Wednesday, June 28, 2017

We're Number One, but This Time We Lose

As I've already mentioned, we're tied with Erie County (outside NYC) for the highest sales tax rate in the state: A whopping 8.75%

Oh, we're used to it by now. Sales tax is taken for granted. We pay it when we buy gas, we pay it when we eat out at a restaurant and we pay it when we buy a large ticket item such as a car or similar.

That's when you really notice how much the sales tax adds up to be - when you buy something big. If you buy $20,000 car, you will pay $1750 in sales tax. That's a good chunk of money.

But if you lived in one of our neighboring counties, you might keep $150 of that ... or more. Here's a list of the sales tax rates in our immediate neighboring counties:

Herkimer is 8.25%
Madison is  8.00%
Lewis is      7.75%
Otsego is     8.00%, and so is Onondaga County.

Quite a difference!

The disparity among sales tax rates in the region only means one thing: On large ticket items (except for cars, they are taxed where you live) the counties with the lowest sales tax rate will attract more shoppers. This, of course, hurts the Buy Oneida County philosophy, which I do subscribe to. I do like to buy locally as much as I am able to. (Harden furniture and Meyda lamps are 2 of my favorite O/C manufacturers.)

When Mr. Picente was appointed about 10 years ago, I liked his comments in the press about seeing what he could do to lower the sales tax rate. Seeing as 10 years have passed and now I am seeing him try to keep a bigger share of it by changing the deal that was made 35 or so years ago, now I'm concerned. Not only has he abandoned his ideas of lowering the sales tax rate, he has shifted gears into hurting the villages and towns in the county by grabbing back lawfully owed sales tax dollars to the local governments.

Ironically, I found Jim D'Onofrio's 2013 resume online (time to update that one?) and in it he mentions "eventual reduction of the sales tax rate" (page 3, Jim). So tell us, how has that worked out so far? Eventual is such a vague word. Is that next week, next year or next century?

To top it off, there appears to be some extreme fat hidden in the almost $394 million dollar county budget. So much so, that at election time Mr. Picente can find some money (at election time, what a coincidence!) to spread in a hotly contested district. This time, it's the one I'm running in against his long-time friend and ally (I would hate to use the term rubber stamp, it might be premature).

So, when one town suddenly gets thousands of dollars for new playground equipment and when one town has been told election-year pork might appear in the form of some pool repair money, don't be surprised. Roughly translated, it's called buying your votes with your own tax dollars. It is particularly odious at election time.

As I'm going door to door in the 3 towns that make up D-16, I'm hearing 2 recurring themes: One, is there anything you can do about the sales tax rate, and two: Nobody, but nobody is in favor of a Casino downtown.

After 12 years on the NH Town Board, I'm fully aware that government needs money to pay for services. I'm fully aware that much of these services are state mandated.

But I'm also aware of regional competition to attract spending, and the highest sales tax rate in the Mohawk Valley region is doing nothing to help attract spending here.

We have to do something. Let's start small by eliminating the county portion of sales tax on clothing. The state already did away with it, so now you are only paying for the county portion. But still, clothes are not luxuries, they are necessities and by removing the county's portion on that, at least we can say we've started somewhere.

And then we can keep looking to see how much better we can do. When we get to a rate that matches our neighboring counties, then there will be no reason to shop outside Oneida County anymore.

This can only result in more being spent here, which will help the county revenue all by itself.

So which do you prefer? The highest sales tax rate in the area coupled with election year pork, or would you rather have a lower sales tax rate and forgo the vote-getting pork money?

I thought so.

I respectfully ask for your vote on Primary Day (Sept 12) and in the general election. Thank you.

Make Oneida County Great Again

So finally I'm getting to why I have decided to run for County Legislator representing the 16th district in Oneida County. D-16, for those of you not familiar with Oneida County, is the bottom of New Hartford south of Chapman and Kellogg Roads and all of the towns of Paris and Bridgewater. (Kindly view the map of D-16 on the right side of the page for a more graphical description.)

First, a little background about me: I had the high honor and pleasure of representing the 1st Ward (the southern part of New Hartford) for 3 terms/12 years. I worked hard to keep services going at the lowest cost I could. I voted (repeatedly) against tax increases and I voted (repeatedly) for tax decreases. I deplore waste in government and worked hard to make sure New Hartford taxpayers got a fair return for their tax dollars. During my tenure, every town-owned bridge in the 1st Ward was replaced, along with many large box culverts. Storm water projects, both large and small were engineered and constructed during my watch. Working with the Town Board, many good things happened. We built another town park (Oneida St, Washington Mills). We solved a problem with our Police department not having enough space by converting the old Kellogg Road Community Center for their internal use. Roads were paved on a schedule and after I even managed to shame Oneida County into re-engineering and rebuilding Chapman Road complete with curbs, storm water collectors and a sidewalk. This happened only after I gathered the residents together along with county and state leaders (many times) so they could hear first-hand how bad it was and could no longer ignore the situation.

When Brian Miller was elected to the Assembly, the seat opened up. Many expressed interest in the position and I held back to watch. After it was clear nobody else wanted the job, I expressed interest. Lo and behold, about 1 week before the screening, Mrs. Pratt jumped in desiring to be appointed. Unsurprisingly, (after some high-power phone calls were made), she ended up being appointed to the position by the County Executive. He, of course, got what he wanted: Somebody with heavy political debt in the position. When the chips are down, those markers are going to be called in and the end loser will be you and I when the tax bill comes due.

In the short few months Mrs. Pratt has been appointed, she has already voted to take more money out of your pocket. (Read the newspapers for further details, or ask me when I knock on your door this campaign season.)

I refuse to put myself in a situation where the County Executive can tell me how to vote by cashing his political capital. Ideas such as an Indian-run Casino downtown and taking back sales tax revenue from the towns and villages are but 2 examples of of Mr. Picente's flawed vision for Oneida County.

So here it is: I am in the race. I am, along with others, collecting signatures to enable me to get on the ballot. So is Mrs. Pratt.

As registered Republicans or Conservatives, you will have an opportunity to choose at the ballot box whom you wish to represent you this year ... First, on Tuesday September 12 (a week and a day after Labor Day) and then in the general election in November.

I respectfully ask for your vote in both the Primary and General election.

Thank you for you consideration.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What we have lost, and some reasons why

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to look at the numbers and figure out we have lost significantly in the last 4 decades. We used to be home to one of the largest regional airlines in the world that flew 50 flights a day. We had a good manufacturing base (General Electric in 2 large locations, Chicago Pneumatic, cloth industry mills to name a few) ... We had a large military airbase that injected over a billion dollars a year into the area. The population in Utica peaked in the 1960s.

Then things changed. Small changes at first, but each took their toll. NY State introduced a sales tax in the mid-1960s. Oneida County thought it was such a good idea that it followed suit in 1980. Coincidentally, that is when our population started dropping and it also marked the beginning of big business exiting the area.

And things have been on the decline ever since. We have suffered both business and population loss that have turned our area from one of the most economical places to live to one of the most expensive in 4 or so decades. Why?

The area suffers from very high taxes compared to income, that's why. We're also over regulated and our utility costs are higher when compared to other areas of the country.

Take a good look at the pictures in this post and ask yourself where they are now. The answer is of course, not here anymore. Oh, GE and CP are still in business, just not here. Mohawk Airlines was gobbled up by bigger airlines and then they left the area. So when you think of why the Mohawk Valley region hasn't flourished in the last 4 decades, it's because business has fled. When business leaves an area, so do people.

4 decades. 40 years of decline. We're being told all is well and we're on the rebound, but realistically folks, you're being fed tall tales. Business has fled taking people with it, and the last decade has not been a era that we will remember as flourishing. Coincidentally, we have had the same County Executive for the last 10 years. Have things gotten better on his watch?

Some of the County Legislators have been there over 25 years. Have things gotten better?

Next: Why the same old same old country-club go-along-to-get-along style of government is not working and why I am running to inject a breath of fresh air onto the 10th floor of the County Office building. Stay tuned ...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Oneida County: Past and Present, Some Basic History

Before we get to some of the meatier issues, I thought an overview of the last 4 or so decades of Oneida County might let you know how far we've slipped. Let start with some easy numbers to find on the internet: Oneida County, according to Wiki, contains 26 towns, 17 villages and 3 cities. The current population is a tad under 233,000... which is down from a high of about 275,000 in 1972.

The trend is obvious: We are losing population. In rough numbers, we have lost about 10,000 every decade, or about 1,000 people every year since ... 1972. People are voting with their feet and leaving Oneida County in real numbers. Remember, this number would be much higher, perhaps twice as bad if we did not have a constant influx of refugees into Utica since the 1980s. How do I know? I had the pleasure of teaching ESL to some Vietnamese refugees 25 or so years ago. Immigrants and refugees usually end up as good citizens contributing to the area and if it were not for them, the inner cities would suffer from abandoned housing much more than they already do. Their presence here mitigates what would be a much worse picture population-wise if they were not here.

So the question begs: Why are so many people leaving the area? Why do we pour so much into our children's education, only to have them leave? Why are we not attracting or keeping our best and brightest?

The answer is clear: Money.

The combination of a lack of good jobs combined with high property taxes has turned Oneida County from one of the most economically affordable areas into one of the most expensive areas in NY State to live. We are one of two counties in the state with the highest sales tax rate (8.75%) outside of NY City. Our property taxes are high. The cost of utilities in the area is also high. Simply put, the area has been on the decline since the 1970s, and those of us left are paying more for the privilege of living here.

Oh, I don't entirely blame Oneida County leadership for all of our problems. There is plenty of blame to go around, and much of it stems from the policies and laws coming out of Albany.

In my next post, I plan to post more details of what we used to have and what we have lost. I have a brochure compiled by the Utica Chamber of Commerce from about the era when our population peaked, and what we have lost in 4 or so short decades is quite a long list.

Stay tuned.


Opening Post

Hello and welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

I will try to keep things fresh by posting at least once a week; probably more. If you don't know, I was fortunate enough to have been elected 3 times to the New Hartford Town Board. I've been off the board for almost 4 years now; somehow I still look at local government and often wince at what I see.

So I have decided to become active in politics again. This time, I'm running for Oneida County Legislator to represent the 16th district, which is the southern part of New Hartford and all of the towns of Paris and Bridgewater.

I hope to use this blog for 2 purposes: One, to get my message out with my positions on local governmental decisions and the real impact they may have upon all of us, and two, to tell some of the stories (some humorous, some sad) that I've encountered along the way.

Feel free to leave comments agreeing or disagreeing with my positions. I will make all of them public, except for those that don't meet with normal standards of decorum.


Alexandria, Andrew and Amazon

Off the record, it's called corporate welfare. But it's a reality in the times we live in. Every village, every town and every city ...