Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Price of Profit and Pride . . .

New Hartford Planning Board Chairman Jerome Donovan had an editorial in the Sunday O-D where he supposedly encourages discussion of several "key issues" by Town Supervisor candidates, but essentially uses the space to push for a big expansion in Town Government. If it were up to Mr. Donovan, New Hartford would have:
1) A professional Town Manager in addition to the Town Supervisor
2) A Town Comptroller
3) A Staff Attorney
4) Additional clerical staff for the codes, engineering and planning department
5) More office space for said departments
6) A new Town Courthouse
To make his point, he states:
Does anyone honestly believe that New Hartford — the largest town in the county with a population of 21,000 and the retail hub with a budget of $15 million — should be governed using the same model as the town of Ava, population 750?
I don't know about Ava's "model," but a more apt comparison would be the "New Hartford" model -- circa 1990 -- when New Hartford had almost 1,000 more residents. How can fewer residents now require so much more government?

The ready answer is that it is the price of New Hartford's recent "development" -- the price associated with being "the retail hub" for the region -- and the price of all the newer neighborhoods sprouting all over the hillsides. However, since the number of residents is declining, exactly who is benefiting from and who is driving the development?

Some insights are offered by an article from Chris Leo, U. Winnipeg: "If Cities Can't Regulate Urban Growth, Urbanizing Municipalities Certainly Can't."

Mr. Leo discusses how city councils, which make the decisions that determine growth of cities,
"frequently lack the political will to resist the blandishments of developers, in practice, we are allowing the cost accounting of individual development companies to play a major role in determining the growth of cities.

The question of whether the location and design of a new development responds to environmental concerns, and maximizes the city's ability to maintain the viability of its network of infrastructure and services, is unlikely to be high on an individual developer's list of concerns. The developer's responsibility is to shareholders, not the city as a whole.
Mr. Leo goes on to explain that the situation is even worse in communities which are in the process of urbanizing, where numerous individual residents can make fortunes by subdividing farmland for development. The objectives of even the best intended plans get forgotten under pressures from those who hope to gain.

This certainly describes New Hartford, where the objective of the business park district to create manufacturing sites (that was stated in the district's Environmental Impact Statement) was overlooked by the Planning Board (along with other things) when it gave Final Site Plan Approval to an office park instead.

The Town has set its course in response to pressures exerted by those residents who would profit from Town actions, or who would seek to build monuments to themselves or their families. These persons pander to the pride of local officials when they tout, e.g., the Town's new status as "the regional retail hub" -- but that status has not helped the average Town resident, and, arguably, has adversely impacted the average resident's quality of life. These persons have insisted on growing New Hartford to be a competitor of Utica instead of being a bedroom community suburb of Utica.

Eventually the Town will need what Utica has: a formal engineering department, a legal department, a professional fire department (with EMTs) and - of course - a courthouse -- all duplicative of what is already available in Utica just a couple miles away.

Duplicating Utica won't improve things. More government won't improve things. These will only increase fixed costs so much that the entire region will become more non-competitive than it already is.

New Hartfordians are going to have to decide just how much they are willing to pay for private profit and pride.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your last comment. However, it behooves those who are having these spending questions answered for them to remember that, as a town government, NH isn't bound by the constitutional tax limit that Utica, as a city government is held to. The bill could get quite high with no limit on taxing.

Anonymous said...

A freak'n little town of 21,000 trying to pretend it is a city of 200,000. What a joke.

Donovan is just trying to cover up the incompetance of the last five years that he was a part of and his wifes newspaper was a cheerleader of. Total disgrace.

At least Ava knows how to run a small town government, and that is what New hartford is - a small town.

Anonymous said...

You would eliminate the supervisors job if you had a Manager type of government.

The manager would assume most of the duties of the comptroller.

You could decrease the staff attorney need by finding someone who knows Town law and municipal financing.

The persons requesting additional staff need to prove the case. Not just say they need someone. Every business would like additional personnel. Those department heads need to prove their time and need for more. A professional manager could evaluate the time and need for more head count.

The same would be said for more office space. You need to prove the need. I do not by showing the public (at the New York Mills school) some pictures of an office with paper material strewn all over. Get that person to clean up that office would be a good start. That example was just plain poor.

You need to evaluate if the office space is being used for its intended purpose.

Sell the 2 train stations, and the existing police and court facility. That property has to be a prime spot for something.

Build a new facility on property already owned by the Town. Take no taxable property off the tax rolls for public buildings. Turn the highway garage into a police dept and court house. Hold more court hours.The police still will have great access to routes 840/5/12.

Put an extension wing on the facility as a new highway garage. After all it is only a garage.
Look into the possibility of a second floor on the existing highway building for office space.

True the location may be a little inconvenient, but just a need to get used to. People still get there when they need to. We are also not here to make the court convenient for those who are would be criminals.

Obtain an independent study for the need of the Town dispatch program. The fact previously mentioned that you still need people to answer calls for "rolling garbage cans in the middle of the night" or non emergency calls is a little far fetched. Much larger municipalities, such as Herkimer Little Falls and Oneida seem to get along just fine with the consolidated 911 dispatching. It is kind of a very sensitive subject but the truth is I think the Town will function just great with consolidation with the County 911.

I believe with the right approach and plan this could become a reality.

Strikeslip said...

I have an idea that will save money and give the public more control over their lives:


Anonymous said...

Merge with Utica - that's a marvelous idea! But sadly, we all know that there is absolutely no way in hell that NH residents would ever tolerate such a thing.

Anonymous said...

And yes...move out of Butler Hall for additional savings.