Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Pig in a Poke . . .

The City of Utica is being threatened: "Warning to city: No garage, no new hospital"
“If there’s no garage, there’s no downtown hospital,” Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, told Utica Common Council members at a meeting of the Economic Development Committee Monday.
As yet no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Downtown Hospital has been produced.

The Downtown Hospital is not only in material conflict with the Utica Master Plan and various pieces of legislation over the years that established the community's character, it will open a whole Pandora's box of impacts that may make the Downtown site for the new hospital unpalatable.  Will sanitary sewers and water lines designed to handle loads from a grid of small customers be able to handle the load from one or two large users?  Will existing storm sewers be able to handle the quick runoff from acres of new parking lots? Will hazards to human health be created by the destruction of many old buildings? Will the blockage of streets create traffic congestion, air pollution, and inconvenience for people not going to the hospital -- and possibly lead to business decline and blight elsewhere? Will the change in land use from tax-paying small businesses to tax-exempt large institution make city services financially unsustainable? What will happen to the two hospital sites that will be left behind? Will they become blighted like the Psych Center did? Who will pay to mitigate the various adverse impacts? City taxpayers? Water users? Sewer users?  An EIS now will help to answer these questions.

Asking the City to make a decision on the garage now without an EIS is asking it to make a decision blind.

MVHS' "back up" site at St. Lukes has plenty of room for the new hospital in spite of a small federally-regulated wetland.  Numerous large construction projects have occurred over the years there with no disruption in hospital services. No change in community character will occur by constructing the new hospital there, and no businesses will be booted out. There will be no loss in tax base. No streets will be blocked. Considering that there has been a decline in beds at St. Luke's, adding the activity currently at St. Elizabeth's would appear to be only an incremental increase in use over what had previously been at St. Luke's.  Simply put: the St. Luke's site is practically "shovel ready."  It makes no sense to put the new hospital elsewhere.

The Downtown Hospital is a "Pig in a Poke" -- and the taxpayers and water/sewer rate payers will be left holding the bag.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Aud: Still Using Your Money . . .

Saturday's OD celebrated "Multimillion dollar Aud renovations adding suites, boxes, restrooms." It is good to see the Aud brought up to current standards. We can be excited by its modern design and amenities and take pride in having a facility that competes with the best of them in the American Hockey League (AHL).  But there are still some troubling aspects to this deal that we need to think about.

First, it was disappointing that the construction started with no renderings in the media (until now), no public outreach, and little opportunity for public engagement and involvement over the 3+ years the project was being considered (see Aud Authority Minutes).  The Aud is, after all, (1) a building paid for by the Utica taxpayers, (2) an engineering landmark with its cable-suspended roof, and (3) involuntarily subsidized by the customers of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority (MVWA) to the tune of $732,000 annually as a matter of state law with mandated increases into the 2030s.  Reports by Aud Authority accountants make clear that the Aud cannot survive without this subsidy.

Second, luxury suites may be a staple of the AHL, but they seem out of touch for an area that has been in decline, bears some of the highest levels of taxation in the country, and where water-users have no choice but to pay for this.   Like the County's luxurious terminal at Griffiss for the owners of private planes that taxpayers are paying for, it seems that average Joes and Janes are expected to pay for the accouterments of our local elite.

Third, when we were lucky enough to get information on the financing of the project, we were not given the full story.  The OD reported the project as being "helped" by a $5.5M County bond plus a state grant. The Sentinel reported that
The county executive explained it is cheaper for the county to borrow the money than if the Aud obtains the funding on its own. Payments to the county by the Aud will cover the debt service, he said.
We are left with the impression that the County got involved to save the Aud money. We are not told that the Aud Authority has a limitation on bonded indebtedness of no more than $2,000,000 which this project will easily exceed.  So the County is assisting the Aud in exceeding its debt limit! To make matters worse, official documents on the subject seem to be written to conceal this fact.

Read the Board of Legislators' resolution authorizing the bond and County Executive's cover letter (at left). The letter makes one believe that the project is needed to meet building codes and that the suites, etc. are just thrown in as extras. The debt limitation isn't mentioned. The resolution does not mention payments from the Aud Authority at all, but instead speaks of an annual assessment on "lots and parcels of land within said District" without ever identifying the lots, parcels or "District."  Is this just poor draftsmanship, or concealment?

Fourth, the Aud Authority's contracting day-to-day management functions to people who also USE the facility may have allowed a conflict-of-interest. 

It seems that we have created a local government structure which responds more to special interests than to the average person.

Sunday, July 02, 2017


No doubt NYSDOT will claim that we experienced an "unprecedented" storm event to excuse the flood-FAIL near the newly opened Court St. interchange yesterday where cars were literally abandoned in 4' of water and people had to be rescued with ladders. Maybe the storm event WAS unprecedented. . .

But FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION when you are talking about THE main N-S traffic artery in Utica. 

Those poor people in cars on the Arterial entered a flood zone and were TRAPPED there. They could not turn around against oncoming traffic, access to the lanes going in the opposite direction was blocked by a Jersey Barrier, and cross-streets had been cut off.

The City of Utica and its Common Council is as much to blame as the State. Only worried about securing the $63M project, they allowed the State to further disrupt Utica's street grid -- a grid with built-in redundancies so that when one street is blocked for whatever reason you can simply go over a block to use the next one.

Luckily no one died this time.

Time for the State to stop ignoring the negative impacts its projects have on City Streets. (Your proposed 5-S remake is a bunch of the same garbage, NYSDOT!)

Time for the City to stop worrying about losing the $$$ value of State projects, and to start defending its street system, and the interests of its residents and businesses. (Allowing the cut-off of streets crossing 5-S further damages the grid and makes businesses that much harder to get to).

City and State need to stop operating as if they are in separate silos.