Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Astroturf in Utica 2 . . .

Another day, another public employee protest in "solidarity" with Wisconsin teachers depicted in the OD.

It's interesting how local unionists can raise a noisy ruckus over the partial loss of bargaining rights (limited to certain employee benefits) by employees in a state that is 1200 miles away.  Yet, without a word from them over many years, their Federal government entered into foreign trade deals which cost the jobs of literally thousands of Upstate New Yorkers, many of whom were union members, who either are no longer here, or can no longer afford to pay the salaries of the protesters.  Why would a protest like this attract public sympathy in an area like ours where incomes are low, but taxation is high?

Is union leadership really concerned with the well being of their members . . . or with the political power that an organized society brings? 

What's the real agenda?
 ==o O o==
April 3 update: 
Matt Tabor had an interesting post on this subject: It's For the Kids (and My 15% Pay Raise).

The City of New Hartford?

Recently County Executive Picente proposed changing the sales tax distribution if the State imposes a property tax cap.  In a display of bravado, Town Supervisor Tyksinski responded with a threat to incorporate  New Hartford as a city, which would give it a larger share of the sales tax take.

It is an interesting proposal.

Mr. Tyksinski believes that there would be more than enough money from the sales tax revenue to cover the additional costs associated with more roads to maintain and having a professional fire department.

The big question is what happens to the villages?  According to the newspaper article, The Village of New Hartford and Village of New York Mills would first have to dissolve into the Town. Village residents might be enticed to do this because dissolution would eliminate duplicative taxation. Right now village residents pay for their own services, and often pay for duplicate services in the unincorporated areas of the Town (e.g. New York Mills residents pay for both a Village library and a Town library). While dissolution into a Town would preserve village residents liabilities to fix their sewer systems (as we heard when Whitesboro proposed a dissolution), later incorporation into a city may turn these into city-wide liabilities. Actually, that might be a fair result because as it stands now, development in the unincorporated areas of the Town depends on removal of storm water from village sewers. The Villages could off-load a $14+ Million responsibility to make sewer repairs onto City of New Hartford residents.

Then there is the possibility that the Villages might not want to be incorporated into a city. New York Mills would be the biggest question in this regard. Straddling two towns, it is doubtful that its residents would be willing to split NYM in two. In addition, there is no "love" in NYM for NH because NYM residents get little for their town taxes. NYM has the density to support municipal services.  Being left OUT of the City of New Hartford would do NYM residents a big favor by eliminating the duplicate taxation.

Perhaps NYM could incorporate itself as a city, too and eliminate all Town taxes within its borders... AND grab a larger share of sales tax revenue just like NH!

This City idea is something to consider! Lets all become cities!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Linking Jobs and Education . . . and Cork Harvesting

As a prelude to a hearing days later, an OD guest editorial "Local Innovation Key to Region's Economic Recovery" authored by Congressmen John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Richard Hanna, a member of that committee, links jobs creation with higher education. The editorial presents the well known facts that people who are educated (1) generally have greater incomes and (2) are more likely to be employed -- implying that education will trigger job growth. . . .  But is that implication true?

Portugal illustrates the relationship between education and jobs. With an economy based on harvesting cork and stitching shoes, few bothered to go to school, resulting in only 28% of the people completing high-school. With its people too uneducated and too specialized to adapt to a changing world, new jobs bypassed the country. Now the country can't pay its bills and needs a bailout.  (See WSJ: A Nation of Dropouts Shakes Europe).

The Greater Utica area and the US are not Portugal . . . yet. The US high school completion rate is 89% -- about 80% in Oneida County.  In Greater Utica the jobs are not staying away because of an uneducated population. Rather, the educated population is leaving because the jobs are not here. Ask any student.  They will tell you -- as they did at last Monday's SUNYIT forum "Our Community, Our Future."

Our computers get repaired by techs in India and our MRIs sometimes get read by experts there. We are not losing only low skilled jobs, but also highly skilled jobs that require a good education.  With jobs of all education levels moving to other states or being exported,  local and US joblessness are issues of State and National policies - NOT education.   

Two divergent views on education and jobs were heard at last Tuesday's hearing.  Government officials and academics want the education system tooled for turning out workers for specific industry clusters. However, John Bay, someone who actually does hiring for a local business said:
. . . that for his business, he prefers graduates whose educations encompassed a broad interest in science, math and technology instead of targeted training for one job.
“Our problems are open-ended,” Bay said. “We have graduates who are solving problems that have never been solved before.”
Government bureaucrats govern and academics transmit knowledge; they do not know how to create jobs.  At best, they can only try to plan for jobs based on their current knowledge -- but no one knows what the next big need or opportunity will be.  That's why centralized government planning fails.   The businessman has it right.  Our students need a solid education foundation to be able to adapt to change -- whatever the change is -- to solve problems that have never been solved before.

Wedding our education system to specialties risks us turning into Portugal. The cybersecurity and aircraft maintenance of today may turn into tomorrow's cork harvesting and shoe stitching.

Lastly, should education even be a Federal Issue?  

Laurie Rogers alluded to this in an article about Spokane's math curriculum posted on Education this past week.
After more than 20 years of absolute commitment to a “reform” approach to K-12 mathematics, our nation has a serious math problem. Students suffer from high remediation rates in math in college, low pass rates on state math tests, low levels of math skills, high student anxiety toward mathematics, and high dropout rates.
It's actually more like 40 years... and the same thing can be said about other disciplines. (Read City Journal, What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness about our problem with English).  Federal dollars have completely changed the face of education with the pursuit of money substituting for the pursuit of student competencies.  Local decision making became distorted by the money. Every academic seems to have a new theory to try and gets a grant for doing it.We have breakfast and lunch programs, socialization programs, and government intrusion into private lives. Schools have become laboratories and push everything but knowledge. Now, after breaking the education system, the Federal government wants to push a national core curriculum.

The country did well without Federal involvement in education. The system was responsive to parental and local community needs.  Once the Federal government became involved, we have been in decline ever since. 

The real role of the Federal government in education policy should be to leave it to the states.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Two State Solution?

A friend sent me a link to the following article from the Binghamton newspaper: Lawmakers seek two-state solution for N.Y.
Should New York become two states?

 And once again, some state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow counties to hold a referendum on whether the state should be separated into upstate and downstate.
Looking at the population stats released yesterday, it is clear that Upstate NY -- above the NYC area and west of the taxpayer-subsidized Capital District -- is in trouble.  This does not make sense given the growth in the rest of the country and Upstate having the natural resources, unless downstate-mentored state policies are holding us back. Unfortunately,  the US Supreme Court says that we cannot have the form of government that worked up until the 1960s.

Is the "Two State Solution" our only option?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Breaking a 60 Year Losing Streak!

A real surprise was in the 2010 Census statistics released today:  Utica actually grew a bit to 62,235, up 2.6%!  Certainly it's not a big increase and it is too early to say Utica has turned a corner.  Nevertheless, when you consider that this is the first increase since 1950 when the population was 101,531, maybe the naysayers were just a little too quick to write Utica off as dead.

Utica fared better than the Mainline Thruway cities to the west which all declined, the worst being Buffalo which lost another 10.7%.  The Capital District cities pretty much grew, led by a 7.0% increase in Schenectady.

Maybe we can actually be just a little less sad!

More NY statistics are available at USA Today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Keep Spending Our Money . . .

The Sentinel reports that $8 million in borrowing was approved by the OC Legislature with nary a word. You guessed it . . . more will be going to that albatross, Griffiss "International" Airport, along with other projects. Interestingly, there was some hesitation on approving projects for sewer district compliance with the state consent order. . . . even though the County benefited from non-compliance with the law by expanding the tax base in Utica's suburbs . . . even though the County will foist all the costs against the innocent sewer users when it was the County that caused/allowed the violations to occur. (Shouldn't county tax taxpayers in Rome and Boonville chip in for this, too?  Their legislators oversaw sewer district operations and looked the other way while the law was broken.)

In a somewhat related Sentinel story, officials are being updated on the progress at the Marcy Nanocenter.
EDGE has been developing the vacant land to attract a high-tech company for more than a decade. The objective is to make the site "shovel ready" so that construction could begin in short order after a company picks the Marcy location things like zoning approvals and environmental clearances are being sought in advance.

The 300-acre Marcy NanoCenter meets industry needs with sewer, water, redundant electrical supply, gas and telecommunications in immediate proximity, says EDGE.

The OD reports that construction is about to begin.

It is odd that this site was advertised to the world as being "shovel ready" back when Patacki was governor, and now it is not.

Not discussed are State concerns that the water supply is inadequate for such a facility. There are questions whether an additional 3 million gallons of water per day can be withdrawn from the Hinckley Reservoir without adversely impacting West Canada Creek given the other demands on those water bodies (such as the Canal for which Hinckley was constructed).  I understand that now a sewer-consent order related problem is being raised with bringing sewer service to this site.

At this point, starting construction without first resolving the sewer and water issues is foolish . . . but typical for this county. The County motto seems to be, "Spend money now, ask questions later." 

Marcy Nano has become a career project for certain officials. They need to produce. . . and maybe get realistic on what might fit that site that won't impose burdens on the water and sewer systems. My understanding is that the Buffalo area just lost a huge Verizon data center due to a disgruntled neighbor. That's not manufacturing.  Did anyone go after that?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cuomo, Jr.'s Shoreham ?

With the unfortunate happenings in Japan, you just knew that this was going to be next: It's too risky to keep Indian Point nuclear power plant open: Gov. Cuomo .

So what is the alternative?

When Mr. Cuomo, Sr. shut down the Shoreham nuke plant on LI (after it was built but before it could be put into service) what was the solution? Why, get power from Upstate NY, of course! So the Utica area was given the Marcy South power line, which not only marred the scenic beauty of this valley, but increased Upstate NY power costs to the point where Upstate could no longer compete with similar areas for jobs, or hold on to the jobs it had. Economic decline followed. So what will it be now? Cover the Upstate landscape with windmills and power lines?

People can understand Downstate residents wanting to shut Indian Point. Perhaps it should be closed. But what do the Governor and Downstate residents propose to take its place? Coal burning plants, apparently, are also targets for shut down in state policy.

Perhaps it's time for the Governor and Downstate residents to start thinking about limiting Downstate growth. Growth there has already in some respects exceeded the capacity of the land to support it. The Downstate-mentored policies that put Upstate in a tailspin can be reversed, and replaced with policies that encourage growth to take place in the Upstate region. Perhaps Upstate's shrunken cities (with big infrastructures) can be brought back to life.

If Downstate wants to send Upstate its Growth, I'm sure it will find a willing audience.

Astroturf in Utica . . .

No . . . They are not putting artificial turf in front of city hall . . . But they did put on an artificial "grassroots" protest in Utica. "They" being George Soros funded "MoveOn.Org" and members of the well-paid New Hartford Teachers Association. The object of the protest being the government cutback on some collective bargaining rights and a tax cut for "the rich" - - in Wisconsin!  Per the WIBX story, regional organizer Kevin Nugent commented:
 . . . it's like the redistribution of weatlth, but from the poor to the rich. It’s backward . . .
Gee . . . that's just like Utica residents paying water and sewer charges that subsidize the suburban infrastructure. Or the New Hartford School District agreeing that payments in lieu of taxes can be used by a big developer to build roads in his development . . . Can we expect New Hartford Teachers Association picketers protesting at the next Water Authority, or OC Legislators, or NH Town Board meetings to protest these redistributions of wealth? They might have an impact locally.

I didn't think so.
"The middle class was built by unionists, people who organized and fought for fare wages and affordable health care. To undo 40 or 50 years of hard work by labor unions, really undoes the American Dream,” said Jaime McNair, president of the New Hartford Teachers Association.
Wow, what propaganda! If this is what is teaching our children, no wonder why everything is so screwed up. What built the middle class was Freedom . . . where people were free to try new things with a minimum of government intrusion and taxation . . . with those finding success eventually employing others raising their standards of living. It is no coincidence that powerful unions seem to be located in high tax states where the economies are in the worst shape . . . Places like Michigan . . . and New York. Unions are an anachronism in this day of modern labor laws.

Want better wages and better treatment from employers?  Encourage more employment with less taxation, less regulation, and less unionization.  When enough employers come into an area and start competing for the same labor pool, wages will go up to attract workers and treatment will improve. Even government wages would have to go up. . . . and the public will go along with it because they will be making more too.

The unions are not interested in the workers, they are interested in the political power that the workers can give them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ambulance Chasing . . .

There has been a barrage of advertising by Kunkel Ambulance on TV, Radio, Print and Internet,  pointing to  "Alarming Facts about Utica's Ambulance Service,"  to convince Utica leaders to discontinue the service. Among Kunkel's bullet points . . .
  • This taxpayer-supported service has been conducted without a Certificate of Need, which is required by law ...
  • At a time when healthcare costs are astronomical, the City is often charging healthcare plans more than double what Kunkel Ambulance charges
  • Overtime costs for the fire department have skyrocketed to over a million dollars from $296,619 before the start of the City-run ambulance service. The City cites the ambulance service as a revenue generator without factoring in these costs!
  • The City of Utica says the ambulance service brings in revenue. But at what COST? Revenue is not profit. Revenue means nothing without factoring in the true costs of running the program.
  • Expenses of labor and overtime are not listed as costs. There is no business that does not consider labor a cost.
  • Operating expenses are totally excluded or understated on their budget sheets. Such as the cost of repairs for a whole year, listed at only $2,000.00!
  • The costs for all of the legal battles the City initiated against the State of New York are not included. . . . 
Are Kunkel's allegations biased? Of course! Kunkel is an interested party and not a news organization. They are trying to knock off their competition.

But are the allegations true? If so, what does it mean for Utica's taxpayers?  What does it mean for the cost of health-insurance in this area?  Utica taxes are already too high and drive businesses away. Utica area health insurance rates are already significantly higher than other areas ... which increases the cost of doing business here for those companies providing health insurance for their employees.

No one is saying that the services provided by Utica firefighters and EMTs are not professional or of other than highest quality.  But the public need for them has already been determined to be lacking, and a number of complaints have been made of sky-high charges.

Kunkel's arguments make sense. The true costs have yet to be calculated. If this service increases taxpayers' costs  . . . and/or increases area residents' health insurance costs, then the increased value city residents and insurance purchasers receive in return must be clearly identified if the service is to be kept in existence. If there is no added value for the added cost, then end the service.
Utica going into the Ambulance business sounds like New Hartford going into the private security business: great ways for certain employees to puff up their overtime and, ultimately, their pensions, while placing all the risks on the taxpayer.

The Utica Master Plan calls for studies to extend this and other services to neighboring municipalities.  Again, at what costs?  It appears that some people at City Hall are empire building on the backs of the taxpayers.

The City is supposedly in this venture to make money. But money for whom?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Pondering Parking ... and Park Ave.

Per the OD over the weekend: Plans might be off for downtown Utica parking garage
At his “State of the City” address in May, Mayor David Roefaro called plans for a downtown parking garage his “most ambitious project for the city.”

While it’s still a possibility, Roefaro said for the first time this week that it’s now likely the city will move in a different direction entirely.

The reason, he said, is that the $10 million cost of building the garage is prohibitive, and some of the money could possibly be better spent on a series of surface parking lots.
The "prohibitive cost" claim does not add up. The garage was supposed to be funded by grants which were already in hand.  There is nothing in the story that even suggests that any of these grants may have been lost.  In fact, it seems to reaffirm that they still are there when it states that half of the money will still be used for a Centro transfer facility at the same Bleecker/Charlotte location and that the other half can now be available for surface parking.

This sudden change in City direction coincides with the City's appointment of a new economic development director.  Simultaneously, per the article's side bar we learn . . .
Oneida County [Executive] Anthony Picente said the city’s plans to explore all options for downtown parking are an opportunity to renew his call to close Park Avenue near the Oneida County Office Building and build more parking there.
 Picente said the only thing the county would need from the city for the project – estimated at $2 million when the Common Council voted it down in 2007 – is to convey the street to the county. But he said some of the roughly $4.5 million the city has in grant money for downtown parking could be used to help.
Are the appointment of a new ED director and Mr. Picente's call connected? We seem to remember the same plays at the end of the Julian administration when buildings couldn't come down fast enough to create more parking.  (In fact, the destruction was one of the reasons why people voted for Mr. Roefaro, who appeared sensitive to what was happening.)  Is the mayor a semi-figurehead?  Allowed to do things his way just "so far" until the regional "powers that be" behind the scenes decide to step in?

The "change in direction" makes no sense unless regional politics is considered.  The grant money was intended to solve a downtown Utica parking problem for buildings along Genesee, not to solve the County's parking problem on Park Ave.  

But now, apparently, the County expects Utica residents to give up the grant, give up the downtown garage, give up more buildings to the bulldozer, and give up a street, to cater to the needs of those in the County's court/office complex.  It sounds like more Oneida County trashing Utica. And the current Democrat mayor's going along with it is just like the prior Republican mayor's going along with it.

The County "powers that be" in the courthouse spent $40 million renovating the interior of the courthouse for their own comfort and aesthetic pleasure, but left the exterior a pig sty and didn't bother to address  parking. That's the regard they have for their hosts. Now they want the citizens of Utica to fix parking for them.

Enough is enough.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

An Example of What?

According to the OD: New Hartford, Rome sharing sets example . . .
An intermunicipal agreement between the city of Rome and town of New Hartford is exactly the type of cooperation between governments that is necessary as leaders search for ways to save taxpayers money. . . .

 In this case, New Hartford will pay Rome $3,750 per month for one year for the handling of information technology work. Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski said that’s about 25 percent less than what it previously paid another information technology company.
But, wait, this isn't Rome renting out potentially underutilized employees and equipment to N.H.  . . . A "public/private partnership" is involved.

According to the article, Rome contracts with M.A. Polce Consulting for this work, paying Polce $12,000 per month. New Hartford would pay Rome to partake of Rome's contract. The article seems to imply that Polce won't increase its price to Rome for all the extra New Hartford work that Rome will dump on Polce. . . . Does that imply that Polce potentially had underutilized employees and equipment that Romans were paying for? 
Company President Michael Polce said his firm will absorb much of the extra work because the business supports the idea of municipal shared services

 . . . but there is no such thing as a "free lunch." According to last week's Sentinel article on this subject:
Polce’s contract with Rome for 2010 was $138,000. The contract for 2011 has not been approved yet.
What happens if Polce increases its price to Rome? Will Romans wind up subsidizing New Hartford? In addition:
The town would have access to the city’s servers, applications . . . .  
If New Hartford were to integrate with Rome for IT purposes, Rome’s servers, which are currently at City Hall, would likely be relocated to Polce’s offices.
Polce having control of the servers would seem to give Polce a leg up in any bidding for future IT services with Both N.H. and Rome. . . Which leads to another question . . .

Why did New Hartford not put its IT work out for competitive bidding? IT is becoming more competitive every day.  Did New Hartford allow Polce to avoid competitive bidding via an inter-municipal agreement with Rome? What happens if something isn't done properly? Does New Hartford go against Rome? or Polce? Could New Hartford have reached a similar deal by going to competitive bidding?

Perhaps it's just me being overly skeptical and/or negative about a "public/private partnership", but it seems rather odd that New Hartford has to get Polce's services through Rome rather than dealing directly with them.

The OD cites this an an example of savings through consolidation. Could it really be an example of something else?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tricycles, Unicycles, and Shoes Will Be Next!

A friend brought this piece of legislative nonsense (Bill A0529) from Queens Assemblyman DenDekker to my attention: NYS to license Bicycles!

According to the State Assembly website, if passed into law:
Personal bicycles shall be issued a license plate upon passing an inspection by the department. The inspection shall require that the bicycles conform to the lamp and equipment requirements of section twelve hundred thirty-six of this chapter. The license plates shall be twenty-five dollars the first year and shall reduce to five dollars each year thereafter.
The alleged justification, of course, is that this is all for our own good!
... it is essential that the state of New York be able to identify the bicycle riders. The issuance of license plates will ensure personal protection for cases such as bicycle theft or bicycle accidents, to name a few. 
Does anyone really think that the State of New York will "ensure personal protection?"  If anyone does, I have a bridge in Utica (on Barnes Ave.) to sell them. 

If this makes sense for New York City, then New York City can pass a local law requiring licenses. In Utica, we already have more than enough government intrusion into our everyday lives.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Roundabout Go-Around . . .

It's enough to make your head spin! Do we or don't we? Is the Oneida Square proposed roundabout a good idea or not?

I've been skeptical of the Roundabout, but now I am about 85% sold on it. The Glens Falls footage presented at the Mayor/DOT public hearing a few weeks ago showed that it works very well there where several major state routes come together. This is similar footage . . .

The 15% of me that is unsure is where Genesee St is proposed to be narrowed to one lane in each direction in the blocks entering the roundabout. I'm not sure how that will work out. Looking at Google Maps using "street view" for Glens Falls, and moving it around I could not see where any of the Glens Falls routes narrow from 2 traffic lanes in each direction to one. That may be a significant difference when trying to compare Glens Falls with what is proposed for Utica.

This needs to be explored further.

In addition, traffic in Utica lately seems somewhat reduced from former levels.  Will the roundabout be able to handle an increase in traffic generated by a healthy downtown?

The people whom this Roundabout is supposed to help -- the businesses and residents of the Oneida Square neighborhood -- need to be convinced first.  They should not be made to feel that the project is being shoved down their throats.   
 - - - - 
11PM Update from WIBX: Mayor Makes Final Roundabout Pitch 
"... by the time the meeting was over, nearly 3 hours after it began, most seemed to be satifisied that a roundabout is the right way to go."
Wow -- 3 hours! But it seems to have been worth it. A little controversy doesn't hurt . . . especially when consensus is reached.