Nobody was hurt when a tree fell on Kingston Mayor Steve Noble’s house early last Sunday morning. But I wonder whether the mayor’s second thought, after assuring his family’s safety, might not have been, “Is this Mike Hein’s sales tax counteroffer?” Nobody heard a chainsaw.
Almost a month ago, the county executive and mayor jointly announced an agreement might be forthcoming over the next few days. Previously Hein had spoken to “an agreement in principle.” Repeated media inquiries revealed only that details were still being worked out.
Given that Noble laid his card, a five-year status-quo renewal of the contract between the city and the county that expired February 29, on the table almost two months ago, the details Hein refers must be from his side.
I’m not enthralled with Noble’s clamming up — other than tree surgeons, can anybody get this guy on the phone? — but in terms of negotiations he’s already on the record. Hein, who at first vehemently denied any responsibility for a punitive plan pushed by a few legislators that would have cut sales tax revenues to the city and the towns now presents himself as the man in charge of negotiations from the county’s side of the table.
A story emanating from Hurley suggests the Hein response-in-progress remains grounded in allegations by county officials of fiscal sleight-of-hand, if not irresponsibility, by the towns and city. Hurley, joining a majority of towns, passed a resolution on March 28 backing the city’s status-quo proposal. Town Supervisor Gary Bellows noted that his town was counting on the $120,000 in sales tax revenue it had budgeted from the county for this year, only to have Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell retort that the town had actually budgeted $75,000 of $160,000 in sales tax revenues projected by the county for the town. The difference, he reiterated as the executive’s spokesman, was apparently being held in reserve by the town rather than applied to property tax reductions.
In terms of longstanding fiscal practice, the explanation is simple enough. Hurley (and Hein) routinely low-ball revenues and high-ball expenses — the usual guise is to pencil in positions you don’t intend to fill right away — creating a surplus at the end of year and a hedge against sudden surprises. Some would fairly call this prudent policy.
That Hein appears via Crannell to be holding this line at this juncture may mean he has no intention of signing on to the five-year deal. He may well be generating ill will through this intransigence.
Lights, camera, action
While on vacation, I missed last week’s “debate” in Accord between Democratic congressional candidates Will Yandik and Zephyr Teachout. From what I read of published reports, nothing much happened. Kind of like a Hillary-Bernie debate.
No wonder. “Good friends” Teachout and Yandik are two peas in a progressive pod, snuggled in close proximity, albeit from vastly different backgrounds. He is a fourth-
generation farmer and part-time journalist, she a law school professor and recent transplant from Vermont via New York City. They respectfully disagree on almost nothing. Against a backdrop of a contentious, gridlocked Congress, pundits say voters long for this kind of political civility even as media feeds them a steady diet of Republican raw meat. I sense disconnect.
Based on attendance at this foray, the race to determine the party’s nominee in the 19th Congressional District doesn’t seem to be attracting much attention. It was sponsored by Democratic committees in the towns of Rochester, Rosendale and Marbletown. According to published reports, about 75 people turned out for the Sunday-afternoon session at the Accord firehouse, comprised mostly of boomers and Bernies. A band of placard-waving X-ers might have encouraged the candidates.
For potential grist, I recommend a Republican debate between congressional hopefuls on April 19 at Marlboro High School. In an effort to attract a weeknight turnout, town Chairman Mike Dovich promises the session will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m.
GOP hopefuls John Faso of Kinderhook and Andrew Heaney of Millbrook have been sniping at each other on more or less personal issues from safe distances for several months. A face-to-face could generate sparks between two candidates, who don’t seem to like each other, though they’re pretty much on the same page on most issues. Also invited is virtually invisible Bob Bishop of Delaware County. The local version of John Kasich, Bishop needs to generate some buzz. With a few percentage points, he could be a factor in the June 28 primary.
Based on a case raised in Texas, the Supreme Court has unanimously upheld its 1964 “one man-one vote” rule that governs redistricting across the land. Petitioners argued that reapportionment should be based on registered voters, not population, which can include non-citizens.
The 1964 ruling was a major step in equalizing representation: on the old Ulster County Board of Supervisors, Denning, with a couple of hundred people, had the same voting power as Kingston with almost 30,000 at the time of the original ruling. But “one man” does produce some curiosities.
Legislative Chairman Ken Ronk, Republican of Wallkill, was elected (unopposed) with 475 votes, the bottom-feeder among 23 legislators elected last year, while the average population of the county’s legislative districts is over 7,800. By comparison, Democrat John Parete polled 1,675 in his Olive-Shandaken district. As Ronk explains it, adult members of the Watchtower Community in his district choose not to vote on principle, and inmates at Shawangunk Correctional Facility are counted as residents but not allowed to vote.
Political parties take a different view. Under weighted voting adopted a few years ago, delegates at nominating conventions are awarded to those districts with the greater turnout of party voters in the previous gubernatorial election. That makes sense. If you vote, your vote counts; if not, it doesn’t. The Supreme Court ruling on the subject would seem to render that practice unconstitutional. Tell it to the judge.
County legislators seem to be narrowing the choices for locating a new family courthouse facility to replace the current overcrowded dysfunctional building on Lucas Avenue in Uptown Kingston. In increasingly strident language, the state Office of Court Administration has advised (ordered?) the county to get on with it, or else. “Or else” hasn’t been specifically spelled out, but could mean a withdrawal of funding for court personnel, something nobody really wants.
The state doesn’t dictate where the county should locate a courthouse, though by law it has to be in the county seat (Kingston), absent a permissive referendum. But the state is recommending the county provide a facility of at least 31,000 square feet, half the size of the six-floor County Office Building and twice that of Lucas Avenue. That is a huge number, even for three judges, staff and clients in the busiest court in the county. The average new one-family home comes in at just over 2,000 square feet.
Before legislators settle on a decision on where to locate a courthouse — an arbitrary deadline has been set for mid-May — they ought to take one last careful look at required space. We’re not necessarily referring to wish lists from the state and current occupants, but rather something sufficient for future needs that taxpayers, who foot the bill for facilities, can afford.
It was altogether appropriate to name Kingston’s post office after World War II Medal of Honor winner sergeant Robert Dietz. I wonder why it took almost 40 years for somebody to come up with the idea. The main post office, as it’s called, was dedicated in 1968, a year before Kingston’s majestic 1908 post office on Broadway was torn down. Dietz, who was killed in combat in Germany on March 29, 1945, enlisted in the army at the old post office.
Enduring blustery weather, though nothing like Dietz and his Seventh Armored Division faced during the brutal winter of 1944-45 (including the Battle of the Bulge), veterans, led by retired Army colonel Chris Gibson, the soon-to-be-retired congressman, staged an impressive ceremony for their fallen hero.
Mayor Noble usually says the right things at these kinds of ceremonial occasions, but I think he missed the mark in stating that “young people” had largely forgotten sergeant Dietz. My own guess is that most young people never heard of him, even if they played in or attended athletic events at Dietz Stadium.
They need to be taught. Last week’s post office dedication will help.