Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Right Problem - Wrong solution

Under a Republican proposal Thursday in the State Senate, property owners would get a tax rebate check every September from Albany, and municipalities would see new incentives to consolidate services with neighboring governments. Essentially, this expands the "popular" STAR program which rebates to residential property owners some of their school taxes.

While the leadership correctly identifies New York's excessive property taxes, particularly school taxes, as one of the state's major problems, their solution is the same old "New York response" to any problem: throw money at it.

While some people have received relief under the STAR program, it did nothing to curb the cause of high school taxes: out-of-control spending by local school districts. In fact, STAR made it easier for local districts to spend more by BUYING OFF the votes of those most likely to oppose spending increases: the elderly and others on fixed incomes living in depreciated homes. Now, in typical NY fashion, a whole class of people will become further dependant on the government to give them a handout check every September.

While details of the plans for encouraging municipal "consolidation" are not described, it sounds like it will be more of the same: more handouts rather than attacking the structural impediments to consolidation.

Of course, all this only takes money from one taxpayer's pocket to put in another -- with the appropriate administration fee (employing how many more government bureaucrats) deducted along the way.

New York has to stop producing schemes like STAR that only enourage more bad behavior. Instead of giving taxpayers rebates, NY needs to stop taking so much from us to begin with.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Let's look at regionalizing recreation

"Let's look at regionalizing recreation" suggests the OD editorial board in yesterday's paper. Yes, lets do that. But instead of looking forward to regionalizing ice rinks in Clinton, New Hartford and Whitestown, lets look back at other recreational facilities or programs that have already been regionalized: the Utica Aud and the Youth Bureau.

I don't believe anyone can say that things have improved at the Aud since a regional authority took it over. And the County dropped the ball with the Youth Bureau to the point that Utica is taking back those functions.

If memory serves me correctly, the Aud and the Youth Bureau deals were part of the deal to regionalize the Water system. Utica gave up its water asset to be relieved of the burden of the Aud and youth programs. Now that the suburban areas have taken the water and "grown" using Utica water, they've turned their backs on the other two responsibilities they took on.

What's the lesson for today's proposal for a "regional sports authority?" Uticans had better hold onto their wallets. The proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled plan to get Uticans to pay the expenses for suburban ice facilities -- facilities they will not use because they are too poor to pay for the ride out to them.

Regionalization in Oneida County has never been and will never be anything more than taking from Utica (the poor) and giving to the suburbs (the rich).

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Fairness to Utica

Mayor Julian's editorial in the Sunday OD, and Mr. Schiavi's editorial in this week's Life and Times raise a number of interesting points. Both are "must reads" by anyone serious about moving the region forward.

Mr. Julian focuses on how the region has harmed/done nothing for Utica's taxbase. He can legitimately complain about jobs being moved from Utica to Rome when Uticans are hit in the pocketbook. He can also legitimately complain when Uticans pay for "regional" job development, but none of Utica's areas are promoted. Try to find Utica on the EDGE Website. It corroborates Mr. Julian's claim that Utica has been "relegated to its present status as a regional afterthought."

Mr. Schiavi focuses on the things that make the region uncompetitive, specifically high sales and property taxes, and high utility rates. He rightly complains that nothing has been done about them. Almost echoing Julian, he states,"Utica has been relegated to its back seat position by those who want it to remain there, by those who do not want to live next to the poor, the illiterate, the unemployed, the socially negligent, and the rest who cannot 'make it on their own.'" Of course, Mr. Schiavi is correct in his assessment. For years, those who could afford to do so left Utica for lower taxed suburbs, continued to use Utica amenities, and escaped their responsibilities to take care of its poor. Unlike most other counties in New York, only recently did Oneida County take over its cities' welfare burdens.

There almost seems to be an intent of the regionalists to wipe "Utica" from everyone's consciousness, inaccurately substituting "Mohawk Valley" (which runs from Rome to Albany) in its place. If this is what is necessary to move the region forward, then, in fairness to Utica lets REALLY do it and fold the City of Utica into one county wide municipality along with Rome, New Hartford and all the other towns and villages. Such an action would certainly eliminate a lot of Mr. Julian's and Mr. Schiavi's concerns.

But somehow I don't think our elite really want this kind of regionalism to happen.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Musings on a former Mayor

I really don't want to defend Mr. Hanna -- like any of us he was right on some things, terribly wrong on others, BUT ...
->He was elected because he dared to say what people were thinking.
->He was not beholden to party bosses -- or the local elite -- or anyone for that matter (except the voters on election day).
->I think he really believed his sign "This Government belongs to the People" -- which is the truth..
->He knew the value of aesthetics: Utica never looked better. The gardens were at their peak. He knew the value of art in the streetscape. A walk through the well manicured parks with beautiful floral displays, a drive down the parkway with its newly lighted monuments -- you knew: "This is a CITY" in the best sense of the word -- the cultural center --- and you wanted to be part of it.

As far as the watering can -- that was art. Whether its good art or bad art is a matter of perspective. BUT IT GAVE PEOPLE SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT other than a tax increase or some other municipal complaint. It could be the subject of debate among people -- something to even make fun of perhaps -- without serious consequences. And getting people talking to each other BUILDS COMMUNITY. And that, my friend, can only be GOOD.

If Paris can have its Lips in a fountain, Chicago have its plastic cows, Utica can have its watering can.

[For CONTEXT and FOLLOWUP COMMENTS see Utica Area Discussions

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Planned "Sprawl"?

For a second this morning I thought the O-D Editors may have finally seen the light:

"We want real growth, not just sprawl. When suburbs spread outward without really growing, municipal services are stretched over a larger area but there's no corresponding growth in the tax base to support the increased costs. And we've all seen retailers simply move from an older shopping complex to a new one leaving empty eyesores behind."

Of course, this is exactly what's occurred in Oneida County over the last 40 years: A shrinking population (encouraged by state and local policies) spread itself over so much acreage that it's become difficult to afford municipal services. New development sprung up in New Hartford, leaving decaying areas behind in Utica. But given the jurisdictional boundaries, Utica took the tax hit and New Hartford got the benefit.

Now older parts of NH will be hit as development spreads up the new "840" into undeveloped parts of NH and ... Whitestown. Is NH afraid of suffering the same fate as Utica? Will it eventually lose tax revenue to Whitestown? Now that it may hit the pocketbooks of the editors, does this underlie their sudden concern for regional planning?

Regardless of the motivation, it's a good recommendation -- better late than never.

But wait! There's more to read ...

... about the 840: "it makes way for development of thousands of acres in rural areas of Whitestown, Westmoreland and Kirkland. . . These communities will need to work in concert if they hope to maximize the growth potential that exists along this new corridor."

I guess they did't get it after all. They will try to "maximize the growth potential" in the hinterland ... while the population continues to decline! ... I guess it does not matter to them that their OWN "Next Step" ZOGBY POLL showed: that the PEOPLE want UTICA to be the region's hub. Any regional planning needs to have that as its focus ... but everyone knows that it will never happen. A regional hub in Utica is obviously not the O-D editors' concern.

See the complete OD editorial at Area needs regional growth plan

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mayor wants to move Murnane Field to Psych Center

Just what Utica needs -- another ball field -- NOT! Given all the fences and concrete dugouts that have gone up all over Utica parks, this guy's brain must be stuck at first base.

I'm sick and tired of all these "plans" coming out of left field with no warning: first the politicians deciding to move the county airport to Griffiss, then turning the county airport terminal (of all things) into a classroom, and now this.


For one, I'd like to see the county at least attempt to market the airport for sale AS AN AIRPORT before converting it to a new mission, because as an airport it would be most likely to yield the greatest value to the taxpayers for all their years of investments in the facility.

As for moving Murnane -- lets look at the entire picture: how are all the properties and neighborhoods to be effected? Where is the PLAN? If there is a plan, why was the public not invited to participate in it's making?

The mayor, county executive, and governor are there to lead -- not unilaterally make all the decisions themselves. Election to office does not confer intelligence or wisdom. Maybe when they learn to SEEK OUT and LISTEN to the opinions of those they serve (WHICH SHOULD BE US) things will
start changing for the better . . .

I only see more wasted money and public assets with such a plan.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Security Center - More Smoke & Mirrors

Looks like the governor, our county executive and other elected officials are giving the Utica area the "shaft" again.

Airport lands security training center

Given all the TAX EXEMPT state institutional land that is being underutilized in the Mohawk Valley, we will now have another chunk of property being dedicated to public use which could have been privatized and taxed. Given the proximity of former Utica State next to Utica College (which is getting into the cybersecurity area) West Utica would seem to have been a natural fit for this facility -- no additional state lands would have been needed!

Choosing the Airport for this facility does three things that benefit Mr. Griffo, the County Legislature and our local state-level elected officials (but not the people):

1) It provides an instant solution to the problem of what to do with the Old County Airport -- a problem that they created by choosing to move the airport to Griffiss without first determining a plan for the old one.

2) It ENSURES that Utica-New Hartford-Whitesboro, or the Oneida Nation, or some enterprising entrepreneur (like the one who created a housing development where people had their private planes in their garages), will NOT continue airport operations there -- avoiding potential competition for the new Griffiss facility.

3) Our Albany reps can claim to have "brought home the bacon."

I predict that very little benefit will come of this. Sorry, but one million dollars is practically NOTHING and does NOT represent a "committment" to this project or this region [compare with the $700+ MILLION of state money going to Albany Nanotech]. A million can be blown on some minor renovations and some conferences. Meanwhile, a tremendous public asset -- the old County Airport -- will be wasted -- I guess we should be used to this style of government by now.

This is nothing more than what happened with the "Center for Brownfields Studies" that we were promised back in 2001 with much fanfare. It produced some conferences but little else.

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