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.