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.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Right on the mark. Are you from NYM? It seems you have an inside track on how Mayor, School Board member, W'boro Police Officer and NYM FD Member Maciol doesn't represent all residents equally.

Greens and Beans said...

New York Mills is still widely recognized as a wonderful Village and a great place to bring up a family. However of late, the school district and village government’s behavior is not indicative of what it use to be. Both topics of this section are somewhat disturbing to those of us who have recognized that New York Mills has always been an Island in terms of having a fiscally responsible school district that served their students and taxpayers admirably. This also served to compliment an equally responsible village government. So what went wrong?

In the old days, New York Mills residents would NEVER fathom putting up with this type of government misconduct. The school district is behaving as if it enjoyed a much wealthier tax base and is serving a much larger population. The fact of the matter is that this district is not expanding its tax base or population to justify its recent expansive spending behavior. The entire county is actually losing population. There is a diminished supply of good paying manufacturing jobs and in comparison, a service-based economy expands only incrementally. This is not the economic climate to be expanding public spending. Indeed, this is the time to seek ways to economize rather than replace an outgoing highly paid (and perhaps unnecessary) superintendent position. The Village board opted not to defend the residents against a zoning based lawsuit. This is in light of the fact that the prospective corporation had another option to expand in a different direction (at first, this writer was ignorant of this fact) resulting in not having to encroach on any neighboring properties. Thank goodness the neighboring residents still have the New York Mills founding father’s spirit of Village pride.

When did the New York Mills taxpayer morph into apathy? Why do they stand silent in terms of allowing its school district to stack the deck with high paying non-instructional jobs? Why would the village fathers not defend the homeowners against a no-brainer lawsuit? Could this government arrogance be attributed to a new generation’s distrust and apathetic mindset towards all government?

Mrs. Mecomber said...

I wouldn't use NY Mills as an epitome of small-town Americana or small-town government. NY Mills, like all the other "villages" along the old mill paths/Route 8 are like beads on a necklace-- only the unseen municipal boundaries separate them. You'd never know you were passing through NY Mills and into Whitesboro or New Hartford unless signs told you.

Therefore, holding NY Mills as an example of the foibles of "small-town" government is sleight of hand. Most villages of New York State-- and even Oneida County-- have distinct visual, municipal, emotional, and governmental boundaries.

Every town under it's own jurisdiction, or under a larger "corporate style" government, has the right to force it's governmental leaders to obey the laws, and it is not some strange aberration when they do so. This happened in Stark recently, as well. If anything, this shows how much more powerful a smaller community can be in such a case.

There is no good reason to remove local governments and local accountability to something larger and further removed from the people. The problem isn't with small-town government, it's with corrupt leaders, and corrupt leaders have more places to hide in conglomerate bureaucracies and consolidated government.

I view it a dangerous thing to eradicate small communities and convert them to larger consolidated ones. Bureaucracies get bigger, abuse gets stronger, accountability gets weaker. It's a fact of history and of human nature.

Strikeslip said...

Mrs. M - I think you got me wrong, and I think we may agree on this issue more than you realize. I have nothing against village government. In fact, I like the village form of government -- as I like city government. It's with the Town and County forms of government that I have a problem -- at least with what we have allowed them to become.

What's the difference between Village-City and Town-County? Think about how these governments developed and what they represent.

Villages and cities were groupings of people that collected together. It could have been for safety, to work at the same place, or to come together for trade, etc. There was a reason for these settlements to exist. The PEOPLE formed Village and City governments to advance their own collective well being . . . a "bottom up" approach.

Towns and Counties, on the other hand, do NOT represent people who have come together for a reason. They were more or less imposed by an overarching GOVERNMENT for administrative purposes -- to ensure that there was some authority, or rule of law, or control throughout the territory -- if only to exact a tribute for Cesar (or taxes for Albany) ... a "top down" approach.

The problem with Towns and Counties in New York is that they were either given powers or they assumed roles normally filled by villages and cities. If people in outlying areas desired certain municipal services, they no longer had to annex themselves to a city or village . . . they could get the same service through a willing town or county AND ding the people in the cities or villages through their Town or County taxes even though their own service is covered in a city/village tax! I could go into more detail, but not here. I touched on some of these ideas in my Disconnect and Reconnect posts.

The point I am trying to make in this post is that the small New York Mills-style of government is threatened by local leaders who (1) fail to contain costs and (2) fail to understand why a village government exists.

Anonymous said...

Being a resident of Mills, it certainly is a village with character and is a great place to raise a family. However, having lived there my entire life its evident that there is also an enormous amount of waste in services which could be provided cheaper by a larger municipality (police, dpw, etc), as well as the soaring costs passed on to taxpayers for the school's various projects and positions.

Its my opinion that if you want to have village government, then its high time to slash spending, but if not, then its time to 'dissolve' the village and merge with a New Hartford or Whitestown.

What gives the village its character is the people and its culture, NOT the form of government.

One final thought... I think a government over a larger jurisdiction makes the most sense from an economic standpoint, so long as it is OPEN, TRANSPARENT, government.