Note: Going forward I will provide updates about what is happening in Chemung County government every Thursday and will add other posts throughout the week as pressing issues arise. I am in the process of updating the Chemung County Matters website to include links to all Agendas, Minutes and other noteworthy items from the Chemung County Legislature as well as the Elmira and Big Flats Town Boards, the two municipalities located within the 7th Legislative District.
Things are certainly abuzz within Chemung County government as Chris Moss, the newly elected County Executive, along with seven newly elected legislators prepare to take office in less than one month. To this point Moss and his transition team (a list of members is found here) has largely operated independently from the new legislature, something that bodes well for the desire of many people for greater separation between the two branches. The overall tenor among the new and returning elected officials seems to be one of optimism, and I hope the bipartisan – even nonpartisan – attitude displayed by many candidates during the election season continues as we begin to tackle our area’s many serious problems together.
The role of STEG
One hot topic at the moment is the role that Southern Tier Economic Growth (STEG) plays in Chemung County.
According to its mission found here, STEG provides many important services to help foster business development in our community:
Southern Tier Economic Growth (STEG) does the work of many organizations, which saves you time and money. We serve as staff to the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, administer the Elmira Empire Zone, host a satellite office of the New York State Empire State Development Corporation, administer local revolving loan funds, and share space with the Chemung County Planning Department and the Chamber of Commerce.
We pride ourselves on our follow-through, commitment, and flexibility. Count on us to provide all of the information you need to make your development or expansion project successful, including:
- Community profile
- Economic profile
- Wage and salary survey
- Labor force information
- Site and building information
- Empire Zone program
- Chemung County IDA program
- Maps and more
In addition, we can assist with completing applications, administering grants and coordinating zoning and other municipal approvals on your behalf.
The current issues surrounding STEG are less focused on what STEG does than on how it is funded. A true public-private partnership, STEG relies heavily on taxpayer dollars to fund almost half of its budget:
While knocking on doors last summer and fall, I learned that many people who live in the 7th District are very supportive of STEG and the work it does for our community. I also learned at a meeting last week that many municipal leaders from Big Flats and Horseheads attribute a great deal of their growth to the work STEG has done over the past decade.
Still, it is understandable that the public questions whether $272,500 annual payouts of taxpayer dollar money from the Chemung County and the City of Elmira is necessary, and whether there are ways to implement positive changes and/or cost saving measures.
One somewhat small yet impactful measure STEG could take is to invite at least two members of the Chemung County Legislature to serve as ex officio members of its board. This would allow the Legislature – the county entity charged with appropriating money – far greater insight into how our tax payer dollars are used and allow them to share this important information with the community.
Last Monday the Legislature’s Budget Committee voted to again spend $200,000 to help fund STEG, and the full Legislature is expected to vote on the measure at its December 10th meeting. It would be great to know what the public thinks. Is the expenditure a worthwhile investment? Has STEG helped you or someone you know with business in Chemung County? After reading STEG’s Annual Report (linked above), do you have ideas for areas it should address or other matters it should undertake? Is having legislators serve on the STEG board a good idea? What else can we do to foster greater transparency?
The 2018 elections showed the public wants to be involved. These are the types of issues where input from people with firsthand experience is invaluable – so please feel free to chime in!
The Legislature’s Budget Committee also undertook the matter of legislative salary increases last Monday, voting to give themselves a 3% (!) raise:
A 3% raise is completely unacceptable and irresponsible, particularly a time when our county faces such extreme fiscal stress, as our legislators would be paid over $18,000 plus receive full health benefits and the option of buying into the county retirement system. New York state lawmakers voted just today to give themselves a tremendous pay increase – a move that will make them the highest paid state government officials in the nation (see article here). To think our Legislature wants to also engage in this type of self expenditure is simply unconscionable.
Specific facts about our county are relevant. The average county legislator in New York state represents 22,895 people, while Chemung County legislators represent just 5,900. The charts below provides a direct comparison to other New York counties that have a charter, county executive and legislature.
The best example of how out-of-touch the idea of a 3% tax increase is Dutchess County where Marc Molinaro, the 2018 Republican candidate for Governor, serves as County Executive. In Dutchess County each legislator represents an average of almost 12,372 people compared to 5,900 for Chemung County legislators, yet they are paid just over $15,000.
Indeed, our Legislature should be looking at a substantial pay decrease just like Chris Moss and the other two candidates for County Executive said they would do for themselves if elected. There are a lot of things our legislators need to do, but paying themselves more money definitely is not one of them.
A medical school is coming to town!
This is not just lore. The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) is set to break ground (metaphorically, thanks to mother nature) later this month if all goes according to plan. Last week I had a chance to participate in a briefing by Dr. Richard Terry who will serve as the Dean of Elmira’s campus – and it sure does sound great for business and jobs in our community! Thanks so much to everyone who has worked hard to make this happen.
You can learn more about LECOM here.