A Kingston taxpayer vision for the State of the City 2019

This is what I believe we should focus on and spend our money on in 2019.  To have a vision for the better we have to understand where we are now.  Here’s how I see Kingston today.

We are a bedroom community; we have no high-paying industry.  Lacking industry we have a lower-than-average income for us residents. We are an aging community because as young people graduate they leave the area to pursue their goals elsewhere. For retail outlets we have mom-and-pop stores and franchised food outlets. We have New York City developers buying vacant buildings for low prices and converting them into offerings the current residents with their current incomes could newer use. We have government agencies that give tax breaks to the same New York City developers and pass the remaining tax burden onto the current city residents. We have a fixation for affordable housing that results in rental units the current city residents can’t afford without government assistance. We have a collapsing infrastructure that results in road surfaces that challenge residents and visitors alike. Lately we are driven to demonstrate we are such a welcoming community that we are giving municipal IDs to anyone, including those living here illegally, to enjoy all our benefits.

That’s how I see us exiting 2018. This is what I believe we should focus on to make 2019 better.

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Let’s start with the fact we have not attracted meaningful industry to Kingston. Unfortunately I see nothing we can do to correct that for two reasons. We don’t have the open space for new construction and the buildings we have don’t lend themselves to industrial use in 2019.  So we have to accept that fact and then accept the next reality: We are a bedroom community and industry along with their salaries are going to locate elsewhere. Hopefully in Ulster County or New York State but with our reputation for being the highest property-taxed state in the nation, don’t hold your breath. Keep in mind, when a company is considering relocating, one of the major considerations is the ongoing cost of doing business in that area. Believe me, property tax is a key consideration.

We have an aging population and because our youth are leaving are leaving the area to pursue their dreams elsewhere, that isn’t going to change. Proof of that is our yearly declining school population. Another unfortunate fact: Older people are forced to live on what they have saved, Social Security, or if they are extremely lucky, a pension.

Need further proof?  Recently the new owner of the Hudson Valley Mall, commenting on how difficult it is to attract new stores to the mall said you can offer tax incentives to get them to move but they know you need customers with income to spend to stay in business.

Regarding incentives and PILOTS, look at what the county IDA has done recently. Tax breaks for boutique hotels, tax breaks to the purchaser of some senior living apartments in need of $30 million in repairs to improve the living conditions. If you were the purchaser wouldn’t you point out all those “problems” to the seller and offer $30 million less than the asking price? That’s what us average Joes would do if we were buying a house for ourselves. Mayor Noble has the right idea — sever the city arrangement with the County IDA and create a City IDA with the emphasis on the I in IDA, Industrial.

Another current favorite of the current IDA is affordable housing. The county and city seem to be driven to convert any vacant property into an affordable apartment complex without any regard for its effect on adjoining properties. The key word in any of their proposals is “affordable” and I will tell you with the average income level in this city $1,350 per month plus utilities for a one-bedroom apartment is anything but affordable without government assistance. And as government assistance increases so does your property tax. But, they explain, people shouldn’t have to live in substandard housing. But what if a resident left one of these substandard dwellings? The landlord simply rents it to another person. No change to the neighborhood, just new faces. And county Social Services is more than willing to find that new face for the landlord. And as government assistance goes up so does the property tax on us older residents, the people who budget on a fixed income.

What would I do about this if I were mayor? I’d declare a one year moratorium on new apartment building while the city determines with its current resources how best to serve the needs of its existing residents. Or does it want Kingston to become a human warehouse?

Then we get to another major problem confronting the city, our collasping infrastructure. The mayor says we have $36 million of grant money to spend but the reality here it comes from entities with a personal agenda. But the good news is they were willing to spend it in Kingston. Go back to them with a new vision, after all they already wrote off $36 million, and describe the new projects the city will do to accommodate Kingston as it is. I’m sure that part of that $36 million pot of gold is the $12 million for the roundabout. Here’s how to instantly free up $7 million for our infrastructure problem. The state DOT study said they could achieve the same end result with $5 million for new signals, signs, and lane marking. This should be an easy sell. Governor Cuomo is touting how dedicated he is to fixing our infrastructure. Well, ours needs fixing, one of his agencies has $7 million to spend and a phone call is all it needs.

Finally, let’s end all this sanctuary city, welcoming community, nobody leaves Kingston hysteria. Face it — this is nothing more than protecting individuals who are breaking the law. If you’re happy with illegals breaking the law, how about me deciding stealing is OK because I’m hungry? A slippery slope has many paths. Why not focus our resources on assisting, guiding and advising illegal residents through the citizenship process? Challenge obstacles you encounter you believe no longer apply. John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator summed it up simply “Open-mindness is not the same as empty-mindedness. To hang out a sign saying, “Come right in, there is no one at home” is not the equivalent of hospitality.

The writer is a lontgime Kingston resident and retired IBMer.

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