Saturday, November 28, 2009
One of the last budget meetings we had at City Hall was no less tense than the previous meetings. The chief negotiators for the three Unions and some commentary by DPW Super, Mike Schupp provided little in the way of altering the expected lay-offs.
What was intriguing was the progress being made in the KPBA regarding their offerings to the Council and the Mayor. If all goes according to planned, the police department is set to lose less personnel than expected.
The issue of merging dispatchers came up again as did the suggestion of turning one of the Fire Houses over to volunteers. There has been little follow-up on either of those ideas. (to my knowledge anyway)
Many of you are aware that Charlie Landi has been a constant reminder of the financial crisis that we face, he does so while reminding everyone of the possible option of Municipal Bankruptcy. To the level that we now have copies on what that process is...in detail.
We also had quite the conversation regarding City Bus. What the revenue/expense numbers are, how it's funded, whether to purchase the large buses every year and if we should turn the whole operation over to UCAT.
Alderman Hoffay took the charge, backed up by Bill Reynolds, pressing the issue that City Bus is a no win situation, with less funding offered by the Fed to cover costs. The loss in 2010 and 2011 will only deepen and truly warrants further discussion.
Should we offer our bus service to the County? Raise the fares from $1 to $2?
Another point that hadn't been addressed is the non-aligned staff and the expected pay increases slated for next year. I think we should ask for the same pound of flesh from that group as we are asking of the union membership. I've got that list with me and plan on asking John Tuey (who is on that list) to put those numbers together for Monday night's meeting.
Question for my readers: What do you think about giving the Civil Service and Human Rights duties to the County? I'm sure they could find room in that huge office building on Fair Street.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put out the initial report that the paper built the story on. They claim that Medicare cuts contained in the health package are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether. A little far reaching, but still a worthy question. Mind you this is based on whatever information they were looking for when compiling their facts. (It is the Washington Post)
If there is such a large amount of funding missing from Medicare and the startling revelations from this report are true, then there's a problem. If the Senate was to alter, seek other sources or increase the final tally...there will be some explaining to do.
Adding 30 - 50 million more people to the already stressed public health program known as Medicare is expected to cost more and we are well aware of the Trillion dollar price tag that our Congress has saddled on the American taxpayer. At the the same time; this is understood as a bitter, but necessary pill to take in order to close the holes in our embarrassment of a national health system.To remain solvent, Medicare spending per beneficiary would have to grow at roughly half the rate it has over the past two decades to meet the measure's savings targets. Considering the population age bubble and the mere fact that this increase in availability of that same care will extend the very lives of those in the system...it sounds wholly unrealistic. Don't you think?
On the flip side; we've been told that Out-of-pocket spending would decline more than $200 billion by 2019, with the government picking up much of that. The President has also been on the record that there will be no decrease in Medicare spending as a result of this reform. I want to believe him. This country needs to free itself from the grip of the private insurance companies. Like I said before; it all depends on what you're looking for in your research.
The individual stories of pain and suffering because of the cold and heartless bureaucrats in some Insurance HQ in Connecticut cutting needed services to their own clients has pounded this need for reform home in a very real way.
What I want to know is the very real way we are going to pay for this reform and will the Public Option actually provide the desired pin we need to pop the ballooning expenses we've been subjected to for so long?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Like the City of Kingston, Newburgh has a deadline to vote on a budget. Theirs however is at the end of November. Kingston has until the end of the year. The months that their Council negotiated with the Unions (looking for help through concessions) fell apart and thus, more people will be out of work in all departments.
The Council was faced with a 35% tax increase before this past Saturday's special meeting. Part of their solution was a $5 million bond. The City of Kingston has already floated a Revenue Anticipation Note just to pay the bills leading into February. Unless that anticipated revenue comes from the State like promised, we may have to follow the same path.
There is still time to discuss the options with OUR unions before the Council meets for the last time in the second week of December.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Monday, November 23, 2009
The goal is to get more drivers and passengers to buckle up every time they get behind the wheel and ride as a passenger. We all know it saves lives, but this is one of the holidays with the highest fatalities and seat belts are the best defence against crash-related injuries. Law enforcement will be out in force to protect the safety of our roads and highways.
Last year, there were about 400 deaths in the US on Thanksgiving Day. Half of those that died were not wearing seatbelts. Considering this weekend marks the beginning of the heavy holiday travel season, you will have that many more close encounters with on-coming traffic. People die needlessly in traffic crashes every year, the least you can do is be prepared and buckle up!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Safety rules for the workplace are implemented for a good reason. They provide the optimal working conditions for private and municipal employees when followed correctly. Have there been incidents in the area you'd like to highlight?
Friday, November 20, 2009
What hasn't been discussed is whether certain offices and programs can function with fewer personnel and funding. I think we need to look at the impact to our "quality of life" issues as this budget matures.
Our Recreation Department has been decimated by these cuts and the Clerks office will be in deep crap if we don't restore a few needed dollars. And frankly; what we see in the level of Police protection and the expected cuts in that department, scares the bejesus outta me.
The fighting between the Mayor and the Fire Department, I'd rather let them fight that out amongst themselves. There are issues there that need to be settled in court and I'd rather all of us Aldermen stay out of that one.
However; there is promising news from the CSEA situation (City Hall & DPW Employees). Continuing negotiations between the Administration and the Union, may yield some movement that might actually help employees and taxpayers. We'll watch and see.
As for the tax rate...remember the 10% rate increase is not what you pay. It's based on your assessment and the expected 8% decrease in residential property set for 2010. The diminished value of your home is what caused the high number in the first place; even with a 0% budget increase. The average property would see a 3.5% increase out-of-pocket at the current rate.
What concerns me is the expectation of additional sales tax revenue slated for 2010, which comes from the projections coming out of the county budget. I think the County estimates of a $26Million increase in sales tax revenue is artificially inflated, so we are likely to have funding issues by this time next year.
(We get a percentage)
Get ready to float another Revenue Anticipation Note this time next year.
Monday, November 16, 2009
AMCP Releases Summary Of Key Provisions In H.R. 3962, 'Affordable Health Care Act For Americas'The Academy has released a summary of key provisions of interest to managed care pharmacists in H.R. 3962, the "Affordable Health Care Act for America." These include provisions on Medicare Part D drug price negotiations, the Medicare Part D coverage gap, PBM disclosure, follow-on biologics and comparative effectiveness research. On Oct. 29, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released H.R. 3962, which is the consolidation of the H.R. 3200 bills reported by three House committees: Energy & Commerce Committee; Ways & Means Committee; and Education & Labor Committee.
The following is an AMCP staff summary of some of the key provisions of interest to the Academy.
Medicare Part D - Drug Price Negotiation
The bill repeals current law and directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate drug prices with drug manufacturers in Medicare's Part D program. The bill retains the current law's prohibition on establishment of a national formulary.
Medicare Part D - Coverage Gap
Beginning with a $500 reduction in 2010, the bill eliminates the "doughnut hole" with a complete phase-out by 2019. The bill pays for the elimination of the gap with funds raised by requiring drug manufacturers to provide Medicaid rebates for drugs used by full dual eligibles. It also incorporates a voluntary agreement with the drug manufacturers to provide discounts of 50% for brand-name drugs used by Part D enrollees in the Part D "doughnut hole," beginning in 2010.
Public Health Insurance Plan
The bill establishes a new government-run health insurance plan within the exchange that would compete with private health plans. Under the government plan, among other requirements, the Secretary would be required to negotiate drug prices and establish a drug formulary. The public plan is provided startup administrative funding, it is required to amortize these costs into future premiums to ensure it operates on a level playing field with private insurers.
Health Insurance Purchasing Pool/Exchange
The bill creates a new marketplace called the national "Health Insurance Exchange," with an option for states that agree to meet federal standards to run their own exchange. People are eligible to enter the Exchange and purchase health insurance as long as they are not enrolled in employer sponsored insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. The Exchange is also open to businesses, starting with small firms (25 or fewer employees).
The bill requires that PBMs that enter into contracts with plans that participate in the health exchange disclose certain financial information, including rebate information.
Repeal of the Antitrust Exemption for Insurers
The bill removes the antitrust exemption for health insurers and medical malpractice insurers with regard to price fixing, monopolization, and dividing territories. It retains the exemption with regard to exchange of certain information.
The bill authorizes FDA to approve follow-on biologic drugs. It would grant biologics manufacturers 12 years of exclusive use of their data before a follow-on biologic manufacturer could begin developing alternatives. [Note: The amendment is identical to a follow-on biologics amendment adopted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.]
Comparative Effectiveness Research
The bill creates a new Center at the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to conduct, support and synthesize comparative effectiveness research (CER). It prevents the Center from mandating payment, coverage or reimbursement policies. Further, it ensures that research findings are not construed to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies to any public or private payer.
Generic Exclusion Agreements
The bill prohibits brand name drug companies from settling patent litigation with generic competitors by paying them to delay marketing their products.
Medication Therapy Management Grants
The bill provides for two types of federal grants that would promote medication therapy management (MTM) services. The bill provides for: (1) grants to eligible entities to establish community-based, multidisciplinary teams to support primary care practices with the provision of "pharmacist-delivered medication therapy management services (including 'medication reconciliation"), as a component and (2) grants to eligible entities for the specific purpose of implementing pharmacist-delivered MTM services in the treatment of chronic diseases. [The provisions are similar to the provisions included in the Senate HELP Committee's health care reform bill.]
The bill includes requirements that manufacturers and distributors of covered drugs, devices, biological, or medical supplies under Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP report to the HHS Inspector General information on their financial relationships with:
- Physicians, physician groups, and other prescribers
- Pharmacies and pharmacists
- Health plans, pharmacy benefit managers, and their employees
- Hospitals and medical schools
- Organizations that sponsor continuing medical education
- Patient organizations
- Professional organizations [The Senate Finance Committee bill only applies to physicians.]
Other Medicare Part D Changes
The bill makes various changes, technical and otherwise, to Medicare Part D, including elimination of vaccine coverage in Part D and provides for vaccine coverage under Part B, effective 2011.
Medicare Advantage Reforms
The bill reduces MA benchmarks to fee-for-service levels over three years, reaching equality of payment rates in 2013.
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Payment Innovation
The bill gives the Department of Health and Human Services broad authority to conduct demonstration projects of new payment models through a newly created Center.
Fraud, Waste and Abuse
The bill makes numerous changes to fraud and abuse laws, as well as enhances the authority of the HHS Inspector General. The bill includes new exclusion authority for obstructing an investigation or audit, new civil monetary penalties and exclusion from Medicaid or CHIP, if an entity owns, controls or manages an entity that is suspended, excluded or terminated from Medicaid or is affiliated with an individual or entity that has been suspended, excluded or terminated from Medicaid.
The Academy is closely monitoring health care reform developments and will do all it can to advocate for its positions as legislation moves forward on Capitol Hill. Please check http://www.amcp.org or your Daily Dose for updates.
Friday, November 13, 2009
With Paul driving packer 6, and accompanied by Andre and Charlie, we set out to collect trash in the uptown district. First, I will remind you that Tuesday was a nice crisp day and is also the lighter of the four collection days for the garbage crew.
After a few stops, I put on a reflective vest and joined the guys throwing trash. Walking fast along the packer, grabbing the bags and cans along the curb didn't require allot of experience to do well, but it does require common sense to keep from hurting yourself. I must say, the temptation to pull from both sides of the street is strong. The streets are narrow enough that the collection from both sides seems the natural method. But that's against the contract.
With the new rules in place as of Nov 1st, the trucks no-longer leave the barn at 5:30 or whenever they left, now they're lucky if they get out around 7:15 after the mandatory safety checks. Which aren't initiated until 7am. Go figure.
Now we approach the uptown district and there are already cars parked for the business district and people walking all over the place. So much for getting through this area without delays. Oh, did I mention we only pull from one side?
Every street we passed through had to be revisited to collect from the opposite side. So, not only did we walk the route twice, but we also spent that much more diesel and offer that much more risk of accident in a more crowded neighborhood. And get this...the mandatory break, we had to trek back to the barn on O'Reilly St to take that break.
So, drive back out to the Stockade, we resume where we left off. You know...walking the route twice in heavy traffic. We got quite a bit done before lunch break. We went to UCRRA before taking lunch; knowing we would be closer to the barn when we were done. 4.5 tons on the truck. Not a bad scoop for the morning.
After lunch we treked back to uptown to finish the route. (you know, walking the streets twice in heavy traffic using double the fuel) Now we really hustled through the residential portion of the Tuesday run, collecting enough to warrant another journey to UCRRA before the 2:30 cut-off time. Another 4.5 tons.
Getting off the scales before the end of the shift, Andre went off with another crew while Charlie and I tackled the leaf bag collection in Ward Seven. Zipping up and down the Stephan/Derrenbacher neighborhood streets was interesting. Even while pulling from just one side of the street circling around twice. Did I say circling the streets twice again? I'm sorry.
Anyway, we set out to dump the leaves at our designated site for the end of the day; couldn't leave em in the packer because the morning crew needs it for the Wednesday run on Thursday. (holiday)
Earlier that morning, while we were circling the Pearl/Washington Ave area, I noticed the 12 man crew scooping leaf piles on upper Pearl. Using large excavation equipment, a whole lot of fuel and man hours to collect the loose piles. Doesn't seem right to me.
Considering the amount that Charlie and I collected ourselves in bag form, I'd say we have issues in regards to leaf collection. I recommend the council address this once again in the 2010 session as I did in 2008. The loose leaf piles on the street should be a distant memory.
Those same 12 employees could be throwing bags at a faster pace and the neighbors wouldn't have to put up with the unwanted debris and unwarranted street closure during the process. Imagine having the loose leaf crew collect cardboard, trash and recyclables. I know; over the top wishful thinking.
Anyway, with the good exercise on the back of a packer being similar to a day at the construction site, I was of course willing to do more, but I had to go clean up and prepare for the Council meeting scheduled that evening.
The issue of "Stint" should be a topic of discussion for us Councilmen as we head into 2010. The practice was successful for 30+ years and implemented for good reason. I'd like the opportunity to address it before leaving the Council.
The only other Alderman who has experienced the job of refuse collection was Al Teetsel, and for me, it had been 7 years since my first time. As I was leaving the DPW barn, the repeated question from the employees was whether we could see Bob Senor and Me on the back of a packer for a day, and see if Bob could keep up with me. I think I impressed the guys with my stamina. Even if it was the lightest run on the lightest day of the week.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The business came into focus because our Congressman Maurice Hinchey secured a $2 million project to develop and fabricate armor for the military. That contract is big enough that the growth could also result in jobs and investment in Kingston over the next year or so. Strange news from an area fighting to keep the jobs we still have.
Armor Dynamics is the second tenant in the Kingston Business Park. Their facility was built by the KLDC and with a million dollar grant the Economic Development Office secured with State funding. Contracts like this one can act as a catalyst for other ventures in the Business Park.
Anyone who has stopped by the facility will notice a Kingston Patrol Car inside the lobby. The company has offered to armor that car for the city at no cost. This is likely the beginning of the process that will see other police agencies purchase the armoring for their patrol cars which in turn, will lead to more jobs and investment in Kingston.
Steve Finkle, our Director in the Economic Development office says Armor Dynamics currently operates in 10,000 square feet but will likely expand that building over the next year. That expansion has gone through the planning stage and approved already.
Lets hope we can attract yet another business to this location soon. Our city's economic climate depends on it. Something Solar perhaps?
The following year, President Woodrow Wilson started the tradition of celebrating the service of our armed forces with the annual Holiday. The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926.
This year, we join together at City Hall and town halls across the country to acknowledge the lives lost and those still serving in several conflicts and here at home. The men and women of the Armed Forces deserve our gratitude and for those of us who havent had the honor of doing so, I offer my sincere thanks for the privileges that have been bestowed on the citizens of our country as a result.
Our ceremony was that much more important this year with the horrific event in Texas only days ago. We lost good people in what looks to have been a preventable act of terrorism on our own soil. With our new administration handed two wars and countless breakdowns across the world, we count on our military to be "on the ready" for when the unspeakable occurs. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of this tragic act.
Both of my Grandfathers served in WWII. The memorabilia of their time of service is still displayed and the pride of their service is still reflected upon. Although they are both no-longer with us, I am grateful to both of them for that service.
As Jim Noble mentioned at City Hall: From the Greatest Generation to the Current Generation, we owe our Armed Forces the deepest gratitude for the past and continued service they provide. Everyone in the assembly would surely agree and Jim's comments were well received.
Be ready to support our service men & women when they come home from duty both financially and emotionally. These harsh economic times aren't going to make that very easy for any of them.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Saturday, November 07, 2009
This past Thursday, the Common Council provided a public forum to hear the opinions of those who wish to address the Mayor's 2010 proposed budget. And speak they did!
With attendance exceeding 300, the room was filled with mostly employees of the city with a few civilians mixed in, but all spoke with a sense of unity when each of the 40+ took their turn at the podium.
The theme: Urging the Council to reject the Mayor's budget and return most of the jobs that have, what is considered vital significance to the quality of life, be restored to the budget.
The personnel and programs that were highlighted, would increase the tax burden for every property owner in the city, but when asked if anyone wanted their taxes to go up, only Mary Ann Parker raised her hand, knowing full well that safety comes first and at a price.
The proposed budget, with an increase of 9.6%, has 30+ fewer employees than 2009. As scary as that sounds, the select few who have looked deeper into these numbers, also know that the average residential property diminished in assessment 8% for the coming year. Puting those factors together, the average home will increase from 1% to 4% in the dollar amount you shell out in taxes.
Did you get that from the local paper? The cost per household vs. tax rate issue had been explained in detail to the Freeman, but hey...that's less scary than just blasting 10% all over the front page. At least the Record got it right.
Want a homework assignment? Look at your City Taxes, increase it say 3%. Now imagine the amount you'd be willing to "take on" to save Police officers and DPW services as well as our Rec Department. Mary Ann Parker may be the only one who sees the bigger picture here.
Oh, don't get me wrong, this council will find additional cuts in this budget. We always do. But the need to negotiate with the Union leadership in all it's forms is far from over.
I will close by saying how truly impressed I am with the turnout for this year's budget hearing. The speeches were eloquent and from the heart. Some even made suggestive offerings, but there's still time and we have many crucial meetings ahead. Review the budget, do your research and know what's legal, mandated and contracted when offering suggestions. The community is a wealth of ideas that should be tapped during these tough times. The Council looks forward to hearing from you.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
The meeting, much the same as the Council Caucus meetings that I am used to, reviewed the agenda items that are expected next week during the General Meeting. Included were the number of personnel appointments to several boards and of course the famous Contractor Licensing proposal. I have a feeling that one will be delayed to give the next Legislature the opportunity to act on it.
The Empire Zone modifications for Kingston/Ulster that the Council addressed will be on next week's agenda as well. The zones that are in-actionable are pulled and the areas that have potential for growth are added. I don't see resistance on this Local Law either.
The big egg on the agenda is the County Real Property Tax rates established for all the Towns in Ulster. The Admin. Services Committee, chaired by Jeanette Provenzano, offered their draft for the full body and should provide quite a lengthy discussion in the next formal session. The City of Kingston was one of the few that didn't see an increase. But remember this is just a draft. County jobs are likely to be restored in key positions that Executive Hein took out. We'll watch and see.
When the meeting finally ended, my friend 5E got up and skuttled right out the opposite door. Most of the rest of us gathered elsewhere for a snack. Different group of people; similar habits. It's all good so long as we're doing the peoples work.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
All of us who jump into a political campaign can identify with the thrill and exhaustion that comes after a full day of one-on-one door engagement. Past and current candidates know exactly what I'm talking about.
For those volunteers who work so hard within the party structure, you aren't commended enough for what you do. Regardless of your affiliation, you do what you can in relation to your ability and your passion for your candidate's cause. You deserve to be recognized.
As for the turn-out estimates for this off-year election...I'm hoping the experts are wrong. I want to see people motivated and willing to take part in the process.
This is the election cycle that matters at the local level and involves candidates that you've actually met. And lets face it...If a local candidate didn't make the effort to cast a shadow on your door...
This Tuesday, you'll have the opportunity to make a difference locally because every vote really does count. Ask anyone who's won or lost by a hand full of em and you'll get the verdict on that issue. Me, I'm hoping to work with Brian Cahill & Brian Shapiro (pictured left) as well as my running mate Jeanette Provenzano, who is going to be a wealth of knowledge as we work together for the betterment of District Six here in Kingston.
One disappointment is the missed opportunity to work with Phil Terpening.
(pictured with Susan Zimet).
What a tremendous loss for his family and Ulster County. As I mentioned in a past issue, he was one of the more approachable members of the Legislature and had a way of explaining issues clearly and calmly.
As for the summer of love that I've experienced, well, they say what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. This race has provided many of us with some lively conversation during what would be the wettest summer in recent history. To see the rallying suport from so many people with so many different backgrounds has given me a renewed appreciation for the very real sense of community that binds the citizens of Kingston together. For that, I am grateful.
Even with a win on Election Day, my collegues and I have to tackle the 2010 budget that threatens the quality of life in the City of Kingston. There is much work to do and little time to do it.
Thank you all for your support and continued readership here on Kingston Progressive.