Friday, March 27, 2009

Fooling Ourselves . . .

"Utica students take stage at Ithaca culture conference" proudly crows the headline. Sixty students from Martin Luther King Elementary School provided the opening entertainment at an "international conference for educators" at Ithaca College. Before the performance, an associate professor of music from the college spent several hours teaching them to play their percussion instruments.
“Some songs are very profound and give tears to the eye,” said MLK music teacher JoAnne Kucerak. “And others are moving and grooving and just a hoot.” . . .

Kucerak said the experience was unbeatable for the students.

“They have learned from three or four directors today and are learning how to adjust the music as they go. You can’t get this in the classroom,” she said.
You can't? Why not?

It's lovely that the children have the opportunity to perform . . . And it was probably a happy, memorable experience for them. But it's not so lovely that they are missing a day of school to do it. This is not the spring recess. These are elementary students, and elementary school is supposed to provide the foundation for education in later years.

It is interesting that this day missed from school was to provide entertainment at an 'education conference.'

The fact that Educators see nothing wrong with this explains why our children can't read or do simple math.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Divide New York?

While the piece of legislation to split Upstate from the rest of New York is probably more an expression of alienation than a viable proposal, it is a clear indication that all is not well in New York.

Splitting Upstate away IS the answer if we cannot find a way to make NYS work as a whole again.

It all goes back to the reapportionment of the State Legislature forced on us by the US Supreme Court. The Court got it wrong. States have the right to choose their own government, and if they want to ensure that certain constituencies are heard, they have that right.

The decision from the 60s needs to be looked at anew.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Exit for West Utica . . .

The Last Chance to Turn Around . . .

On March 31, 2009, 1-4PM & 6-9PM at the Utica State Office Building 1st Floor, the State Dept. of Transportation will be holding a public meeting on the revamping of the North-South Arterial both between Sunset Avenue and Oriskany Blvd, and in the Burrstone Road areas.

The current concept includes:
  1. An elevated highway over Court Street (3 alternative interchange configurations)
  2. Elimination of access to the arterial toward North Utica from westbound traffic at Court Street, forcing such traffic northbound over State St. through 3 intersections before the arterial is reached.
  3. Dead-ending of Warren Street, eliminating access to and crossing of the arterial.
  4. Elimination of Sunset Avenue's access to and crossing of the arterial and replacing it with a pedestrians-only bridge.
  5. Extension of Lincoln Ave. to a new intersection at Burrstone Rd. with elimination of the current ramps to the arterial, forcing westbound Burrstone Rd. traffic to make a left turn through the intersection to get on the arterial going toward North Utica.

The 60s-era North-South Arterial achieved its goal of removing traffic from Downtown Genesee Street . . . But traffic is what businesses want. Now there is no traffic on Genesee Street and no Downtown to speak of.

The 60s-era North-South Arterial brought through-traffic with dirt and noise into West Utica and discontinued several east-west streets. Blight followed.

What role did the Arterial play in the decline of Downtown and West Utica? or in the rise of development on former farmlands and orchards? or in our bad case of Urban Sprawl? or in our unaffordable property taxes? "No role" is not a credible response.

Now we have this new proposal that will make numerous blocks of West Utica even more "land locked" and difficult to access than they are now. The highway that is proposed is out of character with the city, being more suitable for the countryside. Properties adjacent to the arterial will either be in the shadow of viaducts or facing walls.

This proposal will succeed . . . at driving more people and money out of Utica into suburban areas, forcing suburban taxpayers to build more infrastructure to support development while wasting the infrastructure that city taxpayers already built.

DOT has the alternatives that will both improve traffic and safety while improving access to and appearance of West Utica. The public needs to demand them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Angry? . . . or Happy?

The rapid-fire goings on in Washington allegedly to "fix" the economy are enough to make you dizzy. As noted in the last couple days, the AIG Bonuses seem to have stolen the spotlight from where the BIG money is really going: Foreign Banks. Regardless, the posturing by so many on the Hill to make examples of big bad executives getting bonuses and to play to the masses, shows just how despicable these people are. . . and I'm talking about the Senators and Congressmen, not the executives.

Well, they are about to make good on their threat to take back these bonuses though confiscatory taxation . . . The House just passed the bill 328 to 93. Clearly this is a law that singles out a particular group for punishment... a "bill of attainder" . . . and the type of action that our Founding Fathers sought to prohibit via the Constitution.

This abuse of government makes me angry.

But wait! Now some people are saying:
"It will have a chilling effect on participation in any government recovery effort," warned Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry group. "It harms middle management and the rank-and-file sales force, thereby weakening the very firms we are working to strengthen."
A chilling effect? Does this mean companies will be discouraged from taking bailout money?

Now that would make me happy!

Welcome Whitestown Buzz and Republicrat . . .

A couple new bloggers moved to our regional block this week, and have been added to the Fault Lines Blog Roll ...

The Republicrat takes as its premise that our two main parties are different sides of the same coin:
Often the usage of “Republicrat” expresses the sentiment of “ordinary citizens” who see all politicians as serving the same special interests and make little distinction between the two parties.
Wow! How often have you felt that way lately? The Republicrat is off to a flying start with several posts in just the last 3 days. Welcome!

The Whitestown Buzz so far has only one post from the 13th . . . but it is a very intriguing one. Seems that the Town Board intends to pass a law that will allow non-residents of the Town to serve on the Town Planning Board and the ZBA, as long as they own property in the Town and reside in either Oneida County "or an adjoining county within the State of New York."

That certainly is curious wording! I wonder what developers the Town insiders plan on putting on the Planning Board and ZBA?

We'll have to follow the Whitestown Buzz to find out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Distraction . . . .

While everyone is upset over the AIG bonuses, hardly anyone is mentioning the fact that about half of all the money given to AIG is going to FOREIGN BANKS! The bonuses amount to less than a drop in the bucket of all the taxpayer money being doled out.

This is the real outrage . . . and hardly anyone is talking about it.

Is the silence part of the "global agenda" -- to put us all under "one world" rule?

The solution to all -- the bonuses and American bailout of foreign banks -- is BANKRUPTCY.

The CREDITORS through the bankruptcy trustee would have taken over rather than the government. The Creditors who have the most to lose, would have an incentive to make things work. The Creditors are more likely to know what they are doing than the government is. The taxpayers would have been off the hook.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indignation . . .

I really hate it when politicians get indignant. It's a signal that they're going to abuse their power . . . .

In a speech on the Senate floor, Democrat Charles Schumer, a signee of the letter, noted AIG lost nearly $100 billion last year and is now being propped up by U.S. taxpayer funds. He said providing performance bonuses to employees of the insurance giant "defines 'Alice in Wonderland' business practices ... it boggles the mind."

Schumer called on the AIG employees to return the bonuses.

"If they don't we plan to tax virtually all of it," he said.

This was much more revolting when I heard it on TV and radio than it looks in print. An "attitude" was evident. While I agree that the bonuses are outlandish, especially for a company in the hole, they are, nevertheless, compensation that AIG is required by contract to provide. Just who is the government to come in and, essentially, undo contracts THAT ARE PERFECTLY LEGAL just because they become embarrassing to key politicians.

Now Andrew Cuomo is getting into the act, subpoenaing records. But without any evidence of wrongdoing, this is simply harassment. . . a fishing expedition where one hopes that something will turn up. The Mario Cuomo era of Big Bad Ugly Government is back, apparently, with politicians taking frustrations with their failures out on those who may be in the best position to bring things back in this state.

We've see this on the local front with Prestwick Glen's tax exemption agreement with the Town of New Hartford. The public, rightfully, was outraged to discover that Prestwick Glen's well-heeled clientele would be able to live in fancy digs without paying their fair share of property taxes. When this became known the Town went to court to have the development declared not tax exempt. But what of the agreement? How can the Town have it both ways? Shouldn't Prestwick Glen be entitled to damages for the Town's breach of its agreement?

Decisions have consequences. Sometimes the consequences are unforseen. The AIG debacle could have been avoided by the government placing restrictions on how taxpayer money was used. The Prestwick Glen issue could have been avoided -- or at least defused -- by a lot of public disclosure and discussion before the agreement was signed.

After-the-fact indignation is a clear signal that someone did not do their homework.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Greater Utica Green . . .

St. Pat’s Parade 2009

NY: Home of the LEAST Free . . .

A recent study of freedom concludes that of all the 50 states, people in New York State are the LEAST FREE when it comes to Fiscal Policy Freedom and Economic Freedom, ranked 44th in Regulatory Policy Freedom, and 48th in Personal Freedom. Overall, New York State is ranked Dead Last in "Freedom" - -


Read more from World Net, and the study itself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Utica Plan? Pardon My Skepticism . . .

Because of blight, Utica has erased buildings from large swaths of land left and right. The lack of a city plan discourages redevelopment. (Would you want to build something without knowing what could potentially be placed next door?)

It's about time that the Mayor is finally moving on a plan . . . . but Pardon My Skepticism . . .

1967-0700-138pUrban Renewal Project No. 1 from the '60s immediately comes to mind. It was a grand plan that was going to transform Downtown. Some nice buildings (New City Hall, Kennedy Plaza Apts., Radisson, and parking garages) were constructed -- But these were soon joined by cheap steel shell "pre-fab" buildings that were wholly out of place in the downtown district and lacked character -- and other parts of the project are still vacant after 40 years. What went wrong?

When moving forward on the new plan, let's figure out what went wrong on past failed plans so that mistakes are not repeated.

Another reason for some skepticism here are some of the partnering firms. While Saratoga Associates comes with a compelling portfolio (including a rather nice plan for Amsterdam's South Side - a familiar place to this blogger), the choice of "local consultants" Shumaker Engineering and Paige Marketing raises some concern. Shumaker and Paige were both picked by the Oneida County Sewer District to study and "market" the county's response to its DEC Consent Order. Although Uticans will pay a significant portion, if not most, of their cost on that project, Utica was totally left out in the cold in the selection process. Will these firms be working for Utica . . . or will they be working behind the scenes for the County or New Hartford? Does the Mayor really believe these firms have the best interest of Utica at heart, or is he playing "nice nice" with the county and suburban powers-that-be which, so far, show no understanding of or concern about the hand that they have played in Utica's decline?

Let's be thankful that planning is finally going to take place . . . . and make sure that the process is transparent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

UCSD Job Cuts . . . And New Positions?

The Utica City School District is simply amazing!

Willis proposed eliminating the positions of Director of Fine Arts Carmela Brown, Early Childhood Coordinator Alicia Mroz and Administrator of Special Programs Jamie Hanretty to create two new assistant superintendent positions.

I have a better proposition . . . cut the three positions (because they are not needed) and cut the proposed ones as well (because they never existed).

The UCSD administration is bloated.

Monday, March 09, 2009

High Speed Rail? (3)

More detail came out today on the State's plan for high speed rail. $10.7 Billion would be spent! While I don't buy high speed passenger service as transforming our economy, one part of this plan DOES make me SIT UP AND TAKE NOTICE:

  • Adding at least three new intermodal facilities/inland ports across the state to serve the rapidly growing container segment of rail traffic. This would help remove long-haul trucks from highways and deliver products to consumers faster.

Can we talk GRIFFISS PORT now???

Rail, Highway, Air, and Canal are all here.  If Griffiss International Airport is chosen as the site of one of the three intermodal facilities/inland ports, our albatross of a County Airport could conceivably "take off" and transform the Utica/Rome economy at the same time.  There are no guarantees, of course . . .but I always thought that Griffiss' only chance for success was as a cargo port.

Messrs. Arcuri, Picente, Valesky, Griffo, Townsend, Gray and Ms. Destito:  Make it Happen!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling . . .

... but they are not bagpipes.

The pipes are clay, steel, cast iron, lead, concrete and plastic. They are the pipes that bring water to your home, take your waste away, or drain stormwater from your cellars or yards. These pipes, and the systems they are connected to, are telling us they are in trouble.

Just how much trouble became evident in the news this past week: $158 million is needed to fix Oneida County Sewer District problems, $152 million to fix Utica sewer problems, and $140 million to fix Mohawk Valley Water Authority problems. Not mentioned were New Hartford's vexing storm water management problems, only a small fraction of which will be resolved by a $2 million bond recently approved by voters, and already almost entirely committed. Fixing these systems will cost literally thousands of dollars for each and every resident in the region. Could bankruptcy be around the corner? Or another bailout?

Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems are related. Public drinking water and wastewater systems are usually located together to allow higher population densities to develop than what would be possible with private wells and septic systems. Conversely, higher population densities are required to make such systems fiscally feasible. The relationship is simple: drinking water goes into homes and businesses, wastewater comes out. Stormwater needs to be managed not only to protect people's property, but to protect the drinking water and wastewater systems. Stormwater picks up contaminants. If stormwater makes its way into a public water supply, the water becomes undrinkable. This happened in Amsterdam, NY, during the 1990s, forcing the entire city to use bottled water for a couple weeks. Stormwater that gets into the sanitary waste system takes up expensive treatment plant capacity, causes treatment plant or system upsets that spill waste into our streams or backs sewage into people's homes.

Given the relationship of these systems, it would make sense to have one unit of government manage them, but this is not the case locally. Wastewater treatment and part of the collection system has been turned over to the County. Drinking water has been turned over to an authority. Stormwater and wastewater collection from homes and streets remain assigned to local municipalities, of which there are many. Why do we need multiple organizations, each with their own administrators, engineers, laborers and equipment, to take care of what is mainly a bunch of pipes? It should be obvious that significant costs could be saved by merging these organizations, but that is only part of the story that the pipes are telling us.

Since pipes are necessary for intensive land development, they could be used as a planning tool. They are, after all, maintained by the public through taxes and fees. Should not we, the public that pays the maintenance costs, determine where these pipes go? Here in Greater Utica we do not. The part-county sewer district is run by the board of legislators, half of whom have nothing to do with the district and answer to interests other than the people living in the district who pay the bills. The sewer district is solely concerned with wastewater. The water authority is run by appointees who are not answerable to voters and who represent a variety of interests that also may not represent the people affected. The authority is solely interested in selling water. The creation of the sewer district and water authority removed water and sewer services from effective public control and turned them into mere commodities instead of the planning tools that they should be.

Once water and sewer were turned into commodities, it became easy for the suburbs to develop vacant land in their own self-interest. With the sewer district and water authority socializing their systems' costs across the entire region, city residents' water and sewer fees subsidized suburban sprawl. If this sprawl lowered population density back in the city increasing the per capita cost of city services, it was not a concern to the suburbs because there was no effective regional organization to stop it.

The result has been a vast expansion of water and sewer infrastructure into the suburbs, with negative growth in regional population. When 100,000 people are encouraged to spread themselves over double the area, the cost of maintaining services to them -- all services -- must increase. The $450 million bill to fix water and sewer issues is only the tip of the iceberg that sprawl has created for us. Add in the costs for extending other services outward (police, fire, new courthouses, new fire stations, etc.), and we may have already sealed this region's doom.

The fact that our pipe systems pass through several jurisdictions hinders solutions to problems. For example, it might make sense for New Hartford to send some of its storm water flows downhill into Utica's stormwater system. However, that would place an increased burden on Utica's system, and Utica would get nothing in return. Similarly, there is no incentive for Utica to remove storm water from its combined sewers to free capacity at the County's treatment plant when that capacity will further suburban expansion.

The astronomical bill we have just been given is the result of our prior "regionalization" of water and sewer services while maintaining our mini-sized local governments. The whole has no control of its parts. We have created an infrastructure that far exceeds the requirements of our population. If we are able to somehow get federal money to throw at the problem, it will only enable the status quo to be maintained. Without a wholesale reorganization of local government, the situation will develop again.

The pipes give us water and take it away. The pipes enable development. They are also unforgiving. Extended too far they become a burden. They are begging to be controlled, but by whom?

The pipes tell us the answer. Where they are located defines the true extent of our city, and it extends beyond Utica's limits. The pipes tell us that the urbanized suburbs and Utica must merge, and the new enlarged city must take over the sewer district and the water authority. If we do not do this, the pipes will destroy us.

[This article was originally published in the February, 2009 "
Utica Phoenix."
Be sure to pick up the March, 2009 "Utica Phoenix" to read "Don't Confuse Sprawl with Growth" --- Now available in a news rack near you]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Say Good Night, Utica Monday Night . . .

This breaks my heart, but Utica Monday Night may have to go.

Uticans are being pushed against the wall with government created costs. The proposed increases in city taxes, school taxes, county taxes, and water and sewer fees are simply too much.

We all need entertainment, and have had some good years with UMN. But let's face it, this entertainment is a Regional Amenity - one of those things among many that make it worthwhile for us to live in the Mohawk Valley. But it is one of those things that the people of Utica can no longer afford to host. In addition to the performers, there are police that need to be paid to keep everyone safe. There are DPW workers that need to be paid to clean up afterward. But right now, the people of Utica are being tapped to pay for sewer fixes for people living in the suburbs. Should the people of Utica also be expected to pay to entertain the people who live elsewhere?

Bye Bye, Boilermaker? So Long St. Patrick's Day Parade? Farewell Fourth of July?

Moving these events elsewhere is impracticable because no place else is centrally located to the population that would attend. None of the surrounding communities probably even has the ability to host such events on the scales that they are.

Say Good Night, Utica Monday Night :-(

High Speed Rail ? (2)

Now Sen. Valesky has joined the chorus pushing for high speed rail: "An Erie Canal for the 21st century."
The development of a high-speed rail system in New York state has been discussed in one form or another for years. A system which would enable passengers to travel from Syracuse to Buffalo in an hour, or to New York City in a couple of hours, has incredible potential to transform the way we live, the way we work and the way we do business in Upstate New York.
Transform the way we live? How?

High-speed rail represents opportunity in Upstate New York at a time when we need it most, not unlike another infrastructure project that, 200 years ago, also seemed unlikely at best — the Erie Canal. The creation of the Erie Canal in the 1800s demonstrated the best of New York state.

Mr. Valesky needs to think about another Upstate canal from the 1800s -- the one for which Utica passed up an opportunity to be capital of New York State -- the one that was supposed to transform Utica's economy and perhaps even let it rival New York City: The Chenango Canal. The thinking was, the Erie Canal brought such success to Utica, imagine how much more success there would be if two canals joined here!

It simply didn't work. All that is left of this canal are a few sections paralling Route 12 to Binghamton. It succumbed to the railroad.

The Erie Canal worked because it filled an existing need. The Chenango Canal failed because the need did not exist.

Now even the railroad (on this route anyway) doesn't get very much use now, railroad use being largely supplanted by personal automobiles, trucks, and the interstate highway system.

Which gets us back to the Thruway. All of Upstate New York lost its competitive advantage over other parts of the country with completion of the interstate highway system. Simply, other places became as easy to get to and travel through as Upstate.

But what have we done in New York? We placed a tax on our interstate highway -- the Thruway Toll -- which puts Upstate at a distinct DISADVANTAGE to other parts of the country.

I mean no disrespect, but it seems that we really have put a bunch of idiots in charge.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

High Speed Rail?

Utica Daily News had this article: Utica mayor to meet with senator in support of High Speed Rail

State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is pushing a "high speed" rail project to connect Buffalo to NYC.  Mayor Roefaro is joining in.

I have to support Mayor Roefaro on this.  IF this project is implemented, UTICA MUST be part of it. This area has been left off the roster too many times from other state projects.

That said, is this something that we should be pursuing at this time?  

For this same "Empire Corridor" from Buffalo to NYC, wouldn't it make more sense, be a bigger economic boost, and be a lot easier to implement and quicker TO SIMPLY REMOVE THE TOLLS FROM THE NYS THRUWAY?????

Somehow "high speed rail" has suddenly become a mantra.

“There is no question whether or not New York needs high speed rail, because the answer is yes, definitely," Arcuri said in a prepared statement.

"No question whether or not New York needs high speed rail"? I think that is a very big question. Are there any studies to support the alleged need? Or projections with supporting data of what the economic impact of high speed rail will mean?

The first question is what is "high speed?" If you are talking 300 mph, there MAY be a potential to transform the economy, because with travel time to NYC being less than an hour, it plugs Utica into the NYC commutter zone. If we are talking only 150 mph, that is unlikly to transform anything. For most people, any time savings over thruway travel will be eaten up getting to and from the train station.

The second big question is what will it cost to operate the system. What will a ticket cost? If costs can be reduced to make it feasible to do a ROUND TRIP fare from Utica to NYC in the $30-50 range (IE similar to commutter fares from Suffolk County into NYC), then high speed rail might have some potential -- But right now low speed rail is about double this cost already, so high speed rail will likely be more expensive. 

In its era, the Erie Canal was a brilliant government move. It enabled goods and raw materials to be transported at extremely low cost and at a competitive speed compared to other modes of transportation at the time. It transformed the economy of Upstate NY. Even now, its ability to transport heavy materials at the lowest fuel cost is unmatched . . . but now the canal lies virtually unused. 

What "need" is this project going to fill? If people jump on the train, what part of the economy will lose?

It's fun to dream about being able to zip from one place to another. And its OK for public officials to be thinking about things that could transform our economy. But it is quite another for public officials to latch onto something as the "big solution" to our problems without the facts and data to support their conclusion.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Golisano - Right on the Money.

In an O-D Guest Editorial today, Tom Golisano is right on the money. Statistics recently published by the Tax Foundation not only verify his point that taxes Upstate are disproportionate compared to Downstate, they show that when calculated as a percentage of property value, property taxes in Upstate New York are the highest IN THE NATION! Check out Mr. Golisano's website "Responsible New York."

I would be willing to bet that if a similar calculation were performed on utility rates, those, also, would be the highest in the nation.

What Mr. Golisano did not get into was the cause: State Policy forged from a Downstate Perspective. This was forced upon us by the US Supreme Court's 60s-era split decision in WMCA v Lomenzo which (erroneously in my view, see the dissent) said that 'one-man one-vote' was required by the 'equal protection' clause of the Constitution, and required reapportionment of the NYS legislature. Before reapportionment, Upstate interests were predominant in Senate legislation, Downstate in the Assembly, and the bill reconcilliation process that would take place before laws were passed to the governor for signature balanced both.

Since reapportionment, the Upstate Perspective has been lost. The Downstate Perspective has resulted in closure of the Shoreham Long Island Nuke plant, exemption of power line siting from SEQR review under the Environmental Conservation Law, the Marcy-South power line, routing our 'cheap' Upstate hydropower south to relieve Downstaters' higher rates (caused in part by closing Shoreham); maintaining Tolls on the Thruway long after the bonds were paid off and longer after the Federal government paid NYS for the road; removal of tolls from certain Downstate roads and transferring expenses to the Thruway; a host of regulations that make it more difficult for Upstate to maintain its manufacturers; rules that use state (our) money to encourage redevelopment on brownfields in Manhattan and Brooklyn but which are unworkable for Harbor Point or Bosserts in Utica where land values are lower; and a whole host of social programs that make sense in the Metropolitan area, but not here.

Nothing will change Upstate without recognizing this as the root cause.

Then the solution becomes evident: either get the Supreme Court to reverse itself and revert the state legislature to its prior makeup (which made us, truly, One Empire State), give Upstate home rule, or turn Upstate into a new state.