Thursday, July 16, 2015

Whitestown FD: The Regionalization of Oriskany, Whitesboro Assets

People throw the word "consolidation" around a lot when it comes to local government, implying efficiencies and savings due to so-called economies of scale. Sometimes it works out that way, but other times it does not.

The latest "consolidation" under consideration is consolidation of the Oriskany and Whitesboro Village Fire Departments into a Whitestown Fire District which will serve the entire Town of Whitestown outside the Villages of New York Mills and Yorkville (which Villages decided not to participate in the scheme).   A list of alleged "pros" and short description of how this scheme would work was recently published in the Rome Sentinel. Some things stand out:
A potential decrease in the fire tax. . .

Equality of fire tax within the joint district — all pay the same fire rate. . . .

The new fire district would be run by five commissioners who are to be appointed by the town and village boards.

No doubt costs will be reduced to residents of the Town who live outside of the Villages.  Currently, the Town must negotiate contracts with the Town's Villages (Oriskany, Whitesboro,  NYM and Yorkville) for coverage in areas outside the Villages.  The Villages, which must maintain sufficient equipment to serve their Town "customer," no doubt ensure that their costs are covered during the negotiation process. These costs not only include equipment, but also transporting equipment and men the longer distances to Town locations relative to covering fires "around the corner" in the Villages.  Simply put, the cost to protect spread-out Town territory has to be more per home than the cost in densely developed Villages because greater distances must be traveled.  Town residents currently pay these additional costs associated with their service through the rates negotiated with the Villages.

But negotiations with Oriskany and Whitesboro will be eliminated by this plan. If people in Oriskany and Whitesboro will have an "equality of fire tax within the joint district," if "all pay the same fire rate," then . . .   


Voters in Oriskany and Whitesboro, beware.  Your fire assets are being "regionalized."

Update: Fault Lines: Fire District "Consolidation" . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oneida County Voters: Choice Challenged!

The petitions are in for Oneida County elected positions! However . . .
There are no challengers for county Executive Anthony Picente, Comptroller Joseph Timpano and District Attorney Scott McNamara. And 12 of the 23 Oneida County legislators won’t face a race this fall, either. . . .
Oneida County Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Ford said this could be the year the balance shifts.
But when Democrats challenge only 4 of the 13 (or less than 1/3 of the) Republican incumbent legislators while Republicans challenge 7 out of the 10 (more than 2/3 of the) Democrats, how likely is that?

It actually might be nice to see the balance on the board shifting once in awhile because it would mean that the votes people cast are making a difference, potentially injecting fresh new ideas into local governance.

But where races are uncontested, voting won't make a difference. 

Uncontested elections lead to the conclusion that "the fix is in," discouraging people from voting on election day.

The major party leaders, even when they might like what the opposite party is doing, should be cultivating and encouraging challengers for each office up for re-election, even if only to produce a field of more experienced candidates for future races.

Their not doing so suggests that party leader allegiances may be neither to their parties nor to the voters but to the existing ruling class. . . . and that would be a shame.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Regional Hospital: Why Downtown? Why Not the Former Psych Center on York?

Ahh, Money!  Lots and Lots of Money!  If it comes in too easily or unexpectedly, there is a tendency to get "crazy"  - to "splurge" --  to spend it quickly without thinking of all the consequences.

We've seen this craziness at the O.C. Airport, where the availability of $10's of millions of Federal dollars caused us to abandon a perfectly good airport for one that has become a costly nightmare to maintain, and an excuse for $10s of millions of additional local taxpayer "investments."

Now we may be seeing craziness again with the proposal of a regional Downtown Hospital due to a surprise "gift" of $300 million from the Cuomo administration. While we should be grateful to Whomever had the Governor's ear after years of the State ignoring us, we should not take leave of our senses when determining how or where to spend the money. . . The sidebar to the OD article gives the politicians' positives of the hospital being located Downtown.

How about the negatives?

1) Removal of multiple parcels of properties from the tax rolls.  Can Utica taxpayers really absorb more loss of taxable properties after about 70 parcels were taken for the Arterial expansion plus more for the Centro "hub" and a new County parking lot?

2) Further disruption of the street grid. To get a large enough parcel, some local streets will have to be discontinued. It will be like a large urban renewal project. Street eliminations will make what remains in Downtown less "pedestrian friendly," less "auto friendly," and, therefore, less likely to be redeveloped by tax-paying private interests.

3) The probability is that locating a large number of hospital employees Downtown will NOT spur private development.  People will go to work, then go home. A large hospital will have its own cafeteria. Did the State Office Building create a "boom" over what was previously in the neighborhood?  Did the new downtown Utica Mutual office spur development? Do you see a lot of private development around St. Luke's Hospital? The answer to all these questions is no.

4) The decreased use of the three current hospital sites.  This is unavoidable no matter where the new hospital is located.  Looking at what has happened in the neighborhood of the last hospital site so treated, the Psych Center on York Street, should give pause to those thinking that the sites to be left behind will not create new sets of problems. It should also make people question whether a $300M "gift" will be worth the disruption.

Regardless, if we must proceed with a Regional Hospital, a Downtown site presents significant risks as noted above.

Another potential site that has been mentioned is the Murnane Field area.  While placing the hospital on what is now a recreation area might decrease impacts to the City's tax base, it would destroy the current use of the site -- a use consistent with the Olmstead vision for Utica's Park System,  a vision that has worked very well for City residents for more than a century.  (Moving Murnane to the Harbor area as some have proposed may fail.  Why was McConnell Field, formerly at the harbor, abandoned?)  Why should Uticans have to give something up to get the $300 million gift?

The good thing is that the politicians seem to agree that the hospital should be in Utica where it would be closest to the center of the regional population.  So is there a Utica location that minimizes negatives and risks? 

The former Psych Center site on York St. between Court and Noyes seems to fill the bill: 

(1) No taxable property will be lost.
(2) The site is large enough, requiring no streets to be discontinued.
(3) No current uses of the site would have to be discontinued.
(4) The site is accessible, being easily reached via the street grid, on existing bus routes,  and only a few blocks from the new Court St. Interchange under construction. (A reopening of the York-Burrstone intersection could improve access.)
(5) The site's new use would be institutional healthcare, which is consistent with the old use.  That makes the site consistent and non-disruptive to the neighborhood which grew up around it.
(6) The blight on the former Psych Center site would be removed.

If there are any negatives to this site what are they? The only impediment would seem to be getting state agencies to give up some turf --  but this would be an easy way for them to off-load the burden of maintaining abandoned facilities.  Are there any other negatives?

Why not the York St. Psych Center site?