Blog

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. 

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16 Mar
4

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:

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08 Mar
3

Economic Issues Spur Interest in Local Government

The political climate in Chemung County is very interesting right now.

At last count nearly 30 people have either announced their candidacy for Chemung County Legislature or are giving it very serious consideration, and there are at least three – possibly even four – candidates for Chemung County Executive. This injection of people and energy into local politics means our community will have an excellent opportunity to learn about the issues  from a diverse set of perspectives.

Despite each candidate’s individual concerns and ideas, one common theme has already begun to emerge: Chemung County’s struggling economy, and the way our county government goes about addressing it, has to be the top priority.

For too long our area has been dogged by sluggish economic growth, prompting more and more people to seek ways that they can get involved and make a difference.

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24 Feb
1

Tough questions ahead of Chemung County’s Annual Economic Forum

The Chemung County Chamber of Commerce will hold its 25th Annual Economic Forum this Wednesday, February 28th at the Holiday Inn Riverview beginning at 7:30 AM. The event is open to the public, and registration can be made here.

The 2018 Economic Forum comes at a particularly interesting time, as Chemung County’s fiscal health is under increased scrutiny from many different sources.

Without question, people who choose to live and work in Chemung County want to see our area thrive like many other communities located in rural America have begun to do over the past decade. But, getting to that point requires us to fully acknowledge and accept how serious the local economic picture has become, and adopt a new way of thinking in order to propel Chemung County forward.

An article published online on February 23, 2018, by Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin entitled “Binghamton, Elmira play economic catch-up after years of decline” points to several sobering statistics:

*Elmira is losing private-sector jobs at the highest rate in New York state, nearly 3 percent over the past year, and has recorded a 6 percent drop since 2008.

*Personal income growth since 2008 in Elmira was half the United States national annual average for metro areas of 3.2 percent, according to numbers compiled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

 *Since 2008, Elmira’s population has declined by annual compounded rate -0.3 percent.

It went on to question what steps are being taken to translate monies awarded by New York State into meaningful economic recovery for Chemung County:

Questions quickly arise about the infusion of economic dollars — $500 million for the Southern Tier in the Upstate Revitalization Initiative; $481 million for the eight-county area in regional economic development awards…and; $10 million to Elmira for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Where and when will the impact of those program be realized?

A link to the article is found here. (When the article appeared in the print edition of Elmira’s Star Gazette on February 25, 2018, the content remained the same, but the title was changed to “Area Rebuilds a Fragile Economy.”)

Questions about the translation of state aid into sustainable job creation were also raised last December by Tom Tranter, President of Corning Enterprises, and Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger.

Tranter and Stenger serve as regional Co-Chairs of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, a group that exists to create long-term strategic plans for economic growth in our area. Ten regional Economic Councils were created in 2011 by Governor Cuomo as public-private partnerships made up of local experts and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations. A list of the members of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council is found here.

According to an article published in Binghampton’s Press & Sun Bulletin, the Southern Tier received the least amount of economic funding in 2017 of all ten regions.

Tranter stated that identifying economic projects that result in job creation needs to be our area’s top priority, but “we haven’t had any really big job projects.” Stenger echoed those sentiments, stating that the group ” really (has) to double down and work a little harder.”

A link to the article is found here.

“Elmira, Binghamton play economic catch-up after years of decline”, linked above, includes a quote from Mike Krusen, who serves as both president of the Elmira-based Southern Tier Economic Development organization and Chemung County’s Deputy County Executive. “We have to change the mindset,” said Krusen, “We have to get the people to change from feeling that we’re flat on our back to we are in a turnaround.”

This type of cheerleading can yield positive results, as a positive attitude goes a long way toward encouraging people to invest the time, energy and resources needed to begin turning things around in the Southern Tier.

But, we also need to be realists.

It only takes a quick drive across Elmira or a review of the types of statistics cited above to realize Chemung County is still facing very tough times. The reasons why we got here are plentiful, and the path forward – with increased manufacturing automation,  continued brain drain of our youth, and a growing violent crime problem that serves as a deterrent to investment – is anything but clear. Our leaders need to openly acknowledge where we are economically, and genuinely work together with each other and the community to discover creative solutions.

Hopefully Wednesday’s Forum will be a good opportunity for all of us to get a better idea of where things stand, and figure out how we can best help out.

Christina Sonsire

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21 Feb
2

Krusen Responds to Call for Reduced Salary.

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Tony Pucci

Two weeks ago Tony Pucci, a member of the Veteran Zoning Board who retired after teaching English at Notre Dame High School for forty years, wrote an Op-Ed to the Star Gazette, critiquing the level of compensation paid to Chemung County legislators as well as County Executive Tom Santulli and his Deputy, Mike Krusen. A link to Tony’s piece is found here.

Specifically, Pucci argued that paying our county executive, who oversees a population of roughly 87,000 people, more money than 41 of 50 US governors – including those who govern Massachusetts, Texas and Florida – is inappropriate, stating:

Not only did the Chemung County legislators vote themselves a pay increase, they also voted on Resolution No. 17-629, which establishes the new salary for the county executive at $166,273. This resolution passed by a vote of 15-0. That salary places our county executive as one of the most highly compensated county executives in the state.

By comparison, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earns $150,000. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker makes $151,800. Florida Gov. Rick Scott receives $130,273. Given the responsibilities of governing a state with a population in the millions and a budget in the billions, what possible justification is there for the executive of a small upstate county to have a salary that is higher than theirs? In fact, the Chemung County Executive’s $166,273 salary is higher than that received by 41 of the nation’s 50 governors.

Today Krusen, who is running to replace Santulli when he retires at the end of this term, announced a proposed compensation plan that includes reduced pay for our county’s top administrators. In it, Krusen stated that “[w]ith the pending change in our long-tenured County Executive’s position, it is an appropriate time to review the compensation and benefits provided to this position.” A link to Krusen’s announcement is found here.

Although Krusen’s announcement does not address the inflated salaries of legislators or the yearly pension of more than $80,000 he currently receives in addition to his active service salary, it shows that speaking out in a respectful way on matters of public interest can really make a difference.

 

Christina Sonsire

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17 Feb
2

Opioid Class-Action Lawsuit: It’s Time for Chemung County to Join

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Image from NBC New York 

There is no question our nation is facing an epidemic.

Opioid addiction and associated heroin use is widespread – and our community is unfortunately not immune. In fact, a recent study by Rochester-based Common Ground Health suggests Chemung County has the highest rate of opioid abuse in the Finger Lakes region. A link to an article describing the study is found here, and the study itself is found here.

Although Common Ground’s conclusion that Chemung County’s problem is worse than surrounding communities has been met with some skepticism because the metric on which it is based – Emergency Department visits related to opioid abuse – could be skewed based on socio-economic factors, it is nonetheless clear that we must to everything we can to address this issue head on.

In my law practice at the Ziff Law Firm, I frequently represent people who are prescribed opioids following an injury or illness. Although I am careful to never offer medical advice, I try to speak openly with my clients about the risks these medications pose over time. Despite our discussions, a fair number of my clients have developed opioid dependency or addiction, something that upends not only their lives but those of their family members and friends as well.

I have had a chance to observe two recent presentations to the Chemung County Legislature on opioid and heroin abuse. The first was given last fall by two representatives from the Chemung County Sheriff’s Department on its recent initiative called “Project Hope”. A link to an article about “Project Hope” is found here.

In the presentation, Investigator Pete Ruhmel and Captain Doug Houper explained that opioid and heroin abuse is increasing across Chemung County, and they provided sobering statistics showing the problem is not limited to one geographical area or demographic.

Last month Brian Hart, Director of Community Services for the Chemung County Mental Hygiene Department, presented a similar report, and encouraged Chemung County to continue supporting his department’s work to combat this growing problem.

Following each presentation I expected that the Legislature would undertake action toward joining a class action lawsuit that has been brought on behalf of numerous counties from New York and other states, as well as several cities, alleging pharmaceutical  companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices meant to minimize the addiction risks associated with opioids.

In fact, after Brian Hart’s presentation on January 22, 2018 – almost one month ago – I asked Deputy County Executive Mike Krusen if Chemung County intended to join the lawsuit. He said he believed so, but to the best of my knowledge there has yet to be any discussion on this issue within the Legislature.

At least 20 counties in New York have joined or are in the process of joining the lawsuit, including the upstate counties of Broome, Steuben, Tompkins, Seneca, Sullivan, Schenectady, Schoharie, Rensselear, Niagara, Orange, and Oswego, as well as the City of Ithaca.

The tenor of the lawsuit is similar to those brought by municipalities in the 1990’s against tobacco companies, something that not only resulted in huge monetary recovery but also drastic changes to the way tobacco companies do business. Indeed, the language at the start of Tompkins County’s lawsuit – albeit somewhat proactive – makes clear what this lawsuit is all about:

“This case is about one thing: corporate greed. Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of Tompkins County consumers at the cost of the plaintiff.”

Articles describing the lawsuit’s current procedural posture can be found here, here and here.

Chemung County needs to become part of this lawsuit in order to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for what the opioid epidemic is doing to our community. There is simply no good reason for us to sit on the sidelines.

 

Christina Sonsire

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03 Feb
2

COOPERATION IS CRUCIAL FOR SOLVING ELMIRA’S FISCAL CRISIS

This post also appears on the Star Gazette’s website (link here), and will be published in the Star Gazette newspaper on February 4, 2018.


The City of Elmira is undoubtedly facing a fiscal crisis. Forced to either impose a 17 percent property tax increase – a measure that will close Elmira’s budget gap for 2018 but not solve its underlying economic problems – or lay off significant numbers of public safety employees, Elmira’s mayor, manager and councilmembers are in the unenviable situation of deciding between tremendously unpopular choices.

The reasons underlying Elmira’s fiscal crisis are complex. Most fundamentally, 38 percent of properties in Elmira, including large entities such as Elmira College, Arnot Ogden Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital and all of Chemung County’s administrative buildings, are exempt from taxation. Even though it does not receive any revenue stream in return for its services, Elmira is required to provide police and fire protection to these properties, meaning that 62 percent of Elmira’s property owners pay for 100 percent of the services it provides.

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31 Jan
5

County and City Officials Reach Different Conclusions Regarding Sales Tax Redistribution.

The impact of Chemung County’s 2013 decision to redirect sales tax revenue from the City of Elmira and other municipalities into its own coffers is proving to be an integral part of the discussion of how to address the City’s dire fiscal situation, as well the impact being felt by local towns and villages.

In 2013 the Chemung County Legislature voted to approve a controversial measure called the “Chemung County Financial Restructuring Plan” to redistribute the way sales tax revenue is allocated in Chemung County.

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01 Jan
6

Key Fiscal Issues in Chemung County to Watch in 2018.

2018 is poised to be an important year for Chemung County.

As the Finger Lakes region continues to develop, Chemung County has the potential for significant gains – but only if we openly acknowledge the unique obstacles we face and work together in a transparent way to discover innovative solutions.

We undoubtedly have the collective brainpower and desire to make our community shine. The list below represents some of the pressing fiscal issues we face. If it is incomplete – or in any way inaccurate – please join the discussion here or on social media. The pathway toward meaningful change starts with an honest discussion.  

The First Arena

What to do about a portion of the debt associated with Elmira’s First Arena is a matter that will be taken up by the Chemung County Legislature during the first few months of 2018. 

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First Arena (Image: Elmira Star Gazette)

In June, 2016 the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) purchased the First Arena despite significant yearly deficits in an attempt to facilitate a sale to a private buyer. A description about the history of the Arena’s ownership is found here.   (more…)

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27 Dec
1

GUEST BLOG: Former Chemung County Legislator Andy Patros Stresses the Increased Need for an Independent Legislature.

This is a guest blog post. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the blog’s author. Members of the community are encouraged to submit guest blog posts in order to help identify issues and discover solutions to matters affecting Chemung County.

I had the privilege of serving the community as a Chemung County Legislator from 2007-2011. During that time I was often asked, “How do you like being in the position?”

The answer I gave then is similar to the one I would give now: I greatly enjoyed it, but quickly learned the legislature does not operate as an independent body in the way Chemung County’s Charter – or, more generally, a representative government built upon the theory of separation of powers – envisions.

Recognizing that this fundamental matter affects the way our county government functions in a very significant way, I wrote a Guest View along with the late Terry McLaughlin, also a County Legislator at the time, that was published in the Star Gazette in July, 2007.  A copy of the Guest View is embedded below and can also also be accessed here.

Guest View Patros and McLaughlin 2007

I am raising this issue again because unfortunately not much has changed since 2007. With the exception of a few references to matters that the legislature was facing back then, this Guest View almost precisely represents how I feel today.

Almost precisely, because the matters facing Chemung County today – including the mounting financial crisis in the City of Elmira, the status of First Arena, the growing budget deficits in many of the Towns and Villages, decreasing sales tax revenue across the region, the likelihood of increased state mandates in response to changes in the federal tax code, and the rise of crime and drug problems that we all see when we drive across the County – are even more critical, making the need for an independent legislature that involves the public in an open, transparent dialogue more important than ever.

As Terry and I observed in 2007, “American government works because of the separate but equal branches in our county seats, state capitals and in Washington D.C. Neither branch, executive nor legislative, should operate at a higher level than the other. For government to be effective, a series of checks, balances, separation and oversight must be in place.” This tenant is as true now at every level of government today as it ever has been in American history.  It is time to finally restore that balance right here at home.

Andy Patros

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