Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Hein doesn't have to ask the Legislature to follow his lead more than once. As the next Legislature takes their place as the last 33 member body, we will be already discussing the issue in our caucuses. Yes, we are aware of the mayhem in the Health Department offices since the expose' on the Palens, but there is plenty more to look at throughout the county.
Mike Hein quoted: “It is my firm belief that the people of Ulster County deserve a high-quality government and the highest level of integrity. That’s why we were so aggressive in addressing the Health Department concerns, and this is a pillar of my administration’s commitment to transparency.”
The 2008 proposal by the County Legislature to remedy some of these issues went nowhere and gave the appearance of being focused on one particular office holder. But with this renewed sense of transparency in government, at least at the onset of a new year, we will take the wind at our back and get right to work on finalizing a bill to address this issue.
I'm glad to have finally read about this anti-nepotism measure in the press. It's usually the killjoy of the conversation because no-one believes the next group in power will want to change the usual way of doing business. I guess we'll wait and see what becomes of this in months to come.
I'm anxious to see the executive order from Executive Hein so that I can compare to other examples I've seen in the past from this and other Legislative bodies. The Freeman closed their article by pointing out that there was a change in leadership rendering the Legislature as an opposition party to the Executive. I don't think the push for this change had as much to do with party affiliation as it did the fact that the public can no-longer turn a blind eye to what was so obvious for so long.
Now what do you suppose will happen in City Hall?
Monday, December 28, 2009
According to an article in the NYTimes Technology section this week, Panasonic has developed such a product. The company claims it will launch a massive Lithium-Ion battery capable of powering a home for up to a week.
The piece goes on to say: If home batteries like this one become commonplace, renewable sources of energy like rooftop solar and residential wind turbines could finally take off. If affordable storage is achieved on the home-level, there might be less need for grid-scale storage, which is pricier and harder to accomplish.
Panasonic just became a majority investor in Sanyo. This bolsters their ability to manufacture the batteries on a grand scale. Their goal is to become the dominant provider early on in the race to provide home batteries. This makes sense even though I sound like I'm shilling for a Japanese company. You know that bothers me.
In addition to saving energy costs, I like the idea of the monitoring system they claim to be working on. This would let you gage what your TV and fridge use while running. However, you know the first generation of batteries will be costly. Remember the first iPhones were over $400 each? Lets hope the industry cuts those costs quickly.
Note: A123 Systems Selected for Award Negotiations for $250M Grant from U.S. Department of Energy to Build Advanced Battery Production Facilities in the United States
Thursday, December 24, 2009
OK, let me digest this. They were happy that illegal immigrants were given working papers, forged Federal documentation, held false Social Security Cards and performed jobs in a secure facility that other properly documented immigrants could have done?
So, let think on this. People from around the world are willing to pay big money, suffer through the gruelling process of emigrating to the U.S., have their contacts, family and housing situation inspected, and criminal/health history studied for years to have the privilege of living in this country. [can you blame them] And yet, those that commit this forgery of identification and take jobs from other legal immigrants are coddled by who?
The suspects were arraigned on charges of falsifying business records and were sent to the Orange County Jail. Most were being held for deportation to their home countries. Authorities said the investigation was initiated by an airport employee who questioned suspicious documents that were presented to him.
Did anyone notice the line in the Freeman article that: All 12 suspects underwent Transportation Security Administration background checks before being hired. An employee that wasn't really looking for these details found the false documents to look suspicious, and the TSA let them pass? Amazing.
Either Empire Warehouse Solutions ability to assess the authenticity of documents is outdated and flawed or they chose to ignore the obvious and let applicants work without proper documentation. Which is it? Whatever the answer...I think we have a problem here.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Headlee Management Corp. operates KFC restaurants in Orange County, two in Danbury, Conn. and some as far south as Alabama & Mississippi. The Record reported that the company's financial woes on the May 2008 death of former owner and longtime KFC franchisee Jan Headlee. I'm sure the economic downturn had just as much to do with the solvency of the company as the wayward management that followed her death.
That's what they call it on Wall Street. Frankly, I don't think the financial guru's on Wall Street ever consider what affect their actions actually have on the working people in this country. Perhaps that's just my opinion.
Sure Joe will seek an appeal. That's protocol in these cases, but the damage is already done. What has not found it's resting place is the inevitable fallout among his colleagues that had their hands closely tied to his machine. How close his ties are to other State Senators will surely come out in the process.
The Freeman made an editorial statement last week stating that Bruno turned his state office into a personal money-making machine that netted Bruno over $3 million in fees for dubious services. In the process, he enlisted the work of state-paid office workers, lawyers, drivers and even State Senator Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall.
The editorial went on to decry just how cynical the electorate have become. With that, legislators feel little to no pressure to change a corrupt system and when a State Senator's felony charges are rationalized to the point of "But he gave us so much money!" then you know we're in trouble.
The implication that Senator Bill Larkin had more than his share of Bruno's dealings at close hand, gives all of the voters in the 39th District a bit to consider. The grumblings on the street are that Billy Boy served a little too close to Joe on a number of pertinent cases that the Fed was investigating. Just the coincidence of the Committee Chair positions that seemed tangled with the whole race horse deal that finally took Joe down, is too much to ignore.
Letting those who's job it is to follow these issues to their end is all we can do at this point. It's also above my pay grade, but I have a feeling we havent seen the last of the Bruno-Larkin connection.
One additional note: Since the change in leadership in our State Senate, I think it's worth acknowledging that the member items issued to state legislators have been made public and the results are interesting for voters in the 39th District to ponder. Sen. Larkin is receiving a grand total of $250K ...ranking him 44th among all State Senators. That's about 10% of what he received when the Republicans still controlled the Senate. Ouch!
Will this mark the end of an era? Will Bill's decline in taxpayer funded gifts to influential groups in Orange and Ulster Counties spur the electorate to finally vote for change this November? Perhaps the time to ask these questions, is now. Because 2010 is just around the corner.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The Red Cross has come to the rescue of a family in Olive Bridge recently. Having survived two accounts of fire damage in their home, they are now residing in a motel in Ulster, NY.
Food, clothing and medical needs met, they are secure and I'm sure, thankful for the efforts of the Red Cross and others. The question is, now that they are in this predicament, who is going to help pay for the prolonged expenses while they get back on their feet? If they remain in Ulster, then the town will have to cover half the cost of housing them through the current rules of the County safetynet structure. No doubt the Town Board will freak when they hear this.
For that reason alone, Olive wont want to find adequate housing for them because then Olive taxpayers will have to pay half the costs. Now we see a very real case as to why the safetynet issue in Ulster County has to be addressed. If you somehow find yourself in a tight spot, lose your home and/or job, the towns usually send you to Kingston in hopes to relinquish themselves of the burden of helping the victim. This is where I shudder to think these towns advertise
"Welcome to Friendly ___________" (You fill in the town)
In the coming days and weeks, Red Cross volunteers will continue to work with those affected by the fire and to provide more aid if needed. Volunteers will also assist victims develop a post-disaster plan to get each started on the road to recovery.
A little about the Red Cross: The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Last year, nearly 300 residents of the Ulster County were provided free, emergency assistance by the Chapter after disasters such as fires, floods, and power outages. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money and blood from the American people to do its work. An average of 90 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs.
The Red Cross urgently needs volunteers to assist with disaster relief efforts throughout the county. For more information on volunteering, contact www.ulsterredcross.org or call (845) 338-7020.
Friday, December 18, 2009
The Times claims "City Hall understood the practice was widespread earlier this month when the mayor said that a review by the city’s Finance Department had found that Mr. Morgenthau’s office had dozens of “hidden” accounts containing $174 million."
A statement from Jason Post in Bloomberg's office: "The administration believed it was fair to single out the district attorney’s office for criticism because Mr. Morgenthau had considerably more money in the accounts than the other city agencies, much more than his own $97 million budget. None were registered with the city comptroller’s office, as required by law."This only becomes an issue in our world of upstate politics because so many of those who wish to run for a number of offices in Ulster County, have spent time working in the offices of DA Morgenthau in some form. It's best to be aware as this case goes further.
Most of the money in Mr. Morgenthau’s accounts came from the settlement of criminal cases against corporate defendants. Bloomberg has been at odds with Morgenthau for a number of years so this doesnt take any of us by surprize. What is shocking is the huge amount that was stowed away in these accounts. Now Paterson and Bloomberg are set to share the found loot 50/50.
Michael Cardozo, NYC's corporation counsel, told Morgenthau the city would not go public about those "secret" accounts until after he left office in January. Is it January already?
The more I gather, the avenue of reconciliation (the mere 51 votes) would yield enough of the Public Option or Medicare Buy-in to make the House and Senates efforts worth the wait. The lesser constrained voting construct of majority rules, would force the reconsideration in 5 years. I would expect that Senators Lieberman, Nelson and Casey will have lost Primary bids by then.
You all remember Richard Trumka? He's the head of the AFL-CIO and has been equally vocal on the need for a better version of reform. In his own way, he has solidified the movement to dismiss the Senate Insurance bailout version of the Bill when it's sent back to the House.
Trumka said in the Huffington Post; "If the Senate bill in its current form went to the House it would go down. The plan as it currently is would not get much support from the American worker unless it is improved. I can tell you that."
I had mentioned in a previous post that I had given up on the Public Option if there was a chance for the Medicare Buy-in. Now that neither are offered and the the mandate to purchase private insurance is still in the bill...dont bother.
As for Lieberman, I almost cant believe this is the same guy we put up as Vice President in 2000. What a schmuck! MoveOn.org has accumulated over $1 million toward his primary rival's campaign fund in only two days. They don't even have a name to throw in the ring yet. 56% of the donations are coming from Connecticut residents. Best of luck JOE.
I think the best commentary against the passing of the butchered bill is coming from progressive statesmen like Howard Dean. He's also calling for the death of the Senate Bill in it's current form and advocates passing the original through reconciliation like I had mentioned before.
Does anyone realize what a positive impact this would have on municipal budgets across the nation? The huge burden placed on our towns and cities in the way of health insurance would be greatly diminished and the taxpayers in each of those towns would see a drastic decrease in their property taxes the following year. Having been responsible for the purse strings of the City of Kingston for eight years, you can imagine my desire to see this happen.
With a lack of commitment from the President, this thing will either flounder until mid January or die a much needed death before then. I cant express my disappointment in words. What you see coming out of DC today, better not be the end result. If so, I would call for the head of Harry Reed.
Note: If this bill passes as it is, Harry Reid gets a well paid job in 2011 lobbying for the Insurance industry. Mark my words.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Having just seen evidence of his prior off-road excursion about a mile behind us, I knew it was the same driver, and immediately pulled across from his landing sight. Joined by the neighboring business owner Kathy Guerin, we approached the driver.
As you'd expect, he stumbled out of the demolished truck like a scene from Duddly Moore's movie Arthur. My concern for his vehicle and the property he damaged vanished as I was now angry at the possible loss of life and limb he really could have caused.
The Saugerties police Dept showed up quite quickly and charged him with DWI and some traffic infractions. Mr Knisell told us he had just left the cemetery up the mountain after visiting his newly deceased wife and found himself emotionally distraught. Well, had he hit another car or reached his final perch while the school bus was letting students off, he would have placed another couple of families in the same heartbroken situation.
This incident gives me the opportunity to remind everyone that there is no good time to drive buzzed, drunk, drugged, or even preoccupied with phones, screaming kids and applying make-up. Pay attention to the road, watch out for other drivers and lets make it through this happy holiday season together unharmed.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I kid you not!
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, plans to reintroduce the Immigration Reform Act this Tuesday even though this Congress cant even get through the Healthcare, Finance Reform and Omnibus Pork Spending before the holiday recess. Is this guy delusional?
The goal here? Issue a blanket amnesty gesture to 20-30 million illegal immigrants and welcome them from the shadows. Anyone paying attention knows the immigration reform legislation comes with a cost. Where’s the money coming from? No-one said there was concern for our taxpayers when they keep pushing for this open door policy. Wouldn't the issue of the US economy get in the way of their goal? Of course.
Let me remind you of the expenditures we've seen outta Congress: The $700 billion financial bank bailout, $787 billion stimulus, $1 trillion health care expansion, $200 billion doctor fix, $800 billion cap and trade and a $250 billion omnibus spending bill. Not to mention the two Bush wars we are still cleaning up. Could someone remind him that this is the worst recession in 25 years and Amnesty is expected to add an additional burden to American families? Good grief!
Gutierrez was quoted in the NY Times: "This bill is the answer to many years of pain, mothers separated from their children, workers exploited and undermined security at the border, all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system. This bill says 'enough,' and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of.”
I would have to agree that such a bill would be an answer to those who like reward for breaking Federal Laws, utilizing our taxpayer funded services and sending their paychecks out of country each week.
We are a country of immigrants. Something to be proud of. America is the beacon of prosperity to millions of people every year. Most endure the arduous and costly task of the legal immigration process. Some go the "not-so-legal" route. Why would someone chose the later?
Perhaps you have a criminal record, or you have a chronic illness, or you have been recruited to smuggle contraband for an undesirable cartel. Maybe to join a family member who is already here but cant afford the process. Either way, that's what the laws are made for. If you intend to be a drain on an already starving system with no intention of contributing to that system, then the taxpayers who are here should have the right to say NO.
I know people who have gone through the legal process, they are proud people. They are also upset that Congress would attempt to reward others who cut in line instead of going the same route as they. There are countries in that bastion of liberal old Europe that, even the most liberal of which have immigration policies that make the US policies look non existent. You don't want to get caught without documentation in France.
So what would happen if we experienced true enforcement of immigration laws today?
Since Industrial Agriculture provides a large majority of the food for the world and they employ a number of illegal immigrants, let’s think about what would happen in this one sector:
• Big Ag would lose its stake-holdings in American agriculture, leading to an increase in the need and development of local farms. (oh no!)
• The surge in local farming would decrease the methane, carbon dioxide and the rest of the pollutants that comes from transporting food thousands of miles away or herding millions of pigs into tiny spaces. (wouldn't want that)
The arguments against:
• Food production would decrease.
• The cost of food would increase slightly.
• Dependent people wouldn’t have access or be able to afford food.
• Starvation and undernourishment would affect thousands more than the millions of people already suffering from lack of adequate food.
• The U.S. economy would go into the tank.
So, stop illegal immigrants, give Americans more jobs, reduce emissions and increase local farming? Or grant them amnesty and a chance to improve their lives, continue to feed Big Ag and risk the earth’s sustainability?
Is there a right choice? Hmmm
And this issue of splitting up families... Where is it stated that you have to leave people behind when you are ordered to go home? Mom & Dad can still take Junior home with them to Italy, Columbia or Sweden. You don't have to split the family up. That argument doesn't hold water. I'm sure there are a number of lawyers who would offer services to help with emigration papers.
So please, Rep. Gutierrez, reconsider the timing of this bill. The fiscal crisis of 2009/2010 is no time to be opening the door to an additional 30 million mouths to feed.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Looking at numerous accounts of what the bill does, I conclude the package includes everything from rules to rein in dangerous financial derivatives to a new process for coping with the collapse of large financial institutions without taxpayer-funded bailouts. One comment I see everywhere is: There will no longer be companies deemed "too big to fail." Remember that one?
Enter...the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). This oversight group would focus on protecting consumers from dangerous financial risks. I see there are numerous accounts that such an agency would have diverted the financial disaster that hit us in 2008/2009. Including the rates associated with your credit cards and mortgages.The bill, which passed 223-202, forces the large firms to pay a total of as much as $150 billion into an emergency fund that could be tapped when a troubled company needs to be taken over and broken up. Again; I see the term "Capital Cushion" used in several reports.
Rep Barney Frank has been the main drive behind these overdue changes. They're not some small nips at the corners either. This is big and will take time for the industry to get used to. It will also take time for the industry to find ways of raping the middle class again, so our Congressional leaders will have to stay on top of this.
While on CNN, Barney Frank said "The bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns wouldn't be possible, rather they'd be illegal, under this bill, if a company fails, it'll be put to death."
Although our tax dollars were put at risk when Pres. Bush & Obama bailed out these large firms, most have survived, and even have paid back their loans. The money coming back is the subject of more debate regarding the choice between reinvesting in small business or to pay down the debt, but I'll leave that to the cable news pundits.
Obama said this comprehensive reform will create clearer rules of the road. With proper enforcement of those rules, consumers and investors have a fighting chance as our economy gets back on it's feet.
Regarding the House vote; the Republicans indicated they liked the system as it stands. Our Representatives Hinchey, Hall and Murphy all voted in favor of change.
Federal Reserve: The bill would allow Congress to order the Government Accountability Office to audit Fed activities, which the Fed says would interfere with the central bank's ability to carry out independent monetary policy.
Derivatives: The bill attempts to shine a brighter light on some of the different kinds of complex financial products, called derivatives, that are blamed for bringing down financial companies such as American International Group (AIG, Fortune 500) and Lehman Brothers. It would pass some of these derivatives on to clearinghouses, which would help pinpoint the value of such trades. However, some derivatives would still be unregulated, including those traded by big agricultural and airline companies to mitigate risk.
Oversight: It creates a new oversight council that would look out for major problems at large financial firms, giving the Federal Reserve a key role in enforcing tougher regulations on larger firms.
Breaking up: It would also give regulators new powers to break up companies that have grown too big, if they threaten to destabilize the financial system.
Executive Compensation: It would give shareholders the right to a nonbinding proxy vote on corporate pay packages.One thing I didnt see online, but heard on AC360 is that it would also redirect another $1 billion of bailout money into federal neighborhood stabilization programs to redevelop abandoned or foreclosed homes. I don't know if that money will ever see action in Ulster County, but it could stave off further neighborhood decay if it did.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
A handful of economic indicators suggest that the end of Kingston’s recession is near. Payrolls are expanding for the first time since 2006 thanks to a moderation in service job losses and hiring at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The unemployment rate has tenuously stabilized near 8%, and the local labor force is once again expanding. Moreover, the nascent rise in industrial production foreshadows that manufacturing employers might soon stop laying off workers.
SUNY NEW PALTZ
New York’s dire fiscal situation will have little impact on SUNY New Paltz. In April, the university proposed $6 million in deficit reductions, with nearly two-thirds of the amount coming from non-instructional areas such as increased revenue sources and cost savings. The only casualty of the recession will be the university’s nursing program, which will be phased out. While 70 university jobs will be lost, this represents less than 3% of the more than 3,000 employees.
SUNY New Paltz will remain an important growth driver for Kingston Metro Area in the long term. The university welcomed 1,775 new students this spring. An increased volume of applicants has allowed the university to be more selective and enhance the quality of its students. Further, thanks to the university, state government worker earnings, which are higher on average than the state and national averages, support consumer industries in the Kingston Metro Area.
While far from well-functioning, the local housing market is much improved. A 75% surge in housing affordability since the fourth quarter of 2005 has helped to stabilize housing demand. Home sales have bottomed, and house prices have been relatively stable after declining by 23% over two years. While residential construction remains depressed, it is not expected to gather momentum until the second half of next year. Recent improvement suggests that consumers are gaining confidence in the housing market. If this is the case, it would mark a significant shift in consumer psychology; consumers’ anticipation that home prices will continue to fall has been the main reason that home prices have been falling. A self-reinforcing improvement in consumer confidence could cause home prices to rise sooner than expected.
The Kingston Metro Area’s long-term economic potential is limited by several constraints Most notably, its above-average living costs en-courage emigration and discourage immigration. Housing is historically much less affordable in the Kingston Metro Area than it is nationally or in other upstate New York metro areas. High housing costs have limited immigration, thereby restraining population growth. Moreover, the metro area lacks dynamic growth drivers. While SUNY New Paltz provides a stream of educated workers, these workers are leaving the area because of the lack of job opportunities. This becomes self-reinforcing; employers choose not to locate in this area because they cannot find skilled employees, and skilled employees leave because they cannot find well-paying jobs.
However, Kingston is on track to emerge from recession by year’s end. The labor market will stabilize mid way through 2010, fueled by healthcare job creation. Kingston Metro Area is expected to recover all of the jobs lost during the recession by the first quarter of 2012, two quarters earlier than the nation. In the long term, the Catskills casino and resort project will bolster the local economy by creating jobs and spurring consumer spending. High exposure to a growing healthcare industry will also benefit the local economy. Nonetheless, the Kingston Metro Area will grow at a below-average pace over the forecast horizon be-cause of its flagging demographic trends.
TOP PRIVATE EMPLOYERS
State University of New York at New Paltz 1,000+
Benedictine Hospital 500-999
Eastern New York Correctional Facility 500-999
Kingston Hospital 500-999
Northeast Center for Special Care 500-999
Ulster-Greene ARC 500-999
United Cerebral Palsy of Ulster County 500-999
United Health Group 500-999
Fair-Rite Products 200-499
Bank of America: Information Solutions 200-499
Gateway Community Industries 200-499
Hudson Valley Resort & Spa 200-499
Mid-Hudson Family Health Institute 200-499
Mohonk Mountain House 200-499
Pilot Industries 200-499
Shawangunk Correctional Facility 200-499
Ten Broeck Commons 200-499
Ulster Correctional Facility 200-499
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
At this time, Reid has said: The public plan is still in the bill, but acknowledged that it may not have the votes to pass. Anyone who has been watching, knows that the Public Option looks nothing like the original, has been watered down to be as ineffectual as possible and secures the firm grip of the Insurance Industry on the well being of Americans.
So, at this point, I welcome the death of the Public Option. The alternative may be getting just that much more attractive. As we watch the "breaking news" on all the 24 hour channels, we start to understand the details of this Medicare expansion and just what it can do rather than what it cant.In exchange for giving up on a new government plan, supporters of the PO demand a major expansion of Medicare and additional aid for low-income uninsured. Medicare would be opened up to uninsured people age 55 to 64. Tempting thought.
What I found on my Twitter account was this little piece from a member of the Senate Finance Committee: The Medicaid piece that's on the table right now, is expanding Medicaid coverage for everybody under 133% of the federal poverty level. That would be about $13,000 a year in 2009 for an individual, and about $25,000 to $26,000 for a family of four.
(where do they get numbers like 133%?)
Currently Medicaid is not open to everybody just based on their income level. In reality, to qualify for Medicaid today, you have to be below a certain income level and be at the right place at the right time. (demographics)
For clarity, I found this on the Wall Street Transcript: In many states the only people who qualify for Medicaid today who are between the ages of 19 and 64 have to either have dependent children or a disability. Healthy, childless adults between the ages of 19 and 64 generally don't qualify for Medicaid; it doesn't matter how poor they are, unless the state has been granted a waiver to expand coverage to some childless adults at the low end of the income spectrum.
I then found this on FireDogLake: The second wave would be for uninsured individuals and families that are above the 133%-income threshold, people between 133% of the poverty level and 300% of the property level. People in this income range would receive federal tax credits to go out and buy insurance in these health insurance exchanges. These are state-administered agencies where people can purchase a standardized set of benefits at a rate that's most likely been negotiated by a government entity, be it the state or the federal government. And so we estimate there are about 20 million Americans between 133% and 300% of the poverty level who would receive a tax subsidy to purchase insurance through the exchange.
Could all these last minute negotiations among our Senators yield a decent reform bill after all? Granted, this still leaves out the 40 Republicans who will accept nothing but the status quo. But if we can get the 60 knuckleheads in the majority to come together, settle this issue, and help those of us who need this option then we can get back to steering this country back to a better, more secure future.
Now, how can we convince Tim Geithner to step down?
Monday, December 07, 2009
Executive Hein offered his version of the 2010 budget with dozens of county jobs cut, programs for Home Healthcare Nursing, The Evolve recovery program, Library funding, CCP and too many other neccessary functions of the County slashed from the general budget. The only chance to bolster the support needed was during this process.
Other than two NO votes from the present Democratic Majority, the amended budget failed along party lines. The single request from the Republican Minority was the elimination of one position in the Executive's branch. As a result, both parties stood their ground and the people of Ulster County got a 5.6% increase in taxes and diminished services.
Having just watched the unanimous vote in favor of all the Ways & Means amendments to the budget by the whole Legislature, this result took me by surprize. I know what options we had during our own budget negotiation here in the city, but we managed to save most of the programs. This is a whole different ball game.
Everywhere I looked, I saw faces filled with dismay. Trying to grasp what just happened. I wondered myself if this being their first budget experience under the new charter had something to do with it. I know the volley structure of the Legislature/Executive relationship. Some of them, I have to question.
I was thinking of one thought on a loop in my head, imagining one of the NO voters pointing their finger at me saying: "We'll fix Mike Hein by voting down the modified budget and end up with Mike Hein's budget!" Yeah, that was really smart.
As it sits, Mike and the NO votes own this budget and it's going to be up to the next governing body to clean up this mess. I hope my comrades are ready to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, because it's going to be tough goin in 2010.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Tom DiNapoli has pursued this cause long before becoming out State Comptroller. Now he finally gets his wish. This new "Tier 5" package puts the retirement age for State employees at 62 instead of 55. You also have to work for more than the paltry 5 years stint to be eligible. It's now a 10 year minimum. Whew!
You've heard of pension padding? No? It's the practice of applying extra overtime that gets compounded on the pension accumulated by Police, Fire and municipal workers. Well, even that practice will see some restrictions. There is now a 15% limit that any employee can pile on their pension annually. With over a million employees covered by this program, the impact should be tremendous.
According to DiNapoli's website, the estimates in savings range between $30 to $50 billion over the next few decades. Who says there's no room for change in New York policy? I'm thrilled.
Considering what financial impact the pension burden had on Kingston and Ulster County, this can only spell good news for budget makers in years to come.
Long live Thomas DiNapoli.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
The total spending plan, at $34.5 million, includes a dozen layoffs. That would have the be the most painful part of this process. And yet I shouldn't have to remind anyone that Kingston is not the only municipality that has suffered this level of cuts in personnel.
It seems this is the year to also get a crash course on the difference between the Tax Rate and the out of pocket Taxes that property owners contend with. The tax rate will rise by more than 9% while the average residential property will see a little less than 3% of an increase. What is more astonishing to some, non-homestead taxes will decrease by almost 5%. Our three business associations should be happy to hear this.
In order to lessen the pain for our citizenry, we had to make some really difficult choices regarding the services the city offers and the number of employees retained to provide those said services.
Let me say here, that I am not thrilled with the empty give backs by the Fire and Police unions. I say empty because I know as well as they, that come next year, the Council and the taxpayers will be faced with a more abysmal set of circumstances while dealing with the 7% raise that this year's concessions gave them. This was a "Hail Mary" pass to 2011 as we pray that the economy turns around like, well the Titanic?
While we did manage to reinstate several positions in the Rec Dept and several prime offices, we couldn't save them all. We managed to shave an additional percent off the Tax Rate during the (sometimes heated) debates, but still held out hope of negotiations with CSEA leadership. The end result: the City of Kingston loses some of the hardest working employees on our payroll.
One element was not lost on the audience at the final Council meeting...the President of the Union representing the Civil Service employees slipped out the door like a bullet. I don't know what the working conditions will be like at the DPW barn during the next few weeks. Lets just ask for calm and restraint.
I want to thank most of the Council and those that not only offered their own cuts, but those who helped with the numbers and cost saving ideas during these past two months. Ironically, the two Councilmen who offered not one idea or cut were both NO votes on the floor. I have no words to express my disappointment, so I'll stop there.
It's odd to think this is my last city budget. Going out after such a brutal experience for us Councilmen, Employees and Taxpayers doesn't bode well with me. But we did the best with what we had and I'm glad the Mayor accepted our efforts. My thoughts go out to those who face unemployment and to those who face higher taxes in 2010.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
One issue that came up, as it always does, was the attempt to alter the method of funding the "Safety Net" within the county. Once again, the Caucus, with significant votes to keep the status quo, will again lay the bulk of the expense at the feet of the Kingston Taxpayer.
I expect most of the Republican caucus will have the same perspective on the "safety net" issue. With Ulster being the only county known to handle housing and supplies for the most needy, with the municipality handling what should be the County's duty, you'd think that eventually, the Legislators would like to do the right thing. Nope.
Once the meeting dates were hashed out and procedural VETO override protocol was settled, the Caucus like many of their counterpart ended up at Ugly Gus for a snack. Witnessing the cast of characters operate under these tough budgetary conditions is probably just as tense across the country. I know we have much to endure on the Common Council as we face the same fiscal issues heading into 2010.
What was striking, was during the exodus from the Sixth Floor, one of my future mates called me Rookie. I'm sure there have been fresh faces in these halls with little legislative experience many times before me, but with 8 years on the Council, I just had to laugh.
And to think, that was my only night free. Now back to City Hall.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Last night's meeting, was a headache in the making. As it sits, homestead property owners will likely see a 3.5% increase in what they pay in taxes next year. You will also find fewer police, fire and DPW employees on the job starting January 1st.
Regarding police layoffs, the PBA had a special vote among their membership where the overwhelming defeat of the deal was handed to the Council. If today's negotiations with the Mayor yeild no changes, the two options are all we have to chose from. If the PBA resorts to the current offer, they reinstate most of the officers slated to be cut.
The Council already accepted their proposal last week in hopes that the membership would see the value of keeping their brothers employed. Now we wait and see what transpires during today's rehash with the main office.
It was nice to see the 50 off duty officers come in to show support. They know we are faced with some difficult decisions and they are one of the three groups facing this dilemma as we head into the worst financial situation in recent history. There have been small offerings from the Fire Dept but nothing from CSEA. So much for saving jobs in the city.
The Council, during the Budget/Caucus Meeting managed to scrounge another 100K from different sources, but that it. The really big issues like eliminating failed offices, shifting departments to the county and cutting the City Bus "financial black hole" out like a cancer, we left off the table. Looks like the "Friends & Family" operation will be intact when I leave the Council December 31st.
The move to reinstate the Rec leaders was important. The Mayor's budget decimated that department, and for no good reason. Well, outside of personal reasons. You've heard the saying...Without Recreation; there's Probation? It looks like the Council has taken that concept to heart. And just in time.
In the year to come, expect the Council to take up the issue of trash collection, moving Human Rights and Civil Service to the county and maybe the brilliant idea of letting UCAT take over our city routes. Who knows. I'll do my best to help with those efforts so that the taxpayers can support the programs more centrally needed in the city.
Meanwhile, Ill see whoever shows up tonight, Thursday and maybe December 15th at the final meeting of "The Madness" at City Hall.