Friday, February 29, 2008

Oneida County Legislature: Drunken Sailors

Once the sewer issue brought attention to the County's machinations, a look was taken at some other spending on the County Legislature's docket from just this past week. We won't even go into the six-figure salaries with increases exceeding the cost of living that O.C. Taxpayers are paying to some of their employees.

Look at the spending for the new County Airport:

  • $7.45 Million for corporate and "T" hangars and a "fuel farm" ($1M from State grants)
  • $0.73 Million for taxiway reconstruction and a closed circuit TV system ($700,000 from the state)
  • $9.72 Million for "various redevelopment projects" at Griffiss ($9.47 M from grants)
  • $7.60 Million for "reconstruction of Hangar Building #100"
  • $1.99 Million for equipment
  • $1.41 Million for paving
  • $0.69 Million for fence replacement and gate removal
There was a lot of other spending this past week, too, including another $748,000 on Union Station (with the state paying 90%); $1.85 Million for "Parking Lot Improvements" at the County Office Building in Utica (wonder if the County will try to shove the Park Ave closure down Uticans' throats again); and $210K to demolish buildings at the Old County Airport (wonder what they are knocking down, and why?).

Does this look like a county that is in dire financial straits?

But, with all this voluntary spending that the County is taking on, the County Executive has the nerve to criticize $2 million in costs shifted by the state to the county (let's ignore what the State gives us on the discretionary spending).

Of course the Utica Media is M.I.A. on all this spending. What's up with that?

The Sentinel (relatively dependable when coverage of County news is concerned) reports that debt service will rise to $14.2 Million. That's almost $61 for every man, woman, and child in OC every year until the bonds are paid off. With debt reaching $114.1 Million, that means we are approaching almost $500 debt for every person in the County!

Time to round up these drunken sailors and ship them off to Timbuktu!

More Stealth News: Another Sewer Rate Increase

It was just a month ago when people opening their water bills were greeted by a 15.2% increase in their sewer rates. Not a word about this was mentioned in the Utica news.

IT AIN'T OVER . . .

Another increase is going to get passed down to the sewer USERS to pay for ONEIDA COUNTY'S violation of the law.

The USERS however are paying to have their sewage properly disposed of -- and they did not get what they paid for .

The USERS did not benefit from the violations of the law.

However, the COUNTY and the TOWNS (primarily New Hartford) profited handsomely from their improper sewer connections. They looked the other way because COUNTY AND TOWN OFFICIALS WANTED THE INCREASE IN TAX BASE from all the new developments that they were approving. . . . Never mind that the sewage was not being properly handled.

When the law caught up to them, they decided to pass the cost down to you, the USERS (half of whom live in Utica). So if you are a big water user because you use it in your business, or you have a large family, or you just like to take a lot of baths, you get to pay a larger percentage of the County's punishment.

This is wrong. The County and the Towns need to pay for this out of their own proceeds -- from their expanded tax bases -- and not dump this on the sewer Users.

Maybe then they will think twice before trashing the environment for the sake of "economic growth."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mr. Arcuri, NYRI & the Thruway

Per Tonight's OD Mr. Arcuri has written to the PSC asking for the Thruway to be considered as a route for the NYRI power line.

In the letter, Arcuri, Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and John Hall, D-Dover Plains, said New York Regional Interconnect's contention that the Thruway isn't a viable alternative is wrong.
The question that should be answered: Why do these gentlemen think that the Thruway IS a viable alternative?

Shovel Ready?

Per the Times Union AMD has just filed papers with the Towns of Malta and Stillwater, hoping to obtain a building permit for its $3.2B chip fab plant . . . "by the end of December."

I guess even Joe Bruno cannot make the wheels of local government in New York State turn that fast.

Of course, AMD has yet to decide to officially commit to the project . . .

An agreement with the state gives AMD until July 31, 2009, to move ahead with the project and still be eligible for $1.2 billion in incentives for the plant.
Do you wonder what ever happened to the Pataki-era concept of sites being pre-permitted so that projects would be ready to turn the shovel within 90 days of closing?

- o 0 o -

Here's a little news clip out of Plattsburgh: Bombardier is looking at US locations for assembling planes now that the dollar has gotten so cheap. It seems that we have a location tailor made for this kind of business in Utica-Rome . . . maybe even two locations (if we could dump that ridiculous Homeland Security School). . . and a local workforce training program in the aviation field to boot.

Will MV EDGE put in a bid?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NYRI Down the Thruway?

Per tonight's O-D:

The state Thruway corridor shouldn’t be ruled out as a possible route for New York Regional Interconnect’s proposed power line, U.S. Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, said Tuesday.
Where oh where did the idea of putting the power line down the Thruway come from, anyway? Politicians, perhaps?

Imagine a power line (with 14-story towers) running through the downtowns of Utica, Herkimer, Canajoharie, Amsterdam, Schenectady, etc. etc. . . .

NYRI is a bad idea - - - but forcing them to consider an alternative like the Thruway is simply . . .

STUPID.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Poor Niagara Falls, NY . . .

Niagara Falls, NY, always Utica's rival in terms of population in the mid-20th Century, has fallen on hard times. Crossing the border from Niagara Falls, Ontario into Niagara Falls, NY, you get the feeling of what it must have been like crossing from West to East Berlin at the height of the cold war. Glittering lights, new buildings and gardens are behind you; filth, trash, decaying structures, darkness and a sense of hopelessness lie ahead.

This happened in spite of being at one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. This happened in spite of having a casino in the middle of downtown.

It all goes to show you that even with the best of assets, with poor leadership, poor and uninformed judgment, and poor policies by the State of New York, little is possible.

Read all about it in the Buffalo News:
Niagara Falls developers leave downtown a land of empty promises

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Subsidizing Sprawl . . . Again

This time it is Kirkland. . . and this is getting ridiculous.

A company that's building a 180-unit apartment complex on Clinton Street could be awarded a sales tax exemption for building materials and supplies for the second-phase of the $25-million development, officials said.
Why should the public subsidize a development that extends the need for more public infrastructure and services into new areas, while those things in other areas go underutilized? If exemptions are to be given, they should be limited to incorporated villages and cities where services are already in place.

OCIDA and EDGE only think about "development" . . . and not what the development will ultimately cost an overburdened public. This is what happens when "regional" entities are created that are given narrow responsibilities. OCIDA and EDGE will not have to deal with the need for roads, sewers, water, police, etc. that their sponsored developments will require.

Our system of local government needs an overhaul.

Update ==
Check out Greens & Beans Comment below

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Man on a Mission . . .

Joe was caught between a rock and a hard place. He had a choice between being forced from his home or fighting back. He decided to fight . . .

What Joe was fighting was an outrageous tax assessment. . . . but it was no slam dunk. Even though he had "the goods" on his local township, and even after winning before a tribunal, town officials resisted every inch of the way . . . even to the point of falsifying evidence.

But Joe prevailed.

Joe is telling his story. You will hear of the arrogance of local officials who have forgotten who it is they are paid to serve. You will hear of incompetence. But you will also learn that you can win.

Joe appears on local radio and TV this week on the "Common Cents" show at the following air times:

  • Sunday, February 17, 2008, at 9:00 AM on : 96.9 FM, 94.9 FM, and 102.5 FM.
  • Sunday, February 17, 2008, at 12:30 PM on : 1310 AM, 1350 AM
  • Tuesday, February 19, 2008, at 10:30 PM on: TV Channel 99
  • Wednesday, February 20, 2008, at 5:00 PM on: TV Channel 99
  • Thursday, February 21, 2008, at 1:00 PM on: TV Channel 99
  • Friday, February 22, 2008, at 1:00 PM on: TV Channel 99
Joe is also publishing a book on his experience, expected to be out in March. The book will provide "how to" instructions, allowing you to benefit from what he learned during his ordeal. It is called "Fighting Back -- Appealing your property tax assessment made easy."

Thanks Joe!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NYM: Variance Shot Down

Per tonight's OD, NY Mills has shot down a variance that would have allowed Oriskany Manufacturing Technologies to have operated out of the old Bonide Plant. Frankly, while I was concerned about adherence to the local ordinances, I was hoping that the parties could find a way to make this work for everyone. But that was not to be.

Executive VP Michael Fitzgerald was unhappy:

“Unfortunately, it just goes to show the small-mindedness of the public officials that uphold the law,” Fitzgerald said. [emphasis supplied.]
That really is an extraordinary remark.

Mr. Fitzgerald seems to be saying that public officials who uphold the law are small minded!

If that sentiment somehow was felt by the Village Board, Mr. Fitzgerald has no one but himself to blame for the denial.

Thruway+Canal: Then & Now

Tom Precious did a great job in a Buffalo News column yesterday about who was responsible for connecting the Canal and Thruway together back in 1992, and who is fighting to split them apart now. You will be more convinced than ever that our Albany legislators, for the most part, just do as they're told rather than think about what they are doing. Give it a read.

"Thruway/canal gimmick bites back 16 years later"

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Hot Potato

The Observer-Dispatch is calling for an end to the Pylman investigation, with a report of no findings.

That’s what Council Attorney Anthony Garramone should have done. Garramone guided the Investigatory Committee through the inquiry and resigned on the final day of testimony nearly one year ago.
But was the work really completed? And why the resignation at such a critical time? And what makes the O-D think that everything is OK? Something does not smell right.

Things are still amiss in the Utica Police Department.

There is still that "little" matter of forgery that everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten . . . no not of time cards, but of evidence. Just before the election we read in the Observer-Dispatch how Utica Police forged a police laboratory DNA report to try to trick a suspect into confessing to a crime. Oh, the O-D was careful not to call it forgery, and Chief Pylman and DA McNamara tried to minimize what had been done. But forgery is what it was . . . and forgery is a crime.

Until the matter of the falsified DNA report is taken care of, it is too soon to end any investigation.

UCSD's 9th Grade Academy: Bad Busing

Here's a small reason why Utica's proposed 9th Grade Academy is a bad idea: fuel costs.

The school district has city-wide bus routes to collect students for Proctor, and now will have to duplicate the same for the 9th Grade Academy in North Utica. Would it not be more efficient transportation-wise to keep 9th Grade with Proctor, or put it in the middle schools where existing routes may be used? What about the traffic impact to city streets?

Did anyone on the Board of Education think about this? Or were they just too busy latching on to the latest educational fad as an excuse to spend money?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

NH Business Park: Bad Public Policy . . .

Well they went ahead and did it: the New Hartford School District approved the scheme to send in-lieu-of-tax payments to New Hartford Town to build a road to serve a private development. The "lesson" for us observers is that when months of planning goes on behind closed doors, a project will have a momentum that is almost impossible to stop.

I won't bore you with the details of the questionable legality of the school district signing an agreement with a totally non-educational objective. Rather, I want you to think of why government involvement with the NH Business Park is bad public policy.

Government picking favorites . . .

It's hard enough for businesses to make a go of it in Upstate New York. If you were a business, how much worse would it be if the government took YOUR money and used it to prop up YOUR COMPETITORS? That is exactly what will happen if the Town/County/NHSD/OCIDA plan goes through. When local government gives tax breaks and picks up the costs of mitigating the impacts of the business park, the cost savings can be passed onto the park's occupants, whether a hotel or office buildings. These businesses, then, are given a taxpayer-subsidized competitive advantage over other similar businesses in the same market -- ones who have been corporate residents and contributing to the local economy for years -- making it more difficult for them to make a buck. Is it any wonder that long time businesses just close or up and leave in disgust?

Sprawl without growth . . .

Encouraging development of undeveloped land extends the public infrastructure and need for services over a greater area. The road extension is obvious. Water and sewer extensions are being considered. Extension of police and fire protection will follow. These extensions guarantee an increase in public expenses - FOREVER. Who will pay?

The idea of "build it, and they will come" has been disproved by years of recent history. In fact, the opposite has occurred: with more building, people continue to leave. This has been well documented by Rolf Pendall in his work "Sprawl Without Growth: The Upstate Paradox." Utica/Rome/Syracuse between 1982 and 1997 increased its urbanized acreage by 45% (100,000 acres) while its population decreased, resulting in a drop in population density from 5.17 to 3.54 per urbanized acre. Now think of what has happened since 1997! With the increase in developed acreage in the face of declining population, is it any wonder why the taxes collected never seem to be enough to meet our needs? And with the taxes to support all this development going up, is it any wonder why people continue to leave, driving density further down, and driving taxes even higher. The feed-back loop is killing us . . . and expansion of development like the NH Business Park is only going to be more counter productive.

Environmental degradation and economic segregation . . .

Agricultural lands and open spaces are converted to parking lots and new buildings, leading to abandonment or underutilization of buildings elsewhere. Economic activity becomes concentrated in wealthy areas, while poorer areas languish, making it increasingly difficult for the poor to work their way out of poverty, leading to a drag on the entire economy.

The negatives of this project seem to outweigh the positives. Unfair treatment will cause businesses to leave. Extensions of infrastructure will drive up taxes causing more to leave. The quality of our region's living and social environment will deteriorate, giving those of us who love the area less reason to stay.

Still think this is a good idea?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Coincidence and Charity . . . or a Well-Crafted Deal?

In December, 2006, voters in the New Hartford School District turned down a bonding proposal that included $450,000 for 87 acres on Tibbitts Road to be used for a bus repair facility. The subsequent bonding proposal that passed did not include money for the purchase of land for a bus facility.

In December, 2007, the New Hartford School District broaches the idea of the school district, Town, Village, and BOCES collaborating to build a "shared transportation facility."

On January 25, 2008, we read that the New Hartford School District, Town, and Oneida County will pool payments in lieu of taxes from the initial tenants of the New Hartford Business Park to extend and widen a Town road to serve the Business Park and to connect the Business Park to Rt. 840.

On January 30, 2008, at a public hearing, residents questioned the government's support of a private developer by building the road to serve the Business Park, and indicated that they wanted to have a say in the project. New Hartford Online has posted the press release and the slides presented at this hearing. The information presented indicates that the New Hartford School District will pick up about 71% of a $2.9 million bond to pay for the road based on current tax rates, with the actual sum over time being higher than this amount.

On February 1, 2008,the developer announces that he plans to donate 17 acres (which happens to be land-locked behind BOCES) to the New Hartford School District to build a bus garage that could be shared by area school districts.

Was this series of events coincidence?

The New Hartford School District's commitment of over $2 million of PILOT to the Town for the road requires no voter approval.

The
New Hartford School District's acceptance of a 'gift' requires no voter approval.

Still Coincidence?

The school district gets "free" land for a bus garage and the developer gets a "free" road -- but if we put these isolated (?) acts together as a "transaction" it looks the same as if the school district were paying the developer $121,000/acre plus interest.

The voter-rejected proposal to buy 87 acres for $450,000 looks like an incredible "bargain" by comparison.

NYM at the Cross Roads . . .

This week, the Observer-Dispatch's editors raised the possibility of merging the N.Y. Mills school district with nearby larger districts. The time to think about this is ripe.

NY Mills is at a cross roads. The voters have said that they are financially tapped out and cannot afford to "keep up with the Joneses." Does NYM want to merge or remain separate? What is best for the children? There are advantages and drawbacks to either alternative.

Merger with a larger district would permit NYM children to have access to programs and services beyond the capability of the village school district to support. With merger, it will be more likely that parents find programs that suit their children's personal aptitudes, needs and/or interests.

Remaining separate will mean that what is available to children will be limited. The children would have to do without some things.

Remaining separate, however, will also mean that busing times will never be overwhelming, leaving time for other pursuits. The school will retain its identification with the community, encouraging parental and community involvement. School employees will be more likely to know the children, because their numbers will be limited. Since the students will have more time in the community, the community will know its students better as well.

Small does not necessarily mean low quality. Notre Dame High School back in the 60s offered maybe 2 electives -- that was it. UFA, meanwhile, seemed to have every course imaginable. In spite of the limited offerings, Notre Dame turned out to be fantastic preparation for college. The school focused on what was most important, and did it well. More than 90% of its graduates went on to college.

I do not know what is more important to NYM residents: retaining its own identity and remaining small, or merging with another district to offer more to its children. But staying separate with a limited budget does not have to be a "bad" thing, and merger is not necessarily "good."

It all depends upon how either is done.