Blog

28 Jun
1

Radio interview with Frank Acomb

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, with the campaign petitioning process falling at the same time school and soccer season ended, our big campaign fundraiser took place, and a number of my Ziff Law cases have been hotly litigated!

The end result has been a slowdown in the amount of blogging I have been able to do, but I am about to get back at it as things begin slowing down again. Going door-to-door over the past month has confirmed something I was sensing – people are truly paying attention to what is happening in Chemung County, and we are not only hungry for meaningful change, but we want to be part of the process. I am ready and excited to return to blogging, as open discussion about the issues is one of the best ways we can go about finding solutions to the many problems facing our community.

On that note, today I had a chance to appear on Frankly Speaking, a morning radio show on 1230 and 1450 am featuring local radio personality Frank Acomb. As always, Frank asked great questions that allowed us to engage in an interesting discussion about our community:

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This continues to be a very exciting time for Chemung County!

Christina Sonsire

 

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05 Jun
0

Chemung County’s Legislature can help address contamination issue on Elmira’s Southside

EHS

Image: Star Gazette

Most people connected to Chemung County are aware there is a serious contamination issue on the grounds of Elmira High School and potentially in the school’s surrounding neighborhoods as well. First identified more than 25 years ago, the problem remains largely unmitigated, placing scores of students, teachers, staff, residents and community members at risk for exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Industrial Background

Jim Hare, Elmira’s former mayor and a local historian, recently published an article in the Star Gazette about the industrial background of Elmira High School’s property on South Main Street, an area sits in what is now a largely residential area.

The Preliminary Site Assessment for the Remington Rand Plant site prepared by the Unisys Corporation, the company which has liability for the property, prepared in July 1988, provides in interesting history of the site on South Main St. The property purchased by the Elmira City School District for the new high school had been an industrial site since 1882 when 20 acres of land were donated by John Arnot to encourage business development in Elmira.  The Payne Engine and Boiler works was the first business to locate there.  From 1909-1935 the Morrow Company and the Willys-Morrow Company occupied the site.  From 1935-37 the Elmira Precision Tool Company was there to be replaced by the Remington Rand which lasted until 1972.  In 1977, the Elmira City School District took possession of the northern part of the property.

While there were questions and comments on the street about the site and its history,  in all of the public discussion about building a new school on a site which had been used by industry for nearly 100 years, the risk  of hazardous waste and pollution which might jeopardize students and faculty was never raised as an issue.  Indeed there was no discussion about the exposure to such waste by neighbors of  the property.

In 1952, the State Department of Health informed the Remington Rand that toxic wastes were being discharged to the Chemung River.  In January 1954, a large fish kill resulting from cyanide contamination on the river resulting from nickel plating at the plant was noted.  Further contamination was noted in 1958.  In 1965, Sperry Rand Corporation was notified that elevated concentration of zinc and cyanide were noted in Miller Creek (flows into Miller’s Pond).  By 1967 Sperry Rand had failed to meet abatement schedules to treat contamination problems.

The 1988 Preliminary Site Assessment, referenced by Hare above, provides an incredibly detailed overview of the area’s history. It also includes a table describing the waste produced by Remington Rand in 1967, just ten years before the Elmira City School District purchased the property.

Remington-Rand-Plant-July-1988-Prelim-Site-Assessment-Report

Public Outcry

To the best of my knowledge, concerns about the environmental safety at Elmira High School (formerly Southside High School) were first raised in the late 1990’s by a group of parents and students over what appeared to be an unusually high number of serious illnesses, including cancers, in young people who attended the school.

Indeed, an article published in the New York Times on on December 27, 2000, entitled “Specter of Cancer Haunts a School; Industrial City of Elmira Confronts Environmental Legacy” detailed the concerns that were raised at that time.

This small Southern Tier city, which promotes itself as the gateway to the Finger Lakes and the place where Mark Twain wrote classics like ”The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” owes much of its existence to the less glamorous might of industry, which in the last century turned out cars, tools, typewriters, warplane components, fire hydrants and much more.

But as Elmira strives to rebound from years of hard times after the decline of manufacturing, residents have begun to question the legacy of all those factories as never before.

They are especially concerned by suggestions that a number of cancer cases reported by former and current students of a high school here are linked to the school, which was built on land that has supported a diverse array of industry from the Civil War to the 1970’s.

The State Health and Environmental Conservation Departments have conducted tests at Southside High School and a neighboring property that is the site of an abandoned plant.

Interestingly, Hare’s recent article included a quote from Dr. Paul Zaccarine, Elmira City School District’s Superintendent at the time the high school property was purchased from Remington Rand, who stated in 1976 that “the positive aspect of having that building put up there does outweigh the negative aspect of using that particular area as an industrial site.”

However, when he was interviewed in 2000 by the USA Today, Dr. Zaccrine had a much different outlook.

”I wish I could undo it,” says Paul Zaccarine, 71, the school superintendent who oversaw the school’s construction in the late 1970s. Now retired and living in Illinois, he is watching in horror as student after student gets cancer.

”It’s really frightening,” he says. ”That site was the least desirable as far as I was concerned, but because the Remington Rand people had given us the land, the board voted to go ahead and take it. We got it for a dollar or something.”

He says the long-term effects of the industrial waste were never considered. So far, nobody has found any evidence that an environmental study was done before school construction began in 1977.

”We just didn’t know enough about all of that to have it be a concern,” Zaccarine says. ”Every way we looked at it, we just felt it was an opportunity to get a brand-new school with a lot of the facilities we needed. If we had any indication that there was any contamination, we certainly would not have gone ahead with it.”

An (Unfulfilled) Promise to Clean Up

As a result of the push by community members, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) began taking soil samples from the high school’s grounds in 2000, a process that continues today, and has taken some steps to protect people who enter the property from coming into contact with what it concedes are toxic subsurface contaminants and vapors.

In 2014, Unisys, company that owns the property and is the responsible for paying all clean-up costs, began investigating the site itself.  Based on what it found, Unisys chose to enter New York State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. Last summer Unisys worked with the DEC and New York’s Department of Health to remove below ground PCB contaminated soils.

However, the work is nowhere near completion. According members of the DEC at a public forum I attended last month, Unisys plans to remove 28,000 tons of contaminated soil from Elmira High School this summer, as outlined in the DEC’s powerpoint slides. This project will require the use of 35-40 trucks per day/6 days a week starting the day after school ends and finishing just before it resumes again next year. Workers will wear fully protective clothing, the trucks will be sprayed down each time they leave the premises, and the materials will be hauled to a hazardous waste dump.

Of greater concern is the amount of work that will remain uncompleted at the end of the summer. The Brownsfield Clean-Up Program is notoriously slow, and it allows liable parties such as Unisys to delay remediation – i.e. paying for it – for years as the process drags on. The Brownsfield Program also allows companies engaged in remediation to receive tax credits each year, lessening the incentives liable businesses have to complete their work as soon as possible.

Specifically, at last month’s public forum DEC officials stated the investigation into the extent of contamination at the school – a process that started almost two decades ago – will take at least 2 more years to complete, and Unisys will need an indefinite amount of time to mitigate the areas they acknowledge need to be addressed, as shown below.

11 22

What about the Residents?

Unfortunately, the contamination problem at Elmira High School is not likely limited to the school’s grounds. Although to date there has not been a large-scale inspection of the surrounding community, some evidence has begun to emerge that raises serious concerns.

Specifically, John and Joann Siedman, residents of Raecrest Circle in Elmira, recently received a letter from Geosyntec Consultants, a company that is working with Unisys to assess the scope of contamination.

The letter states that environmental samples from the Siedman’s property show toxic contamination, and warns them to take precautions on their property including “washing your hands, avoiding incidental ingestion of of soil during play, cleaning any soil covered tools and minimizing digging or relocating soil in areas where routine flooding occurs…(and keeping) livestock/pets from these areas as well.” Incredibly, neither Geosyntec, Unisys, NYDEC nor any other entity alterted the Siedman’s neighbors about their findings.

Potential Legislative Actions

This issue highlights why our community desperately needs a strong legislative body.

The grounds of Elmira City School District’s only high school are admittedly contaminated, and many of its residential properties may be as well. As such, a full, immediate clean-up must be a top priority for all elected officials in our county, and the legislature can do a lot to put things in motion.

There are three ways the Chemung County Legislature could make an immediate impact on this issue:

Pass a Strong Resolution

The goal for our community should be an immediate completion of the DEC’s investigation, followed by and/or in conjunction with a full remediation by Unisys. Continuing to implement “interim remedial measures”, i.e. piecemeal clean-up acts that could span a decade or more,  is simply not the answer.

The legislature introduced a resolution last month, but tabled it after members of the community – including myself – stressed during public comment period that it doesn’t go far enough. Last night the resolution passed unanimously.

Specifically, the resolution reads as follows:

Pages from Agenda_Meeting (7)

The language of this resolution should be contrasted with a letter signed by nearly 1,100 people affected by this issue – including several sitting Chemung County legislators – that urges New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to go much further. Indeed, the letter asks Cuomo to take the remediation effort out of the Brownsfield Clean-Up program altogether and instead pursue a far more proactive approach.

We, the undersigned, write respectfully to request that you immediately require all of the toxic site concerns associated with the former Sperry Remington manufacturing site in Elmira, NY to be consolidated into a single site that is given a Class 1 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site designation: “Causing or presenting an imminent danger of causing irreversible or irreparable damage to the public health or the environment — immediate action required.”

This action is warranted because it has been more than 20 years since high-level toxic pollution was discovered to have migrated nearly 1,000 feet from the former Sperry Remington factory site to Miller Pond in Elmira, NY. Yet, the full scope of that contaminated property’s public health and environmental hazards has neither been fully investigated and delineated nor cleaned up in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.

The delay in achieving comprehensive clean up in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements is unacceptable given that Elmira High School at 777 South Main Street is built directly on the contaminated site and a responsible party is required to clean it up. In addition, a residential neighborhood adjoining the former factory site has yet to be investigated for toxic pollution threats.

Continued participation in the Brownsfield Clean-Up Program is too slow, and far too much is at stake to allow further delays. Whether the approach outlined in the letter is the most appropriate response remains an open question, requiring the sitting legislators to dig deep in order to figure out what our community needs. What we all should be able to agree upon is that waiting two more years for the investigation alone to be to completed is an absolutely unacceptable way to go.

Conduct an Investigation

As I described in a prior blog post, Chemung County’s charter is riddled with untapped potential as it relates to the legislature.

Specifically, the charter provides that the legislature has the power to:

[M]ake such studies and investigations as it deems to be in the best
interests of the County and in connection therewith to obtain and
employ professional and technical advice, appoint temporary advisory
boards of citizens, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and require
the production of books, papers and other evidence deemed necessary
or material to such study or inquiry.

What does this mean in terms of the contamination situation? It means the legislature has the power to take the lead in protecting our community. It can hire experts to conduct testing, appoint a commission of local citizens with specialized knowledge in this field, place members of NYDEC and Unisys under subpoena and have them testify under oath at a hearing, and/or demand NYDEC and Unisys produce documents and records that will help our community begin to understand what is happening and how big this problem really is.

This approach is very similar to what is happening at the federal level with respect to injuries and deaths related to Takata airbag inflators. U.S. senators have stated they are undertaking the investigation and hearings to examine the “current manufacturer recall completion rates, the Takata bankruptcy and transition to new ownership under Key Safety Systems, and what all stakeholders including NHTSA are doing to ensure this process continues to move forward.”

That is exactly what the sitting legislators can and should do here. A local entity needs to take the lead in this matter, and the legislature has the requisite power to do it.

Create a true Council of Governments

This issue highlights the need we have for a Council of Governments (COG), with representatives from all levels of local government including the county, towns and villages, the school districts, the sewer district, various public safety and public works entities and others.

If we had a COG in place right now, it would be the logical place to take a massive issue like this, as the contamination problem overlaps many different governmental bodies. Unfortunately, Chemung County’s COG disbanded many years ago, and recent calls for a “quasi-COG” are so riddled political posturing that its hard to imagine it getting off the ground anytime soon.

The legislature should act now to create a true COG that is unentangled by unnecessary components I have described in prior blog posts here and here. The legislators to do need to wait for approval from the Executive’s office. To the contrary, they can – and should – act now.

There has never been a greater need for genuine cooperation than there is at this moment. Chemung County is facing a very serious problem. We need a legislature that is ready and willing to face it head on.

Christina Sonsire

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04 May
4

“Distortion of Facts” has already become a tired campaign soundbite

election2018

 

Photo: WVIH.com

 

Once again, a Chemung County official has accused a local candidate of distorting facts for political gain.

In an article published online today by the Star Gazette, Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen criticized Sheriff Chris Moss, one of Krusen’s opponents in the county executive race, for failing to be honest with the community:

You should accept that Chris Moss’s Your Turn piece dated April 18 regarding the proposed creation of a Council of Governments is a self-serving distortion of the facts.

****

As this election season heats up, it will be important that we keep on high alert for the crowd who works through distortion, not fact, as a way to win the hearts of voters. We do not need to look far to see the carnage of these types of elections.

I have no involvement whatsoever with Moss’ campaign, and don’t offer this post as support of his candidacy. Instead, the post’s purpose is to point out what seems to be an unfortunate emerging theme.

An unprecedented number of people are running for local office in Chemung County this year. In an attempt to drill down the issues, these candidates – including myself – are discovering things our county government does really well, along with ways the county could improve. Indeed, this type of scrutiny is the essence of what it means to live in a democratic society. People who feel they can help out learn about the issues, share what they learn with voters, and let the voters decide who is best suited to serve.

The way Chemung County does business has not faced this type of scrutiny in a long, long time, as a small number of people have held most of the county-wide elected positions for many years. However, instead of addressing the issues that are being raised and considering whether or not there are new and better ways to do business,  some Chemung County officials have chosen to attack the credibility and veracity of the people raising them.

It is easy to chalk this up to “politics as usual”, and there is some truth to that. But this type of behavior is one reason so many people have lost faith in government and avoid running for office, outcomes that run directly contrary to building a strong, successful community.

By way of example, after hearing Chemung County Budget Director Steve Hoover state that the county will likely be forced to raise taxes in 2019 among other concerns about the county’s fiscal health, Tony Pucci, a candidate for legislature in the 1st District, and I both wrote Your Turn editorials about the matter, found here and here.

In response to what we wrote, Chemung County Treasurer Joe Sartori countered by stating:

Mr. Pucci has to ignore many facts and distort others to make this representation work. It is unfortunate that political discourse has degenerated to this level.

Sartori used similar language to refute a Your Turn piece I wrote last month about the county’s newly proposed plan for a Council of Governments, stating:

If the voters of Chemung County wish to believe the good story that Mrs. Sonsire is telling and choose to ignore the facts, then they should vote for her for county legislature. If, however, they decide that good stories should be left for bedtime and listen to the facts, they may choose to vote otherwise.

This kind of rhetoric is extremely disappointing – and exhausting.

Distorting facts in order to mislead friends and neighbors so that I can get elected to the county legislature is an outrageous mischaracterization of what my entire campaign is about. In fact, the reason I created this blog in the first place is to have a place to share ideas about how to improve the community. Each post contains many links where readers can go to view information and data themselves, and I welcome any corrections to things that I say or do so that the ideas we discover are rooted in fact and as accurate as possible.

Change is hard, and can be uncomfortable – but it is also necessary and inevitable. It is too bad that some of our local leaders are choosing to attack those looking for solutions rather than work together to find out how we can make Chemung County a better place to live.

Christina Sonsire

 

 

 

 

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29 Apr
1

GUEST BLOG: Tony Pucci responds to miscarriages of fact by Chemung County Treasurer Joe Sartori

Tony Pucci is a resident of the Town of Veteran and a candidate for Chemung County Legislature in the 1st District. He recently retired after teaching English at Notre Dame High School for forty years, and has served on Veteran’s Zoning Board since 1995.

Pucci submitted this post to Elmira’s Star Gazette last week.

I offered similar observations about Joe Sartori’s Your Turn piece in a blog post entitled “Many different takes on the Council of Governments,” found here.

——————————————————-

Another Look at the “Facts”

In his Your Turn piece of April 22nd, Chemung County Treasurer Joseph Sartori began by quoting Mark Twain who wrote, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” He then attempted to deflect all of the legitimate questions and concerns raised by Christina Sonsire in her Your Turn piece of April 15th regarding County Executive Tom Santulli’s proposed Council of Governments.

There is another Mark Twain quote that seems to be quite relevant here: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Mr. Sartori claims that Ms. Sonsire is wrong to state that the City of Elmira would not be allowed to participate in the proposed Council of Governments. However, the fact is, and Ms. Sonsire has shared the videotape of Mr. Santulli’s presentation as irrefutable proof, that the County Executive stated in no uncertain terms that “the City will not be included in this … we’ve done everything we can for the City … they have to do something for themselves.” Those words speak for themselves; there is no room for ambiguity in his intent despite what Mr. Sartori would have you believe.

Mr. Sartori claims that Ms. Sonsire is wrong to state that the Town of Horseheads levied a property tax for the first time in 30 years. He suggests that this is a “story.” However, it is a fact supported by Town Supervisor Mike Edwards’ public statement that the tax was imposed “because of the redistribution of sales tax that the County did.” Again, those words speak for themselves, and no amount of distortion will change the facts.

Mr. Sartori claims that Ms. Sonsire attributed the decision by the Town of Chemung to lay off its entire highway department to lost sales tax revenue. However, a review of the facts reveals that Ms. Sonsire never made a connection of the lay off to the loss of sales tax revenue. Instead, she referenced that the Town’s decision had been made “due to a lack of funds.” Sartori further attempted to distort the facts by stating that the Town of Chemung “had over 60 percent of its annual expenditures held in reserve at the end of 2016.” What he fails to mention is that many municipalities show a larger reserve at the end of the year as they receive monies that are already allocated as expenditures for the upcoming year. And what does a balance at the end of 2016 have to do with a decision made in 2018?

Mr. Sartori claims that Ms. Sonsire’s is troubled by the fact that under the proposed Council of Governments, “a municipality would have to truly be in need.” However, the “catch” that troubles Ms. Sonsire is not only the fact that Elmira was not included, but also the fact that “the plan would dictate how projects are funded.” Mr. Sartori insists that the under the proposed Council of Governments, municipalities would not be able to “waste reserves in a frivolous manner.” However, he provides no specific evidence of fiscal mismanagement. On the contrary, insisting that municipalities always borrow for capital projects leads to increased debt and higher costs in order to pay interest on that debt. It is precisely this kind of thinking that results in the County spending approximately $100,000 annually to pay off a loan of to fund the Arena that, at this point, has no team and may close completely if a buyer is not found.

Unfortunately for many officials of our Chemung County government, as Mark Twain also wrote, “Facts are stubborn.” No amount of distortion, denial, or defensiveness will change the facts.

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19 Apr
3

Many different takes on the “Council of Governments”

Throughout the past two weeks, a number of community leaders along with candidates for local office have weighed in on Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli’s recent proposal to create a Council of Governments (COG.)

Dubbed the “Municipal Fiscal Transparency and Tax Stabilization Plan,” Santulli’s initiative calls for creating a body with representation from local municipalities in order to foster greater financial openness and provide an emergency fund that can be accessed if municipal leaders follow certain rules.

The idea for a COG is not new. Many New York counties have COGs, and Chemung County had one until roughly a decade ago.

What is new about this proposal is that its goal is not merely the promotion of cooperation.

Unlike nearby counties that utilize their COGs for that purpose alone (the mission of Schuyler County’s council is to “provide a forum for discussion and negotiation leading to agreements for increased efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and improved quality of government services”, and the Tompkins County’s council is “organized to provide a forum for discussion and negotiation leading to agreements for more efficient and fiscally responsible delivery of government services), the version proposed by Santulli is centered around the emergency fund and the rules for accessing it.

My perspective

I have been vocal about the need for a COG for many months. I view it as a vehicle for bringing community leaders to the table to talk about issues and, hopefully, find solutions that are beneficial for our community. When leaders sit face to face with each other and are forced to interact, many issues can be avoided. Links to what I have written on this topic can be found here and here.

Simply clicking through the websites from Schuyler and Tompkins County (linked above) shows how valuable an organization can be. Neither of these COGs seek to control how municipalities or other political entities do business, but instead provide a forum for leaders to work together for the common good of their constituents.

Chemung County Executive’s Presentations

When I attended the Chemung County Legislature’s meeting on April 9, 2018, I was very surprised at what I heard.

At the onset, the meeting’s agenda did not reference anything about a proposal for a COG. However, as Mr. Santulli began to speak and I realized what he was proposing, I decided to record his presentation so that I could be as accurate as possible if I decided to write a blog post about it:

Notably, Santulli stated between 6:35 and 7:00 in the video this proposal was for “everybody outside the city” and that “the city will not be included in this.” Additionally, beginning at 7:28 Santulli stated there would be a set of “rules”, and he went on to describe what they would be.

Concerned that this proposal was for a quasi-Council of Governments and arguably not in the best interest of many people living in Chemung County, I wrote a blog post and  Op-Ed so that citizens would at least have a chance to learn about what was said.

Santulli held a press conference on April 16th, the day after my Op-Ed was published. I attended, and was enthused to see him back off from some of the more controversial parts of the proposal, including the exclusion of the city from the COG. Information about what was presented at the press conference can be found here and here.

The County Treasurer’s Opinion

However, I am perplexed by an Op-Ed written by County Treasurer Joe Sartori that appeared on the Star Gazette’s website today.

Entitled “Facts about Council of Governments Plan,” Sartori seems to have one objective: attacking my credibility. This type of behavior flies in the face of a discussion about cooperation, and is exactly what turns many people off to government altogether.

Sartori starts his piece by quoting Mark Twain.  “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Ironically, a comparison of what Sartori wrote to the facts is precisely what is warranted here.

Comparison #1

SARTORI: “In her recent Your Turn piece, Christina Sonsire tells the story that the City of Elmira would not be allowed to participate in the proposed council of governments. The fact is that all municipal governments, including the city, would be encouraged to join with no strings. The city would not be eligible to participate in the proposed tax stabilization program because the county is already providing more than $3.5 million in annual support to the city, and there are proposals to increase that figure.”

FACT: The statements from Santulli in the video embedded above are unequivocal. Any reasonable person in attendance would have concluded that the city was excluded.

Comparison #2

SARTORI: “Mrs. Sonsire advances the story that the Town of Horseheads had to levy a property tax for the first time in 30 years. The fact is the town raised more than $1.9 million in property taxes to cover a loss of no more than $900,000 in sales tax revenue. Further, at the end of 2016, the town had almost 50 percent of its annual expenditures, your tax dollars, held in reserve. What that means is they could go six months without collecting a dime in revenue and still pay all of their bills. How many county taxpayers can make that claim?”

FACT: It is undisputed that Horseheads levied a tax in 2016 for the first time in 30 years. According to quotes in the Star Gazette from Town Supervisor Mike Edwards, “It was a difficult but necessary move for the town board to approve the property tax. We always had the revenue. Sales tax was there, and we always had a good fund balance over 30 years. We had no debt. We still have no debt, but the revenue side is dropping. It’s because of the redistribution of sales tax that the county did, as well as sales tax has dropped off a little. Sales tax is a major portion of everyone’s budget.”

Comparison #3

SARTORI: “She accepts the story that the Town of Chemung had to lay off its entire highway department because of lost sales tax revenue. The fact is the Town of Chemung had over 60 percent of its annual expenditures held in reserve at the end of 2016. The annual cost for the employees is far smaller.”

FACT: I have not mentioned anything about the connection between sales tax loss and the Town of Chemung’s layoffs because I do not know enough about that aspect of the issue yet. What I stated in my Op-Ed is that “the Town of Chemung laid off its entire highway department, citing lack of adequate funds.”  This, too, is undisputed.

Comparison #4

SARTORI: “She accepts the story that the Town of Southport may have to raise taxes in the near future. The fact is the Town of Southport, to its credit, has reduced taxes for 11 straight years and still had almost 78 percent of its annual expenditures held in reserve at the end of 2016.”

FACT: Again, this is undisputed according to quotes from Town Supervisor David Sheen, who said Southport will likely have to raise taxes in the near future to make up for the loss of sales tax dollars. “The next two years of reporting will tell the actual end result of this sales tax redistribution plan,” Sheen cautioned.

Sartori concludes by stating that I am “correct when (I say) that local municipal spending decisions belong to local elected officials. However, if those local elected officials choose to behave in a manner that is not in the best interest of the taxpayers, then county officials have an obligation to point this out.”

There is some truth in this, and encouraging municipal leaders to be as transparent as possible with their finances is a good thing and unlikely to be met with much push back.

But, the county’s proposal goes much further than this. It attempts to tell municipal leaders how to do business.

If the residents of the municipalities located in Chemung County are unhappy with their leaders, they have a simple solution – elect new ones. It is not the county’s job to dictate how other elected officials must govern. If that is the case, why bother having municipalities at all?

It should be noted that this is the second time Sartori has done something of this nature. Last December he wrote an Op-Ed entitled “Chemung County is planning for future” wherein he condemned Anthony Pucci, a candidate for County Legislature in the 1st District, for raising questions about the county’s fiscal health.

Sartori’s Op-Eds truly epitomize what is wrong in our community, and why the need for new leadership at the county level is so critical.

Sheriff Moss’ Thoughts

Finally, Sheriff Chris Moss, a candidate for county executive, weighed in on this matter as well. In an Op-Ed entitled “We don’t need a county council plan,” Moss argues the entire idea for a COG should be rejected.

Although Moss lays out a good argument about why the county’s proposal is flawed, I disagree on his outright disregard for a COG.

The bottom line is that we need to find a way to start cooperating – now. The way we have been doing business is clearly not working. Is the re-creation of a genuine COG a good idea? I think so, but there are undoubtedly lots of other ways to go about it as well.

If nothing else, this issue has started a dialogue on a topic that is really important. Please consider joining the conversation, by commenting on this blog, posting on social media, writing a letter to the editor or Op-Ed, attending county legislature meetings, or by simply talking to each other.

People are paying attention, and this is bound to lead to something good.

Christina Sonsire 

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14 Apr
2

“Every Number has a Story” provides insights into Elmira’s unique financial situation

ELmira

Elmira, New York. Image: Souldrifter02

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.

burin

Photo of John Burin from the Star Gazette.

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.

Christina Sonsire

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14 Apr
7

Chemung County Plan misses the mark

Below is an Op-Ed I wrote that will be published in the Star Gazette on April 15, 2018. It can be found online here.


At the Chemung County Legislature’s meeting last Monday, County Executive Tom Santulli and Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen proposed an initiative called the “Municipal Fiscal Transparency and Tax Stabilization Plan.” Based on their presentation, it appears the plan’s purpose is to help municipalities improve their fiscal health.

This is a laudable objective. The City of Elmira’s financial problems have been widely discussed recently.

But, Elmira is not alone. The Town of Horseheads levied a property tax in 2016 for the first time in 30 years, the Village of Van Etten voted last December to dissolve, Town of Southport Supervisor David Sheen recently stated his board will likely have to raise taxes in the near future as it has “controlled expenses while seeing its revenues dry up,” and this past week, the Town of Chemung laid off its entire highway department, citing lack of adequate funds.

Although many factors contributed to this difficult situation, there is only one viable solution going forward — genuine cooperation. Unfortunately, the proposed plan is not the way to get there.

At its core, the plan calls for the re-creation of a Council of Governments, an inter-municipal body that existed more than a decade ago to help facilitate cooperation among Chemung County’s municipalities.

This is a good thing. In fact, re-creating a Council of Governments is something I have written about in this newspaper and on a blog I created called Chemung County Matters (chemungcountymatters.com). However, the Council of Governments envisioned under the proposed plan comes with a catch.

At the onset, Santulli stated Monday that the City of Elmira will not be invited to participate. Although Krusen backed off these statements to some degree in subsequent written public comments, it is clear that anything less than full participation by the city is enough to render the plan flawed.

Moreover, the plan includes the establishment of an emergency reserve fund of $400,000 that will grow over time and be made available to members of the Council of Governments that abide by certain “rules.”

Some rules regarding financial transparency and disclosure of financial statements make sense and are unlikely to face substantial pushback.

However, other rules are more onerous. The plan would dictate how projects are funded. Such decisions fall squarely within the discretion of elected municipal leaders rather than county officials. Specifically, Santulli and Krusen stated that municipalities would be encouraged — even required — to bond major purchases, something that results in interest payments and is at odds with how some municipalities choose to do business. Furthermore, municipalities would have to keep their ratio of reserve fund to annual budget below the ratio maintained by Chemung County, interfering with their abilities to protect against unforeseen expenditures.

A broad perspective is necessary to evaluate what this plan seeks to do. Rather than promote the kind of cooperation we need, this plan would place elected municipal leaders in the unenviable position of choosing whether to make what they believe are the best financial decisions for the people they represent, or cede that power by agreeing to the Council of Government’s rules in order to be eligible to receive money through the emergency reserve.

There certainly may be times when the rules echo what municipal leaders believe is the right thing — but it is equally possible there will be times when the rules work against what is in their constituents’ interests. Cooperation is about bringing people to the table to work together. This plan simply misses the mark.

Christina Sonsire

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10 Apr
12

Chemung County Officials Propose Cooperation, but with a Catch

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Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli Speaking to the legislature about re-creation of the Council of Governments on April 9, 2018.

The Chemung County Legislature’s meeting on April 9, 2018, was far from mundane.

What appeared on the face of the agenda to be a typical meeting of the full legislature, where most issues have been ironed out in committees ahead of time, instead began with a nearly hour-long presentation by Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.

One of the purposes for Santulli’s presentation was a proposal by him and Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen for the re-creation of a Council of Governments, an inter-municipal body that existed more than a decade ago to help encourage and facilitate cooperation among elected officials and other local leaders from Chemung County’s various municipalities.

cog

A handout given to attendees at the Chemung County Legislature’s meeting on April 9, 2018.

Santulli’s proposal is ostensibly a good thing, as increased governmental cooperation is something our community desperately needs. In fact, re-creating a Council of Governments is something I have written and spoken about on numerous occasions over the past six months.

In an Op-Ed published in the Star Gazette on February 2, 2018, entitled “Cooperation is Crucial for Solving Elmira’s Fiscal Crisis“, I wrote:

Previously, a group called the “Council of Governments,” consisting of local elected officials from all levels of government across Chemung County, existed to deal with major issues like this. What happened to that group? Maybe it’s time to resurrect it so that all stakeholders have equal standing to voice their concerns and offer collective solutions. Could there be a better time to do this?

I made a similar suggestion in Chemung County Matters blog post from March 8, 2018, called “Economic Issues Spur Interest in Local Government“:

With respect to cooperation, we need to find ways to solicit genuine input from all levels and all types of government. Some of the issues that are certain to be discussed in coming years – further municipal consolidation, sales tax distribution, countywide public safety (i.e. police and/or fire) agencies – affect everyone who lives in Chemung County.

Many years ago there was a group called the Council of Governments. It included representatives from county government, city government, town and village boards, school boards, the library district, etc. Unfortunately that group no longer exists, nor does the cooperative spirit it fostered. Bringing back COG or something similar could be a great first step toward big-picture thinking on these matters.

The re-creation of a Council of Governments is without question a necessary step toward fostering the cooperative spirit we need to allow our community to flourish.

However, tonight’s proposal unfortunately came with a catch.

Unlike nearby counties that utilize their Councils of Governments for the sole purpose of cooperation (the mission of Schuyler County’s council is to “provide a forum for discussion and negotiation leading to agreements for increased efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and improved quality of government services”, and the Tompkins County’s council is “organized to provide a forum for discussion and negotiation leading to agreements for more efficient and fiscally responsible delivery of government services), the version proposed by Santulli includes numerous barriers to participation and a set of fixed rules municipal leaders must accept in order to come on board.

At the onset, Santulli stated tonight that leaders from the City of Elmira will not be invited to participate. This aspect alone is enough to render the plan flawed, as cooperation among county and city leaders is one of the things our community needs most. Excluding Elmira – our county seat and the center of our community – from participating in county-wide governorship reveals that this plan is unlikely to succeed.

Moreover, the proposal sets forth a number “rules”, as Santulli calls them, that participants must agree to in order to participate. Some of the requirements regarding financial transparency and public disclosure of municipal financial statements make a lot of sense and are not likely to be met with substantial pushback.

However, other rules involve specific governing decisions such as the way to fund capital projects or to insure against financial calamity – things that arguably fall squarely within the discretion of elected municipal leaders rather than county officials. This top-down approach must be contrasted with Tompkins County’s Council of Governments, a group that has produced a long list of cooperative initiatives described here.

Although the suggested participatory rules may be based on sound economic rationale, leading off a proposal for cooperation with things potential members must do or agree to in order to partake is a tough way to start out.

Chemung County has a lot of great things afoot right now, yet it is apparent that many others demand our immediate attention. Elmira’s fiscal crisis, ownership of the Arena and the increasing pressure on many towns and villages to do more with less are not going to simply go away. Instead, these issues require genuine leadership and cooperation from all levels of government. Nothing less will do.

This is a video clip of some of Tom Santulli’s remarks at the April 9th meeting. Discussion of the Council of Governments begins around 6:35. But, the entire clip is important, as it demonstrates why fostering true cooperation may be a lot more challenging than it sounds.

Christina Sonsire 

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04 Apr
4

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHEMUNG COUNTY LEGISLATURE.

Without question, 2018 is shaping up to be a historical year in Chemung County. With more than thirty people running for seats in the legislature, and four candidates for county executive, our community will have a unique opportunity to fully evaluate how  local government functions, and consider whether there are new and better approaches for us to undertake.

Yet, envisioning what the future might hold requires we first have at least a cursory understanding of how our system developed.

Prior to 1974, Chemung County was governed by a board of supervisors comprised of town supervisors and other municipal leaders. The board members’ votes were weighted on the basis of each municipality’s population in an attempt to allow all county residents to have as fair and equal representation as possible.

According to Tri-Counties Genealogy, the first board of supervisors consisted of Samuel Minier, of Big Flats; Timothy Wheat, of Catlin; Jacob Swartwood of Cayuta; John G. Henry of Catharine; Green Bennitt of Dix; John W. Wisner of Elmira; Albert A. Beckwith, of Southport; Asahel Hulett of Veteran, with John Wisner of Elmira serving as chairman.

board of supervisors 1920

Photograph of the 1920 Board of Supervisors. Image from the Chemung County Historical Society. 

On January 1, 1974, Chemung County residents voted to adopt a county charter, replacing the board of supervisors with a county executive and a 15-seat legislature. In doing so, Chemung County became one of 17 (out of 62) counties in New York to operate under a charter. Two additional counties subsequently adopted charters, bringing the total number of “charter counties” to 19.

As our current form of government is still in a relative state of infancy, we have just begun to test the boundaries of what the charter allows for in terms of local governance.

At the outset, only a small number of people have served in the executive and legislative branches due to our lack of term limits and very little turnover in these positions. Indeed, as shown below, the position of county executive has only been held by five individuals since it was created.

And, in the 7th District where I live and am running to serve as legislator, the legislative seat has been held by one man and his son from the time the legislature was created in 1974. In other words, no one outside of a single family has ever represented the 7th district in the legislature.

Exploring what Chemung County can do to bring about positive change under our current charter is, however, about much more than who sits in the elected seats. The charter itself is riddled with untapped potential, specifically as it relates to the legislature. Indeed, it says the legislature – not any other branch of local government – shall be the policy-determining body of the county.

The charter further provides that the legislature has the power to:

[M]ake such studies and investigations as it deems to be in the best
interests of the County and in connection therewith to obtain and
employ professional and technical advice, appoint temporary advisory
boards of citizens, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and require
the production of books, papers and other evidence deemed necessary
or material to such study or inquiry.

Understanding where we came from is a critical part of determining where we are headed. When our community decided to adopt the charter in 1974, it deliberately included provisions to allow for a strong, proactive legislative body to act as a balance and check on the executive branch.

There are many smart, dedicated people who desire the opportunity and honor to serve on the legislature. It would be great to see what a fully utilized legislative branch could do toward helping to restore our community.

Christina Sonsire

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16 Mar
2

CHEMUNG COUNTY RESPONDS TO ELMIRA’S FISCAL CRISIS BY PROMOTING FURTHER DIVISION

On Thursday Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli and Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen released a statement through the county’s website, blaming Elmira’s fiscal crisis on a “failure of leadership on the part of the Mayor and City Council.”

This is their statement, which can also be found here:

What caused the 17% property tax increase in the City of Elmira? Quite simply it was a failure of leadership on the part of the Mayor and City Council.  By the way, with the Sanitation fee hike, the overall increase is closer to 25%.

The seeds for this failure were planted by the previous administration of former Mayor Susan Skidmore. In 2014, the City closed its books with a $1 million loss and a year-end (fund balance) reserve of $2.2 million.  This was followed by an additional loss of $2.63 million in 2015.  (See NYS Comptroller report). Fiscal issues remained unresolved as the departing Skidmore administration left the incoming Mandell administration a 2016 budget that resulted in a $2.4 million loss. Within this three-year period, there were more than $6 million in losses, which eliminated City reserves and replaced it with a negative fund balance of nearly $3 million.

So where did the Mandell administration go wrong? First, County officials urged the City to develop a financial recovery plan that would involve a substantial effort for our two governments to work together (see Mandell email and prepared speech). Unfortunately, the Mayor chose a different path. Rather than be bold, as he had promised in his campaign and suggested in his email dated September 2016, he instead chose to significantly raise taxes and not move forward with any new-shared services with the County.

Before we go further let us be clear, the County’s sales tax reallocation plan DID NOT cause the City’s fiscal problems or result in the City’s 17% property tax increase. In fact, the County’s assumption of City expenses for several departments and services resulted in greater savings for the City. This has been verified by an independent third party (The NYS Division of Budget) and accepted as fact by City officials.

Most troubling is that whenever an opportunity presented financial solutions the Mayor failed to lead and those opportunities were lost. The Governor will soon announce the successful winner in the $20 million municipal consolidation competition. We strongly believe Elmira could have been the recipient of the money. At a local public event, the Governor clearly indicated because the County and the City were actively pursuing bringing both administrations together we were a top contender for these monies. Unbelievably, the Mayor and the City Council voted unanimously to not participate in this grant competition. It is unimaginable that the leadership of an insolvent city could turn down such an opportunity.

More recently, County and City leaders met again with New York State officials to explore solutions and potential sources of relief against the City’s deepening fiscal crisis.  Several ideas were suggested and the City response was inaction and silence. Again, the opportunity to be bold as promised by the Mayor rang hollow.

We do not pretend to understand the motives for the Mayor’s failures to seize the numerous opportunities presented.  We do however know the results, which are before you now. Certainly, an unfortunate conclusion when his campaign for Mayor argued for building a stronger and more collaborative relationship with the County centered on enhancing shared services beyond those already in place.  It is important to note that no County official was advocating for the dissolution of the City. Only the citizens of Elmira can make that decision through a public vote.

In closing, it is not that County officials do not get along with City officials as implied, we simply do not like the way they conduct business.  After a very devastating and likely avoidable property tax increase, where City Council literally sat on their hands, we imagine the residents of the City of Elmira do not like the way they conduct business either.

This approach is unfortunate for many reasons.

We need legitimate cooperation, not political gamesmanship.

Elmira is the center of our community, and any path forward requires us to find ways to work together in order to finally figure out how to address its issues.  Elmira’s mayor and the members of its city council are like most people who run for local office.  They have chosen to invest a lot of time and energy toward helping make our area a better place to live, and they don’t earn a lot of money – $10,600 for Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell, as opposed to $253,108 earned by County Executive Tom Santulli, and approximately $7,500 for councilmembers – to do it.

The decision by Tom Santulli and Mike Krusen to continue engaging in this kind of vitriolic rhetoric only results in further division between county and city government, and does nothing to help address the number one problem facing our community right now: a largely empty downtown.

Indeed, an ad-hoc group called the “Committee for Elmira” was created last year to address the lack of cooperation between the county and city, urging both entities to find ways to work together. It is made up of local leaders and retired officials including Elmira Councilmember Jim Waters, Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell, Chemung County County Legislator Marty Chalk, retired Elmira Public Works Commissioner Charlie Shaffer, retired Elmira Police Chief Scott Drake, retired Elmira Fire Chief Pat Bermingham, former City Council member Dan Royle and Marc Monichetti, owner of the Elmira Fitness Center.

The Committee issued a statement in December:

The Committee For Elmira recognizes the importance of a positive, forward-thinking relationship between the County and the City.  What is missing between the two is a trusted dialogue with open communication where motives are clear and proposals are detailed.  We recognize being a government official can wear on patience but patience is exactly what is needed!  Often the two entities are reacting to each other rather than adopting a proactive approach; both need to recognize they are not on different sides but on the same, working toward the common goal of attracting jobs, growth, and sustainable economic vitality.  None of these goals will be achieved without developing that relationship.

Most cities and counties in the country are struggling financially; Elmira/Chemung isn’t singular in that regard.  Often the answer to the fiscal issues is to systematically get more money from the taxpayer by increasing fees and taxes.  Aside from being the worst solution (and certainly not the most popular) it should be the last option, not the first.  Rather the city and county should look for methods to run cost-effective government.  Is that by combining services?  Probably but not certainly!  This committee has not studied whether shared services is the answer; no one has, to our knowledge.  Have there been groups assigned to examine the best and most effective solutions for developing shared services and which ones should be shared?  For example, has a group or committee been established to assess a county-wide police department and if doing so is cost effective enough to justify the change?   Is it more efficient?  Would it provide the same level of service or better?  Would doing so save taxpayer dollars rather than increase costs?  Or have no impact?  Or be better for the employees?  This committee does not have those answers but believe there are people who can easily do so; and should.  Who and how?  Representatives of the very people impacted by a consolidation: the department heads, city/town, village leaders, business leaders, and most importantly, the employees.  A working group with delegates from each segment should be established to look at the feasibility of shared services.  If it can be done, they should be the people providing the direction.  There is no need to waste dollars on studies from outside groups; this would never be viewed as objective and would only serve to build mistrust and skepticism.  Moreover, there must be involvement and input from the people who are affected by these changes for said changes to occur.  This is the only way to eliminate suspicion and ensure the interests and concerns of all are equally weighed.  We urge the city and county to focus on these issues, assign personnel to be responsible for getting things done and set a completion date with follow up to insure a conclusion.

Additionally, we strongly encourage the county and the city to make plans for regular, scheduled meetings to hash out any differences and develop clear strategies for problem-solving, rather than stoop to name-calling and reactive tactics. There will be times of varied opinions and discourse but surely less so if both sides communicate their intentions, motives, plans, and their purposes with the taxpayers and employees in mind.  The city and country have the same goals – the best way to achieve them goal is together.

I also addressed this issue in an Op-Ed published by the Star Gazette in January entitled Cooperation is Key to Solving Elmira’s Fiscal Crisis, wherein I argued that “any meaningful remedy to Elmira’s fiscal crisis is going to require genuine cooperation and creative problem solving to discover a new way of doing business.”

We expect our elected leaders to be able to find ways to work together, particularly in times of crisis. Unfortunately, the statement released yesterday by Chemung County’s top administrators is yet another step in the wrong direction.

Sales tax redistribution has undoubtedly harmed the City of Elmira. 

Chemung County faces a tough economic climate. Mandates from Albany are heavy, and upstate areas have struggled to rebound from major losses over the past several decades in the manufacturing sector.

It makes sense that some of the county’s financial burden trickles down to the city, town and villages – but there is no reason for Elmira to be treated in such a harsh manner.

Two key factors are critical to this discussion:

*38 percent of properties in Elmira, including large entities such as Elmira College, Arnot Ogden Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Elmira Correctional Facility, the Elmira Psychiatric Center, numerous churches and schools and all of the Chemung County’s administrative buildings and courthouses, are exempt from taxation.

*Even though Elmira does not receive any revenue stream in return for its services, it is required to provide police and fire protection to these properties. This means that 62 percent of Elmira’s property owners pay for 100 percent of the services it provides.

In other words, Elmira not only gives up a huge portion of its property tax base in order to provide medical, educational, correctional and other services to Chemung County – something helps bring huge numbers of people and jobs to our community – but it also has to pay a tremendous amount of money to to keep these tax-exempt properties safe.

Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli and Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen continue to argue that that sales tax redistribution did not harm Elmira because any losses to the city were made up by increased shared service agreements with the county.

This logic is flawed, as shared service agreements could have been reached without forcing the City to give up such a large portion of sales tax revenue.

As I stated in my Op-Ed referenced above, Elmira was able to overcome a similar financial crisis approximately a decade ago. Between 2008 and 2013, Elmira moved from the brink of bankruptcy to a healthy and stable fiscal position, with an average yearly property tax increase of just 1.86 percent.

However, in his overview of the 2013 budget, John Burin, Elmira’s city manager at the time, warned of difficulties to come, stating that “the state tax cap legislation, static aid to municipalities, excessive employer pension contributions as well as legislation restricting a city’s ability to receive revenue for services rendered on a variety of not-for-profit organizations will overtime deplete reserves and bankrupt cities.”

Later that year, the Chemung County Legislature passed a financial restructuring plan that changed the way sales tax revenue is distributed among Elmira and its local towns and villages, adding to Elmira’s mounting financial obstacles. As a result of the restructuring plan, Elmira’s share of sales tax revenue dropped from a little over 12 percent in 2014 to about 9 percent in 2018.

Although the combination of shared-service agreements and sales tax redistribution works for some areas that are not burdened by tax-exempt properties and public safety obligations, it is clearly not working for Elmira. We must find a new path forward.

Strangling the City of Elmira makes no economic sense.

The two greatest sources of revenue for Chemung County are property tax and sales tax, accounting for most of the county’s operational budget.

The decision to take a greater share of sales tax revenue from the City of Elmira and other municipalities has allowed Chemung County to go thirteen years without raising property taxes.  This is ostensibly a good thing, as the last thing upstate New York residents need is a bigger tax bill.

However, that metric is just the start of the analysis.

Pages from 466918First, the City of Elmira is not the only  municipality to struggle after the sales tax redistribution plan was passed in 2013. Facing economic stress, both the Village and Town of Horseheads levied taxes in 2017 for the first time in more than 30 years, the Village of Van Etten voted in December to dissolve, the Town of Southport reports increased challenges impacting its ability to provide basic services, and most other local municipalities face critical decisions of how to continue to cope with dwindling resources.

Second, and arguably more importantly, investing in Elmira is critical to generating more sales tax revenue. Every dollar people spend in our community is one less dollar we need to raise through property taxes in order to fund local government. Having a vibrant, bustling downtown would encourage people from outside of the county to come here and spend money. By contrast, creating an economic structure that results in city officials needing to either raise property taxes by 17% or take a 20 million dollar state bailout is a great way to scare potential investors away.

Forward thinking on this issue is a must. We have great infrastructure in downtown Elmira, and infinite potential to turn its fiscal picture around. However, doing so will take full buy-in and cooperation from all levels of government. We simply cannot allow this division to deepen any further.

Christina Sonsire

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