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Monroe County legislators to vote on public utility study for second time

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The Monroe County Legislature is set to once again vote on whether to fund a feasibility study of replacing Rochester Gas and Electric.

A similar measure failed to pass four months ago, and it appears likely to meet a similar fate this time. County Executive Adam Bello is opposed and has said establishing a public utility is a complex issue beyond the county’s scope. But he has not said publicly whether he would veto the legislation.

Nonetheless, two committees voted Monday to put a measure authorizing the study to a floor vote when the full Legislature meets on April 9. Under the legislation, which was sponsored by nine Democrats, the county would put up $1 million toward the study. Rochester City Council previously authorized $500,000 — it and the county would partner on the effort.

“There's a lot of questions that we don't have the answers to yet, but a lot of folks would like to have the answers to and a lot of folks have postulated to having the answers to,” said Legislator Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, D-Rochester, the legislation’s lead sponsor. "But until we do a study, we really don't know for sure, and ourselves and the community can't make an informed decision about whether or not this is a good next step for our community.”

The legislation does not specify the subjects the study would tackle, but it would likely address the legal aspects of the county taking over the RG&E system within its borders as well as the costs.

The municipal power utilities in Fairport and Spencerport would be excluded from the study.

But the legislation may not survive the floor vote. When 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 remain in the chamber, though one of them, Legislator John Baynes, is now a sponsor of the legislation.

The Republican caucus shrunk to 13 members after last November’s elections, but it remains generally opposed to replacing RG&E with a public utility, let alone a study of it.

Legislator Virginia McIntyre, a Republican from Gates who’s in her first term, said the study would be expensive and Monroe County likely wouldn’t have the money to “buy RG&E.”

“Would our taxpayers even want us to buy RG&E,” McIntyre said. “And we know some would, right, but I'm sure many wouldn’t. And this is such a large question, spending a million dollars right now, when that million dollars could be spent for so many other things.”

County Executive Adam Bello, a Democrat, has also been opposed to the creation of a public utility, which he’s said is a complex issue beyond the county’s scope. He has also said that RG&E pays more than $100 million in taxes each year and is the county’s largest taxpayer, and that it has substantial environmental liabilities from decommissioned gas manufacturing plants.

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