Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another Year, Another Rate Increase for MVWA . . .

Water rates rising for fifth time in five years. Will it ever end?

Probably not.

The board controlling the Water Authority is appointed rather than elected by the public.  They answer to politicians.  Therefore, decisions are likely to advance the local (read County) political agenda (formerly New Hartford expansion, now Nano Utica/Marcy, but always crony favoritism) rather than the interests of the consumers. Take a look at the rate structure . . . it heavily favors the high volume industrial users rather than the typical stay-at-home consumer, yet the cost to treat each gallon of water is the same for all.

The board also depends upon Water Authority officials for their information -- officials whose expertise is limited.

Since the paying-public has already lost control of the system, perhaps now is the time to consider selling the water system to a large waterworks corporation such as American Waterworks or Aqua America. These corporations serve many regions rather than one, have developed an expertise that cannot be matched by our local utility, and, most importantly, would be answerable to the  NYS Public Services Commission when they try to increase local water rates.

Will you ever see persons that think this way appointed to the board?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The McDermott Surprise . . .

I don't know about you, but after watching the NY Governor debate last night the Libertarian candidate, Mr. McDermott, was  the big surprise! 

Mr. Astorino came across as being plastic... He presented nothing that we haven't heard before. While he is against Common Core, he would "replace" CC standards with New York State standards . . . but we've already had NYS standards that didn't help.  He would, at best, be another Pataki . . . appealing to more conservative voters, but not fundamentally transformative.

Mr. Hawkins was the big disappointment. Based on the last debate I expected a more intelligent discourse from him, even though I disagree with him on almost everything .... But all I heard was his Utopian wish list . . . and his accent!  . . . Where did that come from?

As for Mr. Cuomo ... The state is a mess.  The targeted corporate welfare on steroids only spends taxpayer money.  It will not create a sustainable economic revival because the structural problems that created NYS' malaise are never addressed (high taxes, over regulation, high utility costs, etc.).
Mr. McDermott nailed both the Common Core and the Charter Schools issues for me. I know some of my conservative leaning friends will disagree on the Charter Schools issue because Charter Schools create choices for parents.  But Charter Schools are still Government Schools.  They may create choices for now, but they are tuition-free competition for the truly independent private parochial schools. After the parochial schools get killed off, there will only be government schools -- and they all will be promoting the government's agenda rather than a diversity of thought.

Mr. McDermott is really a long-shot to actually win because he is not of a "major" party.  But in this era of three Republican County Executives (including our own) endorsing Democrat Governor Cuomo, are the Republicans really a viable party in New York State anymore?  The People have no real choices any more. . . . 

Unless they seize power for themselves.

That was Mr. McDermott's overall message last night:  Give power back to the People, and they will fix things themselves.

That Idea, is truly something new

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Trophy Project" . . .

A healthy dose of pure skepticism was on display last week in Buffalo's ArtVoice over Gov. Cuomo's deal with Solar City (the subject of a post here) and whether it would be a "game changer." Using local economic statistics, writer Jim Heany demonstrates that while the project might be nice for Buffalo to have, it really doesn't change anything.

Deals like SolarCity provide Cuomo with the kind of trophy project that politicians pine for. 
But they also underscore how uncompetitive the business climate in Western New York and New York State remains. What’s more, these deals are a stark reminder that Cuomo and the rest of the Albany crowd have failed to enact reforms that would give us a fighting chance to improve our economic plight without having to ply companies with corporate welfare.
While taxpayers are being forced to pay to manufacture solar panels in Buffalo, the governor is working dutifully to expand the customer base for solar panels, also at taxpayer expense, right here in Oneida County.

Our money is being spent to create an unsustainable false economy . . . unsustainable because these projects do absolutely nothing to change the conditions that have caused NY's economic decline.

Mr. Heany is correct.  Trophy projects change nothing until state policy is reformed.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Pied Piper of Green . . .

God bless Howie Hawkins . . . I always enjoy listening to an intelligent conversation about current issues and politics, and you can count on that from Mr. Hawkins, rather than the public-relations focus-group-tested  rhetoric you get from mainstream politicians.  Mr. Hawkins elevates the grade-level of the discourse, and for that you have to welcome him and thank him.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hawkins, in the report of his presentation to the OD Editorial Board, really offers nothing more to the voters of New York State than promises of what many would like to see . . . a Utopian vision if you will . . . of things that have already been tried but would end up causing more harm than good in the long run.

Employment assurance: People who are unemployed will be able to find full employment by doing community service or public work.
Roosevelt's WPA may have put people to work, but it prolonged the Depression by distorting market forces... keeping people in "public" make-work jobs rather than jobs in the private sector doing things for which there is a demand. This has been done before (Soviet Russia) and does not work. When the government puts people to work, it builds things that bureaucrats want rather than things that people (i.e., the "market") want . . . Remember the Yugo? I wonder how Mr. Hawkins feels about "workfare?"
Affordable housing . . .it matters in New York City and other larger areas...
Not necessarily . . . There is plenty of "affordable housing" in Detroit . . . and there will be in New York City, too, once the green ideas take hold.
. . . increasing the minimum wage - possibly to $15 per hour
This is the "living wage" shibboleth: That everyone, whatever their job, should be paid enough to support themselves and their families. While "living wage" is a nice outcome . . . and has actually been achieved in some places without government mandate (like North Dakota where fracking is allowed, or Switzerland which has no minimum wage) it is a distortion of the "market" and ultimately must fail unless the entire economy is government rather than "market" controlled (which again, like Soviet Russia, ultimately will fail). YOU pay someone wages based on the perceived value of services YOU receive in return. If a minimum wage is set, that means that people earning the minimum are most likely NOT providing a commensurate value of services in return . . . YOU are "overpaying" them. Of course, value is relative to the local economy. If it is humming with near zero unemployment, then you will likely pay a "living wage" to others to get menial tasks done.
Clean energy . . . “To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Hawkins said. “Lower electric costs, full employment, clean energy. That’s the way to go.”
No-brains is more like it! Wishing does not make these things so. It's time that we learn from others.  As already noted in der Spiegel, the German "green energy" policies have turned electricity into a luxury item -- busting the "lower electric bills" myth. In Spain the promise of "green energy" lead to a 26% unemployment rate! So much for "full employment."  And Clean?  How clean is it with windmills chewing up and solar reflectors frying birds?  With entire landscapes covered with windmills or solar panels?  And with landscapes festooned with powerlines?  What happens when these "large footprint" projects fail . . . or just get old and wear out?

Mr. Hawkins says things that a lot of people like to hear . . . like children enjoying a fairy tale.  And the more plausible-sounding the tale, the greater the enjoyment. . . . But it is still a tale.

Mr. Hawkins is the Pied Piper of Green.    

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Is It Communism?

Last week I commented on Oneida County's solar projects, noting that one of the companies involved had just entered a huge deal with New York State to build a panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo. Something about the deal in the Sentinel article referenced caught my eye . . .

Under the deal with SolarCity, the state will spend $350 million to build the sprawling factory on South Park Avenue and provide $400 million in funding for equipment, with the state following the economic development model that it used to build up the semiconductor industry in the Albany area. 
Under that model, the state invests in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that typically are too costly for companies to acquire on their own and then signs agreements with companies, like SolarCity, that want to access it. . . . [emphasis supplied]
The "economic development model" is State ownership of the factory and State ownership of the equipment. . . .  i.e., "public" ownership of the means of production -- a hallmark of Communism.  Although one or two factories may not mean NY has gone communist ...
SUNY Poly has also sought to use this same model in Marcy where it owns a site that is being developed in hopes of attracting up to three computer chip manufacturing plants.
We certainly have not had armed revolutionaries taking over factories like in Russia a century ago . . . But we have had over-regulation, taxation, and trade laws shut down factories here sending the jobs overseas  to the benefit of large transnational corporations that are cozy with the government. . . . and now we are trying to "lure" jobs back and reopen factories with taxpayer financed incentives like the deal discussed here plus a loose immigration policy that drives wages down.

Whether by armed revolution or by laws and regulations, isn't the end result the same?  Elites (rather than the public) will control the means of production . . .  and the people working in the factories will be nothing more than serfs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lower That Sales Tax!

The OD gave us a "sneak peak" at the County's 2015 Budget a couple days ago, but we didn't see what we were looking for.

Before another dime is spent on "economic development" projects, the County's Number One Priority should be cutting our total sales tax rate from 8.75% to 8.00% -- the rate that is paid in Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady, Albany, and Binghamton.

Oneida County needs to bench mark its costs of doing business against those of other places and to bring them in line with other areas .

This region cannot continue to stand head and shoulders above its peers in taxation and expect to be taken seriously as a place to do business.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Make Milk When the Sun Shines . . .

Let's pretend that you own 5 acres of vacant land near Oriskany.  A dairy farmer approaches you and asks if he can graze some cows on your land for free for 20 years. In return, you promise to buy milk from the farmer for 20 years. . . You are told that at current prices you could save $12,000 a year.  (You really love dairy products!) Is this a good deal?  or bad deal?

A reader wrote that something unusual was going on over some land in Oriskany near the old County Airport. . . but instead of grazing cows, it was solar panels.

A February Rome Sentinel article revealed that Oneida County made a deal with a company called Solar City -- to allow Solar City to install almost 7,000 solar panels that it owns on 5 acres of county land and keep them there for 20 years to make electricity.  In return the county agrees to buy power from Solar City for 20 years. . . . Under current market conditions the county expects to save $12,000 a year.   Is this a good deal?  or bad deal?

Per the Sentinel: "in exchange, the county agrees to buy power from SolarCity, usually at a lower rate than they would pay a conventional utility."


The milk deal is pretend -- the solar deal is real.  If you were considering the milk deal what questions would you ask?  If you were considering the solar deal, wouldn't you ask similar questions?

The deal with Solar City was approved by the O.C. Legislature back on February 12 by a unanimous vote. Per the website, the legislators were presented with an "expedited communication" outlining the agreement that had been sent to the County Executive only a few days earlier.  Although the letter to the C.E. says that the service agreement is attached, what was attached to the communication given to the legislators via the website was only an outline.

If you were asked to give up 5 acres of land for 20 years wouldn't you want to read the contract yourself before going forward?  Wouldn't you want time to research the company and think about what could change in the next 20 years before signing on the dotted line?

The Better Business Bureau has rated the company A+, though an article on regarding homeowner project horror stories would make me at least want to review the fine print of any contract.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that there seems to be a "bandwagon" for this and similar "green" projects that is driven by Federal and State incentives.   How likely will this continue? Should it continue?

Some people point to Germany as a model for green energy.  The Germans have been at this for a long time. However the headline of a recent article in der Spiegel says it all: Germany's Energy Poverty: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good.

The German consumers are waking up to the fact that they've been sold a bill of goods with "green energy" and now must reduce their standard of living.  Are we next?

Yesterday's Sentinel had an update on the solar panel project ... It also notes that Solar City will be building a solar manufacturing facility in Buffalo.  Read the deal the state is giving to Solar City  . . .

There is something a lot bigger than "green energy" going on here.  Can you figure it out? Stay tuned . . . 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Don't Forget to Vote

Today is primary day and in this area there are primaries for both major parties.

For the Republicans in the 101st Assembly District, the choice is clear:  Vote for the person willing to engage in a public debate. 

For the Democrats in the Governor's race, the choice is clear:  Vote for the person willing to engage in a public debate.   

For both parties for Family Court Judge:  The voters are lucky! Each candidate has something a bit different to offer . . .  but I don't remember the last time I saw such a well qualified bunch at once!

No matter who you vote for, the important thing is to vote.  

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Empire Building in Herkimer County?

Herkimer County has been looking into building a new jail since 2006 when the State's Commission of Corrections placed a limit on the existing jail's capacity.  A site was picked but the Village of Herkimer did not like it and denied a sewer connection.  Rather than look for an alternative site or consider an alternative arrangement, the County fought back with a lawsuit that has been going on for years.

Per TWC News: Lawsuit Continues to Stall New Herkimer County Jail

 "The Commission of Corrections in 2006 told us we were going to have to cut our maximum facility capacity to four inmates, per day,” said Herkimer County Sheriff, Christopher Farber. 
Today, most inmates are boarded elsewhere including Oneida, Otsego, Montgomery, Fulton and Rensselaer Counties. . . . 
Sheriff Farber says it is their duty to run a correctional facility in the county and says they won't know the real costs until it opens. [emphasis added]
Duty? A county legislator, Mr. Korce, apparently does not think so and wants to look into a cooperative effort with Oneida County.

 . . . And why not? Herkimer County has roughly the same population as the City of Utica.  It has been generations since Utica got rid of its jail on Bleecker Street in favor of sending inmates to the Oneida County Correctional Facility.  Cooperating with Oneida County would seem to give Herkimer County taxpayers not only the cost effectiveness of a larger facility, but the expertise of the O. C. managing staff.  
In the meantime, the expenses are adding up. Korce says the price of architects and lawyers has already totaled more than a million dollars.
The lawsuit, which is still churning along, does not put bricks on the ground, house inmates, avoid the costs and hassles of locating and boarding inmates elsewhere, or bring Herkimer County into compliance with the State's directives.

It seems that some Herkimer County officials appear more interested in empire building than in doing what is best for the taxpayers.  

Friday, September 05, 2014

Bad Ideas in Washington . . .

Instinct is part of the self-preservation process of being human. Instinctively people view others different from themselves with suspicion. But over time with interactions they learn behaviors to get along. The behaviors can be "good" or "bad" from society's perspective depending upon how the interactions turned out for the participants.

Political Correctness (PC) is taught (either directly in school or the rhetoric of social and political leaders) rather than learned by personal interaction.  Under PC, one is taught to suppress one's instincts and embrace certain groups and ideas deemed worthy of special deference by social and political leaders . . . and shun those groups and ideas deemed unworthy.

PC's suppression of the self-preservation instinct inherently makes us more vulnerable to those among the "worthy" groups who would do us harm . . . and less likely to affiliate with the "unworthy" groups with whom we may have common interests.

Simply, PC is a method of "divide and conquer"  . . . . and we are being divided today by the politicians in Washington like never before.

Race, gender, sexual-orientation, affluency, political affiliation have all become the subject of strident rhetoric to divide us into squabbling groups . . . while the distraction allows groups who would do us harm escape notice while attending to their nefarious tasks.

The entertaining Brigitte Gabriel hits the nail on the head when she explains the harm of PC in the clip below: In a nutshell, evil can exist and take root in ANY group. . . . The Germans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese are all called out as having spawned evil at one time or another. (I would add the Italians as well -- I'm sure you can think of others). PC was not an issue before, and evil among these groups was recognized, confronted and dealt with.

Evil needs to be confronted wherever it is.  Today it is the Muslims where evil is taking root. Brigitte reminds us that treating this group differently due to PC from the way we dealt with the others in the past threatens our existence.

Great Idea in Rome . . .

They are breaking ground for 128 luxury apartments in Rome.  Fantastic!  For too long high-end construction has been left to suburban areas.

It's good to see that some of this is going on in Utica, too, with the Pezzolanella's project at the re-christened Landmarc building.  It certainly is exciting to see those steel beams flying through the air! And the County seems to be on the right track, too, by creating incentives for in-city projects.

We all benefit from in-city projects because they more-intensely use the valuable infrastructure already in place: the roads, sewers, and water lines which were originally designed for intense use.  This avoids taxpayers having to build and maintain new infrastructure.  But more needs to be done.

One of the biggest flaws in the Utica Master Plan is its emphasis on "affordable housing" (a/k/a public or publicly subsidized housing) with total ignorance of high-end development. One gets the impression that the Plan was consciously designed to concentrate the region's poor in Utica.  The Plan defers to the Federal HUD ideas of social engineering rather than what Utica really needs:  a shot of taxpayers who can pay to keep the city running.

Utica leaders . . . wake up!  By fixing the Plan to encourage people with money to come to town, other problems will solve themselves.


Great Ideas in Syracuse . . .

Regarding the I-81 remake, Mayor Miner in Syracuse says that neighborhoods and economic vitality are more important than commute times.

A group of architects there are proposing a revitalized street grid as the means of moving heavy traffic through Syracuse.

It's too bad that we did not have such leadership and creative thinking in Utica a few years ago when the North-South Arterial remake was planned.  The West Utica Wall is now rising . . . leaving it to the 22nd Century and a future generation to correct the mistake.

But all is not gloom in Utica. . . . The State is catching on that maybe a better street grid is the way to go and has implemented some notable projects.

  • The Oneida Square Roundabout has increased connectivity among the feeding streets, shortened commute time through the intersection, and made Park Ave.-Oneida St. an alternate to Genesee.
  • The new Lincoln Ave. - Burrstone Rd. intersection allows Lincoln Ave to function as an alternate to Genesee St. or the Arterial and has eased access to the south end of Lincoln Ave.
  • The new Champlin Ave. - Oriskany Blvd. intersection allows Champlin Ave. to function as an alternate to the Arterial.
  • And from the construction it looks like we are getting a new Cornelia St. - Oriskany Blvd. intersection at the Aud which will increase access to all that developable land  behind the Aud!

Parallel through streets can substitute for add lanes to an expressway when heavy traffic needs to be moved. . . . but offer the advantages of (1) increasing access to developable parcels of land  and (2) provide alternate routes when the unforseen traffic jam happens.

City leaders now need to catch on to the advantages of improving the street grid and look for opportunities to do so.

Making Utica easier to navigate will not only make it more pleasant to be here, but will lead to increased economic vitality in the city.