Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Awakening on Water . . .

Having followed this situation for awhile, I've been waiting for this to happen:

West Canada Creek landowners enter water battle.

Landowners and people who are concerned over how their environment is used and abused have requested to intervene in the pending lawsuit between the Mohawk Valley Water Authority and the State Canal Corp.

The original lawsuit was filed by the water authority against the Canal Corp. on April 25, 2005, in the water authority’s hopes of solidifying its claim that it has the right to 48.5 million gallons of water per day from the reservoir.

The problem with the Water Authority's position is that its "right" to 48.5 million gallons of water per day cannot be greater than the rights that its predecessors purchased from the private landowners along the West Canada Creek (WCC) . . . and the rights that were purchased from the landowners were contingent upon certain obligations to the landowners . . . obligations that currently are not being met.

That is the substance of the landowners' lawsuit: The landowners' rights have been overlooked in the cross-fire between two state-created government agencies, and they want the court to declare what their (the landowners') rights are.

Why should you, not a WCC landowner, care? Two reasons:

  1. The agreements with some of the landowners contain obligations very similar to the obligations made to the "People of the State of New York" -- i.e., You and Me -- NOT the "Canal Corp." -- thus, the landowners moving to protect their rights will also be protecting yours and mine.
  2. Government should be expected to live up to its agreements. If it refuses to do so in this case, how can anyone dealing with the government know whether any deal will be kept, or disregarded? A government that does not honor its commitments no longer serves the People and has no business existing. Revolutions have been fought over less.

Disappointingly, private individuals have now been forced to sue their own government -- the Canal Corp and the MVWA -- because other government agencies which should have acted to protect their interests, have not. It is like the fire department refusing to respond when your house is on fire.

The Department of Environmental Conservation should have realized that there was a problem with the MVWA's right to water back in 2002 when it authorized the destruction of Gray Reservoir -- the maintenance of which was required by the agreement with the state that is now in litigation. When DEC allowed Gray to be destroyed, it allowed a violation of the agreement and undermined the basis of its own water supply permit that was issued to the MVWA -- without issuing a notice that the water supply permit was being modified. This may have been a simple case of the dam safety people (who wanted Gray fixed or taken down) not talking to the water supply people, or someone thinking that violation of the agreement was someone else's problem. Regardless, the "People" of New York were not protected, so now Greater Utica residents pay for both sides of a protracted lawsuit where only the lawyers are winners.

Herkimer County, while expressing concern that its resources may be removed to serve far off western Oneida County, has not lifted a finger to intervene on behalf of the "People" residing in Herkimer County. There are long-standing joint Oneida-Herkimer County plans -- plans designed to assure all citizens of both counties of an adequate supply of water even if population were to significantly grow -- that are now being disregarded by Oneida County and the MVWA in particular. In the upcoming weeks we are sure to hear of the importance of the WCC to the Herkimer County economy. It is surprising that Herkimer County has chosen to sit by the sidelines while the WCC and its people are hurt.

Government created this mess by forgetting who it was created to serve: the People. Now some people have taken it upon themselves to fix it. We can only wish them well.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting Their Way . . .

Interesting reading in the Rome Sentinel for New Hartford residents.  Among the list of grants from the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties (nee the "Utica Foundation").

• $10,000 for the New Hartford Central School Foundation to purchase land in New Hartford that will be developed into Higby Park.

"Higby Park" was previously blogged about. I guess the "powers that be" have already decided that the NH taxpayers need a new park shoved down their throats. . . . Although a grant will purchase the land, you can be sure that the NH taxpayers will have to develop it, maintain it, and staff it.... more infrastructure to be maintained by a Town that is not growing population-wise, and a region that is shrinking and has older parks that could probably use some sprucing up. 

.    .    . 

This is reminiscent of the NH Town Library . . . a truly beautiful facility that is well-used, was pushed through with sizeable donations from very well-meaning people, but which is now a significant drain on the Town Taxpayers...

Meanwhile, the historic and architecturally significant Utica Public Library, which is conveniently located for the entire region (being less than 4 miles from the NH Town Library and actually easier to get to for some Town residents), is relatively dated, being short of money. . . .

From a regional perspective, the NH Town Library was an unneeded indulgence. The money spent would have benefitted more people if it were spent on the Utica facility ... This is an example of the waste of public resources caused by our "Balkan States" form of local government.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Shopping Lists . . .

Continuing on today's theme . . .

A couple weeks ago we got to see the shopping list of local officials on how they want to spend an expected largesse of federal funds from the upcoming Obama administration.

This past week, Amsterdam, NY's new mayor posted her shopping list and has already submitted it to Sen. Schumer. Among the items:
  • Replacement of old water lines in the city
  • Replacement of sanitary sewer lines in the city
  • Replacement of a WPA era DPW facility
  • Water transmission line and valve improvements/replacements
  • Raw water source improvements
  • Storm water system improvements
  • Burying public utilities on Amsterdam's historic South Side.
Mayor Thane's proposals involve infrastructure with a heavy accent on replacing things that have worn out . . . and they are well defined. Compare Amsterdam's list with the vague "let's find excuses to spend money" lists produced locally.

Perhaps Amsterdam's list is so well defined because, unlike Greater Utica, that city is still responsible for the area's water and sewer systems. The mayor can act as point person for the region, placing priorities in context with other needs.

Perhaps Amsterdam's list is so well defined because the value of a well-maintained infrastructure is better understood. Inspite of Greater Utica's water scare a year ago, no real crisis occurred. Amsterdammers, however, lived through a major crisis during the 1990s, when water supply infrastructure collapsed and the entire city for weeks relied on bottled water to meet potable water needs.

Or perhaps the difference is simply . . . Leadership.

If you worked for President Obama, where would you direct the US' money?

A Tale of Two Valleys . . .

A "banner ad" a few days ago on led me to explore what Lehigh Valley, PA has to offer.

Compare Lehigh Valley's promotion with our local Call Mohawk Valley Home promotion. See the difference? Lehigh Valley prominently displays the names of its three biggest cities:

"Allentown * Bethlehem * Easton"

I did not know where the Lehigh Valley is, but do know something about Allentown and Bethlehem. . . and now I might want to visit those places because I know they are not a long drive from here.

The Mohawk Valley??? You gotta dig deep on the CMVH site to figure out that it is talking about "Utica * Rome * Herkimer."

Is CMVH's failure to prominently display "Utica * Rome * Herkimer" on its banners and promotions more evidence of an "Anti-Utica Bias" at work?

Who knows?

But it certainly is not helpful to those who might be interested in coming here . . . and does nothing to tap into Utica's unrecognized community pride . . . the pride that makes the Boilermaker such a success . . . or people so upset at a Queens Congressman's innocent remark.

A Tale of Two Women . . .

Two women worked overtime in public employment.  One was paid for the overtime, but is now being made to give her pay back.  The other was not paid, but now will be paid. 

September 21, 2008 Observer-Dispatch: Sheriff owes explanation on overtime.

A recent state report revealed an exempt employee of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office made $20,000 in overtime hours during a 22-month period. . . . 

Picente said county officials are trying to determine whether Battelene will have to give the money back. 

The answer to that is pretty simple: Yes, she does. . . .

December 26, 2008 Observer-Dispatch: Government must watch all spending

New Hartford government must strictly monitor overtime paid to its employees and make sure any accrued hours are awarded in a timely fashion.

This was not the case recently when the town decided to shell out $71,544 in unpaid overtime to town bookkeeper Carol Fairbrother for the hours she worked from 2002 to 2007.

. . . This is no reflection on Fairbrother, who worked the hours and rightfully should be compensated . . . 

Why the difference in treatment between these two women?  Neither are professionals. If Ms. Fairbrother "worked the hours and rightfully should be compensated,"  is Ms. Battelene, who presumably worked her hours, not also "rightfully" to be compensated for them? Why is Ms. Battelene less deserving? The differences are not explained, although the label "exempt" seems to come into play. Ms. Battelene was classified as an "exempt" employee and a state audit found her not entitled to overtime.  

Ms. Fairbrother? We do not know her status and, curiously, no one seems to be asking (which seems par for the course with the OD when it comes to New Hartford). The breaking story suggests that she, too, might be exempt because the Town felt it necessary to institute a new policy for non-union employees.  Since a state audit found Ms. Battelene liable to return her pay, would not an inquiry to the State Comptroller's office have been de rigeur regarding Ms. Fairbrother? 

A red flag is raised by the Town's handling of Ms. Fairbrother's situation. Why did Supervisor Reed feel it necessary to go to Hancock and Estabrook for an opinion on whether or not Ms. Fairbrother was entitled to overtime? Aside from the state comptroller, Mr. Reed and Mr. Payne could have asked the town attorney, Mr. Green, for advice. This is not a terribly complicated issue to research, and Mr. Green should know how the Town operates . . . or is THAT the problem? Going to an "outsider" for an "impartial" expert opinion is an old trick some lawyers like to play when the "regularly retained" expert knows too much . . . . By retaining an outsider for an opinion, the "facts" upon which the opinion may be based can be carefully screened to produce the desired opinion.  I am not saying that this is what happened, but the Town's failure to produce an opinion of its own counsel, or ask for a state opinion, reasonably raises the possibility. 

Another red flag is raised by the lack of inquiry of prior town supervisors. Did they ask for the overtime to be put in?  What was their understanding regarding pay for overtime? This information is conspicuously absent.

Another red flag is raised by Ms. Fairbrother's pay rate of $31.32/hr for her regular duties. Of the 3870 people holding the Bookkeeper classification in the Mohawk Valley region per NYSDOL statistics, mean pay is $30,280, median is $29,460 and experienced is $34,420. Ms. Fairbrother's pay work's out to about $57,000! That is over $20K more than an "expernienced" bookeeper. That is also about $2K above what an experienced Executive Secretary in the Mohawk Valley makes. . . . which makes her sound "exempt."

It's funny how the Town "Bookeeper's" story sounds like the Sheriff's Secretary's story . . . but the treatment of the situation by government officials . . . and by the OD . . .  is entirely opposite! There is clearly a lot more to this story than the public is being told.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Doing" Utica - Part 2

Wow . . . He really "did" Utica!

Kudos to Mr. Arcuri, Mrs. Destito and the others for inviting Congressman Ackerman to the area and rolling out the welcome mat. . . and kudos to Mr. Ackerman for being a good sport and accepting the invitation to our snowy city.

Hopefully there was some educational value to all this.

On a person to person basis, Upstaters and Downstaters are really not all that different from each other . . . but there are significant differences in needs based on where we live. Those differences must be discussed and understood to produce sound policies. Prior to the reapportionment of the State Senate in the 1960s, a dialogue existed. The needs of both Upstate and Downstate were fully aired (in the Senate and Assembly respectively), were reconciled with each other, and the laws/policies that resulted caused all parts of the state to grow. Following the reapportionment of the State Senate in the 1960s, Upstaters' needs have generally gotten lost. The result is what we see: a growing Downstate and a dieing Upstate.

Short of a court challenge that causes the US Supreme Court and our own Court of Appeals to revisit some old decisions and allow our State Senate to be reconstituted as envisioned by the State's Founders (the Supreme Court has corrected its wrongs before) Upstate's needs likely will continue to be lost in the shuffle. Personal contacts and friendships, however, while no substitute for reorganized government, may provide an avenue for at least some of Upstate's differences to be taken into account.

Hopefully some kind of dialogue on Upstate-Downstate differences was opened today. If the schedule did not permit, this should be followed up upon as soon as possible while a friendly glow from the trip still shines. While commitments cannot be expected, and Congressman Ackerman must please his constituents first, a little sensitivity to our needs could go a long way.

For example, a dialogue might lead to an acceptable resolution of the NYRI issue. It would be helpful if Mr. Ackerman understood that our Upstate economy, primarily based on manufacturing, was built on cheap power and that the loss of cheap power has harmed us much more than his region. Although no one likes to pay more for power, arguably it did not harm his region because it still grows.

Hopefully that would lead to an understanding that the Federal NIETC designation of our region for more power lines threatens our existence by thrusting us into the NYC energy market while leaving us out of the NYC economy. Mr. Ackerman needs to understand that this destruction of Upstate could be avoided by developing a federal policy that favors creation of power generation facilities close to where the need exists rather than power lines to bring it in from afar.

Following such a policy would satisfy Downstate's power needs with locally made power, satisfy Upstate's needs by avoiding more power lines, and satisfy the National interest by ensuring that everyone has power. I cannot believe that his downstate constituents would intentionally visit harm on us just to satisfy their need for power. NYRI seems to be more the result of businesses rushing to fill a need that takes the path of least resistance rather than people discussing how to mutually satisfy their needs.

If Upstate cannot have a large voice in government, it at least can have a lot of friends. What other option do we have?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Failing Ourselves . . .

"Failing our children" is a "news" story in today's OD that I don't quite understand.

"What are they selling now?" I thought. This piece should have been on the editorial page rather a news page. "Failing" is an opinion word, not a fact word. Using such a word displays an intent to motivate the reader . . . but to what end?
The numbers are stark: Oneida County children are three times more likely to be living in poverty than local senior citizens.

Senior citizens, many of whom worked for years in local factories and earned solid pensions, now find themselves with a financial cushion . . .

Why the juxtaposition between "children" and "senior citizens?" Is the intent of the article to make seniors feel "guilty" . . . and get them to support whatever is being sold? Or is it to make us turn our attention away from seniors because their lives are almost over? Seniors and children both have needs, and it should not be turned into an "either ... or" situation.

The article presumes an awful lot about seniors, perhaps reflecting the "New Hartford" perspective that colors OD's reporting . . . While some seniors may be well off, anyone who retired years ago with a "solid" pension has seen it minimized and trivialized by years of inflation, tax increases, and utility increases. For many seniors, the financial "cushion" is about as comfortable as an air-mattress that is still in its box. . . . And once the "cushion" is gone, then what? Is a 92 year old supposed to go back to work?
State Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome, said more anti-poverty programs for youth are needed back the area. In recent years, there has been a lack of federal funding for such programs, she said.
Maybe that's what they're selling . . . more programs!
“Those programs help young people achieve the skills that they need to go out into the workplace,” she said. “And I think it’s been lacking in our urban settings.”
Now wait just one minute . . . Helping young people achieve skills? Isn't this what the SCHOOLS are supposed to be doing? . . . And haven't the SCHOOLS been taking ever increasing amounts of our tax dollars and an ever increasing percentage of our incomes for the last 40 years? The "lack of federal funding" argument is bogus as is any lack of funding argument in general. Schools have been awash in money, but they've blown it on high salaries, legions of unnecessary employees, crazy architecture, artificial turf, bloated building programs, and ineffective methodology: anything to build empires for local officials, but nothing to ensure that the kids "achieve the skills that they need to go out into the workplace."

As far as what's "been lacking in our urban settings," you can thank the State of New York and our local urban boards of education for that. Utica once had an exemplary occupational education program that prepared many of the now "seniors" to earn their "financial cushions." But once Utica joined state-organized BOCES to provide occupational education, the programs were removed from the local high schools (where the greatest need existed) and stuck out in New Hartford. That made them less available for use. Students from Utica suffered. Utica now suffers . . . But the BOCES empire has grown.

So now because the schools have not done what we pay them to do, do we have to create more special programs? If the past is any guide, government failure will beget more government programs, and public monies will be funneled into more six-figure salaries for people connected with our local elite.
“They need opportunities to grow and get good jobs,” she said. “It is alarming to me that we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty.”
Mrs. Destito is alarmed . . . I am alarmed, too. But the reason why we aren't growing good jobs, why people aren't getting them, and why so many live in poverty has nothing to do with seniors, and nothing to do with a lack of programs. The reason is that NEW YORK STATE policies have driven the good jobs away. Had our local economy been even just average with the rest of the country, local families would have had the jobs and been able to build their own "financial cushions" for downturns such as now.

Yes, let's get more federal funds for more "anti-poverty programs" . . . but also make sure that the money does not wind up in the pockets of high paid administrators, actually achieves results that can be measured, and is used as only a stop-gap.

Like the Detroit auto industry, Mrs. Destito is looking for a federal bailout of failed STATE policy. Without changes to that STATE policy, on which SHE is in a position to be heard, the numbers of people -- children and seniors alike -- living in poverty will only increase.

The young families in poverty, at least, have youth on their side. Like the Depression when the poor were told to "go west," they can leave the area and start anew where there are more opportunities.

The seniors stuck here in poverty . . . where are they going?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Out With the Old, In With the New . . .

It's unfortunate that some of our local blogs have "gone dark" in the last few months because there's a lot to talk about. Nevertheless, some new blogs are appearing . . . or are being noticed for the first time. It's time to revise the lists of blog links . . . and geographically, we're spreading out . . .

Out With the Old . . .

The following blogs are being de-listed due to inactivity (If any re-activate, please let me know and I will re-add them): CNY Circus , New Hartford People , Taxpayers Talk , , Utica From the Cheap Seats , Utica Pizza Dot Com . . . . Utica definitely needs some more bloggers!

In With the New . . .

Amsterdancin' - This is a blog from one of our sister cities on the Mohawk, "The Small City with the Big Heart," Amsterdam, NY. What makes this one interesting is that the author, Ann Thane, is the city's new mayor. It looks like she's got some plans . . . and I plan on checking this one often . . . Although a smaller place, Amsterdam's issues are similar to Utica's.

Mohawk Valley Alive - This one is about the Mohawk Valley, but nicely centered around Utica. Pat Huther takes some great photos that capture the essence of the region, and has some good recommendations on things to see and do. We seem to like a lot of the same spots!

Radio Free Hamilton - a/k/a "F+R+O+M," From Hamilton, NY, this blog is a "must read" for its insightful posts on NYRI . . . but there is more as well.

New under the "Policy Blogs" heading . . .

Christopher Leo - From the University of Winnipeg, Professor Leo wrestles with problems of urban sprawl and how we can best govern ourselves.

Regional Communities - Tom Christoffel compiles a host of articles on the emergence of regions as communities, regionalization efforts, and the good and the bad of this process. Great reading!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Throwing Mother Under the Bus . . .

What an outrageous headline to be awakened with by the Observer-Dispatch this morning:

"Acceptable?" Since when did any route become acceptable?

For the O-D (and you can probably bet for most of our political leadership "brain trust" that they seem to be connected to) this is going to be the "out" to make it look like they've accomplished something: change NYRI's route to avoid New Hartford . . . Put parts of it underground, out of sight ... They will be able to live with that. . . . but what of their grandchildren? They won't be living with that because they won't be here.

Our local "illuminati" are playing ostrich, hiding their heads in the sand. They are pretending that if they can't see the power line, it will be OK. It will NOT be OK.

Perhaps they would understand better if they got off their a**es and covered the news. . . Even local news.

Local media was no where to be seen at the New York Power Authority Trustees meeting yesterday in Utica . . None of them. . . . No OD, No WIBX, No WKTV, No Sentinel . . .

Here, a NY Government agency was doing something right -- putting its deliberations right out there for the public to see - - - but the public didn't see because the media did not announce the meeting and couldn't be bothered to attend.

Had they bothered to attend, they would have seen people trying to do what they believed was best for New York . . . but they would have also seen people who do not understand our needs. . .

It was nice to hear Mr. Kessel, NYPA's new president and chief executive officer, express pleasure at being in the "great city of Utica." . . . (Hopefully he will come again). He indicated that he had met the day before with the mayor, congressman, and other local officials . . . which brought a slight sense of relief because none of them were at the meeting either. . . But did our local officials really represent our interests?

Mr. Kessel noted that NYRI was a local concern, and how NYPA was taking another look at one of its old plans to run a powerline under the Hudson River to New York City. He also mentioned how NYPA was in discussions to purchase more power from Hydro Quebec and from Ontario, to bring more power "into Upstate." He expressed hope that with these measures . . .

New York City would be relieved of having to build another generating plant.

That is the problem . . . That is OUR problem, because two things are being done to us:
  1. the adverse impacts of generating/delivering power for New York City are being shifted to US with nothing given in return
  2. the cheap hydropower that built Upstate's manufacturing base and allowed workers to afford a decent quality of life has been sent downstate, resulting in massive job losses.
The effect of all this power transmission is to make Upstate part of the New York City energy market . . . but without us being part of the New York City economy. Under these circumstances, Upstate will not survive.

Our local officials don't seem to understand that this is what has happened to us . . . and our local media do not seem to want to understand.

NYPA's plans represent a continuation of the policies that have failed Upstate for 30 years. They don't seem to understand that they failed, but its clear that it is not for lack of trying.

NYPA wants to listen to us, but we were not there to talk to them.

[update: Here is the NYPA Trustee Webcast]

The Governor Blows It . . .

Ouch! Just as this conservative was starting to think that our unelected governor was turning out to be the best New York governor since . . . . well . . . before Nelson Rockefeller, he blows it with his proposed budget. . .

  • A new, additional 18 percent sales tax on non-diet soft drinks to combat obesity
  • imposing a sales tax on cable and satellite TV/Radio services
  • taxing personal services, such as barbering, massages, and hair salons
  • permanently increasing the assessment on utility companies from 1/3 of one percent to one percent of gross intrastate revenues plus an additional one percent temporary surcharge on those revenue
These will hit everyone, but will be especially hurtful to the little guy. 18% tax on non-diet soda to reduce obeisity? Won't that increase the cancer rate from artificial sweetners? Come on . . . This will hurt small bottlers like McRaith in NY Mills and even Saranac. . . . and may even harm our health. And why take away a bit of pleasure from someone? A glass of soda and cable TV shows may be the only things some people can afford to enjoy in this godforsaken state. And taxing barbering? . . how many of these small business people will be put out of a job? And more taxes on electricity? We're already highest in electric rates in the country after Hawaii. Do you want to drive out ALL jobs?

We all understand the fiscal crisis, but New York's outrageous spending is what got us into this mess . . . and its the spending that's got to go.


Cut the huge education building program completely. Cut all "economic development" programs completely. Cut all overtime completely.

New York's fiscal woes need strong medicine . . . but the medicine needed is more cuts, not more taxes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Doing" Utica . . .

About a week ago a downstate congressman got local officialdom in a tizzy. . . .
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-Queens, said on WOR radio Monday that he wouldn’t want to take U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat “because I don't do Utica, and that's a qualification for the job,” according to a story in the New York Post.
The OD expressed outrage in an editorial, calling the Congressman's comment "insulting." Senator Griffo expressed outrage in a letter and demanded an apology. Mayor Roefaro was "distressed, disappointed and disgusted" at the comment. Congressman Arcuri said that the comments only reinforce the need for an upstater to be appointed to the US Senate. Many of the reactions suggested that the congressman come to Utica . . . but with the (understandable) outrage, would these be construed as genuine?

Here, indeed, is a "teachable moment" . . .

Instead of all the outrage, maybe a "for real" invitation for an educational visit to Utica is in order. Pay his way here . . . Put him up at the beautifully restored Hotel Utica . . . Let Mayor Roefaro wine and dine him at our great restaurants . . . Take him to a show at the Stanley . . . Take him to M-W-P. Show him our venues for skiing, golf and tennis. Utica has what New York City has in miniature . . . . but more accessible. Congressman Arcuri could explain to his colleague how we are different . . .explain how our cheap power has been sent away from us and what this has done to upstate. Explain how our economy is dependent on manufacturing and how government policies have taken our livelihoods.

Sometimes those who seem most opposed to us, if shown "the light," can be turned into our greatest allies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

48 percent raise for Utica school attorney - Absurd

48 percent raise for Utica school attorney
This is totally absurd. Particularly for someone who is -- allegedly -- an employee, entitling them to retirement benefits.

If the school attorney IS an employee, then for $80,000 he should be a full time employee, and not be limited to 80 hours a month. . . . and not be qualified for overtime. His office should be in the administration building, where he will be available on call for consultation during all business hours.
“We did some checking with schools and districts of a size comparable to ours …,” Dawes said. “We’re still quite a bit below them.” . . .

Superintendent Marilyn Skermont said Gerace’s pay worked out to $83.33 an hour. She said law firms in Syracuse quoted rates of more than $200 an hour, while rates through BOCES were $185 an hour.

“You’re not going to get anybody at $83 an hour,” Skermont said.
Well, is Mr. Gerace an employee or not? If he is an employee, then why is Ms. Skermont getting quotes from Syracuse firms? Firms are not employees.

Mr. Dawes, and school districts in general, need to check beyond school districts, and check what full time, "in house" attorneys in government service make . . . such as state service. The pay is considerably below $83/hr -- a trade-off for steady work, good health and vacation benefits, retirement benefits, no beating the bushes for clients, no midnight calls from clients, no malpractice insurance, no furnishing and maintaining an office, no pesky employees to pay and keep happy, etc., etc. The job rate (the top salary level reached after 10 years) for most state attorneys is below $100,000. . . This is for a full time salaried position that does not qualify for paid overtime (though many in state service do put in overtime). And there never seems to be a lack of qualified candidates to fill these positions.

UCSD's hiring arrangement is strange.
while rates through BOCES were $185 an hour.
This raises another issue . . . If they have in-house counsel that they are sharing with a school district, then the rate should be considerably less than that, for the reasons stated above. If they are billing as though they were a law firm, then there may be a serious breach of the Cannons of Ethics. BOCES IS NOT A LAW FIRM and is not licensed to practice law.

Rescue Upstate = Rescue New York State

A recent (but pre-election) article by E.J. McMahon in City Journal explains in great detail New York State’s Fiscal Reckoning.
The financial-market implosion and the coming transformation of the securities industry will expose the fundamental flaw in New York State’s woefully overextended public finance model. The state budget is today geared to run on an ever-expanding stream of high-octane revenues from a Wall Street that no longer exists—and the rest of New York’s economy isn’t nearly robust enough to make up the difference.
Of significance to us Upstaters, Mr. McMahon points out
. . . the state’s financial dependence on Wall Street has grown steadily for more than a quarter-century. As New York’s once-mighty manufacturing sector shriveled, the securities industry’s share of all private wages in the state more than quadrupled, growing from 3 percent to 14 percent between 1980 and 2000. And after the 2000–02 downturn, Wall Street’s share of the state revenue base took another giant leap.
This is what happens when Downstate is given power in both houses of the state legislature . . . as resulted by court mandate in the 1960s. State policy has been made from a Downstate perspective for the last 40 years, the portion of the state based on the financial sector. New York would now be much stronger and resilient had Upstate maintained control of the Senate, because the needs of Upstate's manufacturing sector would have been better represented.

Now New York, overly dependent on Downstate's financial sector, is in trouble, and there is no strong Upstate to come to the rescue.

New York must examine its policies that make Upstate less competitive than its peers for manufacturing -- places such as Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennesee, Ohio, North Carolina -- and reverse them. This may wind up costing Downstate a lot (e.g., in higher electric rates so as to reduce ours), but in the end, both Upstate and Downstate may once again thrive.

Rescuing Upstate will rescue the entire state.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Feeding Frenzy . . .

The feeding frenzy has begun, and all our local politicos are making up their shopping lists on how to spend the billions of dollars expected to flow from Washington during the new administration. Some of the ideas are good, but others represent more of the wrong-headed thinking that has ruined this region:
Everything from tax credits to incentives for green jobs, from alternative energy projects to direct assistance for local governments, is being considered, elected officials said.
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, and Wrong on all of these. . . These just give money away. We need infrastructure, baby, infrastructure!
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, suggested New York state and its counties could benefit from federal assistance with the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, which would “allow us to spend less and hopefully reduce taxes as a result.”
Wrong! First, no problem is solved. New York State's Medicaid problem is self-created with the state determining benefits and passing half its share of the costs to the counties. The state either needs to pick up the entire state share or let the counties have control over benefits. Second, its not infrastructure!

One of the first projects officials at every level point to is Oneida County’s $66 million sewer problem.

“It’s without a doubt the biggest infrastructure project we’ve had probably in the past 50 years,” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said.
Wrong . . . Because it rewards bad behavior. The County violated the law and the Town of New Hartford was its biggest accomplice and beneficiary of the illegality. Both should pay.

I propose an alternative project: Utica will be under orders to do something about its combined sewer overflows, the remediation of which could bankrupt the city -- or its citizens when the cost shows up in the city sewer fees. I presume other munis in the region are in the same boat. There was no wrong doing here. Let the Federal Government pick up the tab for separating the old combined storm and sanitary sewers that we find in the older sections of Utica and our villages and/or otherwise bring them into compliance with new standards.

Picente said he’d like to see state Route 840 extend all the way to Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome.

Excellent Idea . . . But I would go farther . . . We need what was dreamed of 40 years ago as the "NuWay" - - - an Interestate highway going south to the southern tier and north to the border. If it were to pass by Griffiss, Griffiss would be that much better positioned to be an inland port.

Improvements to the North/South Arterial in Utica.
Excellent Idea . . . as long as they are nicely landscaped, create no visual barriers, and they reestablish the street grid in West Utica.
Improvements to the state’s rail system are also important, Arcuri said.

“We should be looking statewide to improve rail from Buffalo to New York City through Utica,” he said.
Excellent Idea . . . But let's be sure that when the rail improvements go through Utica, there is still a STOP in Utica!

As far as extending Broadband internet goes, there is clearly some wrongheaded thinking on this:
Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce President Frank Elias said he agreed. More individuals or businesses that want fast Internet service could move to outlying areas, he said.

“There could be a migration of tech workers into rural regions and that could spur economic activity,” he said.
Just what we do NOT need to do: encourage more people to leave the cities and plop themselves in the stix where they will demand costly services and expect everyone else to pay for them. We need to encourage people to locate themselves in compact communities where services can be provided at a reasonable cost.

Missing from the list: Cleanup of contaminated sites. This needs to be a #1 priority.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bailing Out Cerberus . . .

There is a Forbes article by Dan Gerstein on the auto-industry bailout that should be of interest to us: Chrysler's Hidden Coffers - Why is Cerberus, one of the world's richest private equity firms, begging for a bailout?

Buried on the business page of The New York Times Saturday were the details of Detroit's biggest snow job yet--literally as well as figuratively. Turns out that Cerberus CEO John Snow, who spent three-and-a-half lackluster, and some might say lap-doggish, years as President Bush's second Treasury secretary, is leading a who's who of crony capitalists in a lobbying campaign for a taxpayer bailout to "salvage Cerberus' investment in Chrysler."

That's right. Not to save the jobs of Chrysler employees or America's disappearing manufacturing base, mind you, but to prevent
"one of the world's richest and most secretive private investment companies" from having to take a relatively modest financial hit and use some of its own capital to prop up the smallest of the major automakers.
Cerberus is no stranger to the Mohawk Valley, having purchased Remington Arms about a year and a half ago . . . and we gave it a 'bailout' of our own. In an OD headline from from this past April: Aid for Remington could reach $4.2 million - Officials cite 100 new jobs as reason for public assistance. Of course, Remington aid won't counter '07 job losses. Read some of the comments following the first OD story -- pretty interesting insights.

The USA seems to be going the way of New York State, supposedly using taxpayer dollars in desperation to salvage jobs. . . . but in reality simply giving money away to increase someone's profit margin. The results will be the same. The inevitable merely gets delayed. Taxpayer dollars will not change a business model that is no longer viable. . . . but they still can make "connected" people rich.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Executive or Administrator or . . .

Not quite sure what the County government is up to, raising the question whether Oneida County should be headed by an elected executive or an appointed administrator.
A bipartisan commission of government officials and lay people will likely vote Thursday on that question. Their recommendation is not binding, and if they vote for the change the county Board of Legislators will decide how to proceed
Other than Harry Hertline, just who is on this "bipartisan commission" and what is their track record on issues? If Mr. Hertline is an example . . . We, the People, are in trouble. One of his last acts on the Legislature was to ramrod approval of the Consent Order with DEC (he feeling there was no need to study it) . . . effectively committing residents in his City of Utica district to fund suburban improvements through their sewer user fees. This behavior was more like that of a political operative than a representative of the people. Take a look at his old district in West Utica . . . It went from being one of the best neighborhoods in the city to being among the worst.

I've often sensed over the last few years that our County Executives were really figureheads anyway . . . hand-picked by an elite group of unnamed insiders . . . each put into place to fill a vacancy . . . then sequentially kicked "upstairs" to other positions as their un-re-electability became apparent as the County continued to decline.

No disrespect to Mr. Picente, but who in the general public really heard of him before he was appointed? He was not known for speaking out on issues earlier. The insiders seemed to have run out of familiar candidates when he was picked. Now that people are voicing dissatisfaction with Mr. Picente (because county policies have not changed one iota for the last generation and the decline continues), the "insiders," whomever they are, are looking for an alternative method of locking in their power. It's much easier to manipulate a Board of Legislators into picking an administrator than a whole electorate into picking an executive (eh, Mr. Hertline?).

Executive, or Administrator . . . or Puppet?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Consolidation: Top-down, or Bottom-up?

[This article was originally published in the November 2008 "Utica Phoenix":]

Credit must be given to Mr. Picente for starting the conversation about consolidation in local government, in this case, police services. Clearly, our current structure of mini-jurisdictions is expensive, duplicative, and inefficient.

However, Mr. Picente's proposal to regionalize police at the county level is troubling based on the county's prior experimentation with regionalization of Utica's sewer, water, and Youth Bureau services, and attempts to regionalize industrial development and 911 services. This "top down" approach has resulted in those paying for the services not necessarily being those controlling them or receiving the benefits.

For consolidation to be palatable (not just for police, but for any service), people need to feel that they will have meaningful control and will get value for their money -- not just save money.

Consolidation at the county level would make sense for geographically small counties like Onondaga and Schenectady, or densely populated counties like Erie and Suffolk, because the interests of the residents to be affected will be similar -- in the former owing to limited geography, in the latter owing to a similar environment. (Try distinguishing between adjoining towns on Long Island and you will get the picture -- everything looks pretty much the same everywhere).

Oneida County residents, however, have diverse interests because the county is geographically large with densely populated jurisdictions adjoining sparsely populated ones. A county level police force will likely become like EDGE, or the Sewer District, or the Water Authority: perceived to respond to special interests rather than the public at large.

It is neither practical nor efficient to provide the same level of services everywhere, but some people feel entitled to this, and that is the direction that the county has moved. This has resulted in sprawl, requiring the public to maintain far more infrastructure than necessary, driving expenses up and development out of our cities and villages which we previously equipped for same. Economic "winners" and "losers" have been created, with the "winners" being the "newer" areas that are easy to develop, the "losers" being the older areas left behind, and the quality of life of both being degraded. Of course, "winners" have also been the areas where the most influential people at any particular point in time live.

Instead of imposing consolidation from the "top down," the County should encourage consolidation from the "bottom up."

It can start by employing differential tax rates to eliminate county charges for services that residents of municipalities already provide to themselves through their city/village/town taxes. Imagine only paying the county for services NOT already provided locally! No more Utica and New Hartford paying for county 911. No more Utica or village residents paying for the Sheriff's patrol or toward snowplowing county roads. Of course, this will increase expenses for people living in the outlying areas, but why should it not? It costs more to service people who choose to locate at distances from everyone else. If they want the service, they can either pay the county its true cost, negotiate an annexation with a neighboring jurisdiction having the service, or do without. No arm twisting -- just people being made to pay their own way.

It can continue by eliminating the tax breaks and special grants for "greenfield" developments that encourage sprawl. If private businesses need public investments, then they can at least be required to locate where infrastructure is already in place but is underutilized.

It can continue by the county getting out of the water and sewer businesses, and turning responsibility for these over to the municipalities served, letting the municipalities figure out for themselves how these services will be governed and paid for.

The suburban communities could NEVER have afforded the cost of sewage treatment themselves. Had the county NOT stepped in, fiscal survival would have ultimately resulted in some consolidation (by annexation) with Utica. Non-annexed suburban areas would have retained a more rural character, because they would have depended on septic fields. We would not see the sprawl that we see today. Town and City taxes would both likely have been lower, and the qualities that make people choose city or suburban life would have been maintained. The county actually enabled suburban areas to avoid consolidation by creating the part county sewer district.

Consolidation is needed, but it must come from the "bottom up," not the "top down." It will not, and should not, be accepted until people know they will maintain control, and get fair value for their tax dollars in return.

[Be sure to pick up the December "Utica Phoenix" to read "NYRI: Manipulating 'Public Need'."]

Friday, December 05, 2008

Figured It Out in NH . . .

It struck me as a bit odd that the New Hartford Town Board held its recent meeting in New York Mills, a village that straddles the Town line. I could not remember when the last time that happened was.

It seemed even odder considering that N.Y. Mills residents feel that New Hartford only takes money from them, giving nothing in return. NYM residents pay NYM for their services . . . Anything provided by the Town is an unneeded duplication. NYM has its own parks, its own police, its own fire department, its own library, its own Clerk, its own Assessor, its own Court, does its own planning, takes care of its own storm water problems, etc. etc.. So why should NYM residents pay for new Town offices?

Was the New Hartford Town Board taking a bold step to open the lines of communication with NYM residents, going where the opposition would be most likely, to explain to them how they would benefit from a new New Hartford Town Building? From that perspective, one could be impressed with the Town Board's action!

The impression quickly wears off when one considers the impact of the Town's proposal on the OTHER village lying within the town: the Village of New Hartford.

If this project is approved:
  1. The Town subsidy to the Village for using the Village's Butler Hall would likely end. (A financial hit to the Village.)
  2. The Village of New Hartford would have a significant piece of property removed from its tax rolls. (Another financial hit.)
  3. A certain criminal element would be brought into the Village when court is in session, only steps away from popular spots such as Cavallos, Georgios, and Peters Cornucopia. (A triple whammey).

The Town Board could not have held its meeting in the New Hartford Village Hall without these issues sticking out like sore thumbs . . . and without the ABSENCE of Village officials from the meeting being embarrassingly apparent. In that environment, a NYM venue for the meeting would be a cakewalk.

Figured it out!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Utica-Rome Cool . . .

WOW! . . . It's amazing the talent that we have locally. . . . Just Listen . . . .

[Tip: Click on the little speaker icon and keep the link open in its own window/tab to keep the player playing while you surf]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Foreign Exchange . . .

The Sentinel reports that
Mohawk Valley Community College’s Rome campus will be home to a new foreign exchange program for about 30 Chinese students next fall, according to campus Dean Ronald Cantor.
The concept started when the Asian American Council began working with Mayor James F. Brown for a sister city program in China. . . .
Hats off to Mayor Brown for promoting our region abroad by promoting his own city of Rome. Although he seems to have had some problems lately with his own city counsel, from the Utica end of the county he seems to be a dynamic leader that is doing a good job for his people.
An early hurdle for the students will be learning English, [Dean Cantor] said. "We assume the students will need a great deal of support in English language instruction. That could be the focus of the first year of schooling." After that, he said, the program will encourage liberal arts degrees for several reasons — including that fact that they are not too specific and that they offer a good way to introduce the Asian students to the American culture and education system . . .
Whoa! A focus on English language for the first year of schooling? This sounds like students who are not proficient in English will be the invitees. If that is the case, how will they participate in class effectively with local students and promote cross-cultural understanding?

Encouraging liberal arts degrees? This sounds like these students will be treated differently from others. It almost suggests that special programs will be designed for these students rather than having them take advantage of the programs that we already have.
Unlike MVCC’s Utica campus, the Rome campus does not have dormitories or facilities for food preparation and dining. So how will the exchange students be housed and fed in a Rome program? Cantor noted that there is plenty of available housing stock in the city, including former Griffiss Air Force Base housing that is either repaired or could be repaired. As for food, he said, plenty of those existing housing options have kitchens and dining rooms, and also added that the program includes Asian American Council-run food preparation — even a specialist in Asian food.
Hold the phone! Are the taxpayers going to be tapped to construct/repair housing for these students? This is starting to sound like an excuse to build dorms for the Rome Campus . . . which was never intended to be anything more than an extension of the main campus in Utica in order to serve the needs of Romans.

And special Asian food prep? If you were going to China to study, would you expect (or even want) American-style cooking?

Foreign exchange is a great idea, and again, hats off to Mayor Brown for promoting it. . . . But what some county officials plan to do with this idea does not sound like foreign exchange in its usual sense. The students will be specially classed, specially fed, with mixers with locals specially orchestrated ... not diving headlong into American culture and sinking or swimming and learning from the experience ... and teaching something to American students along the way.

This sounds less like an "exchange" of ideas with foreign students and more like an "exchange" of foreign money for a carefully managed "American" experience . . . It also provides a convenient excuse for certain county officials to grow their programs and tap the taxpayers while doing it.