Blog

29 Apr
11

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.

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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.

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19 Apr
4

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.

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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.

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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: (more…)

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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. (more…)

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10 Apr
13

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.

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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. 

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16 Mar
3

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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