Archive for October, 2015

Put children’s lives before profits

Early this morning two pre-school aged children died in an apartment house fire a couple blocks from here. Local officials are investigating the possibility that arson was the cause of the fire. They should also be considering that cause of the deaths was a lack of adequate fire codes and inspections. The story of this building is typical of the sort of neglect that leads to such tragedies.

The building in question, 145 Floral Avenue in Johnson City, New York, is owned by K&L Estate Corporation of Monroe, New York located in Orange County just north of New York City. That corporation is in turn owned by 33-year old Usher Kahan, the son of Yudel Kahan who is the head of Churchill Corporation Services which describes itself as the largest owner of furnished apartments in the New York City and Northern New Jersey area. The younger Mr. Kahan bought the property in 2014 for $70,000 at which time its tax classification was changed from 411-apartment to 400-commercial. (I am awaiting an answer from the County as to the impact of that change.)

Built in 1960, the building has seven apartments: some two bedroom renting for $550 a month plus utilities, some three bedroom renting for $635 a month. The total number of bedrooms is 15 suggesting that total the monthly rental income is around $3,500 a month. Although current tax information on the property is not listed on the Broome County web site (why not?) the real estate listing when the property was sold says that they are about $3,700 a year. That means that Mr. Kahan is realizing a 55% return on his investment every year—before he depreciates it for tax purposes. So why is he not required to install sprinklers in the building?

The answer, quite simply, is that local officials have not seen fit to require them. The answer to why they have not is harder to understand. Rents in the Binghamton area are very high compared to the cost of apartment buildings making the sort of investment returns enjoyed by Mr. Kahan the rule rather than the exception. It is time that some of those profits go into providing safe housing for our citizens. Any time a multiple-family building is sold, it should be required to be brought up to current fire code as is the case in many communities across the country. And those fire codes should be updated to require sprinklers and to mandate annual inspections of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms—reports are that the alarms at 145 Floral Avenue did not function.

An arsonist may well have set the fire that damaged this building and left several families homeless. But it is corporate greed and governmental neglect that caused the deaths of these two innocent children. Our citizen deserve better.

Something stinks in the kitchen

Not surprisingly, our esteemed County Executive, Li’l Debbie Preston, is eager to move ahead with a contract award to the sole bidder for the county’s central food services. This despite the fact that the numbers simply do not add up. Currently the county pays an average of $4.30 per meal for a million meals a year. Under the proposed Aramark contract, based on what little information the Executive has allowed to be made public, that will be reduced to an average of $3.40 a meal while the company invests $350,000 in new facilities. Assuming the company makes about 8% profit, which is roughly what cost-reimbursable service contracts usually yield, that brings the actual amount spend per meal to $2.80. ($3.40 – $0.35 – 8%) Unless the quality of the food suffers greatly, which Preston assures it will not, it is clear that the workers will be taking it in the shorts. Some of the reduction in labor costs will come from Aramark’s proposed use of prison labor—basically slave labor—but no one knows how much or how quality will be sustained as the jail population turns over. For that matter, we do not even know what prison or jail will be involved. And there appears to be no provision in the proposed contract to give current employees any preference in hiring. Clearly many if not most, especially the most experienced, will be out on the street. Has anyone calculated the cost to the County of putting dozens of people on the food stamp and welfare rolls?

Besides the obvious shabby treatment of long-time county employees, this contract raises other questions. Why did no one else besides Aramark bid? After all, their leading competitor, Sodexo, already provides food service at Binghamton University and so has a strong presence in the area. Could it be because of Aramark’s well documented history of bid rigging? While I can find no evidence of political contributions by the company to Broome County officials, in 2008 they spent thousands of dollars helping Orange County Sherriff Carl DuBois get elected. Not surprisingly, the Orange County jail is run by Aramark Correctional Services. And no less a champion of government outsourcing than the Wall Street Journal has reported on Aramark’s ties with organized crime.

No matter how you look at it this deal stinks and should be turned down by the legislature. If the County Executive still wants to explore outsourcing the central kitchen, the competition should be reopened with a request for proposal that includes provisions for protecting the currently employees. And the County should run an open competition including a pre-bid solicitation of interest and a pre-bidders conference with the identity of interested parties made public. If there is no competition, the idea should be dropped.

And another irate gun nut….

Here, unedited obviously, is another brilliant comment posted on the WBNG web site by an irate gun nut.

 

“Bob Conley · Delhi Ag & Tech

 

“Leo Cotnoir what do u know about the constitution. the people u vote for are tring to erase history through common core & rewriting it so that the true Bible blieving Americans are the villians. Do you wear PINK or RED underwaer to match your political views?”

A gun nut replies….

Here, unedited obviously, are comments posted on the WBNG web site by an irate gun nut. Does anyone need more evidence that we need stronger gun control laws? For the record, I am also a veteran having served in the US Air Force for seven years during the Vietnam War era. I think we were somewhat clearer back then on what the US was all about. This sort of rant from an Iraq war veteran makes me wonder what has become of the ethics of our military.

 

“Adam Petzack

“wow Leo Cotnoir, u must have your head stuck somewhere far up Obamas ass. how does that smell??? get out of my country. your not welcome here with that attitude. yes i have the right to say such a thing, i served in the army in iraq. if you cant appreciate our constitution and our ways of life set forth by our founding fathers, by all means, please go jump off a bridge you unamerican pile of shit……”

 

“Adam Petzack

“just for the record, i read your facebook page, we the people are not tyrants you ignorant bastard, the government is supposed to fear us. not the other way around. its called power of the people. im no politician nor do i care to be but i do know that people like you are the reason why the country i served is nolonger the country i was born in. you disgust me. you may have been born here, but your morals, values, and ethics are so unamerican its sickening. thanks for the participation in destroying my homeland you unpatriotic asshole. go fuck yourself……….”

Time to hang up the buggy whip

A century and a half ago Endicott was a couple hour buggy ride from Binghamton and Vestal, across the river, was even farther. Johnson City was an experiment in welfare capitalism protected from its neighbors by imposing arches. Communities like Port Dickinson were tucked away miles from the city. Today, the entire Susquehanna Valley from Conklin to the Tioga County line and hills above it are a single urban area. Yet we persist in the quaint notion of the “Triple Cities.” Not only does this cost us taxpayers millions in redundant government but it results in unfair disparities in taxation and government services. Furthermore, the proliferation of small government agencies makes it difficult to hire and maintain the sort of professional talent a city of our size needs. Fixing this will not be easy because it will threaten dozens of petty political fiefdoms and will require significant reform of local taxation. But it can be done and, if we wish the area to have any chance to recover from deindustrialization, it must be done.

As the recent attempt to merge the Chenango and Chenango Forks school districts showed, skewed tax rates present a major barrier to consolidation. In that case, the residents of one district paid significantly higher school taxes than those of the neighboring one and so refused to approve the merger. That, of course, makes no sense. Broome County has taken a small step toward solving this problem by collecting centrally the taxes levied by the various towns. The next really crucial step is to establish a single assessment system for the entire County followed by a complete reassessment by an independent firm. Initially, equalization rates would be adjusted to keep taxes unchanged but over a period of years those would be eliminated so that everyone in the county paid taxes at the same rate.

That having been done, there would no longer be any reason not to consolidate the dozen school districts in the County into a single one. The savings in administrative costs would be huge and the school system would be able to promote specialties—music, theater, science— in different schools giving students more choices of stronger programs at a lower overall cost to the community. And don’t worry, the high schools would retain their identities, their football teams, and their competitions.

The next big step would be to separate the urban and rural parts of the County under two governments: the City of Binghamton for the first and Broome County for the rest. Public safety and public works departments would be combined at those levels. Eliminating a dozen towns, two villages, and innumerable small agencies will save taxpayers additional millions. And making Binghamton a city of some 150,000 will make it eligible for additional federal programs and give us more clout in Albany. But this must be done without taking an unfair toll on those who work for us. Seniorities must be merged so that those from one town are not penalized compared to those from another.

Finally, we need to reform our governmental systems. The notion that an elected official can manage a city or a county is outdated. Most really well-run communities have adopted some form of city/county manager system where a professional administrator is hired by the elected officials to run governmental functions. This not only offers stability and continuity to government but it greatly reduces the opportunity for corruption.

The way forward for our community is to create a modern, world-class government that can attract and retain modern businesses. The canals are gone along with the horse and buggies. Why are we holding on to government suited to that time and not to our own?

No more games

The State of New York, in the person of Governor Andrew Cuomo, seems to have decided that its poor, struggling upstate regions are children to be controlled through a series of games. The latest, dubbed “The Hunger Games,” offers $1.5B to be divided among three winner out of the seven regions of the state. This is insane for a number of reasons.

First of all, since when is Albany all-knowing about what is best for the various regions in the state? The state capital is closer to Boston than to the western part of the state. Basically this is a matter of the half of the state that lives in the New York City area treating the rest of us as ignorant yokels.

Second, what happens to the four “losers” in this competition? Are their residents not citizens of the state like those in the winning regions? What gives Albany the right to put some of its citizens ahead of others? Is our state to have three classes: New York City, upstate winners, and upstate losers?

Third, let us not forget that much of the economic trouble of upstate NY can be laid at the feet of the downstate financial community. Would the Southern Tier need help if IBM had not decamped for Westchester County? How many jobs were lost at Endicott Johnson when Citigroup bought the company and sucked the remaining life from it? What about the venture capitalists who killed Link? Or the NYC-based Random House that shut down its Kirkwood distribution center?

Finally, this sort of phony competition pits neighbor against neighbor to the detriment of all. If Albany wants to stimulate recovery upstate, how about removing the state sales tax in upstate counties? How about eliminating state corporate income taxes in those counties? And then how about running workshops to train local officials in economic development?

Casinos will not restore economic vitality to upstate NY and neither will stupid state-run games. Stop treating us like an amusement, Albany, and get out of our way.

L’il Debbie’s sausage machine

It is an article of faith among Republicans that outsourcing government functions to private industry is a good thing. They cling to this belief despite the reality that the result is most often higher overall costs to the taxpayers, layoffs and cuts in pay for workers, and shoddy work. That is probably why they prefer to do such deals behind closed doors out of the prying gaze of citizens. Broome County officials, led by Avon-selling County Executive Debbie Preston, have, in the face of strident public opposition, gone forward with the privatization of the county’s central kitchen that provides some million meals a year to various county facilities. And they are being opaque about the process.

Typically a governmental agency requesting bids for goods or services will publish a list of interested parties prior to the release of the request for proposals. This allows small businesses an opportunity to seek teaming arrangements with potential prime contractors. The County published no such list. And generally the government will make public how many bids it received and, often, from whom. The County has actively blocked local media from getting that information through the state’s Freedom of Information Law on the grounds that it would compromise competitive information. To point out that this is nonsense is hardly necessary. Unless the County expects to go back to the bidders for a best and final offer, there is no reason not make the complete proposals public. And even if the County anticipates requesting revised pricing, certainly the number and identity of the bidders is in no way privileged. So what is L’il Debbie Preston trying to hide?

Well, that takes us back to why Republicans love outsourcing: it benefits their cronies. I can not blame our County Executive for trying to hide her machinations. After all, if people could see what goes into the making of her governmental sausages she would be out on her ear. But no matter. The deal will be done in the dark shadows of Hawley Street. Dozens of hard working county employees will be laid off and driven onto the welfare rolls. The clients of the central kitchen will get lousy food. One or more ward heelers will get wealthy on the taxpayers’ money. And the GOP’s campaign coffers will swell. Ain’t America great?

Cowards are not welcome

Starting immediately all comments to this blog must contain a real full name. I am not interested in maintaining a forum for people who are too cowardly to stand by what they say

The coronation of Fred Akshar

There is allegedly a campaign underway to fill the New York State Senate seat left vacant by the conviction and resignation of Tom Libous. But to characterize what is happening as an election is to fail to appreciate the reality of the situation. No, this is a coronation. The Warren Anderson Baton of Pork and Corruption is being passed to a third generation handpicked by power brokers in Albany. To see how this is being done one need only follow the money.

Our local media have made much of the fact that the Fred Akshar campaign has out raised Fiala’s by 20:1. The facts are a bit more subtle. According to the New York State Board of Elections Akshar has a war chest of $429,548.49 compared to $164,881.13 for Barbara Fiala. Without question, Akshar has drawn far more in donations from corporations and PACs, $101,603.49 to $16,250.00, and individuals, $115,241 to $700, than has Fiala. But the real story is in the support of the Republican and Democratic Parties for their respective candidates. Akshar has received $208,200 from the Republican Party and in let-over funds from other Republican candidates. Fiala has received no funding whatsoever from the Democratic Party. In fact, 88% of her financing is left over from her previous campaign for County Executive. The message is clear: Fiala was asked by Governor Cuomo to run as a sacrificial lamb to give the illusion that this was really an election.

Now perhaps this is prudent on the part of Democrats in as much as Mr. Akshar will need to run again in 2016. It is hard to see how he will be able to raise yet another $115,000 in individual contributions in less than a year. However, he will be running as an incumbent which is always an advantage even though he will have had little chance to accomplish anything during the ten months he will have been in office. On the other hand, the Democratic Party has been singularly inept at fielding winning candidates in the Southern Tier. That Party’s candidates for County Executive and Binghamton City mayor were pathetic at best. Unless that changes, Mr. Akshar will follow in the tradition of becoming a millionaire while larding the state budget with goodies for his friends. Perhaps he will even inherit Libous’s lakefront house. Meanwhile, another nail is driven into the coffin of democracy in upstate NY.

Pot meet kettle, Facebook edition

8/5, 8:38pm

 Bob Kingsley

 Mr. Cotnoir:

Appreciate your comments on my article. After scanning your Facebook wall, it seems you’re no stranger to enjoying a bit of name calling, especially when it is a topic or individual of your objections. If all you could find was that single comment about calling King Andrew exactly what he pretends to be, given his want to flaunt the law, protocol and rules of the legislative process, then I guess I did a pretty good job quieting the liberal left you clearly represent. I only pray that next on Preet’s list is King Andy himself. Stay tuned and thanks again for reading.

 

8/6, 12:52pm

 Leo Cotnoir

Although I am a Democrat I am not a particular fan of Governor Cuomo. I voted for him because he was by far the better choice in the last election. Personally, I think that the DoJ should roll a few buses into Albany and haul the whole crowd to jail. But referring to the governor as "King Andy" does nothing to advance the dialog. And thanks for replying to my comment.

 

9/30, 4:57pm

 Bob Kingsley

Try putting some original thought out there instead of sniping.

 

9/30, 5:01pm

 Leo Cotnoir

If you don’t like what I write, don’t read it.

 

Today, 11:21am

 Bob Kingsley

Like I said, try original thought instead of sniping. All you do is criticize. Any A-hole can do that Leo, lets hear some ORIGINAL THOUGHT if you’re so freakin enlightened.

 

10/1, 11:23am

 Leo Cotnoir

Read my blog: moosemorsels.wordpress.com

 

10/1, 12:33pm

 Bob Kingsley

You use PressConnects to snipe, use it to express your ORIGINAL THOUGHTS. I’ll bet you can’t get it published because it lacks quality…..

 

10/1, 12:42pm

 Leo Cotnoir

I use Press Connects to correct right wing lies. That does not take an extended essay.

 

Today, 1:27pm

 Bob Kingsley

but I’m guessing your ORIGINAL WORK is unpublishable which means its only life is in your blog, right?

 

10/1, 3:16pm

 Leo Cotnoir

I’m guessing that you are an asshole sticking his nose into my business. In fact I have had letters published in the Press & Sun-Bulletin several times, in The New Yorker (twice), in The Washington Post, and in Aviation Week and Space technology (twice). I have also published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America, Laser Focus World, Applied Optics, Physics Review Letters, and several more. I anxiously await your bibliography.

 

10/1, 5:13pm

 Bob Kingsley

you lost me at asshole asshole, go fuck yourself I was civil until you brought it down so fuck off

 

 <blocks me, no loss>