Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Regionalization Nonsense (Part 2)...

Last week I reacted to the OD's interview with the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce's new president, Mr. Elias, noting that in an effort to "regionalize," his own organization gave up its "Utica" identity while all of the Chambers in the surrounding communities insisted on maintaining their own identities -- accomplishing nothing. Here's more .

O-D: What are some cooperative efforts you can be involved in with the Rome Chamber of Commerce?

Elias: Well, right now, water issues. I'm getting into these things now and right now water seems to be an opportunity. The Hinckley Reservoir in Herkimer County is the water supply for much of Herkimer and Oneida counties, and there seems to be a need for water in the western part of Oneida County, so there is a terrific opportunity for us to work together to make some good things happen.

The alternative is that water comes in from Onondaga County, from the western side and the thought process is that economic development will follow the waterline — there is a tremendous opportunity for us to further economic development in both Herkimer and Oneida counties by ensuring that we work together in water issues.
Isn't it odd that when a question is asked about cooperation with the Rome Chamber, Mr. Elias starts to spout the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's propaganda on how wonderful it would be to share Herkimer County water with western Oneida County. We have heard nothing of the sort from the Rome Chamber. In fact, Rome is completely capable of taking care of its own needs AND Rome is willing to supply water to parts of western Oneida County as well. If Mr. Elias wants other chambers to cooperate with him, he needs to demonstrate that he knows what he is talking about.
Frank Elias: Regionalization, cooperation and working with groups from outside of the area. There's often a perception of the local area not having a regional approach, not being able to work together, not having a vision. Knowing the people that are here and knowing some of the projects that we're working on, there is plenty of potential, and there is a lot going on that people are not fully aware of.

We often see Utica as separate from Rome, but when people from outside the area look at our area, we stand to benefit by regionalization by saying "Utica-Rome." I mean look at the population difference between Utica and Rome separate and Utica-Rome combined. We will be viewed much more positively if we were to act regionally and portray ourselves as a cooperative regional entity.

There is the catch: We are not a regional entity. We are carved up into many little municipalities that duplicate services and work in opposing directions. Municipalities lacking certain assets insist that others share what they have -- but they don't want to share their assets in return. The prime example is the water supply. The suburban areas around Utica insisted that Utica share its water -- Utica did -- but the suburban areas that used Utica water to grow their tax base refuse to share that tax base with Utica. New Hartford insisted on turning itself into the "regional" shopping district displacing Utica from that role, requiring expensive expansions in infrastructure and its police force, and wasting the infrastructure and human resources that Utica already had in place to support it. As a result, taxpayers have paid twice for the same thing . . . and we now have urban sprawl to add to the misery.

As long as we remain carved up into pieces and talk of "regionalization" in the abstract, there will always be one municipality using the "regionalization" label to take advantage of another.

If Mr. Elias wants to accomplish something that benefits the people of the region, he will advocate the creation of a true regional entity -- by erasure of existing municipal boundaries and merger.


Rebecca Mecomber said...

Doesn't regionalization seem like a "too little too late" strategy now? For example, with New Hartford's displacing Utica as a shopping complex... how can something that large and established be turned around now for the sake of regionalization? Everything seems so splintered and disorganized to the point of no return. Isn't regionalization a lost cause?

Strikeslip said...

"Regionalization," as it has been carried out, has meant sharing while maintaining separate identities. The strategy has ALREADY been implemented, first with the part-county sewer district, and later, with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority. At both levels "regionalization" has failed.

The part county sewer district is controlled by the County -- most of which, geography wise, is unaffected by either the costs or the benefits -- or the negative impacts. It should be apparent that proper operation of the plant, and control of costs associated with it, simply was not on the County's radar screen because most of the county is not affected. So the county apparently responded to the one siren that it did recognize - "economic development" -- and ran things in such a way that the developers and the towns that would benefit could do what they wanted. Now we will pay the price.

The same thing is true of the water supply system. Although it is structured as being composed of representatives of various entities, it appears to be doing the County's bidding, reflecting a perspective that the County now "owns" this system, and can send its services to wherever there is a squeeky wheel that needs to be greased. The result is a deal with Verona that would have the users in Utica and its suburbs subsidizing development in Western Oneida County ... something totally unthought of when the "regionalized" utility was conceived.

"Regionalization" needs to be stricken from the vocabulary, and replaced with "merger" -- and it is not too late for that. The part county sewer district, the MVWA, and the City of Utica need to be merged into one municipality along with all territory serviced by the sewer district and the water authority -- which are two tools of development. I'll leave it at that, and save further description for a future blogpost.