Archive for the 'Broome County' Category

Consolidate and save

People in New York, especially those in the fifty or so counties called Upstate New York, love to complain about how high their taxes are. Granted, taxes in the state are among the highest in the country but that average is somewhat skewed by New York City. There are some good reasons why taxes are higher here than in southern states. Our climate makes highway maintenance much more expensive than in areas without the freeze/thaw cycles we have or the seven feet of snow most of us see every year. Our public schools are among the best in the country. And we take care of one another through various social programs. The deindustrialization of the Northeast has hit New York State particularly hard, significantly reducing the tax base, especially upstate. Some of these things we have no control over, others we choose for the greater good. But at least some of the reason our taxes are so high is that we stubbornly cling an antiquated governmental structure.

Take Broome County as an example. Situated on the Pennsylvania border about halfway between New York City and Buffalo the county is home to just under 200,000 people on a modest 716 square miles. Most of the county is rural with about three quarters of the population concentrated in the greater Binghamton area along the Susquehanna River valley. It is whiter than the country or the state: 87% vs. 70% for NY and 77% for the US. And it is poorer with 17.7% living in poverty compared to 15.4% for the state and 13.5% for the country. Only 6.3% of the population is foreign born which is much less than 22.5% of New Yorkers born abroad and the 13.2% of all Americans who were. Still, with an education level nearly the same as the national average, although a bit below that of the state as a whole, Broome County is fairly typical of Upstate NY.

One might think that Broome County would be managed by two governments: one city and one county. No, in fact we have 25 local governments: one county, one city, 16 towns, and seven villages. You might expect that Broome County’s 30,000 elementary and high school students would be accommodated by a single school district. Again, no. We have 12 public school districts plus a thirteenth that provides some shared services. But surely you say, the county needs only two local law enforcement agencies: city police and county sheriff. Hardly, we have five police departments not including the Sheriff’s Department, the Binghamton City police, or State University police. How about fire departments? Forty. Rescue squads? Twelve.

Let us look at some detailed numbers. All these data come from the Official Broome County website: gobroomecounty.com. Note that these are 2010 population numbers. Since then the population of the county has dropped by nearly 3% but, of course, the government has not shrunk.

The total number of elected and appointed officials at the county level is roughly 120. That includes the eleven county executive and legislative officers, 44 department heads, 47 judges and other officials, and 19 legislators. That comes to one county official for every 1,658 residents. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. When all the local governments are added in, there is one official for every 425 county residents.

In New York, counties are subdivided into cities and towns. Towns may incorporate villages as well. The cities and towns in Broome County, along with their populations and number of officials, are shown below. Urban areas are indicated by an asterisk.

Jurisdiction

Population

Officials

Residents/official

City of Binghamton*

47,376

44

1,077

Town of Barker

2,732

19

144

Town of Binghamton

4,942

14

353

Town of Chenango*

11,252

16

703

Town of Colesville

5,232

15

349

Town of Conklin

5,441

14

389

Town of Dickinson*

5,278

16

330

Town of Fenton

6,674

15

445

Town of Kirkwood

5,857

15

390

Town of Lisle

2,751

16

172

Town of Maine

5,377

15

358

Town of Nanticoke

1,672

16

105

Town of Sanford

2,407

15

160

Town of Triangle

2,946

12

246

Town of Union*

56,346

19

2,966

Town of Vestal*

28,043

20

1,402

Town of Windsor

6,274

17

369

County total

200,600

351

572

 

In addition to these are the seven villages in the county.

Village

Population

Officials

Residents/official

Deposit

819

15

55

Endicott

13,392

16

837

Johnson City

15,174

14

1,084

Lisle

320

5

64

Port Dickinson

1,641

12

137

Whitney Point

964

10

96

Windsor

916

7

131

Village totals

33,226

79

421

 

In a rational state, urban parts of the county would be consolidated into the City of Binghamton, bringing its population to roughly 148,000 which could be served easily by the 115 officials currently employed by the jurisdictions that it would comprise. The rural remainder of the county could surely be managed by a small fraction of the 183 officials we taxpayers are currently paying for in those areas—a total of one for every 286 residents.

Reorganizing the county to more closely resemble those in the south, which area residents point to as examples of great government, would trim more than 200 redundant positions supported by our taxes. Consolidating the school systems as well as police and fire departments would reduce the burden by another couple of dozen. Note that this does not mean closing schools or fire stations or police stations. It means eliminating unnecessary administrative overhead. County high schools would continue to compete in sports. Paid and volunteer fire departments would continue to work together. And the same number of police would be on the streets. The only thing that would change is that petty fiefdoms that have been in the same hands for generations would be cut. No one will miss them.

It is hard to tell what the actual savings would be, but they would be substantial. Maybe the people of Broome County do not mind paying a few hundred dollars a year for redundant government but at least they need to know what their quaint 18th century government really costs.

Police state

This morning I was bullied by a New York State Trooper named David A. Kemp on behalf of a biker friend of his who objected to my non-threatening email telling him to stop harassing me on Facebook. (See my earlier post Resist and the emails in question below.)  Not only was the trooper was rude but he lied by saying that what I had done was illegal. At one point, he pushed his way into our house and shouted at me. And without my permission, he went to the back of my house to record our car license plates.

This is what Trump’s police state looks like. In fairness, the state police sergeant to whom I complained was fairly conciliatory but this incident should never have happened. I have sent a message to my state assembly representative advising her of this abuse of police power. I urge anyone else subject to this sort of right wing harassment to so likewise.

 

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Resist

Free speech is under attack in a very real way. Post something about Trump that someone does not like and you may well find, as I did, your home address posted on Facebook. You might receive an email with a printout from one of those background check sites, full of inaccurate information and the names of people you do not even know. Your ex-wife, who lives in a different state, might receive a phone call telling her that the Trumpster in question has “friends in law enforcement.” You might find this person plastering Facebook with your Twitter account, your Gravatar, copyright material from your blog, and screen grabs of your Facebook posts. If you report those to Facebook you are politely informed that they do not violate their “community standards” but that you have been blocked from posting for a week because you called someone a right-wing coward. When you report the harassment to the police they tell you that none of this is illegal. These are the same police who claimed that saying “fuck” on your deck is illegal (it isn’t).

I know who is harassing me. He is a local businessman catering to a knuckle-dragging segment of the community. He apparently feels that it is his responsibility to protect the world from my having more than one Facebook account. I have created multiple accounts because Facebook’s biased “community standards” result in my frequently being blocked from posting because I offended some thin-skinned yahoo. I am looking into pursing legal action against this person because I will not be silenced by a fascist bully. I urge everyone to stand up to suppression of their rights to speak their minds. We will only survive the Trump regime by refusing to back down in the face of right wing tyranny. And if the harassment continues, I will organize a boycott of this person’s business and that of anyone else who tries to stifle free speech.

Have a nice day.

Broome County jail privatization?

Almost exactly a year ago, I commented in a post on this blog that the selection of Aramark to run the Broome County Central Kitchen did not smell right. Aramark’s bid, the only one received by the County, seemed unrealistically low. And the fact that Aramark’s biggest competitor, Sodexo, did not bid despite having a very strong presence in the area as the provider of food services to Binghamton University suggests that they judged the competition to be unwinnable. It should be noted that Aramark has a long history of being implicated in bid rigging.

In that post I suggested that Aramark’s real target was the Broome County jail. A couple year ago the company obtained a lucrative contract to run the Orange County jail after making generous contributions to that county’s sheriff’s campaigns. Evidently their largess has been extended to the Broome County Executive’s campaign as well. An observant reader sent me the page below listing contributions to Debbie Preston’s war chest. I pass it on without further comment.

debbie aramark

A correction and apology

A couple of days ago I chided District Attorney Stephen Cornwell for recusing himself from the Debbie Preston credit case abuse case. I have been informed that he did so after being ordered to by a judge in response to a filing by Ms. Preston’s attorney. I apologize to Mr. Cornwell for mistakenly mischaracterizing his actions.

Leadership, Preston style

In her piece in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, Debbie Preston tells us that talk is cheap but leaders get results. That is perhaps the strongest argument to date for why the citizens of Broome County should vote for Jason Garner. Look at the record:

When Penguin-Putnam announced they were leaving Broome County putting hundreds out of work did she go to their headquarters as ask what it would take to keep them here? No, she did not. Indiana offered them $800k and off they went. That is less than one quarter of one percent of the Broome County budget. Does she expect us to believe they could not have been induced to keep those jobs here?

When FedEx said they were closing their facility in Kirkwood did Preston ask them what it would take to keep them here? No she did not. And more jobs were lost.

When Crown Cork was looking for a place to relocate upstate, did she pitch Broome County to them? No she didn’t and those jobs went to Tioga County.

Recently, the Gap’s warehouse near Albany burned down and they said they were having trouble finding a large enough facility in the Hudson Valley. Has Preston talked to them about the facilities and transportation infrastructure in Broome County? No.

When United Airlines announced that they were cancelling service to Washington where two of the area’s largest employers are headquartered and where their largest customer is, did she try to convince them to reconsider? No. And when United said they were ending all service to Broome Regional Airport she did nothing.

Just this week American Airlines dealt another blow to Broome County by ending service to Philadelphia. Did Preston protest? No, she was too busy dealing with a scandal of her own making.

Oh, but she did accept the only bid received to for the County Central Kitchen, costing dozens of jobs. The company she chose, Aramark, has ties to organized crime and a record of bid rigging.

And, of course, she helped herself to a Town credit card. This is leadership? If this is what Preston thinks leadership is, we do not need it.

What’s in her wallet?

County Executive Debbie Preston’s use of a Town of Conklin credit card for personal purposes raises an interesting question beyond that of her ethics and morals. And that is the question of her creditworthiness. If she needed a credit card to shop for clothing, why did she not open one in her own name? In 2011, the year she opened the credit card in her and the Town’s name, her salary as Town Supervisor was $51,606, well above the median family income in the Town of $43,000. That would seem adequate for her to qualify for a credit card. When she became County Executive, her salary increased to more than $90,000. And, of course, this is over and above her earnings from selling Avon products out of her office. All in all, not too bad for a high school dropout.  So, why did she need to rely on the credit of the Town to get a credit card?

Anyone who has ever had a security clearance knows that bad credit is grounds for being denied access to sensitive information. The reason is obvious: someone with financial problems is subject to compromise. In fact, the primary reason people have given state secrets to other countries is for financial gain. In private industry, those with fiduciary responsibility routinely have their credit checked to assess their likelihood of engaging in embezzlement or other financial crimes.

There is much being made recently about the refusal by one of the presidential candidates to release his tax returns. Should not such requirements extend to local officials as well? Credit card companies will give a card to pretty much anyone with a pulse. If Ms. Preston, with an above average income, cannot qualify for a credit card, should we really be entrusting her with our hard-earned tax dollars? If she is not creditworthy enough to get a line of credit on her own, do we want her managing more than $300M of our money?

I call on Ms. Preston, and on her opponent Jason Garner, to immediately make public their tax returns and their credit scores. We have a right to know whether they can be entrusted with our finances.

Do your job, Steve

Update: I have been informed that Mr. Cornwell was ordered by a judge to step aside in response to a filing by Ms. Preston’s attorney. I offer my apologies to the District Attorney for misinterpreting his actions.

In New York, as in many states, county district attorneys are elected, not appointed. The reason they are is because they represent the people of their counties, not the county governments. Here in Broome County we are faced with a DA who refuses to do his job when his fellow Republicans or their families are accused of wrongdoing.

Last Mothers’ Day, little four-year old Samrya Oakley was killed by the recklessly driving brother-in-law of a county legislator. County officials tried to bury the case until public outcry forced District Attorney Cornwell to agree to put the matter before a grand jury.  More than five months later, he has yet to do so. He claims that he is just too busy with other cases. Meanwhile the state DMV has revoked the license of the driver who continues to operate his SUV with impunity.

Yesterday, County Executive Debbie Preston admitted that for more than a year she used a credit card issued to the Town of Conklin, where she had been supervisor, for personal purchases even after she was elected County Executive. Besides being improper and illegal, this raises the issue of possible tax evasion if she used the Town’s sales tax exemption (she claims she paid the sales tax but provided no proof). Mr. Cornwell had already announced last week, without explanation, that he was recusing himself from any cases involving the County Executive. Instead he plans to saddle the already pressed taxpayers of our county with the cost of a special prosecutor. Why? What in his relationship with Ms. Preston so compromises him that he cannot do his job?

Nothing erodes public faith in government like cronyism and political favoritism. Mr. Cornwell’s behavior so far does not inspire confidence. If he cannot, or will not, do the job to which we have elected him, he should step down and let up chose someone who will.  

It’s who you are related to…

On August 31 a young man shot and killed another man in Binghamton. A grand jury handed up an indictment yesterday, 36 days later. On May 4, a man driving an SUV struck another car killing a four-year old girl. He was issued 11 tickets including one for reckless driving. Sheriff-for-Life Harder decided that he should not be charged with vehicular homicide. After a public outcry, DA Cornwell said he would put the case before that grand jury. To date, 156 days later, that has not happened. What is the difference between these cases? In the second one, the driver is the brother-in-law of a Broome County legislator. Where is equal justice under law?

Other people’s money

Recently my wife and I took a short vacation trip around Western NY. We stayed one night at a bed and breakfast in Brockport, in Monroe County, and the second at an inn in East Aurora, in Erie County. In both cases the room occupancy tax was 14%. Having traveled quite a bit around the country, I found this reasonable and about average. So why is the hotel/motel occupancy tax here in Broome County only 5%? According to numbers in the 2015 County financial report that means Broome County is leaving nearly $4M a year on the table. That is more than 1% of the total County annual budget, a non-trivial amount.

Why is this? Does our esteemed County Avon Lady think that a low room tax boosts tourism? I rather doubt it. Most people who stay in hotel and motel rooms in the Binghamton area are here for one of two reasons: business or university functions like commencement. Those people have no alternative but to stay in Broome County. And given the ridiculously low room rates here, no one will be deterred by a 14% room tax. Keeping the tax at 5% and shifting the financial burden onto local taxpayers constitutes malfeasance on the part of Li’l Debbie Preston and the Republican-dominated County Legislature. Who are they pandering to? Is this some gift to the gas companies fracking nearby Pennsylvania? It is time for our County Government to look after the needs of its constituents and to stop acting like a bunch of country bumpkins.