Sunday, January 31, 2016

An "Award-Winning" Racket!

According to today's OD,
Companies throughout the Mohawk Valley are being rewarded for their positive impact on the local economy.  
(Don't 'cha love the positive spin the OD puts on things? You would think that the "MoVa" was positively booming!)
ReCharge NY, a program through the state Power Authority, awards low-cost power to state businesses and nonprofit organizations.
(In other words, this program "awards" special deals for special businesses . . . needed because NY State policies have required that cheap-to-produce Upstate-created hydropower must subsidize NYC-metro area electric rates . . . an area that insisted on closing one power facility just before it was turned on (the Shoreham, LI nuke plant), is insisting on closing another (the Indian Point nuke plant) and is closing down a myriad of fossil-fuel based plants.)
Some of this year’s big recipients include Revere Copper Products in Rome (6,600 kilowatts), Special Metals Corp. in New Hartford (4,900 kilowatts) and GUSC Energy in Rome (6,730 kilowatts).
GUSC should catch your eye.  GUSC Energy "is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Griffiss Utility Services Corporation (GUSC)." "Griffiss Utility Services Corporation (GUSC) distributes steam heat and electricity to the tenants of Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, New York."

So GUSC Energy and GUSC (the parent corp.) are really "middlemen" in getting electricity from the producer to the end users, the captive tenants of the Griffiss Business and Technology Park, that the other recipients of ReCharge NY's largess do not have to go through.  GUSC Energy and GUSC are part of the "alphabet soup" of Mohawk Valley EDGE-related corporations operating with 'complete transparency' (an attempt at humor here) up at the "International" airport . . . and people running these 'middleman' organizations are obviously being paid.  

Have you heard people raving about the good deal they get on utilities at Griffiss Park?  I didn't think so.

Only in the Mohawk Valley would forcing people to go through a middleman to purchase their electricity be considered a "positive impact on the local economy."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Regional Hospital (or "Transformational Opportunity District"): Lacking an Environmental Review?

Yesterday it was noted here that the MVREDC, in its application for funding of various economic development projects, proposed the creation of a 34-acre "Downtown Utica Transformational Opportunity District." The application showed a large sprawling building covering portions of Lafayette, Cornelia, Carton, and Pine Streets and Sayer Alley; two parking garages; and other buildings. The site depicted is the same as that picked for the proposed Regional Hospital.

Environmental Conservation Law 8-0109(2) states:
2. All agencies (or applicant as hereinafter provided) shall prepare, or cause to be prepared by contract or otherwise an environmental impact statement on any action they propose or approve which may have a significant effect on the environment. . . . 

6 NYCRR 617.3 (a) states:
No agency involved in an action may undertake, fund or approve the action until it has complied with the provisions of SEQR. . . [Note: SEQR means State Environmental Quality Review]
6 NYCRR 617.4 "Type I actions" lists those actions that are more likely to require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement if they are to be directly undertaken, funded or approved by an agency. Among those are:
a project or action that involves the physical alteration of 10 acres
6 NYCRR 617.7 "Determining significance" lists illustrative criteria for determining whether an action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment. Among those are:
(iv) the creation of a material conflict with a community's current plans or goals as officially approved or adopted;

Here we have MVREDC applying for funding of a project (a) that will involve the physical alteration of more than 10 acres and (b), as previously noted here, that will be in material conflict with the Utica Master Plan -- " a community's current plans or goals as officially approved or adopted."

There is nothing in MVREDC's submission to indicate that an environmental review of the proposed "Downtown Utica Transformational Opportunity District" was ever performed. Since the State would be prohibited from funding such a project without the requisite environmental review, is that the reason why the funds for the hospital no longer seem to be available?

It would not be the first time that our region lost out because it ignored its environmental compliance obligations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

People With Vision!

A couple stories this past week reveal that our area has people with vision, able to take ideas and turn them into plans and renderings instantaneously!

Per the OD "Talk of a new town hall came up again at a recent Town Board meeting" in New Hartford.  But it was more than just talk.  The talk came complete with conceptual drawings of what the new town hall would look like and a description that it would be "about 28,000 square feet and located partially on town-owned land behind the New Hartford Public Library on Oxford Road."  New Hartford Online Blog has a video of the meeting where the plans were presented.  With the plans seeming to have come out of nowhere, one might wonder WHO authorized them?

Per the "No Hospital Downtown" website we find out that last fall's Mohawk Valley REDC submission to Gov. Cuomo's "Hunger Games" economic development contest (the one we just lost) on page 137 contained a graphic and description of a 34-acre "Downtown Utica Transformational Opportunity District" which showed a large sprawling building covering portions of Lafayette, Cornelia, Carton, and Pine Streets and Sayer Alley; two parking garages; and other buildings -- all located in an area with existing businesses and uses. The submission claims that
"... the City of Utica in concert with other government, business and community partners is looking to transform approximately 34 acres of a largely vacant, underutilized and functionally obsolete area in downtown Utica and transform this area into a technology oriented development that is linked with nano-bio opportunities emerging at SUNY Poly and Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, healthcare, offices, medical education, recreation and entertainment opportunities at the nearby auditorium, gateway site and nearby Harbor Point."
WHO on behalf of the "City of Utica" determined that these 34 acres were a "functionally obsolete area" and WHO on behalf of the "City of Utica" authorized a "transform"ation of it? WHO said it was OK to broach a proposal that requires closing streets? Utica's only official planning document, the Utica Master Plan, says nothing about these things.

Just WHO's vision do the New Hartford and Utica plans implement?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Auditorium Authority "Competition" for the Whitesboro St. Property ...

Per the OD: The Aud authority offers $500,000 for Whitesboro St. property.  The article reports that Utica now has two bidders vying for the same property with bids separated by a mere $10,000. While this competition for a piece of property in Downtown Utica suggests that Utica has turned a corner, the picture is not that simple.  Something about that dollar amount rang a bell . . .

$500,000 . . . Wasn't that the amount that the Aud Authority received every year from the Mohawk Valley Water Authority -- an amount which came out of our water billsCould the Aud Authority be using some of the money that we pay for water to bid on this piece of property?  

Such is the crazy world of New York State Public Authorities and Utica/Oneida County politics. When the City of Utica spun off its water system to the "regional" MVWA (actually TWO entities: a finance authority and a water board), as part of the same deal the ownership and control of the Aud was also spun off to a public authority, the Upper Mohawk Valley Memorial Auditorium Authority. Because the City of Utica had previously been using revenue from the water system to offset losses at the Aud, the practice was institutionalized as part of the law that created the water authority.  What was once $500,000/year paid to the Aud out of water revenue is now $665,500/year. See MVWA Report at page 107.  If you look at the Aud Authority's most recent Budget Report filed with the Public Authorities Reporting Information System, you will note that after state subsidies and grants and proceeds from the issuance of debt are excluded, the revenue from the water system is the Aud Authority's primary source of income, such revenue being substantially more than three times what the Aud Authority actually earns from its operations. (A more in-depth look at the Aud Authority's budget is available on their website).

At this point, the loss of control by the people actually footing the bills -- the captive customers of the MVWA -- should be noted.  Unlike the City Council which once ran both the water system and the Aud, members of these authorities are not subject to voter approval but, rather, are chosen through political connections.  Of the 7-member Auditorium Authority board, three are appointed by the Oneida County Executive (CE) and four are appointed by the Oneida County Board of Legislators -- of which most rubber stamp the recommendations of the CE and almost half "have no skin in the game" because they represent areas that have no MVWA customers. Is it any wonder that the OD quotes the CE stating that "we would look at that entire area as a possible sports and entertainment district . . .”  Why is the CE looking at this? When was planning for the City of Utica turned over to Oneida County? Just like the proposed Downtown hospital that came out of a politically-inspired and funded nowhere, the city's Master Plan saw no need to designate this area as a possible sports and entertainment district.  But I digress . . . Back to the "competition" for that piece of property on Whitesboro St.

The Aud Authority is unfair competition for potential private developers of the Whitesboro St. property.  
  •  Private developers will not be subsidized out of people's water bills.
  •  Private developers cannot issue tax-exempt bonds to raise money like the Aud Authority can.
  •  Private developers would have to pay property taxes or PILOTs.
  •  Private developers are unlikely to have the "inside track" with local decision-makers that the politically connected Aud board has.
For the same reasons, the Aud Authority and the entities associated with it are also unfair competition for nearby private businesses.

When Utica was in its heyday there were few publicly-owned entertainment venues.  Theaters, opera houses, etc., were privately owned. Large gatherings took place at the Armory on Culver Avenue -- a structure built for a military purpose. It was not until the late 1950s, when the Utica population was at its peak and industry was booming, that we thought we could afford to build the Aud for large events. . . And we did. But then the region went into decline.  Both Utica and Oneida County have each lost about 40,000 people from their peak populations.  We have also lost an air force base, most of our large industry, and the money that came from those operations.  While there is now hope for recovery, re-attainment of the population, wealth, and disposable income that we once had is many years off.   The public also now has the newly renovated and financially struggling Stanley to support.  Also, there is now competition for disposable income from Turning Stone (which operates free from many of the constraints applicable to private businesses). So while "hats are off" to the Aud management for making the beautiful new and nationally acclaimed changes to that venue, expansion of those facilities beyond the current footprint will likely come at the cost of private businesses that currently subsist on the region's limited disposable income. 

Lastly, an expansion of the Aud Authority's footprint is competition with City of Utica taxpayers.

Utica was gutted of hundreds of parcels of taxable property in the last half of the 20th Century by highway, government building, and urban renewal projects, supposedly to meet public needs.  That trend has continued into this century with 70+ parcels taken for the Arterial remake, parcels for the public bus terminal, and parcels for new county parking lots.  Waiting in the wings is another taking of up to 34 acres for the proposed Downtown hospital.  And now this sports/entertainment proposal?

How much tax exempt property should Utica taxpayers have to bear? 

Utica is already overburdened with almost a third of its properties tax-exempt, which leaves a tax rate for the remainder that discourages private investment in the city. Utica needs to "get to work" and put property back on the tax rolls to lower tax rates for everyone.  Exempting the Whitesboro St. property for more "bread and circuses" only makes it harder for Utica to do this, and undermines, rather than contributes to, Utica's long-term fiscal sustainability.