Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lower That Sales Tax!

The OD gave us a "sneak peak" at the County's 2015 Budget a couple days ago, but we didn't see what we were looking for.

Before another dime is spent on "economic development" projects, the County's Number One Priority should be cutting our total sales tax rate from 8.75% to 8.00% -- the rate that is paid in Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady, Albany, and Binghamton.

Oneida County needs to bench mark its costs of doing business against those of other places and to bring them in line with other areas .

This region cannot continue to stand head and shoulders above its peers in taxation and expect to be taken seriously as a place to do business.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Make Milk When the Sun Shines . . .

Let's pretend that you own 5 acres of vacant land near Oriskany.  A dairy farmer approaches you and asks if he can graze some cows on your land for free for 20 years. In return, you promise to buy milk from the farmer for 20 years. . . You are told that at current prices you could save $12,000 a year.  (You really love dairy products!) Is this a good deal?  or bad deal?

A reader wrote that something unusual was going on over some land in Oriskany near the old County Airport. . . but instead of grazing cows, it was solar panels.

A February Rome Sentinel article revealed that Oneida County made a deal with a company called Solar City -- to allow Solar City to install almost 7,000 solar panels that it owns on 5 acres of county land and keep them there for 20 years to make electricity.  In return the county agrees to buy power from Solar City for 20 years. . . . Under current market conditions the county expects to save $12,000 a year.   Is this a good deal?  or bad deal?

Per the Sentinel: "in exchange, the county agrees to buy power from SolarCity, usually at a lower rate than they would pay a conventional utility."


The milk deal is pretend -- the solar deal is real.  If you were considering the milk deal what questions would you ask?  If you were considering the solar deal, wouldn't you ask similar questions?

The deal with Solar City was approved by the O.C. Legislature back on February 12 by a unanimous vote. Per the ocgov.net website, the legislators were presented with an "expedited communication" outlining the agreement that had been sent to the County Executive only a few days earlier.  Although the letter to the C.E. says that the service agreement is attached, what was attached to the communication given to the legislators via the website was only an outline.

If you were asked to give up 5 acres of land for 20 years wouldn't you want to read the contract yourself before going forward?  Wouldn't you want time to research the company and think about what could change in the next 20 years before signing on the dotted line?

The Better Business Bureau has rated the company A+, though an article on CaliforniaWatchdog.org regarding homeowner project horror stories would make me at least want to review the fine print of any contract.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that there seems to be a "bandwagon" for this and similar "green" projects that is driven by Federal and State incentives.   How likely will this continue? Should it continue?

Some people point to Germany as a model for green energy.  The Germans have been at this for a long time. However the headline of a recent article in der Spiegel says it all: Germany's Energy Poverty: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good.

The German consumers are waking up to the fact that they've been sold a bill of goods with "green energy" and now must reduce their standard of living.  Are we next?

Yesterday's Sentinel had an update on the solar panel project ... It also notes that Solar City will be building a solar manufacturing facility in Buffalo.  Read the deal the state is giving to Solar City  . . .

There is something a lot bigger than "green energy" going on here.  Can you figure it out? Stay tuned . . . 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Don't Forget to Vote

Today is primary day and in this area there are primaries for both major parties.

For the Republicans in the 101st Assembly District, the choice is clear:  Vote for the person willing to engage in a public debate. 

For the Democrats in the Governor's race, the choice is clear:  Vote for the person willing to engage in a public debate.   

For both parties for Family Court Judge:  The voters are lucky! Each candidate has something a bit different to offer . . .  but I don't remember the last time I saw such a well qualified bunch at once!

No matter who you vote for, the important thing is to vote.  

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Empire Building in Herkimer County?

Herkimer County has been looking into building a new jail since 2006 when the State's Commission of Corrections placed a limit on the existing jail's capacity.  A site was picked but the Village of Herkimer did not like it and denied a sewer connection.  Rather than look for an alternative site or consider an alternative arrangement, the County fought back with a lawsuit that has been going on for years.

Per TWC News: Lawsuit Continues to Stall New Herkimer County Jail
 "The Commission of Corrections in 2006 told us we were going to have to cut our maximum facility capacity to four inmates, per day,” said Herkimer County Sheriff, Christopher Farber. 
Today, most inmates are boarded elsewhere including Oneida, Otsego, Montgomery, Fulton and Rensselaer Counties. . . . 
Sheriff Farber says it is their duty to run a correctional facility in the county and says they won't know the real costs until it opens. [emphasis added]
Duty? A county legislator, Mr. Korce, apparently does not think so and wants to look into a cooperative effort with Oneida County.

 . . . And why not? Herkimer County has roughly the same population as the City of Utica.  It has been generations since Utica got rid of its jail on Bleecker Street in favor of sending inmates to the Oneida County Correctional Facility.  Cooperating with Oneida County would seem to give Herkimer County taxpayers not only the cost effectiveness of a larger facility, but the expertise of the O. C. managing staff.  
In the meantime, the expenses are adding up. Korce says the price of architects and lawyers has already totaled more than a million dollars.
The lawsuit, which is still churning along, does not put bricks on the ground, house inmates, avoid the costs and hassles of locating and boarding inmates elsewhere, or bring Herkimer County into compliance with the State's directives.

It seems that some Herkimer County officials appear more interested in empire building than in doing what is best for the taxpayers.  

Friday, September 05, 2014

Bad Ideas in Washington . . .

Instinct is part of the self-preservation process of being human. Instinctively people view others different from themselves with suspicion. But over time with interactions they learn behaviors to get along. The behaviors can be "good" or "bad" from society's perspective depending upon how the interactions turned out for the participants.

Political Correctness (PC) is taught (either directly in school or the rhetoric of social and political leaders) rather than learned by personal interaction.  Under PC, one is taught to suppress one's instincts and embrace certain groups and ideas deemed worthy of special deference by social and political leaders . . . and shun those groups and ideas deemed unworthy.

PC's suppression of the self-preservation instinct inherently makes us more vulnerable to those among the "worthy" groups who would do us harm . . . and less likely to affiliate with the "unworthy" groups with whom we may have common interests.

Simply, PC is a method of "divide and conquer"  . . . . and we are being divided today by the politicians in Washington like never before.

Race, gender, sexual-orientation, affluency, political affiliation have all become the subject of strident rhetoric to divide us into squabbling groups . . . while the distraction allows groups who would do us harm escape notice while attending to their nefarious tasks.

The entertaining Brigitte Gabriel hits the nail on the head when she explains the harm of PC in the clip below: In a nutshell, evil can exist and take root in ANY group. . . . The Germans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese are all called out as having spawned evil at one time or another. (I would add the Italians as well -- I'm sure you can think of others). PC was not an issue before, and evil among these groups was recognized, confronted and dealt with.

Evil needs to be confronted wherever it is.  Today it is the Muslims where evil is taking root. Brigitte reminds us that treating this group differently due to PC from the way we dealt with the others in the past threatens our existence.

Great Idea in Rome . . .

They are breaking ground for 128 luxury apartments in Rome.  Fantastic!  For too long high-end construction has been left to suburban areas.

It's good to see that some of this is going on in Utica, too, with the Pezzolanella's project at the re-christened Landmarc building.  It certainly is exciting to see those steel beams flying through the air! And the County seems to be on the right track, too, by creating incentives for in-city projects.

We all benefit from in-city projects because they more-intensely use the valuable infrastructure already in place: the roads, sewers, and water lines which were originally designed for intense use.  This avoids taxpayers having to build and maintain new infrastructure.  But more needs to be done.

One of the biggest flaws in the Utica Master Plan is its emphasis on "affordable housing" (a/k/a public or publicly subsidized housing) with total ignorance of high-end development. One gets the impression that the Plan was consciously designed to concentrate the region's poor in Utica.  The Plan defers to the Federal HUD ideas of social engineering rather than what Utica really needs:  a shot of taxpayers who can pay to keep the city running.

Utica leaders . . . wake up!  By fixing the Plan to encourage people with money to come to town, other problems will solve themselves.


Great Ideas in Syracuse . . .

Regarding the I-81 remake, Mayor Miner in Syracuse says that neighborhoods and economic vitality are more important than commute times.

A group of architects there are proposing a revitalized street grid as the means of moving heavy traffic through Syracuse.

It's too bad that we did not have such leadership and creative thinking in Utica a few years ago when the North-South Arterial remake was planned.  The West Utica Wall is now rising . . . leaving it to the 22nd Century and a future generation to correct the mistake.

But all is not gloom in Utica. . . . The State is catching on that maybe a better street grid is the way to go and has implemented some notable projects.

  • The Oneida Square Roundabout has increased connectivity among the feeding streets, shortened commute time through the intersection, and made Park Ave.-Oneida St. an alternate to Genesee.
  • The new Lincoln Ave. - Burrstone Rd. intersection allows Lincoln Ave to function as an alternate to Genesee St. or the Arterial and has eased access to the south end of Lincoln Ave.
  • The new Champlin Ave. - Oriskany Blvd. intersection allows Champlin Ave. to function as an alternate to the Arterial.
  • And from the construction it looks like we are getting a new Cornelia St. - Oriskany Blvd. intersection at the Aud which will increase access to all that developable land  behind the Aud!

Parallel through streets can substitute for add lanes to an expressway when heavy traffic needs to be moved. . . . but offer the advantages of (1) increasing access to developable parcels of land  and (2) provide alternate routes when the unforseen traffic jam happens.

City leaders now need to catch on to the advantages of improving the street grid and look for opportunities to do so.

Making Utica easier to navigate will not only make it more pleasant to be here, but will lead to increased economic vitality in the city.