Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's the Label, Silly . . .

NOW I understand why the Oneida County taxpayers are pouring millions into the new airport: It's for the LABEL:
The county Board of Legislators’ Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday evening to move a resolution that would rename the airport “Oneida County-Griffiss International Airport.”
“Oneida County-Griffiss International Airport.” It almost takes one's breath away!

After the laughter from Syracuse (and maybe locally) dies down, the OC Board of Legislators needs to reconsider their proposed name.
In his letter, Picente suggested calling the airport Griffiss International Airport.
I actually find myself agreeing with the County Executive on this. "Oneida County-Griffiss International Airport" is too cumbersome. "Griffiss" has historical significance and already enjoys name recognition on its own among aviators (the market for the facility) - recognition that does not need to be diluted by "Oneida County." Lastly, "Griffiss" signifies something bigger than "Rome," bigger than "Utica-Rome" and even bigger than "Oneida & Herkimer Counties" combined, because all of these are far to small to justify such a huge airport (and, more than likely, to keep it going financially).
A few years ago, some Syracuse-area legislators actually suggested that Griffiss be used as an alternative to their own Hancock International for air cargo, in order to avoid having to make some expensive additions and impacts to their neighborhoods. It's unknown if those additions were ever made, but if they were not, there's Griffiss' market: all of Central New York, from Auburn to Canajoharie including Greater Syracuse, Greater Utica, and Rome. And think again if you think that a "regional" airport will not receive support. People in Greater Binghamton, Elmira-Corning, and Ithaca are considering jettisoning their respective airports in favor of a centrally located regional one.

"Oneida County"-Griffiss International is too provincial.

Griffiss (alone) is a name that all of Central New York can identify with. . . .

(. . . and maybe our friends in Syracuse will stop laughing if they think about the possibilities. . . .)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Standing . . .

It's funny that I had go to the Buffalo News to find this bit of local news: Judge kills suit to force collection of tax on cigarettes sold by Indians.
A State Supreme Court justice has dismissed a state lawmaker’s lawsuit seeking to force the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian retailers. . . .

State Supreme Court Justice Robert A. Sackett tossed out the legal challenge by a North Country convenience store and Assemblyman David R. Townsend Jr., a Republican from Kirkland in the Utica area, saying neither had the legal standing to bring the action.
"No standing" . . . That means that Justice Sackett avoided ruling on the merits of Assemblyman Townsend's case . . .

"No standing" . . . I guess that means that State Legislators have no standing to sue to ensure that the laws they pass are enforced. . . .

"No standing" . . . I guess that means that someone who is harmed by the unequal enforcement of tax laws has no standing to see that the inequity is fixed.

"No standing?" Why bother having a Judicial System?

OC Sewer Gestapo: Looking for YOU!

In one of the most brazen displays of blame shifting, Oneida County Government claims that the "Source of sewer problem may be private residences"

In other words Oneida County says that YOU are the problem!
“We are pretty convinced that a major part of this problem is on the private side of things between the line in the street and the house,” Oneida County Water Quality and Water Pollution Control Commissioner Steven Devan said Tuesday. . .

In heavy rains, stormwater floods into sanitary sewers, overwhelming the Sauquoit Creek pumpstation. Raw sewage then is mixed in with stormwater that pours into the Mohawk River.

County studies show much of the stormwater that enters the sewer system might come from private residences, Devan said.

For example, some older homes might have roof gutters or sump pumps that are connected to the sanitary sewer lines, he said.

“If we don’t solve the private side of this thing and make repairs on the private side, we probably will never get a handle on this,” Devan said.
No doubt storm water is entering the sewer system through private residences. Some people may have illegally tied their sump pumps into separated sanitary waste lines, and those people should be expected to fix their situations.

But roof gutters and sump pumps leading to combined (sanitary + storm water) sewers was common practice many years ago, and is one of the reasons why the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) was originally permitted at the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station in Yorkville: Pressure in the combined system caused by storm water was allowed to be released by an overflow into the river, rather than by backing up into people's basements. The system was intended to work that way . . . and it was perfectly legal.

The system was never a "problem" -- and there was no illegality -- until Oneida County and (primarily) Suburban Towns decided it was to their benefit to "grow," and allowed new developments -- which have separate sanitary waste and storm water lines -- to tie their sanitary waste lines into the old combined sewer system. This allowed tax bases to expand while the County and municipalities avoided the cost of constructing new treatment facilities to handle the concentrated sanitary waste from the separate lines. Once "the problem" was discovered, the US EPA declared the CSO illegal and, effectively, all the old developments with combined sewers are now going to have to remove storm water from their systems -- systems that were designed to convey storm water.

The villages of Clayville, New York Mills, Yorkville, Whitesboro, New Hartford and Oriskany are the places most likely to have combined sewers, because they were settled many years ago when combined sewers were accepted practice. As long as combined sewers continue to exist, making people unhook their roof drains and sump pumps from combined sewers accomplishes little. The storm water has to go somewhere, and will simply run off the land, into the street and back into the combined system. But today's article suggests that this may be what people will be expected to do.

Ultimately, separate waste and storm water lines will be the solution to the now-illegal CSO. But the problem was not caused by the people with roof drains connected to the sewers. It was caused by the County allowing developments with separated sanitary lines to tie into a combined sewer system.

Before the County sends its sewer Gestapo to make people disconnect roof drains and sump pumps, it needs to identify where the combined sewers are located, and hold the people connected to those sewers harmless.

Monday, July 28, 2008

EXCELing at Fiscal Irresponsiblity . . .

Today on the Utica School District TV channel, Board President Ms. Klein was joined by the local heads of the teachers' union and the construction union to push for the Utica School District's $187 million capital program. Everyone is on board it seems, ready to cash in. Public money is being counted upon to pull contractors out of their slump. This is being pushed as "free money" because all the construction will be funded by state aid under various programs, and a full court press is going on to get you to pull the "yes" lever tomorrow.

Of course, no one tells the taxpayers what the completed project will mean in additional facilities to heat, light, staff and maintain ... One could have hoped that local leaders would have used the funds to make facilities that would cost the taxpayers less in the long run to operate . . . but since no one claims that the project will do this, you can be sure that this project will cause future operation and maintenance costs to go up. Think about that when you pull the lever.

Utica's scenario is being played out in school districts all across the state with proportionate dollar amounts to be spent elsewhere. In Utica, $187 million works out to be over $3200 for every man, woman and child in the city. Imagine these kinds of expenditures everywhere else in New York State. Big money! A bonanza that caters to big blocks of voters: Teachers unions, the construction lobby, and parents who have been duped into thinking that such spending will educate their children. It also rewards those school districts who have done a lousy job maintaining their facilities. (Does anyone remember the tennis ball in the roof drain that caused a roof to cave in at one Utica school years ago?) Thank you, Ex-Gov. Pataki for catering to the special interests and leaving the taxpayers with such a wonderful parting gift. This kind of spending will bankrupt the state.

Small wonder that the state is now in a fiscal crisis. We'll find out just how bad it is tomorrow night.

So vote as you please on the UCSD proposal . . . but if I were the governor, this outrageous spending on these school construction projects is the very first thing that I would cut.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

No Daylight on the Knights . . .

2008-0724-1127It's been how long since the Knights of Columbus headquarters in Downtown Utica was ravaged by fire and closed? A couple years? Yet, there it still stands with the "no trespassing" sign prominently posted in front.... a local landmark ... the large yellow brick building attached to the rear, all boarded up.

What is going on here? Was there insurance? Why no reconstruction?

2008-0724-1131Perhaps it is none of our business, because the Knights of Columbus is a private organization . . . But it IS our business when there is BLIGHT on Genesee Street . . . which is exactly what this is. This is particularly annoying being next to the Public Library and across from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art

The Knights need to get off the stick and fix their buildings.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Great Lakes Compact - A Local Caution . . .

Good news (from the Buffalo News) for the Great Lakes States is coming out of Congress:
Congress is likely to ratify — possibly this year — the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the eight Great Lakes states — including New York — that bans most water diversions, the lawmakers said.
This region -- a/k/a "The Rust Belt" -- has lost many people and jobs to other parts of the country in warmer climes. And it is those fast-growing "other parts of the country" that now find themselves running out of water.

Lawmakers said they think the compact is hugely important because the demand for fresh water is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years — and the Great Lakes possesses a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water.

“We all see what’s happened with oil,” said Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Mich. “The same thing is likely to happen with water— but it’s likely to be worse.”

Without the protections provided by the compact, drier states might try to strike deals to extract the lakes’ waters, said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

“They’ve been stealing our jobs, which led me to ask: Are they going to steal our water, too?” Voinovich asked.

At some point, people and jobs just may come back here to be near this supply of water. . . .

There is a caution, however, that our Oneida-Herkimer County officials need to be concerned about:

Western Oneida County is in the Great Lakes Basin, and would still be able to tap abundant Great Lakes water if needed (part of the County already does). Eastern Oneida County, including Greater Utica, and Herkimer County, are out of the basin, and would not be permitted to draw upon Great Lakes water.

The Great Lakes Compact makes it even more imperative that the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's expansion plans for Verona (in the Great Lakes basin) be denied. Verona will continue to have access to an almost endless supply; Greater Utica and Herkimer County will not.

With that in mind, good sense would dictate that resources east of the Great Lakes Basin be reserved for users east of the Great Lakes Basin.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tug-O-War Over Chip Plant (2)

In a follow up to last Friday's post on the chip plant "Tug-O-War" the Albany Times-Union reports:
Officials in Oneida County are making a play to attract a $125 million computer chip research facility proposed last week by IBM Corp. and the University at Albany. . . .

It appears that Albany and the Capital Region would be a logical choice for the facility, but that hasn't been determined, NanoCollege spokesman Steve Janack said. Rensselaer County has also been talked about as a possible site.

"No decisions have been made about location for a facility, or anything along those lines," Janack said. "The intent of the investment is to create opportunity across upstate New York. Clearly no decisions have been made."

At least Utica-Rome is getting some positive press in the Capital District and "no decisions have been made."

In the 'Truth in Labeling' Dept . . . .

A couple stories this week were interesting more for their labels than their content.

Utica region in running for nanotech support jobs -- Was it a slip calling us the "Utica" region, or is the OD finally becoming sensitive to the fact that we need to properly label ourselves if we want to be found on a map?

It was probably a slip . . .
One of the state university system’s leading nanotechnology officials said Monday that Albany intends for the Mohawk Valley to benefit from plans for a 120,000-square-foot semiconductor packaging facility.
At least the state official seems to understand the significance of accurate labels:
“We are focused on building the relationship to make sure that the Utica-Rome area hopefully gets a significant portion, if not the lion’s share, of the contractor and supplier jobs that will support the facility,” said Alain Kaloyeros, chief executive officer of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University of Albany.
"Utica-Rome" . . . now that's more like it (and accurate). But read the tea leaves . . . the plant itself will not be in Utica-Rome.

* * *
Marketing the Mohawk River corridor -- Oneida County officials are developing a "Comprehensive Greenway Plan for the Mohawk River Corridor" from Sylvan Beach to Utica, to develop and market environmental and historic sites along the Mohawk River and Erie Canal. A meeting will take place 6:30 tonight at Rome City Hall to inform the public about the project.
Today’s meeting serves a dual purpose of outlining what has already been done, as well as drawing greater interest from the public, said Andrew Schrauth of Peter J. Smith & Company, which was hired to study and oversee the planning of the project. . . .

Fred Miller, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, attended a public meeting on the project earlier this year and said he agrees with its goals.

But, he questioned why the project’s name included the Mohawk River instead of just Oneida County.

“I will strongly request that they not miss-brand the 150 mile, historic Mohawk River with a name for a 25 mile or so pathway between Utica and Rome,” Miller said in an e-mail.

Schrauth said he eventually hopes to incorporate all communities along the Mohawk River into the project.
Mr. Miller is upset because his organization truly covers the entire Mohawk Valley! If you were in his shoes, you would think Oneida County was infringing on your turf. Mr. Schrauth, on the other hand, seems to have ambitions that extend beyond Oneida County. (Mr. Schrauth's company, by the way, does a lot of business for the Town of New Hartford.)

This may give a bit of insight into why some local organizations may have abandoned more accurate place labels for a "Mohawk Valley" brand . . . and why others may be offended.

[Gear presents another aspect of this particular story in the Snakepit.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Planting Progress in Proctor Park

The folks at the CNY Conservancy are doing a fine job 'polishing' the 'gem' of the Utica City Park System, Proctor Park! Take a break and enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As If We Can Afford It . . .

After locking away the Old Oneida County Airport in Whitestown in a long term deal with State Homeland Security that has not produced a fraction of the activity originally promised (with little sign that it will ever do so), "Picente to push for private firm running airport." This time the County Executive wants a 10 year deal with "Million Air" to run the New airport in Rome's fixed base operations. Apparently, there are some significant expenses that the County will have to take on in this endeavor.
Picente said such investments were needed if the airport was to grow.

“I’m going to show the contract and the differences and what was Whitestown and what is now Griffiss,” he said, referring to the older and smaller county airport in Whitestown. “And why the investment has to be so much larger, but also why the potential is so much larger.”
Let's see. The Whitestown Airport served our needs well when our metro (Oneida-Herkimer Counties) population was 335,000 and our sales and property taxes were a fraction of what they are now. Now that our metro population has dropped to about 295,000 with the trend expected to continue, we need something "so much larger" because of "potential."

Frankly, I would have been happier just retaining our past reality than this "so much larger" future "potential."

This is just one more thing to increase taxes, killing off any "potential" we've got left.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Around the State . . .

No Surprise Here: Albany's 'big 3' fail to reach compromise on property tax cap. . . And it's not even a 'cap' . . . just a limit on how fast taxes can increase. . . Excelsior . . .

Nor Here: AMD factory still on track although "New York state's $1.2 billion incentive package offered to AMD expires in 12 months" raises an interesting question, "what if?"

Nor Here: Nuclear Operator Seeks to End Revenue Deal With State. Planning to close nuke plants? We should be opening MORE!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The New York (Thru) Way

Excelsior . . . Ever Upward . . . It's the New York Way . . . at least when it comes to taxes and fees.

Following the recent Toll Hike, traffic on the Thruway has declined so much that the Authority can't pay for planned road maintenance and will have to scale back... Looks like we'll be getting more for our money: More Bumps!

It's no surprise that the toll hike was followed by less traffic. Mayor Bloomburg tried to reduce traffic in Manhattan by adding a toll . . . but the people there would have nothing of it . . . We can't interfere with Manhattan's economic vitality, now, can we? But Upstate? There is apparently nothing there because no one is complaining.

The Thruway needs to be toll-free, like almost all the other interstates both in NY and in the rest of the country. . . . but we hear not a peep from Ms. Destito, Mr. Townsend or Mr. Griffo.

Can we dump these people . . . please?

Tug-O-War Over Chip Plant

There's a Tug-O-War going on over the state's second taxpayer-subsidized computer chip plant -- this one by IBM.

The problem for us: Marcy isn't a player.

Can we dump EDGE . . . PLEASE? And while we're at it, can we dump our Albany representatives, too? All the good stuff is going to areas that are already thriving.

PM Update: Picente urges Gov. to bring IBM expansion to area. Someone commented "pipedream" and that's pretty accurate. Picente compadres, former County Execs. Eannace and Griffo, appear to have gone along to get along to advance in their own political careers while Joe Bruno walked all over this area. I did not hear CE Eannace complain even once that the state had potential chip makers touring a Saratoga County site that was not even off the drawing board while our Marcy site was (supposedly) "shovel ready." CE Griffo said nothing either. Now Republican Picente expects Democrat Patterson to deliver the goods? Give me a break!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

State Ed Skullduggery . . .

Leave it to our Board of Regents and State Educrats to screw things up -- and burn a ton of our money while doing it. Per yesterday's Associated Press and Times Union: "Scoring low no bar to passing."
New York's new integrated algebra test administered in June was so hard that a student could get a "raw score" of 30 points out of a possible 87 and still pass.
Wait a minute ... What could be more objective, easier to score, and less subject to "interpretation," than mathematics? If X + 4 = 10, then X=6 . . . Right? Well . . . This is New York, where government jobs are created to substitute for real ones -- where it takes 10 people and 3 politically appointed supervisors to do the work done by one in India (or the NY of 50 years ago).

A student can answer less than half of the questions right and still pass because State Ed uses a "scale score" for the grade, allegedly giving more points for more "difficult" questions.
. . . the Board of Regents says it uses them because it's a more accurate gauge of whether students are meeting standards for understanding a subject...

...Test questions for Regents exams are devised in committee by some of the state's top teachers and are field tested before they make it to a Regents exam...

After the June test, the state also had to issue a directive clarifying how to score one question for partial credit...
And you thought it was simple! This is complicated stuff - - you will get the bill next April.

Look, what is going on here is sorting . . . grading students in relation to each other rather than in relation to what they should or should not know. What is "hard" or "easy" or "appropriate" or "challenging" is pretty much in the eye of the beholder - - unless you are the one making the rules. These words describe performance rather than knowledge. That is why scoring directives must be sent -- why teachers are even given special seminars on how to score exams. And when performance is graded, you may be inadvertently grading things like physical, mental or social maturation, interest, outlook, even political perspective. Take a look at the new standards . . . they are quite vague in so far as what a student is expected to KNOW. Knowledge, on the other hand, is easy to score: you either know the material (and get a point) or you don't (and get zero).

So when you read of the "hard" algebra regents and State Ed using a scaled score, ask yourself:
Is State Ed hiding the fact that the students really don't know the material.

Utica Name Dropped Again . . . (2)

The more I think about this (Utica Name Dropped Again . . .) the angrier I become. The taxpayers of Utica take a huge hit on this event every year, not to mention suffer a huge inconvenience. It is suburban snobbery that wants to remove the name 'Utica' . . . taking advantage of the city's services, but pretending it does not exist. The "Regionalization" argument made by Tim Reed (like other 'regionalization' arguments) is Rubbish. People from all around have always been and felt welcome to participate in the event.

Utica needs to stand tall, put its foot down, and not allow itself to be walked upon. Mayor Roefaro holds the cards. He needs to show he has some cajones and say: "If no 'Utica,' then no permits and no race."

Enough is Enough!

Sign the online petition to keep Utica in the Boilermaker.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Utica Name Dropped Again . . .

The disappearing ‘Utica’ name is finally getting attention from places other than this blog -- this time from the O-D. In the front-page story published in print today, “Road race marketing limiting Utica mention” (which seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the OD's website), the OD notes that ‘Utica’ will be removed from the 2009 Boilermaker logo, and also seems to be lacking from the race’s website. Supposedly the organizers want a more “regional” identity. Former Mayor Julian believes that this would be the loss of an area marketing tool. Mayor Roefaro, however, does not have a problem with it. . . Could Roefaro be right?

The City of Utica is so closely associated with the Boilermaker Road Race that its name may not have to be attached. The Boilermaker will still be Utica’s ‘signature event.’ The thousands of runners converging on Utica from all over the country and beyond is probably all the “marketing” that is needed. The Running of the Bulls = Pamplona, Spain. Il Palio = Siena, Italy. The Boilermaker = Utica. The name is there, whether it’s legible or not.

The race organizers have arranged a spectacular, well-run event. But they’ve done something more: They’ve grown a sense of community pride in a place where people have lost much to be proud of. The Boilermaker’s close association with the ‘Utica’ name over these many years has given Uticans a sense of ownership in the event. This is really THEIR race … and like proud homeowners, THEY want it to shine. . . And they make it so. . . by the thousands … with water ... funny hats … ethnic costumes and dancing ... music ... and more. Many of these people normally would care less about running, or who wins ... but they cheer everyone on, spurring them to do their personal best. Given statistics, many probably don't have two nickels to rub together . . . but they give what they have and they give their all . . . It is the participation of the throng lining the route that sets the Boilermaker apart from other races. Watch other major road races on TV, and you will see how dead the others are in comparison. The ‘pride of ownership’ -- Utica's pride -- makes the difference.

No, Utica does not need to have its name attached to ‘Boilermaker’ as a marketing tool . . . But maybe the reverse is true: The Boilermaker needs to keep ‘Utica’ attached to its name. Without 'Utica,' the Boilermaker is just another 15k race.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Tradewinds Are Blowing . . .

Barely a week after the Observer-Dispatch complained that Utica's proposal to charge user fees would hurt Not For Profit (NFP) organizations, we see a Guest Column, a "Special to the Observer-Dispatch" singing the accolades of Upstate Cerebral Palsy’s Tradewinds Program. The Guest wrote:
My daughter has just graduated from this program. Every year, these special individuals give these special kids a chance to attend a prom. Limos, formal clothing and a wonderful dinner is donated by local merchants. They have a grand march, where each child is announced by name. Deejay music and dancing fill the cleverly decorated gym . . .
Is the timing of this editorial coincidence? Or is the OD trying to manipulate public sentiment, engendering sympathy for NFPs and opposition to the user fee proposal (not that the proposal does not have significant flaws)?

What we don't get from the OD is any reporting about what Tradewinds is.

A visit to indicates that there is a Tradewinds Foundation, Inc., with a New Hartford mailing address, that provides
programs for handicapped and developmentally challenged individuals (primarily youths) and at-risk children, located in New York State, Florida, California and Maryland. The Charity's programs consisted of developmental activities for children and adults in need of special training . . .
The 2006 Federal Form 990 is interesting reading. According to the 990 on pages 35 and 39/44, the purpose of the foundation was to support various programs of United Cerebral Palsy and another NFP that work with children and adults, including the Tradewinds Special Education Center in Utica. I say "was" because further reading indicates that the organization was winding down operations (which involved boating operations of some sort). Officer compensation "from related organizations" was $322,694 for one officer, $112,347 for another, $53,099 for a third (the last figure still more than double the income of the median household in Utica, p. 23-4/44).

Not bad for officers of "charitable" organizations. Of course, these people I'm sure do much more than put on proms, because they are involved with related interlocking organizations that do many other things . . . but with such generous compensation packages, one has to wonder why such organizations would not be able to pay fees to Utica to clear the snow or repair the sidewalks at their Utica facilities.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Making the Most of The Mills . . .

In many respects New York Mills seems like a place that time forgot -- in a good way. It's a compact village of under 3500 residents where most places are within walking distance, people are friendly, there is a nice grocery store (Hapanowicz Market - with fantastic sausages made on the premises), Santa Claus rides through every neighborhood on a red firetruck during the holidays, and the schools have their own district. Most people know their neighbors, and if they don't, there are plenty of opportunities to meet them over the summer at the Tuesday night concerts at Pulaski Park.

The BEST of New York Mills will be on display this weekend at the annual Bell Festival with a parade, entertainment, food, and fireworks.

New York Mills is, indeed, a place apart . . . but can it continue?. . . Two stories this week raise some long standing concerns.

Mills residents are proud of their school system. Somehow the little village manages to keep it going . . . However, the school taxes are among the highest in a region where all school taxes are too high. . . . and this is in a village where average family incomes are below average in a region that is below average. If residents want to maintain the separate existence of their school system, they have to insist that things be done to bring down school taxes - - - otherwise the district may wind up being merged with an adjoining one to keep people from being taxed out of their homes.

An opportunity to do something about school taxes was passed up this week. With very little fanfare, much less exploring options, the NYM school board promoted one of its own administrators to be superintendent to replace outgoing Supt. Langone. This would have been the ideal time to try going without this position. Simply put, a school district as tiny as the Mills does not need a superintendent -- and, indeed, it is my understanding that the district (when it had more students) did without one for many years.

Another troubling story this week was that a group of residents felt compelled to bring suit against the village to enforce its own laws! People like living in small villages because they believe they have more control over their own environment --- that their government will respond to their needs better than some larger form of jurisdiction.

Well . . . the Mills has just demonstrated that a village does not necessarily respond to or protect its people any more than a Town or a County. Why bother having a village government when the residents have to spend their own money to ensure that the village's laws are enforced?

So this weekend while whirling on the polka floor, downing pierogis or pizza frittas or shortcakes, or eying the fireworks, ponder this:

Being small has its advantages . . . but unless leaders work to preserve those advantages, the reasons for New York Mills' separate existence will disappear.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plunging Populations . . . Exactly What We Deserve!

We open the paper this morning to read "Utica and Rome losing population," and "Herkimer Co. villages losing residents. " People awoke to similar headlines in Buffalo, Albany, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, and Binghamton.

No surprises here. Just read the comments on the Utica-Rome post. Everyone knows that New York's style of government makes it impossible for people and businesses Upstate to make ends meet. The cause:
  • Government spends too much
  • We have too much government.
  • Government makes the wrong choices.
But ultimately, WE are all to blame . . . We tolerate the government we have (or even ask for more of the same) rather than change it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Some Good Advice . . .

Some good advice (for a change) is offered by the OD editors to the Utica school board, along with a bit of criticism.
The Utica City School District is filled with immense potential and opportunity, yet its leadership continually manages to turn the simple into the complicated, the sure thing into the missed opportunity.
Lou LaPolla gets a bit of an accolade:
For years, board member and former Utica Mayor Louis D. LaPolla has been one voice shouting into the wind as he’s criticized waste, inefficiency and poor management. Now, the board has selected him its vice president.
While Ms. Skermont seems to be taking the fall:
Skermont’s heart was in the right place, but she struggled with aspects of the job and mismanaged planning for the massive capital project that voters will consider later this month.
But I don't understand the deal with Ms. Barbara Klein, who demonstrates "a grip on power that’s been unusual on in recent years." She seems to be getting a pass. With all the nonsense that the residents of Utica have had to put up with from the Board . . .

Why are there no calls for Ms. Klein's resignation?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fees for NFPs . . .

More ODd journalism yesterday. The editors of our local newspaper jump to oppose the proposal for Utica to assess annual "user" fees on ALL property owners -- including Not For Profits (NFPs) -- for such things as snow removal and sidewalk repairs, but fail to offer any data from Rochester, NY, where this has been done for years.

The OD editors raise valid concerns about fees possibly driving people and businesses out of the city and becoming excuses to increase spending. These are things that Utica needs to come to grips with, if fees are not going to create more problems than they solve. But that is why it is so important for the OD to explore what happened in Rochester.

The valid concerns, however, are no justification for not charging NFPs their "fair share" for the services they receive from Utica taxpayers. Per the OD editors:
But while nonprofits don’t pay taxes, they do provide human services this city could not do without. They reach out to the city’s poorest residents whose needs, if left unmet, might end up costing taxpayers even more. Places like Hope House, New Horizons, Catholic Charities, Thea Bowman House, dozens of houses of worship and so many more people-committed agencies provide essential services ranging from meals and clothing to day care and housing. Their clients are most often people caught in the cracks of life who have no place else to turn. . . .

Slapping a tax on that is not only wrong, it’s unconscionable. Any “fee” would only end up being paid by the same generous people who already donate time and money to keep the facilities going.
Every community has poor, and to the extent that they need services, they are everyone's responsibility. But for many, including the OD editors, the concept of "community" seems to stop at the city line, as though city policies made a high percentage of its citizens poor and needy. Of course, they did not.

For years Utica taxpayers were forced by law to pay significantly higher taxes than the surrounding jurisdictions in order to fund welfare programs for the poor. This made sense at the time the laws were drawn because municipal boundaries were the boundaries of the "community" economically speaking, containing both its rich and poor.

With the advent of the automobile, however, it became practical for people to make their living in the city, while living in another jurisdiction near by. It also became possible for people to leave the high taxes of the city behind. While many who could afford to move just wanted more space and that new house, the low if non-existent local taxes in the suburbs were also an attraction. (My understanding is that New Hartford at one time had NO Town taxes.) The rest is history. Wealth concentrated in the new "suburbs" while the city became increasingly poor . . . which, in a perverted feedback-loop, raised city taxes and drove even more to the 'burbs. The stark contrast between homes in Cornhill and those just 2-3 miles away in the upper Tilden Ave and Higby Road areas of New Hartford is breathtaking. No one wants to deny those in New Hartford their fabulous homes -- they worked long and hard for them -- but why should they not have to shoulder the burden of municipal services to the region's NFPs while those in Utica do?

The OD's solution is for the city to "tighten its belt," but how can that work when Utica has the lion's share of the region's tax exempt properties, owned by the NFPs, as well as taxpayers who have the region's lowest incomes? The OD's solution is no solution.

While the OD editors periodically beat the "racism" drum, they apparently are OK with "class-ism" -- safe behind their municipal boundary wall.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Stacking Up Schools . . .

Steve Schiavi has a thoughtful article in this week's Life & Times going over the report cards from our local schools. As expected, the New Hardford district did the best. What was interesting was how some of the Utica schools did in relation to each other. King did the best overall, and Watson Williams came in fourth. Both are inner city schools -- which should tell you that no matter where these kids come from, if you know what you are doing you can achieve success. Perhaps a surprise was how poorly Kernan did, coming in as the worst school in Utica. It once was a great school. How painful to read of one's alma mater this way . . .

But Kernan's dead last performance should be no surprise to readers of this blog. You remember that Krazy Kernan Skewl . . . with its Kollege Daze? and Yoga Klasses? and seminars on Kommunity service . . . and Health Klinics.

. . . Anything but Reading 'Riting and 'Rithmatic!

Meanwhile Utica School administrator Bernadette Eichler has an editorial in the OD pushing the upcoming capital project. According to Ms. Eichler . . .
Over the years, I have worked with brilliant, creative and caring administrators, teachers, members of the Utica Board of Education, college staff and community members.

Their wisdom, leadership, support and ideas did indeed bring the students in the Utica district to a higher level of academic achievement. These abilities and talents also created a stimulating environment for learning, as well as provide opportunities for students to explore and try new ideas.

Now this leadership and support groups of Utica have an unbelievable opportunity to once again demonstrate their wisdom and talents by supporting the $187.6 million bond issue.
Wow. These are the same people who studied a project for months that they could not carry out, shuffled administrators like they were a deck of cards, couldn't keep student schedules straight, ran out of textbooks, and spent a ton of money at Proctor and now want to spend more at the same school. Did Ms. Eichler "slip" with the reference to "support groups" in the quote above. One suspects that the spending really isn't to benefit the kids, but to benefit the "support groups" and all the others who are allegedly there to "help" the kids, but are really helping themselves . . . to a lot of money.

We saw what happened with the Millennium fiasco: $37 million was spent building a school that required administrators in quadruplicate.

Before pulling the lever for this allegedly "free" now-$187 million project, ask:

What will the capital construction plan mean in terms of additional square footage to be maintained? Additional personnel for staffing? Additional costs for heating, electricity, communications? Reorganization of students and transportation costs?

If history is our guide, this spending will beget permanent increases in costs for operation and maintenance that will likely break the backs of Utica taxpayers . . . and probably create more distractions to real learning.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rearranging Deck Chairs in Syracuse . . .

The engineering firm O'Brien and Gere, with its 300 employees, is going to be moving from suburban to downtown Syracuse thanks to a $6.5 million gift from the NYS taxpayers that will be applied toward construction of a 6-story, multi-tenant, $25 million office building.
"This isn't about O'Brien and Gere, it's about the community, public private partnerships, to do something to restore the vitality of the city of Syracuse," said O'Brien and Gere CEO Terry Brown.
Meanwhile, across town, following the loss of 330 jobs at New Process Gear in March, 250 are immediately out of a job at Magna International, and another 42 are laid off at CXtec. To the north in Jefferson County another 75 will be out of work Friday when Brownville Specialty Paper closes.

Down the Mohawk Valley, another State subsidized move is having some negative repercussions in Canajoharie whose water and sewer rates are expected to skyrocket 250% after Beach-Nut moves 20 miles to suburban Amsterdam.

While it's nice to see the State encouraging redevelopment of a city in the Syracuse project as opposed to sprawl in the suburbs, spending money to move employees from one place to another while plants close or make layoffs is like . . .

Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

ODd Journalism (3)

I don't normally link to forum articles, but this one on Utica Topix about our local newspaper: GATEHOUSE PUBLISHER HELPS DESTROY CITY was a good read.
"If the only newspaper in our area has become a deceptive, sly snake, with an agenda that corrupts us and spews venom and poison on us, perhaps we should kill it, whether it's our only "newspaper" or not." -- "Bouncer"


ICU . . .

I came across an interesting blog while searching for information on Utica's Harbor Point. It's called "ICU" by "CNY Urban Guy" - - - who is believed to be a beloved Utica long-time radio personality, master of ceremonies, former public official, and all around "good guy." It's been around for a few months and has a lot of videos featuring interesting local spots (such as Utica Harbor) that often are overlooked. A great read . . . and a great addition to the Blog Roll.

Is that you, Lou?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Training Shmaining . . .

The Observer Dispatch continues to keep its fingers crossed in hoping that the NYS Homeland Security Training Center at the old Oneida County Airport amounts to something, and points to a doubling of the number of students as progress.

Sorry . . .Two times almost nothing is still almost nothing.

Homeland Security's list of upcoming courses from July through December is rather sparse: 24 courses, only 16 of which are offered in Oriskany, and most of those are only 1-day affairs. This is hardly worth tying up the old Oneida County Airport Terminal Building, much less than discarding what had been well-maintained runways and other associated facilities.

Can't the OD read the tea-leaves? This was never a serious project.

As I posted back on 12/05/05:
Choosing the Airport for this facility does three things that benefit Mr. Griffo, the County Legislature and our local state-level elected officials (but not the people):

1) It provides an instant solution to the problem of what to do with the Old County Airport -- a problem that they created by choosing to move the airport to Griffiss without first determining a plan for the old one.

2) It ENSURES that Utica-New Hartford-Whitesboro, or the Oneida Nation, or some enterprising entrepreneur (like the one who created a housing development where people had their private planes in their garages), will NOT continue airport operations there -- avoiding potential competition for the new Griffiss facility.

3) Our Albany reps can claim to have "brought home the bacon."

I predict that very little benefit will come of this.
This situation has been painful to watch 'develop': 1/1/08, 9/13/07, 8/31/07, 2/27/07, 1/18/07, 3/24/06.

Pull the plug, kick 'em out, and market the old airport as an airport for private use.