Thursday, October 30, 2008

Val d'Isère?

Chair Lift SlopeMais non . . .
It's Val Bialas . . . .
And while Steele Hill may not offer the alpine challenges of that famous French resort you CAN SKI here . . . and then have a nice dinner in town après ski. . . or have dinner first and then ski . . . or ski, have dinner, and ski some more. . . or work and then ski . . . or ski after school . . . because skiing is within city limits! . . . And you can ski at night, too!

Now how many other places can offer you that . . . without a lot of planning . . . without getting on a plane . . . or driving for hours . . . or paying a fortune for a lift ticket? Val Bialas is one of those little "gems" that really make Greater Utica a special place to live.
Chair Lift
Val Bialas is about to get better . . .Snow-making machines are coming to city slopes. This is welcome news because it's been years since we had them. Now conditions should be better and the season should be longer. Hats off to Mayor Roefaro for using the contracting route to bring in some needed expertise . . . and for not committing the taxpayers to something long term.
T-Bar Slope
So while you may not have the time or the money to pursue your Val d'Isère dream, you can still enjoy some skiing at Val Bialas . . . and a taste of the Good Life . . .

. . . In Utica.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Minister of Culture???

Cultural Blueprints hopes to develop area arts scene!
According to this article, the state Council on the Arts is holding sessions across the state
. . . to develop an area’s arts scene, culture and history as a catalyst for economic development, said Heather Hitchens, executive director of the arts council.
An important part of businesses deciding where to locate is the community, including the talent pool, local schools and arts and cultural resources, said Kenneth Tompkins, regional director of the Empire State Development Mohawk Valley Regional Office.
What an absolute crock!

Utica may be small, but its cultural resources are rich, and have been rich for a long time: The Utica Symphony, MV Ballet, M-W-P Arts Institute, Sculpture Space, Players Theater, Turning Stone, etc. etc. Communities our size elsewhere would die to have what we have . . . BUT THEY ARE THRIVING AND WE ARE NOT.

Anyone with half an ounce of awareness of what is going on around them can see that cultural opportunities, as wonderful as they are for enriching our lives, rarely contribute to economic development in the manner in which Mr. Tompkins suggests.

Rather, it is the other way around: As an area goes into economic decline, cultural amenities slowly wither away. Buffalo, which has always had a thriving arts scene, just lost its Studio Arena Theater. The community could no longer support it. Utica's Summer Arts Festival sponsored by MWPAI is only a shadow of what it was as little as 5 years ago, the performing arts offerings severely curtailed. How much longer will Greater Utica be able to support the Ballet or the Symphony? Fund drives seem to come more often seeking more money.
About 60 people attended various workshops during the day to identify weaknesses, opportunities and calls for action.

When the group convened later in the day, they had identified some common problems and possible solutions.

. . . better relationships and communications between organizations . . .
. . . better links between large and small organizations . . .
Creating a united voice and vision for state organizations . . .

Sounds more like a lot of opportunities for our elites to meet and greet . . . and to marshal social pressure for more public funding (grants).
Those who attended the event included officials from Otsego, Schoharie, Montgomery, Fulton, Herkimer and Oneida counties. They said they were generally pleased about its direction.
Of course they were pleased . . . they are public officials who have found an excuse to justify their positions . . . and to get a day out of the office.

If government downsized by getting rid of positions focusing on cultural and other types of development, and doing away with all the grants, the money left in people's pockets would fund entrepreneurial activity, which would create more jobs, which would increase incomes . . . which would support the arts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weird Politics . . .

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, is seeking re-election against Working Families Party candidate Michael Boncella. Boncella did not respond to O-D questions about election issues.
Election watch: 116th state Assembly District
Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome, is running for re-election against Republican Kevin McDonald of Whitesboro in the 116th state Assembly District, which includes Rome, Utica and communities in between the two cities. . . . McDonald did not respond to the O-D’s questionnaire on election issues.
What's with these guys, Boncella and McDonald? Too busy campaigning to answer a few questions?

Utica-Rome voters have about as many choices as voters in pre-war Iraq.

Weird Politics . . . That's what brings this region down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rearranging Deck Chairs . . .

Ha, ha, ha . . . At least we can look at the situation for its entertainment value . . .
St. Elizabeth Medical Center is considering buying the office building at 4401 Middle Settlement Road after The Hartford Financial Services Group moves out. . . .

Because it is a nonprofit health-care provider, St. Elizabeth does not pay property tax on the buildings it owns, Scholefield said. That would be true of the building if they purchased it.

Town Supervisor Earle Reed acknowledged the lost tax revenue could hurt.
New Hartford and Oneida County have bent over backwards to encourage "growth," but what they've accomplished is like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship: simply moving economic activity from one part of our depressed region to another.

This story is a good illustration of how foolish Town, County and EDGE policies have been and how short-sighted their leaders are.

Not only will there be no jobs coming into the area, but taxpayers will now be on the hook to construct and maintain more public infrastructure at the NH Business Park while having LESS tax revenue coming in to support it!

Way to go, guys and gals!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stemming Population Loss

Election 2008: Candidates share views on population loss . . .

It's amazing how many candidates think that doing more of the same -- training, special programs, special tax breaks -- will produce a different result.

"Alternative and renewable energy has and will continue to be a critical component of our local economy as we work to create more green jobs . . . Our region is home to world-class colleges and universities. We must continue to expand internship opportunities with local businesses . . . We must continue to strengthen job training programs . . . working alongside Mohawk Valley EDGE to help create a shovel-ready site . . ." - Michael Arcuri
Our world-class colleges, job training, renewable energy, EDGE, etc. have not prevented our population loss.
"Legislators should encourage young people to live and work in the Empire State after graduation by . . . defraying the high cost of college tuition through pro-growth incentives that increase the value of our workforce." - David Townsend.
We have plenty of college students in the region without having to defray any costs, and the population continues to drop.
I propose that tax breaks be given to businesses who invest in our youth’s education and provide jobs for them right out of college - Daniel LeClair
The taxpayers already invest too heavily in our youth's education, but this guy wants businesses to do more . . . and then give them a tax break which means that the taxpayers wind up paying even more. How will this stem population loss?
"Three things retain young people – great jobs, great incentives such as student loan breaks or internships and great communities with exciting, active lifestyles. We must build up all three." - Joseph Griffo.
How exciting - not. Just more of the same blather as above.
" . . . we must make certain our colleges and universities are working closely with regional industry and local governments. . . . we must work to revitalize our downtowns and urban centers . . ." - David Valesky
Blather . . .
"A new economic development plan just unveiled by the senate would provide tax credits tied to the creation of new jobs" - James Seward
More of the same . . .
We can build green technologies and produce new forms of energy. With universal high-speed Internet, we can expand markets for local producers. . . . New York state must provide publicly-funded, privately-delivered health insurance.- Don Barber
More "green" nonsense. . . . and publicly funded health insurance? We already have "Child health plus" and the population still drops. How can a dwindling population pay for it?
"I have provided grants over the past year to SUNYIT in Marcy and Utica College to help them build the facilities needed to improve their academic programs. I provided funding to help Mohawk Valley Community College and SUNYIT improve student life through better facilities for sports and extra-curricular activities . . ." - RoAnn Destito
Again, we have plenty of student facilities -- and the students still leave after they graduate.
"I would introduce the YP-Star Program (YP is young professional) that would provide property tax reductions for qualifying young professionals every year until they turned thirty years old." - Kevin McDonald
These kids have been indulged from the moment they were born, but this guy wants the taxpayers - many of whom are living off their savings - to give them more! Scary!
"We need to utilize our own natural resources in developing green, renewable energy" - Daniel Carter
More "green" garbage... but all the green hydropower we already have has not reduced utility rates.

If we keep doing the same stuff, we will get the same results. Only two people "got it right":

"If we are to build a better future than our past, then New York cannot continue to be the most taxed and regulated state in the country." - Richard Hanna (candidate for US Congress running against Mr. Arcuri).
"The Oneida Indian Nation has shown us a fine example of being enterprising when you are not taxed out of existence. The more money people keep for themselves, the better the economy, as more money will be put back into the economy, stimulating growth. . . . Returning money back to the people to spend as they see fit does more than any government-run program can." - Michael Boncella (candidate for State Senate running against Mr. Griffo).
New York is looking like the old Soviet Union, with jobs increasingly with or dependent upon the government. If we want to grow private sector jobs, then government must take less.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pay Soars . . .

Pay soars for many Oneida County workers
Nearly 1-in-5 Oneida County employees – at least 310 workers — are scheduled to get raises of 10 percent or more in Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente’s proposed 2009 budget, an O-D comparison of this year’s and next year’s budgets found.
I'm speechless . . . well . . . maybe not . . .
Picente pointed to what he called a brain drain from Upstate New York as young, educated people leave. He said he wanted to make it possible for good people to continue working in county government.

“This goes back to the whole global idea of keeping people here,” he said. “We have some of the most talented people in these positions, and they want to do government for a living.”
It's nice that Mr. Picente wants to keep talented people with county government by paying them more. But the reason why there is a "brain drain" from Upstate New York, especially in Oneida County, is because government has driven out all the good private sector jobs by over taxation.

Household incomes in Oneida County are already significantly below the average found elsewhere. It should follow that government pay locally should also be below the average found elsewhere.

Hiking county salaries will require more taxation . . . which will drive more people in the private sector out of business . . . and further reduce household incomes and population.

If this area is to economically survive and start growing again, government must shrink. With what appears to be on the horizon for everyone, government employees will be thankful to just have their jobs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bowing to the Sacred Cow . . .

Election 2008: Candidates share views on education

Maybe the headline should read "Candidates share the same view on education" because there isn't too much that they are saying differently from each other . . . Basically, let's keep the status quo: spend, spend, and spend some more.

It would really be refreshing to hear a candidate say that we need to spend LESS on education . . .

There is this mentality that the education budget is untouchable . . . No one wants to be labeled as being against "the kids," now, do they?

The most anyone can seem to bring themselves to say is that the money should be spent "more wisely."

Gee, now that's a controversial proposal!

But take a look at how your money is being spent . . . Yoga in class, "pinwheels for peace," DARE, assemblies to meet community leaders or bicyclists for missing children, school based health clinics, field trips to college dorms. . . (I could go on an on but I've blogged about most of this stuff already). School time and money seems to be wasted on anything but education. . . .

And the MASSIVE building projects . . . like almost $200 million for Utica alone . . . just for what is currently proposed, let alone what has already been built in the recent past. . . .

And teachers won't like this, but they are overpaid when they are compared with other public employees . . . Compare the salaries of teachers with the salaries of attorneys and engineers in public service (professions requiring much more rigorous study) and, when adjusted for time on the job, teachers are often paid more. Compare how teachers salaries have increased over the last 30 years with salaries of other public employees (excluding police officers) and you will see a much steeper rise, with no justification for same. There has been no commensurate increase in responsibility -- and arguably, there has been a decrease because of smaller class sizes and the seemingly ubiquitous teacher aides. (You can thank the teachers' union for this aspect.)

With all this spending, the kids still come out of school with too many unable to do basic math or write a grammatically correct paragraph.

I think that drastically cutting education spending could improve results by forcing people to focus on the task of providing a basic education . . . and leaving the rest to the families to take care of.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Take Fault Lines Along . . .

Wanting to read Fault Lines on the bus, but no Wi-Fi? . . . . No problem.

Read Fault Lines in: The Utica Phoenix

This months article: "Wrong Regionalization: The Oneida County Sewer District"

Find The Utica Phoenix in a news rack near you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

... and a Million Dollar View!

2008-0710-1079p2008-0710-1078p2008-0710-1080p "Location, location, location" as realtors would say. This large plot of land is virtually at downtown's doorstep, has water and sewer services, is seconds from a Thruway exit, and is accessible from either side of Genesee (without requiring a traffic light) via an underpass at Lee Street.

Of course, this is not pristine land . . . It's a brownfield, currently undergoing remediation for contamination. Reuse will require cleanup, some use restrictions, and public assistance. . . . but is not this what we have EDGE, our IDAs and Empire Zones for? To take care of the paperwork and to absorb some of the financial risk to make sites such as this the equivalent of a "greenfield?" All city services are already in place . . . It is wasteful and burdensome on the taxpayers to not reuse such sites.

View Larger Map Another location, presumably without a contamination problem (because it was residential), is the former Washington Courts site. This site covers most of the area between Water and Whitesboro Streets, has all services in place, and IS DOWNTOWN. A short walk away is Commercial Travelers Insurance, and the regional office of Utica Mutual. This site, too, is easily accessible . . . from Oriskany Blvd, the East West Arterial and the North South Arterial, and is about a minute from the Thruway exit.

Clearly, the Washington Courts site would have been a superior location for "The Hartford" -- much better than the New Hartford Business Park . . . Services are already in place, it's easy to get to, public transit is right there, workers could actually WALK to places during lunch . . .and, perhaps more important, there would have been a "cluster" of insurance companies downtown. Where like businesses are clustered together, usually synergies develop producing results that are greater than the sum of the parts.

You have to wonder, when sites such as these are available, why are EDGE and public officials trying to force taxpayers to pay to build more infrastructure for a greenfield business park in New Hartford.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Empowerment" in School . . .

Students make the grade recycling
“We want to empower the youth with knowledge they can use to improve the environment they live in,” said Lauren Barone, the authority’s school recycling coordinator who helped to design the Go Green program.
What knowledge? That certain numbers stamped on plastics mean they are recyclable while others are not?

This isn't about transferring knowledge . . . it's about training . . . training kids to respond to a particular stimulus (the number) in a particular manner (throw it in the correct bin) to produce a result that someone higher up (the Solid Waste Authority) deems an improvement.

It's all about controlling behavior.

The only thing "empowered" here is government authority.

Getting Carried Away . . .

The yoga-in-school trend continues . . . Bradley Elementary School students combine yoga with reading.
During the program, which is themed “Get Carried Away With Reading,” students will participate in various programs and activities such as YogaTales, which visited the school Tuesday.
Take a look at the kids in the article's picture . . . not one book in front of one student. You can just imagine how much "reading" these kids are really learning.

And some people wonder why taxpayers get steamed . . .

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Mouse That Roared . . .

Per WKTV: Taxpayers turn down Holland Patent capital project.

2,060 voted No, while 766 voted Yes.

The 2,894 total voters is the most district Superintendent Kathleen Davis has seen in her time at Holland Patent.

Wow! What a way to say, "Enough is enough!"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

AMD Splitting?

Today's reported this story: Asset smart? AMD moves manufacturing off its balance sheet; Bolsters capital
AMD said Tuesday that it will split off its manufacturing operations in a deal with the Advanced Technology Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. . . .

When the dealing is done in early 2009, AMD will become a chip design firm and its former manufacturing operations will be lumped into an entity called “The Foundry Company,” a temporary name . . . AMD’s liquidity was hampered by expensive manufacturing operations.
Hmm . . . Expensive manufacturing operations like the one proposed for Luther Forest in Malta, NY near Saratoga? . . .the one we "lost"? Surely anything made in New York State would have to be expensive to support all our government spending.
AMD’s move to separate its manufacturing and design units–dubbed Asset Smart–has been on the drawing board for a while and details have been hard to come by.
That may explain why, so long after Joe Bruno won the chip fab for his region, AMD has yet to commit to the deal in writing.

The Capital District Business Review has a more optimistic story.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the state's putting so many eggs in the high-tech basket will pay off. (And as for spinoffs? ..."Fuggeddaboudditt" . . .)

The Sheriff and Policing . . .

Credit must be given to Mr. Picente for starting the conversation about consolidation in local government . . . in this case, law enforcement. Picente said:
"My goal is to merge together the operations of all of our municipal forces and then fill in areas that require police services through a department that is part of the county’s organizational structure — not apart from it,” he said in his budget address. “And then scale down the existing sheriff’s functions to focus on corrections, court security and other civil functions.”
Clearly, our current structure of mini-jurisdictions is expensive and inefficient. Plop a 2-mile radius circle on a county map and you can touch upon up to 6 police jurisdictions (e.g., Yorkville, NY Mills, Whitesboro, New Hartford Town, Whitestown and Utica). Except for Utica and perhaps New Hartford, these small jurisdictions really cannot afford to maintain a lot of in-house forensics expertise. And then there is the duplication of administrative functions that must be paid for.

Overlapping jurisdictions is another inefficiency that is particularly unfair to city and village residents. The residents of the cities and villages, and those towns which maintain their own forces, already pay for police protection in their local tax. The county, however, forces these same residents to pay to provide similar services to residents in outlying areas . . . in effect, subsiding the cost of policing them . . . a cost that is likely more expensive per capita to provide because of the large territories that must be covered. Utica and New Hartford residents each pay for 911 service -- and also pay again to provide same to the rest of the county. With the same arrangement for other services (such as snowplowing) it should be no surprise that the cities and villages have higher taxes, discouraging development therein.

Consolidation must come.

That said, I do not like Mr. Picente's "top-down" approach.

For consolidation to be palatable, people need to feel that they will get value for their money -- not just save money.

Consolidation at the county level makes sense for geographically small counties like Onondaga and Schenectady, or densely populated counties like Erie and Suffolk. Consolidation at a county level should work for these two types of counties because the interests of the residents to be affected will be similar -- in the former owing to limited geography, in the latter owing to a similar environment. (Try distinguishing between the adjoining towns on Long Island and you will get the picture: everything looks pretty much the same everywhere).

Oneida County residents, however, have diverse interests, because it is geographically large with densely populated jurisdictions adjoining sparsely populated ones. A county level police force will become like EDGE, or the Sewer District, or the Water Authority . . . perceived to respond to special interests rather than the public at large.

It is neither practical, nor efficient, to provide the same level of services everywhere. Attempts to do so have resulted in sprawl, requiring the public to maintain far more infrastructure than necessary, driving expenses up and development out of the places we previously equipped for same: our cities and villages. . . . which begets more sprawl in a cyclic fashion. This creates economic "winners" and "losers," with the "winners" being the "newer" areas that are easy to develop, the "losers" being the older areas left behind -- and the quality of life in both being degraded. Of course, "winners" may also be the areas where the most influential people at any particular point in time live.

Instead of imposing consolidation from the "top down," the County should encourage consolidation from the "bottom up."

It can start by employing differential tax rates to eliminate county charges for services that residents of municipalities already provide to themselves through their city/village/town taxes. Imagine that! Only paying the county for services NOT already provided locally. No more Utica and New Hartford paying for county 911. No more Utica or village residents paying for the Sheriff's patrol or toward snowplowing county roads. Of course, this will increase expenses for people living in the outlying areas -- as it should. It costs more to service people who choose to locate at distances from everyone else. If they want the service, they either pay the county its true cost, negotiate an annexation with a neighboring jurisdiction having the service, or do without. No arm twisting -- just people being made to pay their own way.

It can continue by eliminating the tax breaks and special grants for "greenfield" developments that encourage sprawl. If private businesses need public investments, then they can at least be required to locate where infrastructure is already in place but is underutilized.

It can continue by getting out of the water and sewer businesses, and turn responsibility for these over to the municipalities served, letting the municipalities figure out for themselves how these services will be governed and paid for.

The suburban communities could NEVER have afforded the cost of sewage treatment themselves. Had the county NOT stepped in, fiscal survival would have ultimately resulted in some consolidation (by annexation) with Utica. Non-annexed suburban areas would have developed in a very different way, retaining a more rural character, because they would have depended on septic fields. We would not see the sprawl that we see today . . . Town and City taxes would both likely be lower . . . and the qualities that make people choose city or suburban life would be maintained. The county actually enabled suburban areas to avoid consolidation by creating the part county sewer district.

Consolidation is needed, but it must come from the "bottom up," not the "top down." It will not, and should not, be accepted until people know they will get fair value for their tax dollars in return.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Manufacturing vs Innovation?

I could not let this comment from last week's "Jobs Outlook" article go by without some comments of my own:
“Upstate is still feeling its way, moving from a manufacturing centered economy to an innovation economy, which is a long transformation process,” said Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE economic development agency. “It doesn't happen overnight.”
"Innovation" economy? How much of this nonsense must we swallow?

The implication is that this is an "either/or" proposition . . . But manufacturing cannot thrive without innovation, so if you have one, you have the other. Look at all the great companies that once graced our landscape, and the ones that still survive . . .There was and still is plenty of innovation.

The implication is that we are moving on to something better . . . But what other than manufacturing is better suited for a region whose economy, infrastructure and institutions were based on manufacturing? What is our new role supposed to be? Is it finance? Education? Research? Something Else? "Innovation" is a nice sounding word that really doesn't mean anything when it comes to painting a picture of what our future should be like. For us in the Mohawk Valley, "innovation" will be "whatever is left after the process of 'natural selection' weeds everything else out" . . . which doesn't seem like much.

The implication is that this is inevitable . . . But is it? Even high-cost, poorly governed European countries such as Italy manage to keep manufacturing as an important part of the economy. How can they do it, and not us?

The implication is that this is acceptable - that manufacturing is no longer needed. But this is not only untrue, it is a dangerous position to take. We make very little these days, having exported much of our manufacturing capacity overseas. Western New York's steel mills and refineries have been shuttered. Textiles and clothing were once big in this area, but are now gone. Wouldn't another refinery be welcome in this age of $3.50/gal gas? . . . If we got into a war, how long would we be able to clothe ourselves? or build armaments?

In the Mohawk Valley, an "innovation economy" is trending toward one based on "service" jobs, government jobs, and health care jobs -- i.e., jobs that cater to the people that live here -- and jobs that require heavy subsidies from the taxpayers that live here. Given our long term population decline that shows no sign of abating, such an "innovation economy" looks pretty bleak.

Part of our problem stems from Washington. Mr. Arcuri and Mr. Hanna need to tell us what can or should be done on a national level to maintain the level of manufacturing capacity needed for self-defense. (And please, no rhetoric about creating "green" jobs.)

Most of our problem comes from Albany and locally. Manufacturing has been on the decline here long before NAFTA created Ross Perot's "great sucking sound."

I'm getting awfully tired of being asked to cough up money to support "Business parks" in New Hartford and a behemoth airport in Rome. Local government has become nothing more than a mechanism to transfer wealth from the taxpayers to a well-connected few.

The best thing local and state government can do is to spend less -- take less of the economy for itself and its friends and leave more in the hands of the private sector. People will put it to better use than the government ever could.