Friday, September 28, 2007

Playing Chicken with the Water Supply . . .

This is not an unprecedented drought . . . if drought is even an appropriate word . . . but the water level in Hinckley Reservoir is at an all time low. Canal Corp. has now decided to switch from Hinckley and draw more on other reservoirs. Per the OD:
Near-miss at Hinckley: The move relieved drainage pressure on depleted Hinckley Reservoir, where outflow has been cut more than 60 percent. On Thursday, the reservoir dropped to within 3 feet of the point at which drinking water for Mohawk Valley Water Authority customers might have been disrupted, the state said.
Within 3 feet? After dropping 11 feet this past month? That's too close for comfort!

Canal Corp. certainly has a bone to pick with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's failure to replenish the flow with water from its own (now demolished) reservoir . . . but playing with the safety of 130,000 people is a bit over-the-top don't you think? Not to mention that water levels in the West Canada Creek are now reported as going below 160 CFS -- the minimum needed for maintaining aquatic life. Ever do an environmental impact statement on that move, Canal Corp.? How about our environmental laws? How about the riparian rights of people living along West Canada Creek? Did the state condemn the entire flow of the West Canada (minus the reserve for the Water Authority) so it could dry the creek up? That is doubtful.

If the Canal Corp. is trying to prove a point in its dispute with MVWA, it is losing a lot of potential allies.

Troubled Bridges Over Waters . . . and Other Things...

The Sentinel reports that Oneida County has 180 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.
In Rome, there were 15 bridges that were given one of the two possible negative grades. Nearly all of the bridges in the city with poor grades are open to traffic.
Curious about Utica . . . or New Hartford?

Go to N.Y.S.D.O.T's Oneida County list and count 'em yourself.

Utica Author Plagiarized by Paris Hilton?

That's the accusation . . . the story is in the LA Times . . .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just What Upstate Needs to be Competitive . . .

. . . a "tax increase," tailored to Upstate, in the form of an increase in the Thruway Tolls. Call it a fee increase if you want, but I call it a tax on transportation between our major Upstate cities. . . .

And the State needs conferences to figure out ways to make us competitive?

Rome Helping Utica . . .

The story about Rome police helping Utica police is a welcome bit of news, especially for the besieged people of Cornhill.

What isn't quite understood is why no help from New Hartford, Whitestown, or the various Villages nearby. Those areas will have a lot to lose if Utica goes under.

Perhaps it takes a City to understand the problems of another City, and know what to do.

Taking Incompetence to New Heights . . .

From the Sentinel we find out that the proposed lease of the Old Oneida County Airport to the State for 15 years will be voted on, on Wednesday. All the prime land will be going to the State, leaving little for industrial development.
"Some lawmakers and business officials had hoped benchmarks would be inserted into the lease so the county could take the land and buildings back for reuse if the state center did not develop as expected. There are no such milestones in the proposed agreement."
Why are there no Milestones?

If the State was sincere in its efforts, it would consent to milestones -- and consent to the County canceling the lease if milestones are not met within a specified period.

It appears that the County has not insisted on milestones. WHY NOT? Could it be to ensure that the old airport is no competition for Griffiss?

Let's see what the Greater Utica legislators do with this one since they have the most to lose on this deal. Will they speak out against it and vote against it . . . or will they do what they usually do and play Nice Nice to protect their political behinds?

Like the Sewer subterfuge, our County Legislature -- and the Utica legislators especially -- take incompetence to new heights.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Politically Correct Pinwheel Pinhead Pacifists . . .

I really got riled when I saw this story in last night's OD: Students plant pinwheels for peace.
Students at Frankfort-Schuyler High School and Middle School participated in a world-wide gesture of peace Friday morning by planting pinwheels in the school's courtyard during the Pinwheels for Peace project.

Pinwheels for Peace is an international art and literacy project where students make pinwheels, write creative and artistic messages of peace on them and then place them on display as an art installation at the school.
This is just more of the politically correct indoctrination going on in our schools that is burning up valuable time when children should be learning the "3 Rs," wasting our tax dollars, and ultimately undermining our society by producing generations unable to think.

Let's give our children the knowledge that they will need to figure out the world for themselves when it's their turn to run things, instead of brainwashing them into a particular way of thinking.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"The contract is going to be passed next week."

"The contract is going to be passed next week," said Board of Legislators Chairman Gerald J. Fiorini regarding the contract between Oneida County and Mohawk Valley EDGE. Mr. Fiorini held things up just to make sure that the contract met with his satisfaction concerning the promotion of the Griffiss industrial park in Rome. But how about the Old Oneida County Airport property? Or how about the Marcy "Nanocenter" site? Or how about the Bossert and Bendix sites in Utica? Will they be getting the same treatment? Who knows?

"The contract is going to be passed next week" . . . I guess it doesn't really matter about the other sites because Rome is what Mr. Fiorini cares about and he already knows that the contract will pass. Nice for Mr. Fiorini that he can take the votes of the entire Legislature for granted.

Too bad for the people . . . they have paid for a rubber stamp.

Duh . . .

The State wants to know if its economy is working . . .

Does this mean that all our highly paid officials do not know? They have to talk to Mohawk Valley business people to figure out if there is a problem?

Yak, yak, yak.

The latest conference is like Mrs. Spitzer's visit last May ... more talk, talk, talk.

Everyone knows our economy is in the trash . . . and Upstate is being depopulated. (Read the Wharton report cited in Gear's post on what's in store for us and your hair will stand on end!)

We need action . . . not more conferences.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Almost T Time!

That's TEE, not Tea . . . and it's going to be a new Tradition: the Turning Stone Resort Championship, starting Monday. Big Names, and a Beautiful Course will bring Big Excitement to our corner of the world.

Hats off to the Oneida Nation for landing this ... and best wishes for a successful tournament.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Shadowman . . .

From my posts you can tell that photography is a hobby and Greater Utica, a favorite subject . . .

If you have these interests too, then you will enjoy (and perhaps be inspired by) The Shadowman (actually a group of 5 photographers) -- "Photography of Utica, NY and Beyond." They have perfected the art of night photography. Familiar locales take on an almost magical quality. Take a look at the recent "On Genny" post and you will see what I mean.

Leasing the Airport - a Simple Request . . .

The County is about to lease the former Oneida County Airport to the NY State Homeland Security Preparedness Training Center, taking a lot of prime, valuable, developable land off the market.

Is the County that hard up for money ($600K/year), or does it expect to hit it big with the Preparedness Training Center sending a steady stream of first responders to spend money in the local economy?

The former is doubtful. If the county is that strapped it could not have afforded to give New Hartford $150,000 back in February that it was not required to give.

If the County really is hopeful that the the center will be an economic boost, why does it not seek assurances of the State's commitment to the project?

Before approving this lease, the Board should insist on receiving and making public:

  • (1) The State's Business Plan for the project. Exactly what courses will be offered, who will be participating, what marketing efforts will be made, how will it grow its clientele?
  • (2) A financial commitment from the state on a par with what has been done in other areas ($20-30 million would seem about right given a recent project in Binghamton).
If the state does not want to provide these things, then how about an "Empire Zone" - like clause in the lease:

  • If the state does not meet a specified level of performance, the County has the option of prematurely terminating the lease.

The Board of Legislators has an obligation to the taxpayers of the County to protect our interests.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reconnect . . .

In response to my "Disconnect" post, "Anonymous" had some interesting things to say:
"These last two paragraphs suggest that you have bought into the “consolidation is panacea” mentality coming out of some segments of Albany. This supposition that the many layers of government in NY are in themselves the problem. The idea that if only we could do away with towns and villages, we could save all sorts of tax dollars, eliminate parochialism, and make NY government work smoothly. The assumption that there is some “one size fits all” solution that can fix it all. The suggestion that because something (like our system of government) is old, it must be outdated. . . "

"How could diluting my representation by increasing the number of other people whose concerns are the concern of my closet representative, ever enhance my access to services? . . . "

"I think it’s great that I have a level of government close enough to me that I can speak and be heard. I appreciate that those government services that most directly impact me are the responsibility of people who live in the same neighborhood I do. I know their quality of life is on the line, too. . . "

"I agree, though, that if all governments have narrow focus, people who should be working together end up working against each other. But consolidation is the wrong “c” word to be using. If the consolidation-sayers would put the energy they’re putting into forcing us to give up our local voice into building cooperation, collaboration, and coordination instead of wrestling for control, we could work together to preserve local identity while improving regional function."
Wow! "Anonymous" sure got me thinking!

Smaller jurisdictions may make it easier for people to be heard, and to be watchdogs, over how their tax dollars are spent. Smaller government can be more responsive because it's easier to deal with one person wearing 3 hats than 3 department heads. And if the people providing my services live in my neighborhood, they will see the results that I do.

But what constitutes a "neighborhood" is a matter of perspective. There is also such a thing as being too small. Smaller jurisdictions do not have the capability to provide services such as water, sewer, places to lock up criminals, and social work. And too many problems spill beyond jurisdictional boundaries. Here's my take on our area.

New York Mills, Yorkville, West Utica, and the areas of NH and Whitestown lying in between cover 5 municipal jurisdictions, but are they different? Bicycle through them and they look very similar. They share the same water and sewer systems, and share the same local economy. "Downtown" and the cultural center (Stanley, MWP, the Aud, Zoo etc.) for all of them is Utica. People from them shop in the same places - now predominantly in New Hartford. They are ethnically similar and may even worship in the same churches. As I've noted in several posts over the last couple years, it is virtually impossible for one of these jurisdictions to do anything significant without affecting the others. The people's "interests" are virtually identical. Why shouldn't they share the same local government?

Contrast this with Rome. While Rome may look similar to NY Mills/Yorkville etc and aspects of the local economy may be shared, shopping is more Rome than NH, water and sewer systems are distinct, "Downtown" and the cultural center (Capitol Theater, The Fort, Fort Rickey Game Farm, Erie Canal Village) for them is perceived to be Rome (if not Syracuse). Rome can change its zoning and create concentrations of development and not create a ripple of impact to Greater Utica. At this point in time the interests of Romans are distinct. Romans do not need to share the same local government with people of the Mills or other parts of Greater Utica because their interests are divergent.

"Cooperation, collaboration, and coordination" sound good in theory, but are virtually impossible to put in practice. Consider the "financial officer" that New Hartford proposed to share with Whitestown. How would this person divide his or her time -- proportioned according to population (about 50-50) ? or according to assessed valuation (more for NH)? or taxes taken in (more for NH)? or number of problems? How would pay be apportioned? Who would set work priorities? Mixed allegiances and responsibilities create problems. A servant can only have one master. This is the problem with the 'shared services' idea. "Everyone" and "no one" would be in charge. Attempts at "cooperation, collaboration, and coordination" will degenerate into "competition." It cannot work. So how have we dealt with regional issues?

There is the "regionalization" approach with 2 flavors currently available in our area: "sewer" and "water."

Sewers were kicked up to the next level of government, the County, with creation of the "Part County Sewer District." Policy is set by the Board of Legislators. Roughly half the County's population is served by the District -- and half is not. Since sewer users rather than county taxpayers pay all the expenses, half of the Board of Legislators setting District Policy have no stake in the outcome of what they do. This represents a true "disconnect" and loss of control by the people needing the service.

Water was split off and became a subject of its own government: an Authority. Need I say more about loss of control? But this was also a disconnect in another sense: Decisions over water became made by people with no responsibility for other aspects of our governance. There would have to be "cooperation, collaboration, and coordination" between the water authority and other units of local government to fix this, but then we will run into "competition," which will not work.

We are in a "Goldilocks" situation: our local governments are too small to deal effectively with many of our problems, and the county level is too large . . . and creating separate governments or another layer for special issues results in a lack of coordination and competition.
Utica and its suburbs seem to share so much in common that our being separate is working against us.
Having lived in both the city and the suburbs, I honestly can not say that people are less "heard" in the city, even when it had 100,000 people.

Before doing anything we need to talk, pro and con, and weigh out our options.

But please consider MERGER as a way to reconnect people to their government, and regain control. Take Utica, its suburbs, water, sewer,
and anything else that has been split away: wipe away what exists and replace them with something new: one Municipality of Greater Utica.

It won't be easy; it won't solve all our problems; it may create new ones . . . But think about it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Disconnect ...

Disconnect: "to sever the connection of or between" (verb)
"a lack of or a break in connection, consistency, or agreement" (noun)

This word came to mind while reading the Sentinal story about the Town of Verona's disagreement with New York State over street lights. The State plans to install 22 lights to improve the intersection of Rts 365 and 31 -- but expects Verona to pay to light them.

Several people commented that the intersection already was well lit.

"What if we don’t sign it?" asked Highway Superintendent James Weisbrod.

Waller responded that it is his sense that the state is going to insist on the proposed arrangement no matter what.

So we have a disconnect between people making a decision (State), and the ones expected to pay for it (Verona). The result: Unhappy People because they are made to pay for something they don't believe they need.

How about more "disconnects?" ...

  • NY setting Medicaid benefits, but the Counties paying for them.
  • Local school districts going on building binges (e.g., Utica for $300 million, Syracuse maybe a billion), but NY State paying 90+% of the cost.
  • NYRI powerline sending 'cheap' power to Downstate but negatively impacting Upstate.
  • "Growth" policies in one municipality imposing costs (direct, environmental, social, or economic) on people in neighboring municipalities.
  • Legislators who rubber stamp what their party bosses tell them, rather than determining what is best for their constituents.

In the horse-and-buggy days, municipal boundaries represented the limit of people with common interests. But when you can now travel by car through 5 jurisdictions in 5 minutes, that is no longer true. Some of the assumptions when our government was organized are no longer true.

Maybe it's time to look at the assumptions, and change things to reflect reality. Maybe it's time to "reconnect" -- to reorganize and realign how we govern ourselves -- so that the people who make our decisions are representative of all stakeholders -- and exclude the disinterested.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Supporting Sprawl . . .

Here we go again . . . another example of Oneida County (1) turning its residents into serfs to support New Hartford's aspirations and (2) degrading the environment. Middle Settlement Road, a County Highway, will be widened to accommodate more traffic -- to relieve alleged congestion.

I don't know about you, but I have yet to be caught in congestion on Middle Settlement Road. It's interesting that the OD prints a picture of cars lined up -- but there is road work interfering with traffic flow -- giving the impression of "congestion." I would love to see if statistics show that the level of service (LOS) ratings on that road's intersections have degraded.

Of course, with New Hartford's BIG PLANS for more retail and office space, eventually the LOS will degrade, and the road will need upgrading.

But who should pay?

New Hartford's decision to pile ever more development into formerly low intensity use areas is a conscious effort to expand its tax base and take in ever more dollars. This is New Hartford's plan -- not Oneida County's.

New Hartford in its environmental reviews should know what the impact of its choices will be to the regional road network, and it has a duty to mitigate those impacts to the maximum extent practicable. New Hartford could either fund the upgrades and maintenance to the roads that will be needed for its plan, or change its plans to less intense use that will not overtax County Facilities. Of course, in New Hartford, environmental reviews are more rhetoric than reality, and the assumption seems to be the more development the better.

So, in typical Oneida County fashion, everyone gets to pay for New Hartford's play, whether you live in NH, Utica, or Boonville. Just another half mile of widened road added to an ever increasing infrastructure that our declining population will be forced to maintain -- while older areas where infrastructure is already available crumble and go underutilized. Only the developers and Town government types benefit from this nonsense.

When does it stop?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ding Dong School . . .

It's the first Wednesday after Labor Day . . . The new school year begins. What will your child be learning?

Indications are ... not much.

Last week we were treated to endless repetitions in the media of Miss Teen USA contestant "Miss South Carolina's" incoherent response to the question "Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a world map. Why do you think this is?" Since the contestant was an honor student, it makes one wonder what kind of school she went to.

To be fair, everyone has good days and bad days, and we all lapse into incoherency once in awhile. But there are other signs of trouble in educationland as well.

In July, City-Journal reported that this year's almighty New York State American History Regents Exam was "
nearly flunk-proof." The writer explains how the exam was constructed, graded, and its content.
But the 15 document-related questions are ludicrously easy. The documents include some written passages, but are mostly political cartoons and photographs. Several concern the women’s suffrage movement, such as a photograph of a suffragists’ parade showing women carrying various signs containing the word “suffrage.” The exam question asks, “What was a goal of the women shown in these photographs?” Another photo shows a White House picketer with a banner reading, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” The exam asks the student to state “one method being used by women to achieve their goal.” A third document is a reproduction of a Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association poster listing “Twelve Reasons Why Women Should Vote.” All of the reasons on the poster begin with the word “because”: “Because laws affect women as much as men,” for example. The Regents question reads: “What were two arguments suffragists used in this 1915 flier in support of their goal?” To get full credit, all the student has to do is copy two of the reasons from the poster! Other photographs show 1960s civil rights sit-ins. One question: “Identify one method used by these civil rights activists to achieve their goals.” Another question asks the student to name one goal of the activists. And so on.
When the answers to the questions are in the questions, a correct answer means that the student knows how to take the test -- not that the student has mastered the subject. So when your child comes home with a good Regents grade, you can no longer be secure in the thought that he or she has mastered the subject (unlike when YOU passed the Regents).

Responding to the Miss Teen USA situation, Joseph Farah of World Net Daily had an excellent commentary about the problem with public schools.

I'm convinced the purpose of government schooling is to dumb down the populace and turn them into serfs and subjects rather than citizens capable of reason and equipped with a sense of morality.

Why can't Americans pick out the U.S. on a map of the world? Why can't Lauren Caitlin Upton and her friends answer the question?

This is what they've been programmed to do – or not to do.

Is this what is happening - programming rather than schooling? Is the objective to produce thousands of workers who are practiced in working together on group projects -- but too dumb to question the purpose of what they are doing? Is it to produce a society that can be managed and controlled?

The History Regents is a fraud - proof that good grades cannot be relied upon as an indication that your child is learning. Ask your child questions. Listen carefully to the responses. Do you hear substance -- or just rhetoric?

You may be surprised at what your children don't know.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Nailed in New Hartford!

New Hartford Online's Cathy has asked the NH Town Clerk to certify as accurate the 2007 Final Assessment Roll disks Cathy was given in response to her FOIL request. . . but Cathy can prove that what she was given was not the 2007 data.

This puts the Town Assessor between a rock and a hard place. He either has to certify something to the Town Clerk that is untrue, or admit that the 2007 Final Roll discs were false.

Because a timely response to her FOIL request has not been made, Cathy can deem this as a denial and take it to the next level . . .

And now the Town Board will be forced to deal with this tar-baby.

Read more on Insubordination....Part II.