Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nanny New York . . .

A story out of the Buffalo News tells us "State creates $100 million mortgage rescue fund."
"A $100-million refinancing program has been created by the state and the mortgage industry for people on the verge of losing their homes because of risky, adjustable-rate mortgages.

Borrowers with adjustablerate loans or terms that require them to pay only the interest due each month will be eligible for new 30- and 40-year fixedrate mortgages under a program administered by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, or SONYMA, Gov. Eliot Spitzer said in a statement." . . .

Under “Keep the Dream” at SONYMA, loans can go as high as $417,000 . . .

Restrictions will limit the refinancing to people with incomes of up to 165 percent of the median in New York City and surrounding counties, or 125 percent of the median in the rest of New York. That will cover residents earning up to $58,120 in poorer areas, up to $94,000 in New York City and as much as $158,560 in affluent areas including Rockland County. . . .

Wow! And you thought welfare was only for the poor!

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Rubber-Stamped Backroom Deal . . .

Here we go again . . . more back-room dealing by Oneida County and more rubber-stamping by our uninvolved, know-nothing County Legislature. Two weeks ago Oneida County entered into a Consent Order with the DEC. Last Wednesday (we find out Today in the Sentinel) OC Legislators (27-0, Resolution 215) approved hiring a partnership of Shumaker Engineering, Stearns & Wheler, and Brown & Caldwell.

Seems rather rushed, no? Where was the RFP advertised? Was it advertised? Or was this an "invitation only" deal?

What is really interesting is how these firms were picked.
"Four proposals were received and reviewed by a committee of county officials and representatives of three municipalities impacted by the situation."
I wonder which municipalities those might be? I wonder which county officials those might be? Were they the ones that permitted the sewer overflow situation to develop? Were any of the firms involved with projects or reviews or plans that may have contributed to the overflow situation?

Is the wolf being allowed to guard the hen house? No one rubber stamping this seems to have been interested enough to ask

And they don't even know what it will cost! But why should they be concerned about cost? They are not paying for it.
""Any fix is going to be a district cost," said County Attorney Linda M.H. Dillon ...."
"A district cost" -- again the Dirty Little Secret. Most of the people that live in the Part County Sewer District live in Utica.

While Mr. D'Onofrio may feel it is premature to know who will wind up paying the cost, WE know that unless the Board of Legislators takes some action to allocate the costs differently, Ms. Dillon's assessment is correct - the "district" will pay -- i.e., primarily Uticans. We also have known for over a year that the cost of the study alone has been estimated at $3-5 Million. So if primarily Uticans are going to be paying for this study, why were they not permitted to participate in the solicitation and review of proposals?

Why were Legislators Wood (Westmoreland) and Porter (Boonville) the ones who introduced the legislation authorizing the hiring of consultants? Their districts have no relationship to the Part County Sewer District. Legislator Miller (New Hartford), who seconded the legislation, is from a district where the problem may have been created.

The suburbs wheel and deal. They dream and scheme. Their political friends in more distant parts of the county cooperate. The County cheer leads and participates. They create problems, control the solutions, and cover their tracks. But they can't afford to do it on their own. They will send the bill to the people of Utica . . .

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from this story:

1) County Government is not up to the task of handling this issue without oversight.

2) Greater Utica's municipalities, since they are creating problems for each other, are too closely linked to remain separated.

The solution to the sewer problem, and probably many others, seems to be to (1) create a municipality of Greater Utica to replace the fiefdoms we have now and (2) transfer the responsibility for sewers and other services that the County now performs only for Greater Utica to Greater Utica.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Consent Order Primer, Part 2: Legalizing Pollution

A few weeks ago, Oneida County entered into a Consent Order with the Department of Environmental Conservation to solve the problem of raw sewage being spilled into the Mohawk River. I thought that a series of posts covering some of the concepts and terminology might help clarify the issues involved. On 7/15 Part 1, "Plumbing", was posted which focused on the different parts of the sewage disposal system (updated on 7/29 to capsulize the different levels of treatment). Today Part 2 examines how laws are developed to control water pollution.

Behavior = Benefits.

We get many benefits from the waters of our lakes and streams, but the benefits will go away if they become polluted. Pollution results from bad behavior. Laws are made to regulate our behavior to preserve the benefits. The starting place in making laws is to identify the benefits we hope to protect.

Water classification by use.

The benefits of water are associated with how it is used. Waters in their natural state lend themselves to different ranges of use depending on their purity -- the purer the water, the greater the range of potential uses. Water for drinking requires the highest degree of purity. Less pure waters may still be useful for fish propagation or swimming or fishing. If waters are classified according to their "best" use, it then becomes easier to to figure out how our behavior should be regulated to protect the stream's benefits. New York has already classified all its waters [see 6 NYCRR Part 701] , with each stream or portion of stream having an assigned classification [see 6 NYCRR Parts 800, et. seq.]. For example, the Mohawk River where Oneida County has its problem has been classified as a Class C stream. This water is supposed to be suitable for fish reproduction. It normally is purer than Class D water, which is suitable for fish survival (but not reproduction), but not as pure as Class B, which is suitable for swimming.

Water quality standards.

Once the best use of a stream is identified, it becomes possible to define the quality of the water (e.g. in terms of chemical content, odor, clarity, etc.) that must be maintained to preserve its use. These definitions are called water quality standards. New York has used its water classifications to develop water quality standards. [see 6 NYCRR Part 702 regarding development and 6 NYCRR Part 703 for the standards themselves].

Once water quality standards have been identified, it then becomes possible know what behavior is "right" vs. what is "wrong." Any behavior that causes a stream to be of lesser quality than an applicable water quality standard would be "wrong."

However, even assuming that one has knowledge of the water quality standards for a particular stream, the connection between a particular activity and the violation of a water quality standard may not be clear, making enforcement of the standard a problem. That is where regulation of the "behavior" end of the "Behavior=Benefits" equation becomes important. But where to begin?

Point Sources, Permits and Effluent Limitations.

With all the different ways that contaminants can make their way into streams, it would be impossible to simply prohibit all discharges to streams without drastic consequences to our lifestyles. Since pollution most often enters streams from specific points (e.g. a drain pipe or a ditch), what happens at the "point source" is the logical thing to regulate. The scheme often adopted is to prohibit all discharges from "point sources" that do not have a permit. If someone has a "point source" on their property that does not have a permit, they are in violation of the law.

As suggested above, the connection between a particular discharge and the violation of a water quality standard may not be clear to the person owning the point source. The government regulator, however, should be in the position of being able to calculate the kinds of discharges that would cause a violation of water quality standards, and define limits for particular pollutants to ensure that water quality standards are not violated. These limits are called effluent limitations, which can be incorporated as conditions in a discharge permit. If a particular technology is known to work at cleaning effluent, it may be simpler for the regulator to simply require as a permit condition that the technology be used .

The permit will contain conditions intended to ensure that discharges from the point source do not cause a violation of the water quality standards in the receiving stream. If someone's discharge does not comply with the conditions in the permit, they are in violation of the law. If persons making discharges comply with all the terms of their permits, assuming that the government did its calculations and wrote permit conditions correctly, they should be able to rest assured that they are causing no problems.

So, a water pollution permit is permission to pollute - in the sense of a person being allowed to put something into a stream that normally would not be there. The permit, hopefully, will control the nature of the pollution so that no harm results.

Part 3 will look at how Federal, State and Local laws work together -- or not.

[Note: Articles in this series may be revised from time to time to provide additional detail and explanation as time allows, and as current events warrant.]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Leon Koziol, Where are You?

It has been well over a month since Mr. Koziol announced his candidacy for Oneida County Executive -- and we have not heard a peep out of him since.

We had looked forward to his candidacy as an intelligent, articulate alternative to the current powers that be. Appearing to be no "yes" man for anyone, we had hoped that his candidacy would at least result in the thorough vetting of the many issues that plague this county. But while issues presenting opportunities for discussion have arisen, Mr. Koziol is no where to be found.

Leon, what are you waiting for?

Your silence gives us a license to speculate.

Are you waiting for "support" from your Democratic Party? If you are, then a reassessment of your intelligence is in order. You know you were double crossed by your party last year, when they got you to drop out of running for Congress with the promise of an "endorsement" for State Senator -- only to have your party give you a primary. Don't expect any support from them -- but you might get support from grassroots members if you show them that you mean business.

Are you trying to "get even" for what your party did to you last year, by taking up the top spot on the ballot and then intentionally losing the election? If so, how do you know that you are not giving your party exactly what it wants? The public has long suspected that there is no real two-party system operating locally -- just a bunch of insiders making deals with each other behind closed doors. Wouldn't it be sweeter to win the election, and then tell party leaders to go to hell when they come knocking at your door for patronage?

Are you not really interested in the position? That would be understandable. You appear to have a successful law practice that you would have to put aside. Perhaps you are unprepared to make that sacrifice. If so, why did you announce for the position? Was it out of frustration at seeing the region go down the toilet? Or was it merely vanity?

Do you think you need money for advertising? There are plenty of alternative venues for getting your word out. Your opponent has become a boring fixture on WIBX with nothing substantive to say. From your performance in last year's TV debate, you would be much more interesting -- and listeners might learn some things from you. There is also Common Cents, public access TV, your own website, letters to the editor, press releases, etc. etc. These alternatives can be better than advertising because you can develop the issues. People already know your name -- but they need to know how you think.

Do you think you have to have solutions to all our problems? If so, then you would be wrong. Our problems are numerous and complex, and have developed over many years. They will take a long time to solve. "Quick fixes" to old problems have only bought us new ones. What the public is looking for is someone who displays an understanding of the issues that face the county, a willingness to listen to what the public has to say, and an ability to address the public's concerns in arriving at solutions. Do you have these qualities? If so, then show the public that you do.

We know your feelings on the sales tax, and the Indian land claim. What are your feelings about
  • the Consent Order, and the manner in which it was handled?
  • the Park Ave. parking proposal?
  • EDGE's performance?
  • the Marcy Chip-Fab site?
  • the old OC Airport and Homeland Security Training Center?
  • the Griffiss Institute?
  • the region's urban sprawl without population growth?
  • the use of authorities to provide municipal services?
  • continuation of the County's responsibility for the Part County Sewer District?
  • tax-base sharing?
  • cooperation vs. consolidation of services vs merger of local governments?
  • windmills?
  • municipal power?
  • Oneida County's relationship with Herkimer County?
  • etc. etc. etc.
There is plenty to talk about.

Leon, let us hear from you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Park Ave. Parking Permutations . . .

Looks like the plan to turn Park Ave. into a parking lot will again be discussed. To his credit, Ed Hill pulled the plan from City Council consideration pending further study.
The project would be in Hill's district and he said more specifics, such as a traffic study and an economic impact statement, were needed before the council could discuss deeding the land to the county.

Well, is there a study yet? Sounds like Co Exec Picente is still pushing the plan without one.

The county executive doesn't want county employees taking up space in the city's parking garage, which should be used as a marketing tool to attract more tenants into downtown office space, Picente said.

The proposed plan for Park Avenue would address the congestion, said Picente, who added that cities larger than Utica have implemented similar governmental complexes through road closures.

"Utica's not 110,000 anymore; it's much smaller," Picente said. "Bigger cities have adjusted to the safety and traffic issues in their downtowns."

I have news for Mr. Picente.

Oneida County's not 320,000 people any more; it's much smaller. County Government, and its need for parking, should shrink as well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Spitzer Apology

A breaking headline tonight from the OD and AP "AG's probe: Spitzer aides plotted to discredit Bruno requires some reading between the lines.

According to the story, AG Cuomo concluded that Spitzer's top media spokesman, Darren Dopp, and homeland and public security chief William Howard "with the direct, unprecedented assistance of state Deputy Superintendent Preston Felton, conspired to release politically damaging information about Bruno's use of state aircraft, including trips that included political fundraisers." In a nutshell, the State Police created records of Sen. Bruno's travels -- allegedly in response to a Times Union FOIL request -- which were to be used to embarrass the Senator.

FOIL requires disclosure of existing documents, it does not require new ones to be produced. However, FOIL does not prevent new documents from being created to meet a request for information. The spirit of the Freedom of Information Law is open government -- as much information should be made public as possible. And if a particular request would demand that a new document be produced, while the law does not require that this be done, production would certainly be in the spirit of FOIL (full disclosure).

While the idea of people of one party trying to smear a person in another is repugnant, if the information disclosed is not of a personal nature, but rather involves official activities and spending taxpayers' money, why shouldn't it be made public? There is no indication in the story that any of the information was falsified. It is clear that had these officials not misbehaved, the public would have no clue how Mr. Bruno was spending their money.

The suggestion that this information should not have been disclosed (and is exempt from FOIL) because it puts Sen. Bruno in jeopardy seems like an excuse to keep things quiet. His travel schedule is being disclosed long after the fact, and long after any potential for harm. I would love to know how a travel itinerary from months ago "
if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person" [see POL§87(2)(f)]

This passage was particularly interesting:

"The report found Bruno's use of the state aircraft was appropriate under a state policy that "is overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds."

"We find that Senator Bruno used state aircraft for trips during which he conducted both legislative business as well as political or personal business," the report stated. "We further find that such mixed usage is permissible under existing New York state policy."
I thought Mr. Cuomo was probing the behavior of Spitzer officials, not determining whether Mr. Bruno's travels and spending were appropriate. The comment about Mr. Bruno's being in compliance with state policy is gratuitous.

My overall impression was that Mr. Cuomo's report, and the news story, were carefully crafted -- perhaps to ease the tension between the governor and majority leader.

Lessons Learned:

1) Government officials will bend the rules to keep information secret.

2) Government officials will excuse an abuse of taxpayer dollars as long as state policy is not violated.

3) Government officials will sacrifice other government officials who tell the public too much. And ...

4) The right of the people to know how their money is being spent will always take a back seat to politics.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Baseball a Thing of the Past?

Gear at Snakepit had an interesting post about the quick demise of the New York State League of Professional Baseball -- after only 3 weeks! Someone either did not promote things right, or horribly miscalculated.

Here's something else to consider. Baseball is inherently "American" and not really shared by much of the rest of the world. Greater Utica is not the Utica of the 70s or 80s. A lot of those people have moved away. Their places have been taken by people for whom Baseball is foreign.

To get some excitement going, maybe Utica needs professional . . .


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Positive Press . . .

While we live in one of the most poorly governed, highly taxed, and economically downtrodden regions in the country, many of us stay put . . . and many who have moved away long to come back.

It is nice to be reminded why. A couple articles in the national press do just that.

Yesterday's USA Today had an article about the Adirondack Railroad's canoe train for kayakers. Next month's Reader's Digest will have a six page story about Utica, the "Second Chance City" for refugees. These articles tell us what we often take for granted.

We live in a geographically beautiful area, steeped in history, with a seasonally changing palate of colors and activities. There is always something to see and do. Check out Mrs. Mecomber's New York Traveler for ideas.

We also live in a culturally diverse area -- a welcoming mini-crossroads of the world. This gives us a lot more things to do . . . and to eat! Last weekend was Mt.Carmel/Blessed Sacrament's Italian Festival, the Bavarian Festival starts tomorrow, the Irish-American festival starts a week from tomorrow, St. Mary's Polish Festival in New York Mills follows early next month, and the biggest regional Italian Festival (drawing so many buses from Canada that Canadian currency is legal tender), the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damien, follows at St. Anthony's Church in Utica in September. We only look forward to when Bosnian, Russian, and Sudanese festivals join the mix.

Some things simply make putting up with the daily nonsense that we do ... all seem worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What's Up (or Down) with the N-S Arterial?

Today's OD has a headline "Arterial plan may ease congestion" and tells us of a proposed $40 million project to build a new viaduct over Oriskany Boulevard.
"State officials might construct the new North-South Arterial viaduct west of the existing bridge, state DOT Spokeswoman Alice Romanych said. It's unknown whether nearby buildings could be avoided or would have to be purchased and razed, she said." . . .

"One option that should be considered is to keep the viaduct level with Lafayette and Columbia streets and then raise it over Oriskany Boulevard, Julian said."

Now wait a minute! Didn't we have this discussion back in December and March? Did not the plans for the North-South "Depressway" show the highway connecting to the viaduct in essentially the same location that it is today? If the viaduct will be moved to the west, then what was discussed last winter is out the window. No? Are you confused?

It's up, it's down, it's east, it's west ...

Is someone is trying to confuse the public . . . so they can do what they want?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Dirty Little Secret ...

The dirty little secret is revealed today about who pays for the Consent Order -- though it was couched in vague terms.

On July 12: "Picente said the burden will likely land on the taxpayers of the part county sewer district, which includes New Hartford, Paris and Whitestown." ...
"This is a problem everybody knew about and nobody wanted to deal with it," Picente said. "The towns and villages knew about this — it's a violation issue and we're responding to that."

On May 24: "Within the next week, Picente said he also is planning to meet with representatives from the towns and areas affected, which include areas in the villages of New York Mills, Yorkville, Whitesboro, New Hartford and Oriskany and in the towns of New Hartford and Whitestown."

Today we discover:

"Ratepayers in the sewer district, not all county residents, will have to pick up the tab if state or federal grants can't be found to defray the costs of what could become a $66 million project."

No, the cost will not fall on taxpayers of New Hartford and Whitestown, who have benefited from increases in their tax base by their new development.

The cost falls on "Ratepayers in the sewer district"

And the sewer district includes Utica.

"In the end, the executive of a county where population has dropped and business has been stagnant could ill afford to appear to be indifferent to the needs of developers who plan to add jobs and bolster New Hartford's and Whitestown's property tax base."

Mr. Picente does developers' bidding. He does New Hartford's bidding. He does Whitetown's bidding.

But he sends the Bill to the People of Utica.

And the Utica legislators were either too stupid or too politically connected to see that their constituents were going to get screwed.

Nothing short of complete merger of all the jurisdictions of Greater Utica can make this fair.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Consent Order Primer, Part 1: Plumbing

The Consent Order resolving Oneida County's sewage dispute with the State has been posted at the Oneida County website. It reveals some interesting details on how the situation leading to the State's action unfolded, and what the solution will involve. Some of the words may be confusing. I will try to sort out the Consent Order's terminology over a few posts and provide a bit of background to make its meaning more clear. "Plumbing" is today's subject.

CSOs, SSOs, POTWs, and Inflow and Infiltration . . .

People living in isolated areas usually get their water from wells and dispose of their waste through septic fields. This works as long as enough space is maintained to keep the waste from contaminating the well.

As settlements become more densely populated, interference between one person's septic field and another's water well can become a health problem. Urbanization also causes runoff from roofs and paving, which can cause flooding. The solution for both problems is for residents to pool their resources and build facilities to take the storm and waste water away.

When our older urban areas were constructed (e.g. Utica and nearby villages), the practice was for storm water, industrial and and sanitary waste to be combined and collected by the same system (i.e., a Combined Sewer) and discharged to the nearest stream. This was "state of the art" and made sense at that time. It was believed that "The Solution to Pollution is Dilution" -- that is, if wastewater was combined with enough clean water, pollutants would become too diluted to cause harm. This worked when the amount of waste was small in comparison with the flow in the receiving stream. Of course, as communities grew, the waste component grew as well, sufficient dilution did not take place, and epidemics resulted.

Communities later developed Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) to take the combined flows and treat them to make them harmless before releasing them to streams. However, because storm water was included, collection systems and POTWs had to be designed to accommodate variable amounts of water. Since communities could not afford to build systems large enough to collect and treat every drop of the largest flows (which occurred only during storms or snow melt), overflows of untreated waste mixed with storm water (Combined Sewer Overflows or CSOs) were allowed. Had these overflows not been allowed, the flows would back up into people's basements and elsewhere. The impact of the waste water, however, would be reduced by dilution since the overflows would usually happen only during periods of heavy rain or snow melt.

As time went on and people became more knowledgeable about how to handle waste, it seemed more cost effective to separate the waste water from the storm water and just treat the waste water. Newer developments are now required to build separate Sanitary Sewers, which send waste water directly to the POTW, and Storm Water Sewers, which usually discharge directly to streams without treatment. Long existing communities such as Greater Utica have both combined and separate systems in place.

In theory, Sanitary Sewers should be sized to never overflow, however overflow points to streams (Sanitary Sewer Overflows or SSOs) sometimes develop in those situations when the sewer's capacity is exceeded, e.g. when sewage backs up into people's homes. SSOs are unintentional. Overflows of sanitary sewers can occur when storm water somehow finds its way into the Sanitary Sewer -- for example, when people hook downspouts or floor drains into the sewer (inflow), or as the sewer pipes age and crack, allowing seepage to go in (infiltration). SSOs can also occur when something gets into the system that blocks the flow.

Treatment at the POTW - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary...

Primary, secondary, and tertiary treatments represent a progression in technology, going from the simple to the complex.

Primary treatment is essentially mechanical, removing pollutants that can be easily separated from the waste stream. The waste stream can be passed through screens to remove larger objects. It can then be directed into tanks where the flow is stilled. In the tanks, dense materials will settle to the bottom, and light materials will float to the top, allowing the materials to be separated from the liquid.

Secondary treatment involves biological processes and filtration. Bacteria can be used to break down pollutants such as fats and grease in the waste stream. Liquid pollutants can be used to grow biomass, which then can be removed from the waste stream by filters.

Tertiary treatment is the last before the waste water is discharged into the receiving body of water. The emphasis here is disinfection (e.g., by chlorination, ultraviolet light, or ozone). It can also involve more complex biological processes and filtering.

For a more detailed explanation of sewage treatment, see Wikipedia.

That's the plumbing.

A Consent Order Primer, Part 2 will address how laws are used to protect streams.

[Note: Articles in this series may be revised from time to time to provide additional detail and explanation as time allows, and as current events warrant.]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Done Deal ...

The Oneida County Legislature has approved a deal with the State to resolve its sewage overflow violation, although few details have been reported in the media. Halted construction projects will now be able to proceed.

The troubling aspect of this approval is that details of the deal were kept under wraps until after the vote. Some legislators felt that they did not have enough time to consider what they were voting upon. But their leadership made the decision for them. And their vote was "rubber stamp" unanimous. If you ever wanted proof that the O.C. Republicans and Democrats are in bed with each other, consider:
""I've been briefed, and time is of the essence," said Majority Leader James D'Onofrio, R-New Hartford. "This thing really needs to move forward today and we should be criticized if we don't.""

"Minority Leader Harry Hertline, D-Utica, said the sewer problem had been ongoing. He said he thought it was reasonable the legislators were expected to vote quickly."

No, time is not of the essence. The matter has been brewing for months. One of the most expensive projects to be undertaken by the County should warrant at least a couple weeks of deliberation with public disclosure.
"Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente and Judy Drabicki, a regional director for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said negotiations were made just between the two parties for legal reasons.

""I don't think you could have done that under the scrutiny of the media," Drabicki said."
While keeping negotiations private between the players having the most knowledge of the situation was a good way to expedite a resolution, once the agreement had been reached it should have been made public.

There were no legal reasons to have kept this quiet. In fact, the opposite is true because both parties are government and the costs/impacts of the deal will fall on the public.

Our government derives its power from the consent of the governed. Keeping the people and their representatives in the dark and then essentially telling them how to vote violates the spirit of our system of laws, if not the letter.

"Cost and responsibility of the $66 million problem. Picente said the burden will likely land on the taxpayers of the part county sewer district, which includes New Hartford, Paris and Whitestown." [emphasis supplied]

Who will wind up paying the cost will probably be the most interesting part of this story as time goes on. Will it be only the taxpayers residing in the municipalities that created the problem -- or will all taxpayers residing in the district -- including those in Utica with its eroding tax base -- be expected to chip in? This article is not clear. The impression is left that the deal was signed without knowing who would pay for it.
"Whitestown Supervisor Matthew Shannon said it's a costly problem, and thinks the cost could be shared with the county.

"The county is the operator of the system," he said. "I think it may need to be looked at more regionally."
From an affected Town's perspective, Mr. Shannon is correct. The County took on the responsibility of sewage disposal, but allowed the situation to get out of control. It would seem fair that the County should pay to fix the problem.

But from the perspective of Rome or Ava, why should taxpayers there pay? They do not get the service.

As time goes on, perhaps people in the County and in Greater Utica will realize that they have been mistaken in thinking that the County was the proper level of government to take care of certain "regional" issues. Perhaps people will realize that the County is too big -- and towns and villages too small -- to address such issues with the attention to detail needed to avoid costly mistakes. Perhaps they will come to understand that such issues are "city" issues, that they are part of one "city" and that they need one government and new boundaries to match the reality of what they have become.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Econonomic Development that We Don't Need

A troubling story appeared in last night's Sentinel. Judge Tormey is looking to establish a facility either at Griffiss or in Whitestown to handle an expected flood of trials associated with the state's civil confinement program for convicted sex offenders.

According to the Judge, having the trials on location at one of the area's already heavily secured facilities "would set the wrong tone."

The hearings can be held either in the county of conviction, or the county of incarceration.

Just because it is convenient for the State to send most of its sex offenders to us should not require us to also process their civil confinement matters.

If jurors are needed, that would be an unfair burden to place on Oneida County citizens and their employers. Jury duty is no longer a civic duty when it becomes a service to other parts of the state.

Also, processing these matters locally suggests that many of these offenders will be released locally rather than where they came from.

This is a burden that we should not have to bear. Instead of accommodating these issues (and perhaps increasing his supervisory responsibilities), Judge Tormey should lobby to have these matters transferred back to the counties of conviction.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Nano Dose of Reality . . .

Another recycled story on the Marcy Chip-Fab (now called "Nanotech") Site appeared today that served as a platform to reprise what has become typical Oneida County double-talk:
"The Marcy site is still considered shovel-ready, even though between $18 and $20 million in sewer, water and road infrastructure improvements are needed."
--- and even though the money for them has yet to be found, and even though a Federal wetlands permit is required before improvements can be started.

Only in Oneida County's world of suspended reality can the site even remotely be considered "shovel ready" (which used to mean ready to start construction within 90 days). [This is reminiscent of Mr. Picente's response last month to the question of whether there was raw sewage floating in the Mohawk: "No, not in the least. I think over the last two years what they call 92 occurrences possibly." The cognitive dissonance will give you a headache!]

EDGE's Mr. DiMeo seems to think that coming in second place in the AMD Chip Fabrication sweepstakes bodes well for our future -- but is he being realistic? Buried in the article is a word of caution:
"Still, without a nearby cluster of similar companies with which to collaborate, it will be a challenge to attract the nanotechnology industry, said Kathryn R. Harrigan, a Henry R. Kravis Professor of Business Leadership at Columbia University who has worked as a consultant to semiconductor firms."

"New York has a growing base of standout nanotechnology firms and college research centers — Albany NanoTech at the University of Albany, Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility in Ithaca, SEMATECH North in Albany, IBM in East Fishkill."

"But with the closest more than 90 miles away from Marcy, they aren't close enough to form a cluster with the town, she said."
With AMD ready to "play" in Luther Forest at a site that can host 4 chip-fabs, there is now less incentive for a company to look here. The center for nano-activity has been established 90 miles to the east. Furthermore, AMD is being given $1 Billion in state subsidies plus another $300 million in site improvements. Is it realistic to expect the people of New York State to make a similar investment a second time in Marcy? Can Marcy still be considered a "world-class" site without a subsidy?

In the early 2000s timing was what Oneida County had to offer above everyone else.
Our competition was still in the design stage and had significant hurdles (water supply and public acceptance) to overcome. But Oneida County EDGE's performance was significantly less than flawless . . . They were less than aggressive. Permitting was allowed to go unfinished. The lack of the federal wetland permit would have held any project up for months. In spite of the promise of being "shovel ready," it was not. Now our competition has surpassed us.

When timing was everything, the County may have missed the boat - forever.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

More O. C. Sewage: Using FOIL as a Shield . . .

Another day, another story promising that an agreement between Oneida County and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to resolve the sewage overflow problem is near.
"The county Board of Legislators will likely vote Wednesday on accepting a revised state-issued order to fix the $66 million issue.

But how can the County commit to a solution before determining how to pay for it? An earlier story noted that the problem is too big for the affected Towns.
"But the project's cost is well beyond the capability of the towns and villages served by the pumping station, town officials say. Footing the bill would almost surely raise local property taxes, these leaders say."
If the Towns, where the problem has been created, cannot pay for this, who will?
""I know it's short notice, but that's the way it worked," Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said Friday. "We need to have an order that works this time."
It sounds as though Mr. Picente and crew have already figured out who will pay, and are going to try to ram it through the legislature on Wednesday.

We can only speculate on who will pay the bill because . . .
"Details aren't being released until the order is signed."
Some frank speculation:

1) It is doubtful that the County will take this on as a County-wide charge. There are too many parts of the County totally unaffected by the problem who would never go along with picking up the cost -- in spite of the County's coffers being filled with new taxes from new developments in the areas where the problem has been created, and in spite of the fact that the County was negligent in permitting the problem with its facility to develop. The County would have to admit to its negligence and admit to having been benefited by it. Have we ever seen that happen?

2) It is doubtful that the affected/developing Towns have agreed to partner with the County to pay for this because Whitestown supervisor,
"Matthew Shannon, a Democrat, said . . . Picente, a Republican, has been keeping town officials in the dark."
And from the earlier article, it seems that town officials don't see this as their problem --
in spite of the towns' coffers being filled with new taxes from new developments in the areas where the problem has been created, and in spite of their own negligence in permitting the new developments without ensuring that the County's system could handle them. The towns would have to admit to their negligence and admit to having been benefited by it. Have we ever seen that happen?

3) That leaves the ratepayers, those paying Part-County sewer charges to foot the bill. The question there is whether ALL rate payers will pay, or just those in the affected towns. If All ratepayers pay, Oneida County style "regionalization" will triumph again, encouraging "growth" (more accurately "sprawl") in the suburbs at the cost of the city (both in money and in lost economic vitality). We have seen that happen! If only ratepayers in the towns pay, it would be more fair because they have had offsetting from increases to town tax bases. Yet, it would be similar to a utility passing on the cost of malfeasance to its ratepayers rather than to the shareholders -- which seems unfair. What ever the answer is, we are going to pay for it, whether as taxpayers or ratepayers.

No public Input:

The bigger problem is that we are being given no opportunity to comment to our legislators on the solution before it is agreed upon, because we are not going to be told of the details until after the fact.

While the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) does not require the agreement to be released until after it has been approved, FOIL does not require that it be kept from the public before approval. We have two entities, DEC and the County, who have been paid by us to act in our best interests. We already know that the County has not done so by allowing the sewer situation to develop. We won't know if the solution will be in our best interests until it is too late to do something about it. Unlike agreements with private individuals, contractors, or employee unions, there is no rational basis to keep the details from the public before being voted upon.

FOIL should not be used as a shield. The County should disclose the details of the proposed Consent Order BEFORE it is voted upon.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Local Officialdom Fumbles ... Ball Picked Up by North Country

Interesting news can be gleaned from surfing the internet ... news of local interest, but not reported in the local media . . . or at least not with all the pieces in one place at one time.

According to yesterday's Business Wire, Northway Island Associates, Inc. of Utica, NY, announced last week, that it has closed on its purchase of approximately 928 acres of land to develop an entertainment complex in the St. Lawrence area which is expected to attract tourists from both the U.S. and Canada.

(Sounds like a BIG Project for a local company!)

News 10 Now reported last year that the project would be a $108 million speedway complex that might even entice NASCAR to the region. According to the report:
Once the speedway complex is up and running, it's expected to generate about $36 million annually. And people here say it will be the economic boost the North Country has been waiting for.
(It IS BIG!)

Now . . . here's the kicker . . . (from an article tucked away in April 2006's CNY Business Journal):

The project is the brainchild of Julius DeSimone, principal of Northway, who originally looked to locate the complex in the Utica area several years ago. When the idea was not well received by local officials, DeSimone started looking further north, Colachino says. [emphasis supplied]

Imagine the synergy that could have been created with such a facility in the same region as Turning Stone! and the Boilermaker! and maybe even Destiny USA! . . . Think of the positive press coverage and feelings of excitement from living here, having America's biggest 15K PLUS PGA Golf PLUS NASCAR! Our area would have become a WORLD CLASS TOURIST DESTINATION.

Don't you just wonder which local officials blew this one? Shouldn't we know? I'd like to know!

Have you Had Enough (local incompetence) Yet???

[Update -- Please check out the comments below]