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.


Anonymous said...

I think the DEC should have acted with more aggressiveness than merely allow the County and Towns to continue with their fecal problems.

Ms. Drabicki's failure to act in a manner consistent with the laws of our state suggests she is not up to the job and maybe her appointment should be reviewed by the Governor's office.

RomeHater said...

I can't name names, but some businesses are planning to share their waste lines with other buildings being constructed in the affected area. Not new sewage lines, but extremely dubious.

The fact that Oneida County taxes are more than my city taxes when I should get most of my services from the city is truly disconcerting. And don't get me started on how school taxes are the costliest of all with the least broad impact.