In 2010, John Burin was well into his tenure as Manager for the City of Elmira. Asked to provide Chemung County with fiscal data, Burin created a document entitled “Every Number has a Story“, found here.
Although many things have changed regarding the economic situations in both the City of Elmira and Chemung County since Burin created the document, it nonetheless provides many insights into the obstacles facing Elmira. It is necessary reading for anyone trying to figure out why Elmira is in such a tough fiscal position and, more critically, what can be done to help fix it.
In his cover letter to the document, Burin, who has also served as Elmira’s assessor and is a past member of Southern Tier Economic Growth and the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, encouraged Chemung County to give him an opportunity to participate directly on a task force created to analyze municipal income and expense:
“Although you have requested financial data from each municipality, I have attached information that is unique to the City and requires an understanding before income and expense data can be accurately analyzed. As you review the attached information I am confident that you will conclude that a simple comparison of funds/expenses with other municipalities is insufficient. Every number has a story that needs to be part of your analysis and I would welcome the opportunity to be an active member of your committee to ensure your understanding of the City’s data.”
Burin is now a candidate for Chemung County legislature in the 9th district, as described here, in part because he recognizes the critical need for improved relations between the City of Elmira and the Chemung County.
Of note, I met Burin for coffee recently to talk about his experiences as manager and to get a better sense of why he wants to serve on the legislature. While we were talking, he asked why I, a candidate for legislature in the 7th district that encompasses most of the Town of Elmira, am so interested in what happens in the City.
It’s a fair question, and one I have been asked numerous times over the past few months.
The answer is straightforward and quite simple:
*Elmira is our county seat and the center of our community. We are never going to move forward Chemung County forward until we improve its financial condition, which will in turn lead to increased jobs and reduced crime throughout the County.
*Nearly all of the children who reside in the 7th Legislative district will attend school in the City of Elmira at some point, and a substantial number of adults work there. The Town-City border is an artificial line most of us cross every day. Improving conditions in the City benefits everyone, not just the people who live there.
*As I have begun talking to residents of the 7th Legislative district about the issues, the thing I hear most frequently is a concern about increased crime, something people tend to relate to conditions in the City. Whether the data supports this so-called “crime creep”, the perception that problems in the City adversely affect the Town is real. This perception impacts everything from quality of life to real property values, and can be addressed by making improvement of the City a priority.
*Finally, if the City of Elmira is forced to outright dissolve – something that would require a vote by the City’s residents – all property north of the Chemung River would revert to the Town of Elmira and property south of the river to the Town of Southport. As such, residents of those municipalities have a heightened incentive to work toward improving the City’s situation, as its problems would not simply disappear if it dissolves.
Fixing this mess will take a team approach, as we all have a lot to gain.