Maggie, Can You Help Us Forget

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We needed something to wash out the taste left behind by the ferry closure.

So why not the state of the county message?

Maggie Brooks sprung the speech on us – but couldn’t we use the diversion? And there she was, in the County Legislative Chambers… smiling… calling us her "fellow taxpayers." (Just as an aside: I know that her speechwriters probably like Brooks using the phrase – "fellow taxpayers." It’s a subtle way to remind us that she keeps our tax bills top of mind. But doesn’t it make you just a bit uneasy to be labeled by the fact that you put money into government coffers. What’s next – "fellow county road users"?)

The speech seemed like a great opportunity to make us forget about the failed big boat.

And portions of the talk seemed to do the trick. When the county executive announced that she wouldn’t sell or privatize the county operated long-term care facility – Monroe Community Hospital  – it was enough to make even a liberal Democrat and former county executive candidate glow.

"I was delighted with the pledge," said Bill Benet, a 27-year legislator who was pushed out last month because of term limits. Benet ran for county executive in 1999. (Benet appeared on a post speech analysis program on WXXI-AM Wednesday night)

And yet, a bit of the ferry hangover seemed to catch me – even with this piece of news. I fixated on Brooks’ call for a financial review board of the community hospital that would scrutinize the books and come up with ways to make it more cost effective. That would help the county lower what it gives the hospital operation as a subsidy.

Subsidy. The very word conjured up visions of ferry business plans and promises that the ferry would never need a subsidy. It made me think of government bailouts.

Couldn’t a financial review board for the hospital mean the possibility that they discover the hospital is too expensive an operation? Couldn’t that lead to a shut down?

Benet helped calm me down.

"She told us that it wouldn’t be sold… end of discussion, end of debate," Benet said. "I don’t think her commitment could have been any clearer."

But then the former legislator continued: "The point where the ferry did come to mind was Renaissance Square."

Brooks took time in the speech to extol the virtues of building a new complex downtown – one that would include a performing arts center, a bus terminal and a community college campus. She called it a bold initiative… something that would have once described the ferry project.

Now the boat loomed over the discussion. Benet said that no one has described how the county and the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority might cover increased operating costs to operate the service through such a facility. And no one has explained if government would be willing to (gasp) subsidize a performing arts center if the money it makes can’t match the money it spends.

Sean Hanna, a former Republican county legislator (who appeared with Benet), tried to find some separation between the failed boat and the proposed Renaissance Square effort. He said that experts on many levels have been pouring over the complex. It’s far more planned than the ferry.

But it was too late. By this point the damn boat had become insinuated itself. And it dawned on me that it would take some time for this community to get by that gigantic vessel.

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