It's the Christmas season, so let's take a look at who has been naughty and who has been nice in Upstate NY.
This year, I confess I was stupid. I decided to run against, as it turned out, a machine politician for the Oneida County Board of Legislators. With the help of the machine (a State Senator who turned out to be her $75,000 bagman and the County Executive who worked for her behind the scenes), she won. As I have always believed, people deserve whomever they elect. Let's take a look at Oneida County and see what the people are going to get in their gift bag (aka the tax bill that will arrive in your mail shortly before next year):
Your first present is the salary increase of 91% that the Board of Legislators gave themselves. Timing being important, they somehow managed to vote on it after the election. Gee, I wonder why. One of the best reforms that could ever happen would be moving election day to a week or two before taxes are due. $16,000 per annum (more for plum positions) for 12 official meetings a year is ludicrous. Knowing that there are people in the district I ran in that live at or near poverty wages (take a walk through Chadwicks; it's not 90210) that live (in some cases) at or below that $16k a year, I'm embarrassed to live here. As I learned after 12 years on New Hartford Town Board, there are quite a few people living one paycheck away from disaster. Every elected official should experience what it's like to live on a shoestring at some point in their life so as to know the impacts their decisions may have on those they govern. Sadly, when I ran I addressed this by promising I would not vote for any increase larger than what the rank and file workers got. It's a pretty safe bet nobody else got 91%... and if I'm not mistaken, there are 2 unions at an impasse with county government and they have not had any pay increase for quite a while ... years, if what I'm told is true. But, ain't nobody got time for that.
Your second present is the big increase the County Executive wants, and most likely will get considering how the dog and pony show is run. He thinks he's worth a raise of 22%, which in real dollars is over $25,000. $114k to $140k? Ain't nobody got time for that, Mr. Picente. You're not doing a great job even though you think you are. (Humbleness is not your forte.) Looking at your (yes, YOUR) Marcy-Nano failure, your refusal to submit a budget that lowers the sales tax (I'll get to that in the next present), your blowing the OC budget up ~ $15 million in one budget year ... And other idiotic ideas, like touting how you're trying to get Amazon here .. As if we're in the running! FWIW, Amazon has been courted by better than us. Chicago has offered to let Amazon pocket $1.3 billion dollars in income taxes paid by it's employees to do whatever it wants to with the money. Chula Vista has discussed giving Amazon $100 million in free land along with a 30 year exemption on property taxes (worth $300 million). Boston is willing to get in bed with Amazon with a task force of city-paid employees. Fresno has pledged to set aside 85% of all taxes and fees generated by Amazon into a fund partly overseen by company executives. And you think Oneida County is in the running? What can you offer them that even begins to compare with these things? And the real question is, if we have to bribe companies by giving away everything, why would we even want them here? Employment is nice and all, but infrastructure load and support costs could easily put us in the red. But yet, we (the taxpayers) still pour money into your going-nowhere projects. Look how your AMS deal in the Marcy project went bad: A nice big, new building with a big lighted sign that proudly said 'AMS' was constructed ... and after it was built, they pulled out. What, you built the building and put the sign there with no inked commitment? No good faith money? Please correct me if I'm wrong because we're going to pay for these boneheaded ideas for decades to come regardless if what happens.
Your third present is the 8.75% sales tax (highest in Upstate NY) that could have been reduced by half a percent so easily in this budget. Watching a $15 million dollar increase in any one years budget tells me that the money was there to reduce the sales tax levy and the County Execcutive refused to do it. He chose to spend it. According to one legislators website, a quarter of a percent equals about $7 million dollars in revenue; this means $15 million is easily able to wipe out half a percent. Considering our immediate bordering counties can run their governments with a sales tax rate ranging from 7.75% to 8.25%, the question is obvious: Knowing we are over-taxed and over-regulated and it is the most identifiable cause of our population loss (10,000 people every 10 years since the mid-1970s), the question begs: What course of corrective action should government be taking to stem that loss? The answer is obvious, of course. But again ... Ain't nobody got time for that.
Your fourth present is the bill you are going to pay for a downtown hospital that is going to come in (after everything is totaled up) at about the billion-dollar mark. I can understand why the Utica Mayor wants it, but looking at it from outside, I ask myself why county leadership is pushing for it also. It is obvious most people in the county do not want to go into the inner city for healthcare. It is clearly unpopular considering that if we really, really need a new hospital, the existing St. Lukes Hospital complex can easily accommodate it. St. Luke's is already tax-exempt which would save the city from removing four or so city blocks of taxable property via the eminent domain process, there is already a separate power plant at St Luke's and traffic wise, it is more centrally located. But the county and the city are already moving ahead by approving the construction of a parking garage there ($45 million before change orders and cost upgrades) ... I really don't want to pay for this and most certainly I will go to Cooperstown, Syracuse or Albany before I will consider going to downtown's new hospital. And I'm not alone. This new hospital is going to be such an issue of contention that it will take a generation or two to get comfortable with. In the meanwhile, it will have to be paid for and we all know where that money is coming from. I feel sorry for Uticans who own property because they will get to pay for it twice: Once in their city taxes and again in their county tax. Why county leadership turns a deaf ear to vox populi is beyond me and I just add it to the raw stupidity of those who are better at running political campaigns than they are at governing. Lastly, a very smart person told me long ago not to put all of your eggs into one basket. Currently, we have three hospitals serving the region. If there is a major catastrophe and it impacts one of the hospitals to the point of closing, we still have two others to rely on. Do we really need a new hospital, and is it wise to have only one hospital in the area? If for any reason it is forced to close (use your imagination, bad things have happened to hospitals before) ... are we protected? Uticans, again your future is being mortgaged: They have eyes on the Police Station and Court Building, and if they get what they want, you are going to get to pay for a new multi-million dollar facility to replace these. The rumblings are already there; last week the newspaper ran an article about how the police station is old and has problems. You're being softened up, do you see it coming? Ain't nobody got time for that.
Your last present is that this area is going to continue to suffer and that is directly a result of the decisions of those you have elected over the last three or so decades. A look at the political personalities almost guarantees it. You have a County Executive who loathes our (same party) Congresswoman and has gone out of his way to throw every stone possible in her path, you have a State Senator who has hurt her in the past by helping redistrict her previous Assembly district into oblivion (how did that turn out, Joe), and you have both of them seemingly putting her almost-guaranteed opponent into the limelight lately. How these people will function together is a mystery to me. Meanwhile, about 1,000 people a year are voting with their feet and leaving for greener pastures. Some head to states with no income tax and (much) lower sales tax rates, some head to states with much lower property taxes and some just look at the bleak employment picture and head out. All of this is happening, btw, while thousands (estimated over 25,000 so far) of refugee immigrants are moved into the area. No, I'm not against this resettling. Filling the empty inner city housing and getting people here is a better solution than continued atrophy. We need better leadership. But, as somebody once said ... Ain't nobody got time for that.
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For the cruciverbalists in the #nohospitaldowntown group: