Another elected Chemung County official (Treasurer Joe Sartori) has offered comments about an Op-Ed I wrote last month, contending that both me and Anthony Pucci – a member of the Town of Veteran Zoning Board who retired after reaching English at Notre Dame High School for 40 years – were disingenuous when we questioned the way Chemung County chooses to do business. A link to Treasurer Sartori’s Op-Ed is here, and Mr. Pucci’s is here.
I encourage anyone trying to sort through this matter to go back and read what each of us wrote, along with County Legislator Cornelius Milliken’s response and a Letter to the Editor from Kennedy Valve accountant Dustin Sramek.
Of particular interest is Treasurer Sartori’s attempt to equate the reality that deficit spending causes serious problems with a desire by me, a County taxpayer, to raise taxes. There is a reason the US debt is such a big part of the discussion of taxation at the federal level. Governments, like families, have to find ways to balance revenues and expenditures.
This is no different for Chemung County. There many are ways to avoid increasing the debt aside from raising taxes, such as finding new sources of revenue, increasing economic development, curbing unnecessary spending and innovation in the ways we deliver services. All of them need to be part of the solution.
The bottom line is that the problems our county faces are evident to anyone who steps foot here. Look at the mall, the arena, the countless empty storefronts, violent crime, the tax increases many municipalities are now forced to impose and on and on. Yesterday’s announcement by the City of Elmira – our County seat – that it needs to raise taxes by 17% should alert everyone that we have some pretty heavy problems to solve.
The people who live and work in Chemung County are here because we have chosen to be, and most of us – including me – love this place. We want things to improve, but that will only happen if we take an open, transparent look at what is going on and start working on these issues together.
As I concluded my Op-Ed last month, “[w]hat we cannot do is pretend these issues do not exist. Touting 13 years without a tax rate increase makes for a good sound bite, but it ignores the reality that we have been spending above our means for many years. How does our county government intend to move away from deficit spending? What steps are being taken to strengthen our reserves and lower our debt?
Apparently this is the response our county officials give when people begin that discussion.