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.