Friday, October 27, 2006

Odd Timing by OCIDA . . .

We explained last Sunday and Tuesday why the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency is entitled to have a copy of the lease between the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway Corp. and NYRI, why the public would be entitled to see what the OCIDA has, and why the arguments offered by NYRI to keep the lease secret are lame. We also suggested "no disclosure = no tax break."

According to the "Tax break for railroad rejected" article in today's O-D, the
OCIDA rejected the tax relief deal at yesterday's meeting.

The board cited an incomplete application as the cause, but the railway is blaming the decision on controversy over a proposed power line project."

We wonder if there is another reason.

The court proceeding that NYRI brought to block OCIDA from disclosing the lease is scheduled for only a few days from now, November 1. Why did OCIDA rush to decide the application now? For the reasons previously discussed, there was a potential that on that date NYRI's request would be denied. The railroad would then have to decide if it wanted to continue its application for a tax break (and have the lease disclosed to the public) or withdraw its application and take its papers back (preventing disclosure). OCIDA seems to have relieved the Railway of this possibility by simply denying the application now before the court has an opportunity to rule. Now that it has made its decision, OCIDA has no justification to hold onto the application papers. If the lease is not properly in the possession of OCIDA, the O-D may not have a basis under FOIL to see the lease. It's possible that we may be wrong on this, not being privy to the various court papers that have been filed . . . Regardless . . .

The timing of OCIDA's action is odd.

New Hartford Nonsense 2 . . .

Earle Reed is on a spending spree in New Hartford, this time wanting to hire a comptroller at $50K per year.

"I am not a financial expert," Reed said. "I've heard a big outpouring in the community that we need this. I think a (chief financial officer) is a natural evolution for the town."

"Outpouring?" From whom? Until Mr. Reed and the Town Board decided to put the Town into debt, New Hartford 's finances were hardly on anyone's mind.

"Evolution?" From what? In spite of the urban sprawl along Commercial Drive, statistics show that the population of the Town of New Hartford is decreasing. 1990 census: 21,640; 2000 census: 21,172, a decrease of 468 or 2.2%. With fewer people to serve, government should be contracting (in the "getting smaller" sense) -- not expanding.

"I feel this position will pay for itself through investments of the town's money," Reed said. "With a $13 million-plus budget, we really need a (chief financial officer)."

"The town's money?" How about the taxpayers' money?

If the town has so much money to invest that it needs a CFO, then why all the borrowing three weeks ago? If the town has so much money to invest that it needs a CFO, then perhaps it has taken too much from the taxpayers.

It's starting to sound like all the borrowing from a few weeks ago is being used to justify the need for this position. So this issue can be resolved easily:

No borrowing = no investing = no need for a comptroller -- AND the taxpayers save $50K/year plus $2+ million in financing charges.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NYRI Nervousness 3 ...

A couple more articles (here and here) appeared in today's OD about the NYRI-Railroad lease and NYRI's efforts to keep the details hush-hush.

"the documents contain personal information of officials that could lead to picketing and calls from the public over the controversial power-line project, said Jeremy M. Smith, an attorney with Albany-based Couch White who is representing the power company."

So What? Why should these individuals be any different from anyone else that does something controversial? It is NOT a private matter when the PUBLIC is affected.

[Judge] Tormey told the power-line company's attorney he wanted more detail on what harm it might face if the records were made public. ... "You've got to give me more meat to that," Tormey said, citing details such as where negotiations stand with other landowners and in which counties such talks might be occurring."

The only harm would be to even the playing field between affected members of the public and the big players. What could be wrong with that? Why should nearby landowners
not learn what the railroad is being paid? What is the difference between knowing that and knowing what your neighbor's house sold for down the street? Both would tell the property owner the value of his or her parcel. Disclosure of what the railroad is being paid is NECESSARY to ensure that members of the Public are not taken advantage of WHEN NYRI EXERCISES ITS PUBLIC LICENSE from either the state or federal government.

The Industrial Development Agency will not find out the value of the contract between New York Susquehanna & Western Railway Corp. and New York Regional Interconnect unless it can guarantee the information won't be made public, a power company lawyer said Monday."

Oneida County IDA needs to know the value of the lease in order to properly ascertain the value of the railroad property and the value of the tax breaks OCIDA is expected to give. If OCIDA is giving a tax break, then the public is entitled to know the value of what OCIDA is giving away.

The simple solution for everyone:


Weird Politics . . .

We previously noted some strange goings-on regarding the local State Senate race over in the Democrats' camp. Things have gotten even stranger. CNY Political Insider does a good job covering this; so rather than reinvent the wheel, we'll just refer you there.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

NYRI Nervousness 2...

Another bit of information came out yesterday about NYRI's resistance to public disclosure of its lease with the railroad. Now NYRI argues that disclosure would

"constitute an invasion of privacy of power-line company officials named in the contract."

Just what kinds of private information are they afraid of disclosing? Social security numbers?
Personal bank accounts? Personal Income? Arrest records? Medical treatments? Job performance evaluations? Communicable diseases? Drug treatments? It is hard to imagine what kind of private information would be contained in a lease.

The FOIL allows agencies (but does not require agencies) to deny public access to records which

"if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal

privacy under the provisions of subdivision two of section eighty-nine
of this article . . " (Public Officers Law §87(2)(b))."

Public Officers Law §89 provides that

"(b) An unwarranted invasion of personal privacy includes,
but shall not be limited to:
i. disclosure of employment, medical or credit histories
or personal references of applicants for employment;
ii. disclosure of items involving the medical or personal
records of a client or patient in a medical facility;
iii. sale or release of lists of names and addresses
if such lists would be used for commercial or fund-raising
iv. disclosure of information of a personal nature when
disclosure would result in economic or personal hardship to
the subject party and such information is not relevant to the
work of the agency requesting or maintaining it. . ."

Again ... the public has the right to know who the NYRI players are.

Why we stay here . . .

October Walk along the Switchbacks

Valley View Autumn on the Hill Autumn Leaves

Friday, October 20, 2006

New Hartford Nonsense . . .

We could not let the day close without commenting about this latest bit of nonsense from New Hartford. Worried about some residents circulating petitions to place some of the $5 million in bonding resolutions up for a public referendum, Supervisor Reed and hiscohorts are doing damage control at the OD, offering up "specifics."

Unfortunately "specifics" are still in short supply . . . and even if specifics do get identified, the specifics did not find their way into the Board's actual resolutions. Among the resolutions are these: $150,000 for sidewalks "throughout and in and for the Town of New Hartford"; $500,000 for streets "throughout and in and for the Town of New Hartford"; $92,000 for lighting improvements "throughout and in and for the Town of New Hartford"; $2,000,000 for stormwater management improvements "in and for the Town of New Hartford"; $375,000 for a Generic Environmental Impact Statement Analysis "in and for the Town of New Hartford" with no mention of what is being analyzed. What are they trying to hide?

The lack of specifics gives one the impression that a lot of little slush funds are being created through taxpayer borrowing so the Supervisor and his friends can confer special benefits on their friends.

Lack of specifics aside, why not "pay as you go?" New Hartford is not exactly poor. After all, it has encouraged all sorts of development along Commercial Drive and elsewhere to bring in more tax dollars. All of Utica shops in New Hartford. Tons of money are being made. Why force the taxpayers to pay for financing on top of the various projects proposed? The banks do not need taxpayer support.

Lastly, Village residents have a special beef. They already pay taxes for things such as lighting and sidewalks and government buildings within their jurisdictions . . . and now a portion of their Town taxes will go toward providing these services for someone else. It's Taxation Without Representation among the projects which are located outside the Villages. Ask any New York Mills resident what they get from the Town, and they will tell you nothing, because the Village already provides ALL services. Ask a Town Councilman and basically what Villagers get is: Town Government. . . . But a Town Government that provides no services within a Village is of no benefit to the Village.

Inspite of the explosive commercial development on Commercial Drive, New Hartford's population is dwindling. Government should be contracting rather than expanding. The greater tax income from the commercial areas gives NH government the opportunity to contract gracefully. Instead, it wants to expand, benefitting the individuals involved.

The taxpayers have the unique right to decide things for themselves on a lot of these resolutions. Information has been posted on (the unofficial) Town of New Hartford Online. Download petitions, circulate petitions, sign petitions and demand referenda.

Show the Town Board who they work for!

NYRI Nervousness ...

NYRI is going to court to block the OD from obtaining a copy of its contract with the railway. They claim it would harm their competitive position. ... Huh? Competitive with whom?

Why would the railroad need information from NYRI (the release of which could cause NYRI harm) in order to simply lease space to NYRI? If the contract had to be filed with the OCIDA as part of the railway's tax abatement package, then that becomes public information.

Unless NYRI and the railroad are one and the same, NYRI cannot logically claim that the lease contains proprietary business information when that information has already been released to another party -- i.e., the railroad. And the railroad cannot claim it is proprietary when it already released it to another party, the OCIDA.

"Furthermore, releasing the contract would disclose personal contact information for some of the personnel involved in the transaction, and that information is irrelevant . . ."

Ah HA! If the contact information was so irrelevant, then why go to court? The public certainly has every right to know which individuals will be benefitted when the public gets hosed. Somebody is being protected. The question is WHO.

Go get-em OD!

Education spending...

Yesterday local educators got to hear what they wanted to hear from our politicians -- or our politicians told them what they thought they wanted to hear.

No one says that schools already have all the money they need to educate our students. No one says that maybe the problem is that the money is not being spent wisely.

With all our businesses leaving, that big-ol-pot of school money is the only game in town. People have all kinds of ideas on how to get their hands in it, creating little jobs for themselves. They do ... the curriculum/school mission gets diluted ... and the main job of educating gets lost in the shuffle.

Maybe the problem is our schools have TOO MUCH money.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

School District Shenanigans ... Westmoreland Edition

According to today's OD, the Westmoreland School District donated 50 acres to a local soccer group, the Rising Stars Soccer Club of Central New York, to build a multi-sport facility.

One teenie weenie problem with this:

NYS Constitution Article VIII (Local Finances) Section 1:

No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation or association . . ."

Westmoreland must have forgotten to supply their Board Members with copies of "School Law" jointly put out by the NYS Bar Association and NYS School Boards Association. Attention is drawn to sections 16:10 and 19:7 (based on the 26th edition).

It's not clear that the soccer organization's maintaining a nature and fitness trail would qualify as fair consideration for the property. "Donation" however, implies that less than fair consideration was given to the school district for the property.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Causing Upstate's Demise . . .

We were perusing various blogs and came across this post from the New York Young Republican Record. It was troubling. It's title sums its content: "The problem with upstate New York is not because of who’s in office, it’s because it’s upstate New York:" The piece seems to imply that something is "wrong" with Upstate and that Upstate is somehow responsible for its own economic problems. We offer another perspective.

Perhaps the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith no longer finds opportunity Upstate because New York State policies since the mid '60s tend to reflect a Downstate perspective.

Prior to the mid-60s the State Senate was apportioned according to counties, meaning Upstate always controlled the Senate and Downstate always controlled the Assembly. The was the case regardless of which party controlled which house or the Governorship. For anything to get done, Upstate and Downstate were forced to work together, to accomodate each other, and to look out for each other's interests. They did -- and a symbiotic relationship developed that worked incredibly well for over 150 years, and turned New York State into the Empire State.

Upstate's demise can be traced to the reapportionment of the Senate to a house based on population (like the Assembly). This was caused by the NYS Court of Appeals effectively voiding provisions of the NYS Constitution to conform with a US Supreme Court ruling involving another state.

From that point on, the Upstate perspective on problem solving got lost in the shuffle. Upstate and its people are not so different from competing regions in Ohio or Wisconsin or Minnesota except for the fact that comparatively we are taxed to death, fee'd to death, regulated to death, and have much higher utility costs (inspite of the fact that we are rich in hydropower and other resources). The higher costs of doing business are a direct result of NYS Policies -- policies forged by the representatives of the Downstate population center.

NYS policies represent a trade-off of financial impacts for perceived social or environmental good from a Downstate perspective. With a business mix more like Ohio or Wisconsin than NY Metro, Upstate would not have made the same choices.

The problem with Upstate is not Upstate. The problem with Upstate is that it is part of New York State which makes policies detrimental to the Upstate way of life.

NY's Founding Fathers 200+ years ago knew what they were doing, which was not unlike what the country's Founding Fathers were doing. We need to renew an appreciation for their wisdom in designing a Senate based on geography and an Assembly based on population.

Perhaps with the "new evidence" represented by Upstate's 40 year decline following reapportionment, it may be time to revisit the Court of Appeals' and US Supreme Court's decisions.

If those decisions cannot be reversed, then perhaps we should start thinking about some sort of "Home Rule" for Upstate, if not an amicable "divorce" from the metropolitan area.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

School District Whining . . . and a Big Ditto to BD . . .

The big and not so big city school districts are having an Albany "pep-rally" of sorts to support more state-aid for city school districts, including Utica's.

A spokesman from a pressure group claimed that "Children all over the state attend underfunded schools . . . " Utica Supt. Skermont, as usual, chimes in "The formula has to change; we can't wait any longer."

What brought about the current controversy is the 2003 Court of Appeals ruling "that schoolchildren in New York City weren't being given the chance to get a "sound, basic education," as required by the state Constitution," and order that the state figure out how much that would cost. More money would have to be funneled from the State to NYC Schools. Upstate cities, seeing that the same arguments in the NYC case easily apply to them, understandably are now jumping at the chance to get on the same gravy train.

Of course, the Court of Appeals' error was to assume a fact not in evidence: that insufficient funds was the cause of children in NYC not getting a "sound, basic education." What about the possibility that
a "sound, basic education" is no longer of paramount interest to the people running our schools? Or the possibility that the people running our schools are simply incompetent?

While Ms. Skermont whines, she still allows precious student time to be wasted on such trivialities as Yoga and special assemblies with "community leaders." Down in Ilion the kids are kept busy climbing on special walls or making 1000 paper cranes (while being indoctrinated into certain forms of Politically Correct thinking). One mother (who also happens to be a special-ed teacher) who is campaigning for the extra funding was quoted as wanting more after-school programs like drama and music. Obviously, if the money is going to be used for
after-school programs, then it will not be used to improve student learning during the regular school day. The unmistakable impression is that school systems only want more money to waste because that is what they've done with what they've already received. Is the Court of Appeals in the position to supervise how the additional monies will be spent -- to ensure that they go toward a "sound, basic education?" Of course, not.

As recently reported, the connection between school spending and success is uncertain. Spending in NYC doubled over the past decade with no improvement in performance.


On another front . . .

A frustrated Ditto to the sentiments posted this evening [and since removed] on CNY Underground over the sorry state of affairs, both locally and in New York State, that drives people and jobs out of state. It's unfortunate when people have to leave the area to either better themselves or just to survive. While emotional posts don't solve problems, sometimes it is necessary for the powers-that-be to know just how strongly some feel about their actions or lack thereof. Maybe the piece can be reposted with a different choice of words -- but the depth of frustration needs to be conveyed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

This Weekend's Brilliance . . .

Autumn along the Canalway Trail

Autumn along the Canalway Trail Autumn along the Canalway Trail Autumn along the Canalway Trail
Yesterday along the Canalway Trail.

Environmental Justice ...

The O-D had an interesting editorial today about the new state law not being the end to NYRI.

"And until the state creates an effective energy plan to guide our future, we cannot be assured that other companies won't come along with proposals that are just as threatening to our communities' quality of life."


BUT ....

The editorial misses the mark when it focuses on "incentives" for locating transmission lines where they will minimize the impact on communities, and proposes that the Thruway be considered as a corridor.

The Thruway idea is a knee jerk reaction . . . It may be worse than NYRI's proposal. The Thruway cuts right through Utica near downtown and through all the Mohawk Valley villages and towns. Today is a georgeous day for a drive on the Thruway to Amsterdam. The "Noses" area near Fonda is particularly scenic. Now imagine the "Noses" with powerlines . . . NO WAY. A Thruway route would just shift negative impacts from from one group of people to another.


If there was more generation capacity Downstate, there would be no "bottleneck" requiring powerlines
Upstate. Remember, Downstate shut down the completed Shoreham Long Island nuke plant before it went on line . . . and if some Downstate legislators have their way, the Indian Point nuke plant in the Lower Hudson Valley will be shut down as well. These moves create the need for powerlines.

State policy makers made a grave error when they encouraged the break up of "vertically integrated" power companies (companies that both generate and deliver power). The idea was that the breakup would allow people to purchase their power from the generator of their choice -- and that the competition would encourage efficiency and lower electric prices. However, it not only did not produce efficiency (requiring administrative functions to be duplicated among generators and delivery companies), it made it more difficult for the state to require companies to consider generation vs transmission as alternatives when dealing with reducing environmental impacts.

"Environmental Justice" (EJ) is the issue.

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." (emphasis supplied).

EJ is the issue because facilities with negative environmental impacts are being kept out of the more affluent areas that need them (i.e., Downstate) and are being placed in the relatively poorer and less politically powerful areas that don't need them (i.e., Upstate).

Upstate will become the dumping ground for all kinds of negative impacts from Downstate-needed facilities until the Legislature recognizes the EJ dimension of what is happening.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

School Board Worries . . .

The Rome School Board worries about potential traffic problems a new hotel could cause at Rome Free Academy. The Rome School Board complains about unusual tax breaks given by EDGE at Griffiss to East Coast Olive Oil.


It was love at first sight. Only a couple three years ago the Rome School Board welcomed the opportunity to construct its new $50 million (and now extremely troubled) school at the Griffiss site. Only a couple three years ago EDGE was desperate to fill vacant land and be able to claim new job creation at Griffiss. The EDGE-Rome School District match seemed to be made in heaven -- at least to the participants.

What were they thinking when they decided to plunk a High School down in the middle of an Airport Industrial Park????

The parties to this affair seem to be having problems getting along. Will counseling help?

Can complaints about jet-aircraft noise disrupting classes be far behind?

Obviously the individuals involved in making the decisions weren't thinking of the students. Were they perhaps thinking of how a quick buck could be made off of all that easy NY State School Construction Aid Money. Who knows?

Why should the Rome School District complain about a tax break being given to a company that hasn't even located there yet? It's not like they are losing revenue due to the company pulling out, which will happen in Utica, the community being left behind by ECOO. Maybe the Utica School District should have the opportunity to participate in the decisionmaking, too, because it will lose tax dollars from this deal.

We've created a cast of characters with our government set-up.

Sit back and try to enjoy the show . . . just don't think about what you paid for your ticket.

Friday, October 06, 2006

More Murky Moves in New Hartford . . .

CNY Underground beat us to the punch on this story about more mysterious moves by the New Hartford Town Board. According to the Unofficial (but Very Informative) Town of New Hartford Website, twelve resolutions were passed at this weeks Town Board meeting that will place Town Taxpayers on the hook for more than $5 million. . . . for things like sidewalks, lighting, and a generic environmental impact statement.

There is no specificity re where the sidewalks and lighting will be. Sidewalks and lighting are an accoutrement of villages and/or special districts, and Town Taxpayers that reside in villages and special districts have already paid for them in village taxes and special assessments. If there is a need for these amenities elsewhere in the Town, then let the people who will be benefitted pay for them by forming a special district. It is unfair to stick all Town residents with these costs.

The generic environmental impact statement is really interesting . . . A $375,000 Environmental Impact Statement to study WHAT???

Tabled was $155,000 for the Town to pay for a water system in the Higby road water district. Again, why should everyone have to pay to provide a system to one neighborhood. It's sounding like a gift of public money/facilities to some developer.

A lot of money is being thrown around . . . with very little information on why the spending is needed.

[Update 8:30PM: Mrs. Mecomber speaks from the heart on this. The message should be clear:
The people in charge better start listening. The "common folk" are getting awfully tired of footing the bills for the well-connected.]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pontius Pilate . . .

No, we don't think the governor's signing the bill that would block NYRI's use of eminent domain was a political stunt, and, yes, some credit is due to our local representatives. Nevertheless, let's not get carried away. As has been the case with a number of announcements from our current administration/representatives which have been accompanied with great fanfare in the region, the rhetoric is long but the substance lacking. (Eg., the practically non-existant "Center for Brownfield Studies" announced in 2001, the "Homeland Security Training Center" announced a few months ago, and just announced, but soon-to-be quashed State Data Center.)

The bill's passage and its signing represent a fortunate (for us) confluence of both Downstate and Upstate interests. . . . A significant number of Downstaters also don't want this powerline ... And in our Post-Kelo-Decision environment, a significant number of New Yorkers don't like the use of eminent domain by private companies, either. 'Juice' by our local reps it ain't!

The governor's performance was reminiscent of Pontius Pilate washing his hands . . . The impression is that New York State has now done all that it can do to stop the powerline. Of course, this is untrue. While the governor mouths the widely held (upstate) opinion than more electrical generation facilities should be built closer to the place of electrical consumption, the fact is this has yet to be made state policy. The State has NOT done its homework, and is sorely in need of more generators Downstate ... The governor and our Albany representatives well know that the lack Downstate generation capacity will cause the FEDERAL government to ultimately make the decision ... AND give NYRI the power of eminent domain to do what it wants. But they'll say they've "done all they could do" and wash their hands . . . . and Upstate will continue to go down the drain.

[Update 9:30PM: Biggus Dickus over at CNY Underground has a perspective on this story ... and a HAIKU, too, just for you!]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

October in Utica . . .

She dressed in finery for the evening of the year . . . .

Autumn Proctor Park, Utica

. . . her memory lingers long after the ball is through . . .

Utica from R Conkling Park Switchbacks, Utica Valley View Autumn Canalway Trail near Utica Valley View 1st Snow

. . . and you long to return to her . . .