Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tear Down Walls?

I'll settle for erasing a few boundaries . . .

A couple days ago I thought the OD finally "got it" with its editorial "Revive the hearts of our communities" . . .
If we continue to sprawl without growth, we will continue to dilute the strength of our communities and force services to be provided over a wider area. That’s a recipe for higher taxes, not progress.
Wow . . . I could have written that!

But then we read this the next day: "Tear down walls that separate us". . . .
While our individual towns and villages have many good qualities and can stand alone, we lack the cohesiveness — those little pegs — necessary to build one single, strong community . . .
There is a fallacy in this statement. The individual towns and villages -- at least those in the Greater Utica area -- can NOT stand alone. With modern rules and regulations, these jurisdictions require public water and sewer facilities to support their current growth -- facilities that depend upon the population base in Utica to be economically feasible.

Could New Hartford exist without water and sanitary sewer services? Not in its present form. Could New Hartford afford its own separate water treatment plant and sewer systems? No. New Hartford depends on the population base in Utica to make those services, and it's very existence as a populated area, possible.

The shared water and sewer systems should have been the "little pegs" of cohesiveness to bring New Hartford (and other suburban jurisdictions) together with Utica. Instead, two separate units of government for two separate municipal services (the water authority and part county sewer district) were created to avoid the necessity of the suburban communities merging with Utica.

It is interesting to note that these two "regionalized" systems (one that the OD actively pushed for) are the very ones that now are about to bring the entire Greater Utica region down, the first via a Consent Order that the communities cannot afford, the second via a cap on the water that may be drawn from Hinckley reservoir that will hinder regional regrowth.
We must tear down the walls that separate us and build a sense of region. While many good ideas have been floated through the years by many bright people, we haven’t quite managed to find that one unifying element to knit us together.

We now have the unifying element (thanks to "regionalization"): fiscal ruin.

Now is time for the OD to recognize what is under its nose, and to eliminate its own "parochialism."

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Incompetence On Incompetence On Incompetence . . .

The decision is in, and the decision is that the Mohawk Valley Water Authority has had a cap placed on the amount of water it may legally withdraw from the Hinckley Reservoir . . . limited to the area's historic water use circa 1970.

This ultimately is a cap on US, the water users -- the customers of the MVWA -- and the landowners within the area where water pipes have already been laid.

How did this cap come about? It came about by the incompetence of the Water Authority when it violated the very agreement upon which its rights to withdraw water from Hinckley were predicated. How smart was that?

Rather than negotiate a settlement (albeit from an inferior position), MVWA sued to assert its 'rights' . . . rights that any lay person could have figured out did not exist. Had the court based its decision on the agreement itself, we would now all be buying bottled water to drink and melting snow to flush our toilets. But that would create a public health crisis! The decision that ultimately came down was based on "equity" . . . or the fairness of the situation. . . . But, MVWA (us again) would be limited to historical usage. It was incompetence again for MVWA to have sued to get the benefits of an agreement that it itself violated -- and it passed the cost of the law suit (seven figures plus?) on to you its captive customers. Now the area has a numerical limit on the water that it may take, a limit for all the world to see. You can kiss your precious chip-fab fantasy away because such operations require millions of gallons per day. How smart was that?

But the double incompetence, apparently, is not enough for the leadership running the MVWA. Because current usage is down from the historic "high," the MVWA wants to extend water lines to service NEW users. Now what does that mean for former industrial sites in Utica, New York Mills, New Hartford, Oriskany, Whitesboro and elsewhere . . . that they can no longer be used by industries that may require water? . . . because the MVWA feels that the water should be sent to new users elsewhere? How smart is that?

Incompetence on Incompetence on Incompetence . . . . . Or is it really Arrogance?

When will our local leaders admit that it was a huge mistake to create the MVWA? . . . and that it will be a bigger mistake to allow MVWA to continue to exist!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Hartford Planning Board Passed What? Part 2

New Hartford is either in the tank for certain developers, or its officials are dumber or weaker than we thought they were.

In a sidebar to yesterday's OD story, it was reported that the Planning Board approved an expansion of the Jewel Ridge development . . . but not without a warning from newest member Elisabetta DeGironimo:
“We’re deforesting the area on top of a watershed,” she said. “I just worry that the town is letting projects be approved that create storm water problems later.”
Hello ... Is Anybody Listening?

The Planning Board was warned that the project would create problems off-site, but it went ahead and approved it anyway? I'm sorry, but this just defies common sense . . . and demonstrates that officialdom is more concerned about possible legal repercussions from developers than the health and safety of its residents.

Based on Ms. DeGironimo's statement, it appears that the Town is authorizing . . .


Modern environmental law is grounded in the law of nuisance. Essentially, you can enjoy the use of your own property as long as you do not interfere with your neighbor's use of their property. That's a pretty simple concept that even school children understand. If you foolishly denude your hillside and cause runoff to flow onto your neighbor's property, you have interfered with your neighbor's use of his or her property, you have created a nuisance, and you can be enjoined by a court of law to abate it. But why let the situation get that far? Isn't this why we have planning boards? . . . to anticipate problems and place conditions on projects to stop problems from developing?

The Town of New Hartford knows full well that it has fallen down on the job when it comes to protecting its residents from storm water. The runoff problem has become a public nuisance, and has necessitated taxpayer expenditures on solutions . . . solutions that should have been implemented by the developers that caused the problems. But even after passing a $2M stormwater bond and spending hundreds of thousands on culverts, etc., the old pattern of approving developments that will cause problems continues.

If Town Government is unwilling or incapable of protecting its residents, why have it at all?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Hartford Planning Board Passed What?

Development plan passed in New Hartford reads the headline . . .But what is posted on the Town of New Hartford website as the "Final GEIS for Southern Portion of N.H." is not a Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement at all. Rather, it should be called a  "Responsiveness Summary" of the responses to public comments on a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement that was published last summer.  We all cannot attend all meetings to be sure what the Town is doing.  It is hard to fathom what NH is doing when it cannot get its basic terminology right. No wonder the Business Park is so screwed up.

That said, there are two things in the OD article that jump out at me.

(1) There seems to be an attitude (a sense of entitlement?) among some town land owners that they should be able to do whatever they want to do with their property.  Farmers complain that they no longer can farm (for whatever reason) and now the only way they can make ends meet is to sell their property to developers. . . . which the town now will restrict somewhat.  While no one likes being restricted, why should the NEIGHBORS of these landowners have to suffer the impacts of development -- particularly storm water runoff -- that occur off the property being developed?  That is a nuisance and interferes with THEIR ownership rights.  Here, with the 5 acre restriction everyone seems to complain about, the Town is only trying to protect its existing residents from the harms associated with development.

(2) Somehow this paves the way for more Fees In Lieu of Mitigation.  However there is nothing in either the "FGEIS" or the DGEIS that gives a formula or methodology for calculating what an appropriate fee is.

More work needs to be done.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Editorials. . . .

From "GateHouse News Service" . . . Our view: Be smart about local growth pattern
Continuing suburban sprawl not in our best interests.

The New Hartford Business Park could become a case study in how not to promote growth and development.

It is simply shifting local jobs to a new location, not adding jobs to our region.
This editorial "gets it." All we do in this region in the name of "growth" and "development" is "rearrange the deck chairs" shifting economic activity from the city and villages to the suburbs and one suburban location to another while the regional "ship" sinks, losing business, jobs and people to other parts of the country.

From "Observer Dispatch" and NH Planning Board Chairman Jerome Donovan . . . Guest's view: 840 business park access must be a Town Board priority in new year.
. . . we must work to fulfill the potential of the vision we as a town have invested in for nearly two decades. And we must do so using every economic development tool available in concert with private investment.

The town board’s failure to take up the break-in-access resolution continues to unnecessarily delay:

  • Development of the Business Park.
  • Expansion and diversification our tax base.
  • The easing of congestion at area intersections, including the infamous Jay-K intersection.
  • Improving access to Middle Settlement Road from Park View Estates.
  • The creation of new jobs which will strengthen the local economy and support retail sales which generate critically important revenues for the town.
This editorial does NOT "get it." I won't detail why the current business park was never the town's "vision," but, instead, refer interested readers to the 1999 Environmental Impact Statement for what was then proposed to be a town-owned industrial park. The vision then was entirely different from the vision now. This editorial shows how the regional vision has now been lost in the myopia of looking just at New Hartford.

Why should "expansion" of the tax base be an objective of town government when it carries with it the responsibility of expanding and maintaining public infrastructure? With all of the expansion of tax base in New Hartford has come a need to tax residents even more. . . as its residents will discover when tax bills get opened in January. If town government isn't working for its residents, who is it working for?

While easing congestion increases convenience, isn't congestion what comes with a lot of economic activity? When the congestion along Genesee Street in Utica was relieved by the North-South Arterial in the 1960s, what followed? What happened to the economic activity that was there?

As indicated by the first editorial, hoped-for "new jobs" are an illusion and will come from someplace else in the local economy. . . Hold that thought for a moment.

The first editorial pointed out something else:
. . . The age of the automobile led to the spread of growth into suburban communities . . .
While the automobile changed what is "local," our government which was organized on a pre-automobile concept of "local" has not changed. The result has been (not only here, but elsewhere in New York State) suburbs and the cities they economically depend upon making policy decisions that hurt the city-suburban region as a whole. In Upstate, we have what has been documented by the Brookings Institute as one of the worst cases of sprawl in the nation . . . sprawl without growth in population . . . The result is extremely high levels of taxation which drive more people away and create a need for even higher taxes.

New Hartford, Whitestown, and Utica being separate jurisdictions makes about as much sense as east and west Utica being separately governed. If there was a Municipality of Greater Utica instead, somehow I think we would still have an apple orchard in New Hartford . . . or a business park there reserved for manufacturing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Oneida County Sticks It To The Villages . . . and Utica

Oneida County's $158 Million Sewer project has been portrayed by government and media as resolving a problem of too much storm water getting into sewers that now must be removed. With that perspective, few would question the distribution of costs recently published in the local newspaper -- with the communities having the "leakiest" sewers being stuck with the greatest bills. Ignored, however, are the facts that the project was triggered by the County's violation of law; that the violation has exposed local communities to costs, which could have legally been smaller and postponed had no violation occurred; and that the violation enabled the County and certain municipalities to grow their tax bases and incomes "on the cheap." If the County proceeds down its current path on cost sharing with our system of overlapping local governments, the entities that benefited the most from the violation (the County and Town of New Hartford) are going to continue to benefit, while the burden of paying for the project will be passed on to the Villages and the City of Utica.

The table that accompanies this article breaks down costs by jurisdiction, using cost information from an Oct. 10th OD article and an Oct. 8th County press release, plus readily available population information. This table shows what each community would pay, if it is responsible to fix the sewers that it owns. Notice that the Towns' "Cost Per Capita" amounts are significantly less than those of the Villages. Now consider that every Village is also part of a Town. While it is yet undecided how these costs will end up being distributed (everyone is praying for grants), it does not seem unrealistic that Village residents will also be made to pick up the per capita costs of the Town within which they reside. Additionally, the County intends to pass "District Wide" costs on to ALL sewer users, including those living within the affected municipalities listed. The last column shows the "Cumulative Per Capita Cost" of the Consent Order. [Village+Town+"District Wide" or, for Town-only residents, Town+"District Wide"]. The difference between Towns and Villages becomes more pronounced.

It is important to remember that these costs are merely the costs necessary to bring the County's, Towns' and Villages' sewer systems into compliance with the Consent Order. The costs do not include the usual sewer user fees collected to process our wastewater. How did we get into this predicament?

We have to go back to when Utica and the Villages were first settled. People lived so close to each other in the settlements that sewers became necessary to carry both storm water and waste water away to where they could be "harmlessly" discharged to a stream. Sewers were "combined" because both storm and waste water were transported together. Later, when it was discovered that the discharge was not so "harmless," treatment plants were added to the end of the pipe before discharge to remove most of the harmful material. Because storm water was included, treatment plants had to be quite large, but even a large plant would not be able to contend with all the water from a significant storm. "Combined Sewer Overflows" (CSOs) were designed to allow some of the combined waters to discharge directly into the stream, bypassing treatment during storms. This was preferable to having the waters back up into people's basements or having to make treatment plants even bigger to handle large storms. This was deemed acceptable because the overflowed waste was highly diluted with rain water.

Later someone had the idea that, if sanitary waste and storm water were handled by separate pipes, storm water could be discharged directly to the stream and concentrated sanitary waste could be piped directly to the treatment plant without the need for an overflow. If storm water was kept out of the system, treatment plants would not have to be as large. The treatment plant and sewer pipes would be designed to accommodate all the waste for the population to be served, which, unlike the weather, would be predictable. Newer developments followed this model of separate sewers for sanitary waste and storm water. If the system is not designed correctly, or if rainwater gets into the system and there is an overflow, it is called a "Sanitary Sewer Overflow" (SSO). SSOs have been made illegal, not only because, by design, they are not supposed to exist, but because spills of concentrated wastes are harmful.

Our region's sewers consist of both the combined and separated types. Understandably the region's combined sewers are found primarily in Utica and the Villages because they were the first places to be developed. Notably, separated sewers predominate in the Towns where development is more recent. There are many CSOs in Utica, which are reached before waters enter the County system. The City is responsible for taking care of those. The Villages, however, discharge their combined wastes directly to the County interceptor before reaching a CSO. To relieve the system of rainwater from the Villages, the County maintained a CSO in Yorkville.

Federal Law (the Clean Water Act) has allowed CSOs to continue to exist in recognition of the facts that it would be prohibitively expensive for older communities to retrofit their sewer systems to the newer standards, and that when spillages do occur, they are relatively dilute and harmless. The law contemplated that over time CSOs would be subjected to increasingly stringent standards but at a pace that the communities would be able to afford to keep up with. That affordable pace, however, has been interrupted locally by the Consent Order.

Since Utica and the Villages were close to full build-out, most of the newer development -- with separated sewers -- occurred in the Towns. In hindsight, the new developments should not have been allowed to connect to the County's sewer interceptor upstream of the Yorkville CSO. They either should have been put on septic systems (which would mandate less development), or the municipalities that wanted dense development should have financed (expensive) separate lines to carry separated waste to the County interceptor at a point where the Yorkville CSO would be bypassed. Regardless, neither approach was taken. It was much less expensive (and more lucrative for the County and Towns in terms of tax-base development) to allow waste-only lines to simply connect to the County's combined interceptor and CSO.

In 2006, the Federal government noticed all the lines with separated waste from new developments tying into the Yorkville CSO. The lines increased the concentration of waste in overflows during rain events. The Federal government determined that the CSO was really an illegal SSO that needed to be abated and directed the State to take action. The State, in turn, filed charges against the County, which were settled by the Consent Order.

Had the violation not occurred, the Villages would not now be under the Consent Order deadline with threats of fines to tighten their discharges to the Yorkville CSO. They would have been accorded the leniency accorded to other older communities to gradually bring themselves up to tighter standards.

Although Utica is not separately shown on the table, its residents, too, are going to be impacted by the Consent Order through the "District Wide" costs. While Utica residents will pay "only" $735 each given its larger population, they will contribute about 28% of the entire $158 million cost to fix this SUBURBAN problem. However, Utica has its own $152 million project to tighten city-owned CSOs. Even though the County will make Uticans pay to fix a similar problem in the suburbs, there is no offer from the County to help Utica with its problem. The cost of that project combined with the Consent Order will boost Utica's per capita cost to $3,290, which is right up there with the Villages' costs.

Taking a bird's-eye view of the situation, Utica and the Villages are going to be forced by the County through the Consent Order to subsidize suburban growth in the Towns. We have lived with such Town-favoring policies for more than 30 years. They have only accelerated Greater Utica's downward spiral by exacerbating sprawl, raising the cost of government, and driving more people and jobs entirely out of the region.

It is time for a new approach.

[This article appeared in the November 2009 Utica Phoenix. Be sure to pick up the December Phoenix to read "HOPEnhagen or HOAXenhagen"]

Monday, December 07, 2009

Teachers Needing Help?

Fellow blogger Joe Bottini had an interesting Guest Editorial in Sunday's OD: 'Outstanding’ teachers need other help, too.

I'm not too sure of where he is going with this piece other than to complain about the breakdown of society, and how that breakdown interferes with learning in the classroom.

This quote crystallizes my problem with Mr. Bottini's view.
''Kids are super-saturated with lessons that education is not the most important thing. It is screamed at them through TV programming, computer games, print material and the mores of the times. This societal message precludes a child developing a yearning for learning and an attitude of gratitude for it.''
How about the 'super-saturation' that occurs IN SCHOOL that education is not the most important thing? We have 'international cup stacking,' the 'ride for missing children,' the ironic 'honor teachers and education' assembly, meetings with 'community leaders' at the Stanley, 'Pinwheels for Peace,' and a whole host of excuses to interrupt the learning of core subjects. On top of this there is the problem of pullouts for 'special education' students who have to miss academic work for specialized treatment.

And I can think of nothing that puts a damper on a child's "yearning for learning" more than all the group activities that go on in the classroom. Children want to know about how the world works, and they want to know NOW. Forcing them to work with other kids who they know don't know any more than they do isn't viewed as learning because most of the time is spend getting along.

All these things send the message that education is not the most important thing: The Event of the Day (or the Minute) is more important.

Schools and educators need to clean their own houses first before complaining that "society" is getting in the way of learning. Until schools and teachers resume their traditional roles as distributors of knowledge as opposed to being society's "change agents," nothing will change on the education front.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Your World Is About to End . . .

and a "New World Order" is set to emerge ... At least that is the "hope," in some circles, for the Copenhagen climate talks next week.

Don't be blinded by the "science" of climate change . . . Expert opinion is only as good as the data it is based upon . . . and the data has been destroyed.

Copenhagen has nothing to do with protecting the earth, but everything to do with global elitists and transnational corporations making a grab for unimaginable power and wealth through "global governance."

Please pick up the December issue of the Utica Phoenix when it comes out in the next few days for "HOPEnhagen HOAXenhagen" and read about the greatest hoax ever perpetrated upon mankind.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fees In Lieu of Mitigation . . .

An interesting guest editorial by Dr. Palumbo appears in today's OD about the fees in lieu of mitigation that the Town of NH has decided to keep: "New Hartford has done developers a tremendous disservice."
When I first read the story that the town of New Hartford will not be returning mitigation fees to developers, I felt very disappointed. This sum of money was money we borrowed in 1998. The money was to help facilitate the construction of the medical building — a dream we had nurtured for many years. . . .
While developers are sometimes painted as the bad guys -- and they can be when they use connections to get things at public expense they are not entitled to -- in many cases they are just people going about their business. In doctor Palumbo's case, a large fee was taken from him purportedly to mitigate environmental impacts from his project. He brings home the fact that in his case, the fee hit him and his family personally.

Presuming that the Town had the statutory authority to take the fee from the doctor in the first place (which does not appear to be the case) the town had an obligation to use the fees for the purposes intended: TO MITIGATE IMPACTS FROM THE DOCTOR'S PROJECT. If not used for that purpose, the town has the obligation to return the fee.

As recently commented upon in this blog, the attorney's letter that the Town is relying upon to keep the fee appears to have been the product of manipulation of the attorney by the Town. Town officials fed the attorney just the "facts" the attorney would need to give Town officials the opinion they wanted. Whatever may have been agreed upon in 1998 with the developer, the Town will do what it wants now. Unfortunately, that attitude from the Town is going to continue into the new administration given Mr. Tyksinski's comment the the fees should not be returned, no matter what the contracts said.

While the title of the editorial remarks that the town has done developers a disservice, the Town has done its PEOPLE a disservice. Not only have they been deprived of the mitigation of impacts intended by the Town's taking of the fee, they have been deprived of the ability to predict what their government will do to them in the future . . . that commitments made will be honored and not discarded by a change in attitude by the people in charge.

One of the biggest incentives to economic growth is maintenance of a stable government. Honoring commitments is a huge part of that. No one wants to invest in an area where an investment can potentially be rendered worthless by the stroke of some bureaucrat's pen.

It is wrong for the town to do something different now than it promised to do a decade ago. It is wrong for the Town to not return fees to Dr. Palumbo . . . Similarly, it was also wrong for the Town to change its position on Prestwick Glen after the project was underway, even though, in hindsight giving that developer a tax brake may have been a mistake.

If you can't trust the word of your government, it's time for a new government. 

There's more on this topic on New Hartford Online.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Private Police Deal in NH - 4th Post. . .

It seems like "growing your [taxpayer subsidized] business" may go beyond the confines of the New Hartford Police Department proper. A Letter to the Editor from a retired NHPD Sergeant reveals about the NH 911 Call Center:
The center has grown from handling New Hartford police and fire department calls, expanding over the years to dispatch for three volunteer fire departments, New York Mills Police Department, three highway departments and animal control, as well as handling after-hours calls for the codes, parks and sewer departments.
No problem if these other departments being serviced are all located within the Town of New Hartford . . . but they are not.

Sure, some will promote this as "shared services" . . . which (with reservations) is a good concept . . . but are the monies being paid to New Hartford by the other jurisdictions sufficient to cover the actual overtime, benefits, liability exposure, etc. that these New Hartford employees are burdening New Hartford Taxpayers with for performing work for other jurisdictions?

Or is the 911 call center just another excuse for some employees to rack up lots of overtime to pad pensions.

Sorry if I sound skeptical about the benefits of all this, but after reading about the police department itself, you have to wonder.

"Sharing Services" without consolidation of municipalities is a way to get the taxpayers of one municipality to subsidize another . . . And employees of the subsidizing muni may be only too willing to help because there is something in it for them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Private Police Deal in NH - A 3rd Angle . . .

We sometimes say we would like government to be run more like a business. It occurred to me that, with these police "protection" contracts the New Hartford Police Department is getting into with the mall, the cinemas and hospital, the NHPD has gone into the private security business.

Businesses sell their services to grow and, if they know what they're doing, increase profits. NHPD seems to be doing the same thing, trying to grow its business while competing with private firms.

But, unlike a business, Town Police are not subject to market forces that private businesses are subject to . . . the forces that drive businesses toward efficiency . . . the forces that will put a business OUT of business if it cannot compete.

Unlike a REAL business, the Town Police can simply hit up the taxpayer for more money instead of becoming more efficient. It can simply hit up the taxpayer for benefits and perks that a private security business might not be able to provide and, based on the posts on NH Online the last couple days, seems to be doing exactly that.

Town Government is NOT a business . . .

The fact that the NHPD seems to be "growing" its "business" by selling services to private entities suggests that NHPD is far bigger than it needs to be, and needs to be downsized.

If the officers involved want to go into the private security business, they should to it on their own time and on their own dime.

. . . and if they choose such a route of being on their own time and dime, they STILL are bound by ethics regulations not to do anything that would conflict with their official duties.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dissecting Police Pay in New Hartford

I was going to blog on this, but Cathy at New Hartford Online saved me the trouble by doing an excellent analysis (with spreadsheets!) of New Hartford Police pay and overtime [HERE] and [HERE]. 

One must conclude that a gift of Town money and property is being made to various private entities because the costs of these private patrols when overtime and benefits are included far exceeds what the Town receives. This violates Article 8 section 1 of the NYS Constitution.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hope for Change . . .

Two small statements in two separate editorials in today's OD provide two tiny instances of hope that local leaders are finally waking up to the importance of Utica to the viability of the surrounding area, and that the structure of local government no longer makes sense. A third article provides the evidence that reorganization is needed.

In Guest view: Oneida County Democrats won’t be silent minority County Legislator Frank Tallarino of Rome said:
Consolidation is the most attractive and the best way to save money. But you are preaching to the choir. County government welcomes consolidation; the towns and villages have difficulty relinquishing the power and jobs they have held for decades.

Along with the suburban expansion that has crippled the cities — particularly Utica — there is the financial burden of maintaining town and village governments. Every town has expanded toward its villages or city and the number of government entities exist are an outrage.

In Our view: Redistricting Oneida County worth study, in reference to a parochial mindset the OD editors state :
The Charter Reform Commission’s proposal to extend county districts in the city of Utica into neighboring municipalities could be a key step in reshaping this attitude. Clearly the city of Utica shares commonality with many of the towns it borders, and broadening those districts only makes sense. Contrary to what some might believe, the health and stability of the city of Utica have a direct effect on its suburbs. When the city suffers, it hurts us all.
These views should provide the lens through which county policies must be reexamined . . . not with an eye toward further expanding county government to assume traditional city/town/village services (such as 911, sewage, water, and garbage services) , but rather, to discern where the county government has enabled parochial interests to continue to exist by providing such services in place of (and which would be better managed by) an enlarged local government. . . with an eye to eventually withdrawing from them.

In Sewer fees sore point for suburbs we see more "enablement" of parochial interests at the direction of the county. The county intends to collect a fee that will be used to partially defray local sewer repair costs, but hasn't figured out yet just what it will spend the money on. What seems to be happening is more redistribution of costs from one community to another -- with the County acting as arbiter and Utica, because it is the population center, being the ultimate piggybank (loser) as usual.

The County also hasn't figured out what it will do if local communities do not implement the fee, preferring to "cross that bridge" when it gets to it.

All this should have been thought about before the Consent Order was signed -- as pointed out in this blog. Figuring things out along the way, however, is the typical approach around here and ultimately creates more problems down the road, such as those described in today's article.

And why not do it this way? What ever the county legislators decide, half of them are unaffected because their constituents aren't in the sewer district. . . . "Let the other guys decide when they have to do something" seems to be the thought process . . . but by then, the options have become limited.

We (Utica, NH, Whitestown, Marcy, Deerfield, NYMills, Whitesboro, Yorkville, Oriskany, NH Village, Clayville) all share a sewer system largely controlled by outsiders. This makes no sense! We also share a water system. There should be 1 municipality controlling this, allowing everyone in the district to share the costs, the control, and the benefits:
The Municipality of Greater Utica.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Distractions . . .

"Students learns (sic) about disabilities"
"With one hand frozen at their sides, New York Mills first and second graders Monday attempted to put on sweaters and jackets, simulating how a stroke patient has to get dressed."
While this exercise is well-intentioned, it is an example of why our kids can't read, do math, don't know our history, don't understand how our government works, and don't know basic scientific principles. There are too many distractions from the children learning the core knowledge that they are expected to know.

If not learning about disabilities, its the ride for missing children, or drug awareness, or recycling . . . if not honoring their teachers (with teacher authored skits) or international cup-stacking competitions which were also OD stories of the last couple weeks.

Your money, and your children's time are being wasted.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Same Old New Hartford Games ...

Now the Town Board is hiding behind an undisclosed attorney's letter to justify transferring Fees in Lieu of Mitigation from one account to another for spending. And it looks like Woods Road work will receive a lot of the funding. Now just whom would be benefiting from that largess? New Hartford Business Park, perhaps?

Of course, the fees were taken from particular developers in lieu of mitigating the environmental impacts of their developments. And now the fees are being transferred to benefit another developer, rather than mitigating impacts. . . . impacts that are currently affecting people.

How much relief will the people in New York Mills along Royal Brook get from the runoff from Consumer Square by work on Woods Road?

Ms. Krupa, can you answer that question? It was a nice game you played for the home crowd last week over the budget, but we aren't stupid. You are an attorney and know that the Town fed selective information to outside counsel to get the opinion that the Town wanted. . . . the one that would allow funds to be used for something other than mitigating the impacts of the projects they were collected upon.

If I am wrong, then the Town should waive its attorney-client privilege to prove it.

We the People paid for this outside counsel's opinion, and also paid for inside counsel, the Town Board, and the Town Supervisor. Yet, somehow, we who pay and who are directly affected are not entitled to see this letter, or what was sent to the attorney to generate it.

There is a funny thing about privileges such as the attorney client privilege: When they are asserted to prevent disclosure of things that should be disclosed, they will support the drawing of a negative inference.

This Town Board and Town Administration still has something to hide.

PS... If anyone is acting under the delusion that things will be different under Mr. Tyksinski, you now have been given a reason to think again:

"Town Supervisor-elect Patrick Tyksinski said he doesn’t think any of the money should be paid back, no matter what the contracts state."

Just keep that statement in mind if you are thinking of entering into a contract -- any kind of contract -- with the Town of New Hartford during the next four years.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Princess, the Marchesa and the OD . . .

154_5453I'm glad Utica Daily News presented the "other side" of the Princess Lenska story. The Observer-Dispatch's unprovoked attack on her credibility was like pulling up the "Welcome" mat and turning out the lights. Here is someone from outside the area who is actually investing in a beloved Utica landmark, hasn't asked for a dime of public funds, and -- if we're lucky -- may sponsor some cultural events, and the first thing the OD thinks of is questioning her title?

In so far as the embassy response, did the OD ever stop to think that the existence of Polish royalty might be considered a threat to the Polish government, and, therefore, would be something to deny?

UDN quoted the princess as saying:
"I did a lot of research online found that there's this core group of people who hate this city have been doing everything possible to destroy the city of Utica--pull her down," she said.
An interesting statement ... especially coming from an outsider, no? Why do I have a nagging feeling that the royal title would not have been questioned if Lenska had chosen a property in New Hartford?

The unwelcoming attitude was unnecessary and, really, very Un-Utican (though the OD isn't "Utican" anymore anyway). For over 100 years Utica has opened its doors to thousands of refugees from all over the world, most of whom were dirt poor, but took their new found freedom and made something of themselves. . . . and Utica was a richer place for it. Why should it be different for a princess?

Geez . . . . We had a "Marchesa" for years and no one cared about the authenticity of her title. Why is it so different today? What mattered back then was the pleasure she brought to a lot of Italian American families on her radio show 50 years ago... and her striking presence in the community. Titles aren't important -- this is America, after all. What counts is what people do.. . . And it will be the same for HRH Lenska . . . if she is given a chance.

Maybe the OD is showing the fear of some of our local society matrons . . . afraid of being pushed out of the limelight by someone with cachet, perhaps?

Princess Lenska, don't be discouraged by the OD (or the other naysayers). When ever people are asked in local public meetings what Utica needs most, "a new newspaper" is the invariable response.

Bring a touch of royal class, help this community shake off its moribund grayness, rattle the cages of our so-called "elite," . . . and you will earn the title of Princess in our hearts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Small Change in New Taxford . . . and Unanswered Questions . . .

Lucky New Hartfordians! Their taxes will go up only 46% instead of 54%. New York Mills residents fare much "better." Their NH Town taxes go up "only" 620% instead of 1600%!

Some of the small cuts that were made are illusory . . . "Cutting" 30K for a Town Comptroller position isn't a real "cut" because the position had not been budgeted for in years. "Cutting" 30K for a Town Attorney's salary only will invite more hourly billing. "Cutting" 64K for "seasonal" employees will likely get parlayed into more overtime for regular employees.

Two UNMENTIONED things stick out in this story.

1) There are no apparent cuts to the New Hartford Police Department (except possibly a police vehicle). This is the case even after it was pointed out to the Town Board that the NHPD has committed the equivalent of 1/2 a man-year of police service to Marquee Cinemas in a purely private deal. On information and belief, there are several other deals out there. If NHPD can provide private security, then the NHPD can take a serious cut . . . and the officers can be released to work for the private security firms that would otherwise likely be taking on this work.

2) Ms. Mowat has never explained the up and down tax increase in New York Mills in an understandable way -- neither at the meeting in NYM, nor in the press. In the October 29th OD re the 1600% increase she said,
"The massive hike would be the result of an apparent accounting error made in 2003, New Hartford Budget Director Heather Mowat said Wednesday."

Today she says of the reduction to a 620% increase,
"The change is due to the fact that the state Comptroller’s Office declined to give an opinion on a possible accounting error by the town, Mowat said."

There is obviously a lot here that is not being explained.

The OD has been made aware of the police contract with Marquee, but not reported on it. How much money has the NHPD taken in on these private security details? Where is the money accounted for in the budget? What is the cost of the promised overtime to the taxpayers?

Ms. Mowat brought up (a) an alleged 2003 accounting error to explain a 1600% tax increase, and (b) the lack of a comptroller opinion to explain the decrease to 620%. Neither (a) nor (b) explain anything. As usual (when New Hartford in involved), the Observer-Dispatch glosses over this with no substantive information. What was the nature of the alleged 2003 accounting error that presumably resulted in a tax reduction in the NYM NH-Town tax rate that justifies reversal now? Why does the state comptroller's refusal to issue an opinion cause the proposed tax increase to drop from 1600% to 620%? Reading between the lines, it sounds like Ms. Mowat was trying to get a state opinion that would support a 1600% tax increase in NYM!

Both the press on occasion and Ms. Mowat have pointed out that the Whitestown Town Tax in NYM is significantly higher than NH . . . seemingly to provoke Whitestown NYM residents to get their NH NYM neighbors to shut up. But there is a story there too that is not being covered. Why is the Whitestown tax rate in NYM so high? Is Whitestown charging NYM residents for Whitestown Police, because that would seem to violate the Town Law . . . or are there other expenses that the public doesn't know about. Contrasting how NYM residents are taxed by New Hartford and by Whitestown should reveal a lot about the two towns. Why is there no reporting on this?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wednesday Is Tar-and-Feathers Day in New Hartford . . .

Rarely have we seen in recent times the public outcry witnessed in New Hartford at recent budget meetings . . . .

However, this morning's Observer-Dispatch reports "Few cuts so far to proposed N. Hartford budget." Only Ms. Krupa seems to understand what is at stake, but everyone else seems paralyzed or fearful of making a move. . . . but there was no paralysis or fear when they voted all the spending increases that got N. Hartford into its fiscal mess.

Significant cuts can and must be made. It is clear that the police department can take significant cuts when they can offer to sell their services to paying clients. . . . and, connected with police, is that patronage mill NH911 call center that duplicates County 911.

The public has spoken loud and clear that they WANT cuts. So, just who does the Town Board represent?

Maybe the public needs to remind them -- again -- on Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's Time to Gore the Sacred Cow of "Education" . . .

Headlining the Local Section of Yesterday's Observer-Dispatch was this AP story: "N. Y. Senate coalition vows to reject school aid cuts." A "new coalition" of upstate and suburban Democrat senators (including local Senator Valesky) are going to join Republican senators to refuse Gov. Paterson's proposed mid-year 4.5% cut in school aid. Assemblyman Townsend struck a similar note in last week's Utica Daily News.

Last week we also saw this school-related headline: Stacking cups toward world record.

Providing education, undoubtedly, is one of the more important functions of government. Parents want their children to be knowledgeable about the world around them, to be able to make sound decisions, to be able to cope with daily life, and to be able to earn a living. Society requires a citizenry that is sufficiently educated to lead and run its many institutions -- which maintain order, which supply everyday needs, and which maintain security. Education is so important that, for some, it is worth whatever price is placed upon it. . . . But is it worth the price that we are actually paying? And is what we are getting what we think we are paying for?

The cup-stacking story suggests NO on both counts. . . . as did the Pinwheels for Peace, "Pajamas, Pep Rallies and Posters", Yoga, volunteer celebration, and Kernan Kidz at Kollege stories of the recent past (among others). Schools are not the places of learning that they once were.

As noted last month ("Knowledge Is (Still) Power") teaching methodologies and objectives have been drastically changed, necessitating ever increasing levels of staff while producing lower returns.

Let's not forget the huge "stimulus" package by former Gov. Patacki for massive school construction all across the state that will put $300 million into Utica schools alone. Imagine the cost of this program as it is replicated all across the state.

The importance of "education" has been co-opted by special interests, including the Teachers Union, Construction Workers Union, publishers, contractors, and architects, to enrich some while advancing the political interests of others.

Midyear cuts to education can and should be made. We can do without a few cups to stack. In fact, Midyear is the BEST time to do it because school districts will not be able to ask for money from their local taxpayers for months. Needed cuts in staff and nonsense programs will have to be made. . . .and maybe the idea will sink in that one can accomplish more with less IF the right choices are made.

The education "sacred cow" has run roughshod over the taxpayers for years. It is time that it is gored.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Private Police Deal in NH - Another Angle . . .

New Hartford Online poked some fun at the NH Town Police - Marquis Cinemas Deal: Planning a Vacation?
Don't leave town until you "rent" a New Hartford Police Department car to sit in your driveway or outside the front of your home!
A Funny Post! . . . But it raises a serious point . . . more serious than that fact that town taxpayers will be on the hook for the "rent-a-cop's" benefits, retirement, Workers' Comp., and exposure to liability if something goes wrong.

This isn't the Town merely providing a "service" like garbage pickup. The deal is more than merely providing security services similar to (and in competition with) those provided by several private companies in the area. Town Police have law enforcement authority that security services don't have. They can write you a ticket or drag you to the town lockup. . . .

And now the Town's enforcement authority has been sold to certain select customers such as Marquee.

This should make you very uncomfortable. Would you be confident of even-handed law enforcement in New Hartford knowing that certain people or businesses are paying "clients" ??? The police have already chosen "sides."

Has government become so corrupt -- and the electorate so jaded -- that no one sees this as a serious problem?

"Government for Sale" unfortunately seems to be a way of life in New Hartford . . . Whether it is police services for certain businesses; constructing roads, water, and sewer lines and following irregular review procedures for a private business park; maintaining a memorial for certain elite families (the Library); or building storm water detention structures to fix run-off problems that the Town allowed private developers to cause . . .

If you have enough money, or know the right people, you can get a "higher level of service" than the "average Joe" -- if you are in New Hartford.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Private Police Deal In New Hartford

It looks like the Town of New Hartford Police Department thinks it is in the private security business. According to the terms of an agreement signed by a police lieutenant and the Marquee Cinemas:
  1. A member of the New Hartford Police Department will be assigned to the Marquee Cinemas every, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, during the time frame of 8:00 PM to approximately 12:30 AM.
  2. A marked police car belonging to the New Hartford Police Department will also be assigned to this location.
  3. The member of the New Hartford Police Department will be on duty (working over-time) and in uniform, as an employee of the Town of New Hartford.
Per the agreement, the Cinemas will reimburse the Town for the overtime, and will pay $20 per night for the car . . .

This agreement appears to have been entirely unauthorized.

The Police Department is part of Town Government, something that we the taxpayers have paid for. That police car is owned by the people of New Hartford, not the police lieutenant. New Hartford Police is NOT a private security business that can enter protection deals at its own will. Only Town Government has the right to commit these resources to particular purposes (and even then there there are legal and constitutional limitations). There is nothing in Town Board Minutes authorizing this deal.

While the agreement gives an impression that the actual cost of this service is covered, nothing is mentioned about how this "over-time" will inflate the salary upon which the "Marquee Detail's" officer's retirement benefit will be calculated-- something that the tax payer will be on the hook for for the officer's retired life.

An unauthorized commitment of public resources to a private purpose . . . A personal benefit to be gained by the public employees that are directly involved in the service. Is that corruption? . . . . Or What?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Ominous 4th Branch of Government . . .

You've heard of the Legislative Branch (the people who make laws), the Executive Branch (the people who carry out and enforce laws) and the Judicial Branch (the people who interpret and apply laws). But have you heard of what is sometimes called the "4th Branch" of Government -- the one which controls many of your day-to-day activities? It is the "Administrative Branch," but you will not find it mentioned in the state or federal constitutions. It is that alphabet-soup of administrative agencies such as the EPA, FCC, IRS and FERC on the federal level, and DEC, PSC, DOT, Health Dept., Education Dept., and a plethora of authorities at the state level.

While officially they are part of their respective Executive Branches, many of the agencies making up this de-facto "4th Branch" of government have been given their own legislative and judicial powers. Like legislatures, they can make rules that have the force of law. Like courts, they can interpret certain laws, hold hearings, make determinations and impose penalties. Sometimes the same agency makes the rules, prosecutes violations of the rules, and holds hearings to determine compliance with and impose penalties for violations of the rules. Isn't the combination of legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the same people something that our founding fathers sought to avoid when they set up our state and national governments? Does not the combination lend itself to abuse?

In our complicated world, administrative agencies are a necessary evil. When you think of the expansion in the number of things that people can do now over what was possible one hundred years ago, you will realize that the number of ways that people can harm each other has also increased. If people are to live harmoniously with each other and nature, behavior needs to be regulated. Someone needs to make the rules to keep us from destroying each other. “We the People” have properly assigned that role to elected representatives in legislative bodies who enact the laws needed to maintain order. However, many areas require specialized knowledge to be properly regulated. Environmental protection, for example, is one of those areas, requiring knowledge in several areas of science. Most politicians do not have the specialized knowledge, and it is for that reason some of their legislative powers have been given to administrative agencies. The legislature passes laws describing how it wants behavior regulated, and then administrative agencies with expertise promulgate the detailed rules necessary to carry out the legislature's intent. At least, that is the theory of how things are supposed to work. Since most judges also do not have specialized knowledge, administrative agencies have been given quasi-judicial powers. The idea here is that experts with a greater understanding of a particular subject than the average person would be better able interpret and apply complex rules to achieve what the legislature intended. Again, that is the theory of how things are supposed to work. In general, the scheme has worked reasonably well. However, when considering the role of administrative agencies in our government and our daily lives, it is important to keep in mind how they differ from the legislative and judicial branches that they mimic.

Unlike legislatures, administrative agencies are NOT composed of elected representatives, so their rules might not necessarily represent the "will of the people." An important function of a legislature is to prioritize the relative importance of regulating one aspect of people's lives over another. A legislature can balance, for example, the need for a rule to protect the environment against the economic consequences of the rule, such as jobs lost, and determine whether the cost is worth the benefit. An agency that is created to protect the environment by its own nature will prioritize environmental protection over everything else. Balance with other priorities will occur only if the laws within which the agency must operate have been carefully crafted to reflect the legislature's priorities under all circumstances. That is an almost impossible task.

Unlike courts of law, where decisions must be supported by at least a preponderance of the evidence (the burden of proof in civil matters, or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal matters), determinations by administrative agencies need only be supported by "substantive evidence" and not be "arbitrary or capricious" to be sustained. Even if the administrative record contains a preponderance (the greater amount) of evidence supporting one particular way of addressing an issue, the agency is free to do something different as long as there is SOME evidence to support its determination. This is even the case when an agency is determining compliance or non-compliance with its rules and imposing penalties for the latter. This is because the acts of administrative agencies are viewed as "policy making" and matters of "expert" judgment, allegedly beyond the understanding of reviewing courts of law, with no "right" or "wrong" answers. But how would you feel if you got slapped with a financially ruinous penalty based on "some" evidence?

The ability to promulgate, apply, and enforce rules, with no direct accountability to the voters and minimal oversight by the courts under the guise of having an "expertise," makes the public vulnerable to those whose "agendas" may override their "expertise" -- those who may have insinuated themselves into an agency to benefit themselves or their friends.

In the waning days of the Bush administration, when it appeared that the financial system was going to collapse and attention was focused on the bailout debate, the Treasury Dept. quietly made a five-sentence change to tax guidance that reversed over 20 years of tax policy. This essentially produced a $140 billion windfall for certain banks. Tax lawyers debated -- afterward -- whether there was legal authority for the Treasury to implement the change, but it was clear that no one would have legal standing to challenge the change in court. The change was made without elected representatives' participation. The taxpayers were out the $140 billion. For the change to be reversed, only the Treasury or Congress could do it . . . but Congress had other things on its mind.

During his last years in office, Governor Pataki initiated an action with the governors of other Northeastern states to set up a regional "cap-and-trade" system (the "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative") to limit the output of carbon dioxide to combat global warming. The system was modeled after a Nitrous Oxide trading system, which was set up years ago under state and federal law to combat acid rain. The CO2 system was eventually put into place a year ago under regulations promulgated by the Department of Environmental Conservation -- but unlike the Nitrous Oxide system, there was no federal law existing at the time that the state system was intended to implement. Even if the premise is accepted that global warming is a threat and is caused by mankind's output of CO2, there was no evidence whatsoever that the effort of the ten participating states acting on their own, without the rest of the country, could have a detectable impact. The move was more a symbolic gesture or political statement by a governor who was contemplating a run for the Presidency than a tangible move to combat climate change. But the effect on the general public would be tangible: New York's already sky-high electric rates would have to go higher, with some analysts predicting significant increases. Additionally, Downstate coal-fired electric plants would be encouraged to shut down -- likely to be replaced by Upstate generating capacity and power lines. Had this matter come before the state legislature, there certainly would have been merits to debate, including the exacerbation of an already horrible Upstate economy. But there was no debate. The system was simply implemented by administrative rule-making, redefining "air pollution" to include CO2. Elected representatives had no say. . . and predictably would not inject themselves into the issue after-the-fact for fear of alienating some constituency.

Currently, farms that have operated for generations in the fertile Central Valley of California are being denied water for irrigation, allegedly so that more water could be sent into the Bay area to protect the habitat of a small fish, but possibly sent to support growth in other parts of the state. Cropland has been turned into dust, orchards are dying, unemployment in some areas is around 40%, and farmers who fed a nation must now depend on food handouts from the government to feed their families. Administrative agencies control the water flow. While the situation is too complex to analyze here, what is clear is that many individuals and their families are now unwillingly forced to sacrifice all they own on the alter of government regulation. While there may be ways to rationalize this to avoid government fault, the effect is no different than if the government simply had come in and taken their farms. Again, law makers are paralyzed from taking effective action.

Administrative agencies help maintain order in our society. However, they have become so ubiquitous, and their powers are so great due to their combination of legislative, executive and judicial functions, that it is now possible for them to be used to implement sweeping changes to public policy. Neither debate nor approval by our elected representatives is needed to implement change. Because of this, agencies' narrow perspectives can result in individuals being deprived of their property or livelihood without adequate due process protections. Our founding fathers set up three branches of government to prevent each branch from becoming too powerful. Although they did not anticipate creation of the "4th Branch," they certainly would have understood its potential for abuse.

[The above article originally appeared in the October Utica Phoenix. Be sure to pick up the December Utica Phoenix to read "Oneida County Sticks It to the Villages - And Utica" ... in a news rack near you.]

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Attorney General's Misplaced Priorities . . .

NY Attorney General Cuomo has filed an antitrust suit against Intel, alleging

. . . chip maker Intel of engaging in “a worldwide, systematic campaign of illegal conduct,” including paying kickbacks and threatening computer makers, and filed federal antitrust charges against it.

Per his press release:

"Intel’s actions not only unfairly restricted potential competitors, but also hurt average consumers who were robbed of better products and lower prices. "

Why does the NY AG have to involve himself in a "worldwide" issue? The European Union seems to already have this Intel issue well in hand. . . . And has anyone really complained about computer prices being too high with products of poor quality lately? Seems to me that computers are getting cheaper and cheaper while their capabilities have increased.

So what's the NY AG really up to? Oh, I forgot . . . He's protecting NYS' business interests since NYS is now heavily invested in AMD, one of Intel's competitors allegedly hurt by the allegedly illegal competition. . . . Never mind that this investment violates Article VIII of the State Constitution. . . . Protecting big business interests apparently has become the state taxpayers' responsibility.

Why wasn't the Water Authority's violation of a 1917 Agreement investigated? The AG's office was contacted about this several years ago, but they passed the buck. What about the forged police lab report in a Utica criminal case? Who was responsible and why no punishment? How about the sewer violations leading to the Consent Order that now will cost people an additional $600/year on their sewer bills? How was that allowed to happen? How about the Hartford's new office building in New Hartford being built without the proper environmental reviews? Was wrongdoing involved? How about Oneida County's treatment of the Raven Rock situation? Were laws broken there?

An overwhelming number of government-created situations suggestive of government corruption posted on this and other local blogs just cry out for investigation, but nothing ever seems to get done . . . and, like the sewer deal, can wind up costing individuals big money.

The AMD's of the world are big enough to protect themselves. Meanwhile, Who protects the People . . . all those footing the bill for Mr. Cuomo's showboating . . . FROM WRONGDOING BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT?

Same Old New Hartford . . .

New Hartford will hold a public meeting on Route 840 access on Saturday.
Town officials would not release the alternatives in advance of Saturday’s meeting, but several ideas have been discussed.
Two days notice . . . no details available in advance . . .

Same Old New Hartford!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

OC Scoopin' the Poop at Raven Rock . . .

This story has been "percolating" beneath the surface for some time with almost no coverage from Utica-Rome based media [You have to ask yourself, "Why?"], but, fortunately, News10Now out of Syracuse has been following it for a long time.

Home owners in Raven Rock Estates in Lee have alleged numerous problems with their newly constructed duplex homes that they purchased from Legend Developers LLC. In May '08 a state review board denied a fire-code variance for inadequate fire-walls between units. Later that summer, the developer acknowledged violations, which totaled 116, signed a Consent Order with the OC Health Dept., and promised to fix the violations by Sept. 30 in return for the County waiving most of a $118,000 fine. Time passed, but by November '08, residents were still frustrated. However, the County apparently felt that things were progressing, and did not seem to feel there was a problem.
[OCHD Attorney] Miga says he understands the residents are frustrated, but the health department has done its job to oversee what it is supposed to in its jurisdiction.

"They have met their deadlines and we have reviewed everything. The conditional approval either has gone out or is about to go out. I don't anticipate that there's going to be any additional fines," Miga said "They have paid their filing fees. They've paid a $5,000 fine. And they've have spent a number of dollars in providing a series of maps until we had it right. Both the plat mat and the as built." . . .
Moving forward, the county health department said it's going to give the developers conditional approval and the final map from the developers must be approved by the county health department and the Town of Lee planning department.
According to Attorney Paul Longeretta for the residents:
"My clients do not have a complaint against the Oneida County Health Department. I want to be very clear about that. All they're asking is that the county enforces this agreement that was voluntarily entered into with the developer," said Longeretta.
But that was November, 2008. With November 2009 upon us, Raven Rock residents have now filed a notice of claim against Oneida County.
Home owners are demanding compensation from the county because they say leaders knowingly allowed developers to sell the houses as three bedroom homes, even though they had only been approved and equipped with septic tanks large enough for two.
What happened?

In January, 2009, the County Director of Environmental Health rejected a request to meet with the residents' counsel and transmitted a copy of the "Conditions of Approval" of Raven Rock "as built." (Read the letter . . . there is a "don't annoy me" tone.)

Some of the problems at Raven Rock involved allegedly undersized septic tanks. Sewage has reportedly backed up into showers and sinks. Per NYS regulations, the number of bedrooms is a factor in determining the proper size of a septic tank for a home. Three bedroom homes require a tank with a capacity of 1250 gallons, but homes with fewer bedrooms and without other accouterments such as garbage grinders can get away with a 1000 gallon tank.

In Raven Rock the homes reportedly had been built with 1,000 gallon tanks installed. So the solution here would be to increase the size of the tanks . . . Right? Instead the County has chosen to, in effect, play ostrich and decrease the number of bedrooms it would recognize in each home to make the installed 1000 gallon tanks the correct size. How did it get away with this? See this wording in Condition 12.

The County apparently got the developer's engineer to certify that the constructed homes only had 1 or 2 bedrooms.

The residents must have been surprised to hear this because they had purchased 3 bedroom units, as shown on their floor plans. The Town of Lee should have been surprised because the Town approved of the project as consisting of 17 duplexes with each unit containing 3 bedrooms -- not 1 or 2. The County should have been surprised as well because the Lee approval was filed with the County Clerk in 2004.

It simply is not believable that the County did not know that three bedroom units were built. But now the County accepts a "certification" that makes the problem go away??? Sounds like subornation of perjury to me.

To observers of the shenanigans in Oneida County over many years, this nonsense is not surprising -- but it still is disgusting. The "conditions of approval" were just B.S. , making things more difficult for the homeowners and easier for apparently well-connected developers.

Some county legislators have caught on. Chad Davis recently issued a press release on this fiasco. Unfortunately, a majority of the county legislators on the Public Health Committee, led by the Republican Chairman David Wilcox, don't care to pursue this matter further and have not responded to residents' or Mr. Davis' questions.

Like so many problems around here, even when it comes to violations of the law, it is easier for government leaders to dish out a line of B.S. and pretend there is nothing wrong rather than solve problems. It also appears to be easier for local media to ignore these stories -- reporting them only when unavoidable or when they favor the politicians that the media favor -- than to get to the bottom of these situations. Local media's laziness enables the laziness of our government's leaders ... or worse. The public, too, is at fault, like lemmings voting along party lines, or ethnicity, or neighborhood friendships rather than where candidates stand on the issues -- if the public even knows what the issues are, if the candidates have even formulated a position and if we are lucky to have them aired. As usual, private individuals wind up paying for the malfeasance, but if one is not affected, ignorance is bliss. Government leaders, the media, and the public can only play ostrich for so long.

When will they stop scoopin' the poop?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

1600% Tax Increase!

Now its a 1600% tax increase in the NH Town Tax in NY Mills! This is a perfect example of how absolutely nuts our system of local government is.

There was a movement afoot a few years ago among certain residents for NYM to secede from the Towns and form its own town. Meetings were held between the village council and officials of the towns where the towns explained what villagers got for their tax dollars. The opportunity to occasionally borrow equipment was the best they could come up with. After that the NH tax was dropped . . . and so was the movement . . .

Now the taxes are back, and NYM residents have to ask themselves what value do they get from being part of the Towns of New Hartford and Whitestown.

Like NH and Utica subsidize County 911 services elsewhere in the County, but get nothing in return because they meet their own needs, the same thing is happening between the village and the towns. VILLAGE RESIDENTS SUBSIDIZE TOWN GOVERNMENT, getting nothing of substance in return because the village provides all the services.

In theory, total taxes for local services should be LOWER in the villages than in the Towns, because villages are compact and can provides the services to themselves more efficiently. Instead, New York State turns the system inside out by allowing Towns to duplicate village services and to bill village residents for them . . . making the tax burden on village residents higher than in the towns. The natural consequence of that is population loss from villages and gain by the surrounding towns.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Picente Pushes Poison Pill to Preserve Provincial Perks !

"Is consolidating the 911 call centers the right idea? " asks the OD re New Hartford's facility.
Four years ago, a citizens committee called the continued funding and operation of the town’s 911 dispatch center “senseless and irresponsible” due to the fact that its services mirrored those provided by Oneida County.
We have far too much government around here, so I could not agree more that consolidation would be a good thing. Personally, I'm not sold that a consolidation with Oneida County 911 would be preferable to a consolidation of all Greater Utica Police, Fire and Emergency Services into one agency. . . but the public is not ready for that yet. The talk in today's column was Utica and New Hartford joining OC 911, which would raise OC911 operating costs by $1 million . . . . and here's where it got interesting . . . .
All residents in Oneida County pay a 35-cent surcharge to support the county dispatch center as part of their monthly phone bill. County officials have said that if a merger took place, they would charge a new fee to Utica and New Hartford, but not to the municipalities that already use the county center.

Charging the other municipalities wouldn’t be fair because they haven’t had to pay in the past, and Utica and New Hartford previously made decisions to keep operating separate centers, Picente said.
Whoa! "Charging the other municipalities wouldn’t be fair because they haven’t had to pay in the past" ??? What about charging Utica and New Hartford residents the last 14 years for a service that they did not receive? What about charging Utica and New Hartford residents to subsidize cheap services to Rome and the rest of the county? This is OC "fairness!"   This is the OC "Regionalization" Double Standard that Uticans have come to know and "love." It's kind of nice to see New Hartford in the same boat as Utica for a change.

Now Mr. Picente proposes a "new fee" for Utica and New Hartford that other municipalities won't have ... Doesn't that make you feel great???? Makes me feel really special.

Frankly, I do not see how the County could legally discriminate against Utica and New Hartford. But maybe raising more money for OC911 isn't the object of the "new fee." 

We all know how much the County LOVES its "economic engine" New Hartford even to the point of giving it a six-figure "gift" a few months back. . . . or is it really love for certain politically connected individuals?  Could the "poison pill" new fee be calculated to discourage consolidation to preserve patronage jobs? Or to keep the cheap Utica-NH subsidized OC911 services going for the folks in Rome.  Who knows? The good part of this story:

Hopefully the PEOPLE of New Hartford and Utica now realize that they will have no future in Oneida County unless they start sticking together.

NH Online has more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some Words From Lord Monckton . . .

"At [the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in] Copenhagen this December, weeks away, a treaty will be signed," Lord Christopher Monckton told a Minnesota Free Market Institute audience on Thursday at Bethel University in St. Paul.

"Your president will sign it. Most of the Third World countries will sign it, because they think they're going to get money out of it. Most of the left-wing regimes from the European Union will rubber stamp it. Virtually nobody won't sign it," he told the audience of some 700 attendees.

"I read that treaty and what it says is this: that a world government is going to be created. The word 'government' actually appears as the first of three purposes of the new entity.

"The second purpose is the transfer of wealth from the countries of the West to Third World countries, in satisfaction of what is called, coyly, 'climate debt' – because we've been burning CO2 and they haven't. We've been screwing up the climate and they haven't. And the third purpose of this new entity, this government is enforcement." . . .

Monckton argued that President Obama will sign the Copenhagen treaty at the December meeting, without seeking a two-thirds ratification of the treaty by the Senate, or any other type of Congressional approval.

"So, thank you, America. You were the beacon of freedom to the world. It is a privilege to stand on this soil of freedom while it is still free," he continued. "But, in the next few weeks, unless you stop it, your president will sign your freedom, your democracy, and your humanity away forever.

"But I think it is here, here in your great nation, which I so love and I so admire – it is here that perhaps, at this eleventh hour, at the fifty-ninth minute and fifty-ninth second, you will rise up and you will stop your president from signing that dreadful treaty, that purposeless treaty. For there is no problem with the climate and, even if there were, an economic treaty does nothing to [help] it."
View the complete video along with Monckton's slide presentation which present the data that refute Mr. Gore and the UN on climate change.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Should Incompetence Be Rewarded?

OD's View: Leaders must find help to fix sewer system
. . . The total tab officials say is necessary to prevent pollution of the Mohawk River: $158 million. Government leaders searching for funding so far have come up empty, and that would mean adding an additional $600 a year to every user’s sewer tax bill.

That’s not acceptable. While taxpayers will have to shoulder some of the cost to upgrade this necessary service, leaders at the state and federal level will need to do what we elect them to do — find grants and/or other revenue sources to help.

The problem is the sewer district’s aging infrastructure. During heavy rain and snow melts, storm water floods into the sanitary system and forces raw sewage into the river. In 2007, the sewer district was slapped with a consent order by the state Department of Environmental Conservation requiring that problems along the Sauquoit Creek line be fixed by Oct. 31, 2014. . . .

This editorial is so far off the mark that it is not funny. While the area's aging infrastructure is an expensive problem that every community will eventually have to deal with, it is not 'the problem' here. 'The problem' here that will cost $158 million to fix was a VIOLATION OF LAW.

When the Federal Government set up the Clean Water Act, it recognized that older communities (such as Utica and our Villages) that had combined stormwater-sanitary sewers could never afford to retrofit their systems to the modern standard of separate lines for sanitary waste and storm water. Looking at the cost-benefit ratio, lawmakers allowed for Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) to exist that would spill very dilute waste from these older systems into the river during severe rain events as opposed to backing it up into people's homes. Over time, these older systems would gradually be brought under more stringent standards, hopefully at a pace that the communities could afford. The law made an exception to preserve the finances of older communities.

However, that exception was lost when the County allowed new separated waste lines to connect to the older systems. While these actions permitted Oneida County and certain suburban jurisdictions to greatly expand their tax bases with new 'growth' on the cheap, they also resulted in the Yorkville CSO being reclassified as an illegal Sanitary Sewer Overflow. Now because they no longer qualify for special treatment under the Clean Water Act, suburban jurisdictions must now bear the cost that the law had hoped they would avoid. The Villages, unfortunately, which saw relatively little 'growth' will now bear the brunt of these costs.

Those running our County sewer system, and suburban planners, should have seen this coming. Either they were blind to it, or they were more interested in fostering 'growth' than environmental protection. Regardless . . .

Is it appropriate to expect grants to pay for local incompetence? That is what The Observer-Dispatch seems to be asking for. . . .

And is it appropriate that we the public who will pay for this keep the same people in charge? That is something we need to decide between now and November.