springfield. "The traffic was wonderful."
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes the stage at The Egg on Wednesday morning to announce the latest winners in the sweepstakes for $750 million in state economic development cash, Capital Region boosters will be looking to build on two bottom-tier finishes in the initial rounds of funding.
In total, the Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council has requested nearly $96.2 million for 85 high-priority projects in its eight counties, stretching from Columbia and Greene counties in the south to Warren and Washington counties in the north.
The wish list ranges from $15 million for a proposed Schenectady movie studio on the former ALCO locomotive site and $4 million for infrastructure upgrades for Albany Medical Center's rebuilding of Albany's Park South neighborhood, to $5 million to improve Northway Exit 4 to provide direct access to Albany International Airport.
Also on the list: $10.5 million for mixed-use development elsewhere on the ALCO site, $675,000 in upgrades to the Glens Falls Civic Center, $1.5 million for the rehabilitation of the old DeWitt Clinton Hotel in Albany and $5 million for a fourth phase of Troy's City Station development between Congress and State streets.
The region's bid is pegged to eight broad themes, such as "bringing cities to life" and "building a superhighway," shorthand for infrastructure upgrades like expanded broadband access that will help the Capital Region's economy compete in the 21st century.
But in the two years since Cuomo created the councils to foster competition, big dreaming and a more comprehensive approach to doling out the state's economic development cash, the Capital Region has not fared well.
Last year, the region won $50.3 million for 84 projects — including a much-touted $4 million grant to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to convert then-vacant Kiernan Plaza, the city's landmark former train station, into an incubator for high-tech companies pioneering technology to help cities run more efficiently.
Still, that haul was good enough only for last place among the 10 regions — leading to second-guessing that the council had asked for too much for projects tied to the council's leadership, including $16.5 million for a supercomputer considered a pet project of one of the council's former co-chairs, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson.
The Capital Region finished in the bottom third in the first round of funding, too, scoring $62.7 million for 88 projects.
The local council is chaired by Albany Med CEO James Barba and new University at Albany President Robert Jones.
At least two of the project sites on the region's list have been in the news for another reason lately: Both the ALCO site on the Mohawk River and de Laet's Landing across the Hudson River from Albany in Rensselaer have been discussed as candidates for Capital Region casino development under the recently amended state constitution.
Most of the talk has centered around de Laet's Landing because Rensselaer officials have aggressively courted casino development in the struggling river city. The council is asking for $1 million to boost the $21 million first phase of the mixed-use development there, which would eventually include residences, stores and a marina.
"From what I saw in the regional plan, there's a lot of really bold projects that the region put together that are backed by real plans, real development and real jobs, and that's what they're looking for," said Albany Planning and Economic Development Commissioner Michael Yevoli, who is not a member of the council but whose city is at the center of the current plan. "I really think it was hitting all of the key points."
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Authorities say there were no leaks or injuries when several tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed in western New York.
Local media report that three cars tipped on their side and two remained upright in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga Tuesday morning.
The cause of the derailment is under investigation.
-— Associated Press