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Group calls on Bello to get behind study of replacing RG&E with a publicly-owned utility

A group of people in front of the Monroe County Office Building, which is made of light colored stone, holding a red and black Metro Justice banner.
Jeremy Moule
Representatives from Metro Justice and some local labor unions are urging Monroe County Executive Adam Bello to support a study on the feasibility of replacing Rochester Gas and Electric with a publicly-owned utility.

The Monroe County Legislature could soon vote again on providing funding for a feasibility study of replacing Rochester Gas and Electric with a publicly-owned utility.

During a news conference Wednesday, Metro Justice organizing director Mohini Sharma said a group of legislators has drawn up a measure to initiate the study. And she urged County Executive Adam Bello to support it. Metro Justice has led the campaign for a publicly-owned utility and for months it has encouraged supporters to speak at Legislature meetings.

“Which side are you on?” Sharma said. “Are you going to side with the residents who elected you and have trusted you to put an end to backroom insider deals and create a Monroe County government that works for all residents?”

In a statement released Wednesday, Bello reaffirmed his opposition to the study.

“My position that creating a public utility is a costly, complex issue beyond the scope of Monroe County is unchanged,” read the opening of Bello’s statement.

He added that RG&E is the county’s largest taxpayer, contributing more than $100 million worth of property, sales, and gross receipts taxes. And that it also has some substantial financial obligations, including an estimated $140 million in environmental liabilities from 11 defunct gas manufacturing plants.

But the legislation may not make it to Bello’s desk. Legislators rejected a previous version of the study legislation in November. Three Democrats joined with the entire 14 member Republican caucus to vote the measure down.

Those three Democrats are still in the chamber. After last November’s elections, Republicans now hold 13 seats, which is enough to block any study legislation if at least two Democrats cast “no” votes as well.

Dan Maloney, president of United Auto Workers Local 1097, also urged legislators and Bello to support a feasibility study. He said it has the potential to show, among other things, how switching to a public utility would affect RG&E’s unionized workforce.

“This study should show us if it's going to be feasible to lower rates, if it's going to be feasible to rebuild this crumbling power grid that we have here.”

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.