11/30/2010

Councuil Agenda 12-01-10

Posted by MJ

The council agenda for this Wednesday is here:

11/29/2010

Diva's and Pallister House

Posted by MJ


We noticed on the way home last night two new additions on Main St. Diva's Have "All that Chocolate" and Pallister House Flower's and Gifts are now located at 39 East Ave next to the library. Looking throught the windows it appears Paliister purchased the counter etc from Wilhelm and Ashe Home Store in the UCC during their closing process. Is this a second location of the Pallister in Newfane or did they just move here? These two buisnesses are a nice addition to Main St considering the loss of both Wilhelm and Ashe stores. The buildling has also recently recieved a new stone facade which looks great.


While a chain store here or there may draw people to a Main St through their noteriety and advertising, it's small businesses like these that will make it thrive.

I kind hope that the recently opened Oogie Games in the Lockport Plaza will find its way downtown in the future. It would appear to have great potential for shared customers with the likes of the Daily Grind etc.

11/29/2010

Flintkote Injury Claim

Posted by MJ

11/29/10

The LUSJ has reported that the claim has been filed. Next up: CPS visits to question family about endangering the welfare of their 11yr old child by not properly supervising them. Actually, both scenarios are rediculus.

7/4/10

The Buffalo News reported today on a Notice of Claim against Niagara County for an injury that allegedly happened on the old Flintkote Site on Mill St.

"Notice of claim will be filed against Niagara County this week on behalf of an 11-year-old girl who fell from a decrepit building at the former Flintkote plant and broke her jaw.

Denis Bastible of the Cellino & Barnes law firm said he will file the mandatory preliminary to a lawsuit by Katie Sargent, of Chapel Street, who was hurt June 10 at the hazardous waste site, which the county has owned since 1999..."

I feel bad for the kid having to deal with the experience and the injuries. But I don't care if there is a hole in a fence or a sign has some weeds in front of it. 11 years is old enough to realize the risk you are taking and that you are not supposed to be there in the first place. If a kid is not old enough to making these decisions then why are they allowed out on their own?

If one can file a suit against the county in this instance, would counter suits by the county against parents for not properly raising their children to stay out of locations they do to belong at and not raising them to properly access risk be reasonable?

In either case no. A child learned a lesson the hard way (like most of us probably did growing up).

11/24/2010

Blog B-Day #2

Posted by MJ


Well I missed it two weeks ago but Nov 12th was the 2nd anniversary of this blog (1st).

Views have gone from around 50k during the first year to almost 120k during the second. A big part of that is still the ever popular Molson Concert Series threads. The Our Lady Peace concert set a single day view record of 2,272 views the day of the show. The 2010 concert series thread as a whole has over 17,000 views at this time. The most viewed non-concert related thread was the recent Budget 2011 Part 1 post with over 1,000.

I just want to say thank you to everyone who participates be it by a name or anonymously and the 99.9% good behavior rate you bring to the discussions. I personally know more than a few in the city government that browse here from time to time as one of their sources of resident feedback. I'd also like to thank the couple that have posted here, as inviting to trolls as it may be.

I look forward to the next year as we continue to discuss ways to make the place we live better and enjoy all it has to offer. I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend.

11/24/2010

Discover Buffalo Niagara

Posted by MJ


The 2011 Discover Buffalo Niagara Calender is now out (FB). For those of you that enjoy all of the events around our part of WNY this calender offers over 400 of them by date. This is the 11th year of publication.

And as a side-note plug, I created this year's cover and Lockport resident Olivia is on the cover.

11/23/2010

Fleeing Civic Debt

Posted by MJ

I have recently come across an article that once once again says something that I have "thought" for a long time but have never been able to explain well.

...Why is this happening? One big reason cities tend to fall into decline is that they accumulate huge unfunded liabilities, and those liabilities attach to the territory, not the people. This lets one generation of residents rack up huge future bills, then skip town to leave the next generation or those not lucky enough to get out with the bill. It’s the equivalent of being able run up a huge balance on the civic credit card, then pawn the bill off on someone else.
Imagine if you will if your house worked this way. Your mortgage, your credit card debt, etc. all happened to be chargeable not to you, but to whomever was living in your house. If you simply stopped paying and moved elsewhere, you’d be relieved of all those debts. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly how municipal debt and unfunded liabilities work. It is a huge incentive for politicians and residents to vote for immediate gratification with the bill – infrastructure costs, pensions, redevelopment costs, or what have you – pushed out 25-30 years. Then these people or their children simply move to a greenfield and start the process over again.
I suspect this, perhaps more than any other force, is what drives urban and suburban abandonment in favor of newer towns...
It is a pertinent subject as we come off the most recent budget process and hear the voices explain that newer places "just do it better". It's always easy to do better when you grow off of somewhere with the liabilities and have yet to reach the peak of your own.

It's also good insight into why an older city will never demolish and parking lot pave its way to success. The numbers are against the city competing against cheap green fields and lower newer cost structures. For cities that have survived or turned around it has come from embracing their urban infrastructure and walkability potential. Unfortunately places like Lockport still contain outdated zoning codes that do the opposite. They promote development of a second rate ‘burb instead of a first class city/village.

UPDATE:

This also reminded me of a favorite quote of mine: "In America we don't solve our problems, we just move away from them."

11/23/2010

Road Design

Posted by MJ

Interesting insight into a Traffic Engineer and his thoughts on current road standards.

...In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people. Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year. There is no earthly reason why an engineer would ever design a fourteen foot lane for a city block, yet we do it continuously. Why?
The answer is utterly shameful: Because that is the standard.
In the engineering profession's version of defensive medicine, we can't recommend standards that are not in the manual. We can't use logic to vary from a standard that gives us 60 mph design speeds on roads with intersections every 200 feet. We can't question why two cars would need to travel at high speed in opposite directions on a city block, let alone why we would want them to. We can yield to public pressure and post a speed limit -- itself a hazard -- but we can't recommend a road section that is not in the highway manual.


When the public and politicians tell engineers that their top priorities are safety and then cost, the engineer's brain hears something completely different. The engineer hears, "Once you set a design speed and handle the projected volume of traffic, safety is the top priority. Do what it takes to make the road safe, but do it as cheaply as you can." This is why engineers return projects with asinine "safety" features, like pedestrian bridges and tunnels that nobody will ever use, and costs that are astronomical....
Rather important lessons to rememeber especially when it comes to the city and future road projects. If you make it easier and more comfortable for people to go fast, they will. No matter how many speed limit signs you may try to put up. Mutliple wide lanes, no cars parked on the streets, trees removed etc all cause dirvers to feel more comfortable going faster and cause them to pay less attention.

11/18/2010

2011 Budget Passed

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News and LUSJ reported.

"The 2011 budget the Common Council passed Wednesday includes a property tax reduction that may evaporate for many homeowners once the cost of the city’s new privatized garbage and recycling program is figured in..."
----
The $21.4 million general fund budget spends almost $1.8 million less than this year, but that’s primarily because the Council detached the estimated $1.3 million cost of the new garbage program and placed it in a separate budget. The tax rate of $15.24 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is down 69 cents, or 4.34 percent, but that’s because garbage isn’t included.
Now we can follow the garbage privatization process unfold...




11/17/2010

Chapman's 2012 Suggestions

Posted by MJ

11/29/10

The Buffalo News reported that the ideas were dicussed on the 17th.

11/17/2010

I noticed this in the LUSJ article last week:

...After the public hearing, five of six aldermen said they’re prepared to vote “yes” to adopting the 2011 budget as it stands. Fourth Ward Alderman Andy Chapman’s yea is tentative, he said. He’s made a list of 12 reform/downsizing type items he wants the Council to commit to exploring in 2011. If the rest of the aldermen promise to look, he’ll vote for the budget as-is, he said...
I inquired about it and Andy quickly got back to me with it. Here are some of his thoughts on items that should be looked into in anticipation of the 2012 budget process.


The full document is here.

11/16/2010

Council Agenda 11-17-10

Posted by MJ

Here is the council agenda for this week:

11/16/2010

Your change in tax rate...

Posted by MJ

.for 2011 single family residence is conservatively estimated to be:

The garbage fee is an estimate and will dependent on tote size.

11/09/2010

Budget 2011-Part 2 "Presentation"

Posted by MJ

11/11/10

The Buffalo News and the LUSJ both reported on the "quiet" budget public comment session last night at city hall.

...The vote is due at next Wednesday’s meeting of the Council. Genewick, Council President Richelle J. Pasceri, Alderwoman Flora M. McKenzie and Alderman Joseph C. Kibler said they support the budget. Alderman Jack L. Smith Jr. said he would vote no, while Alderman Andrew D. Chapman said he wants to try to interest his colleagues in further cuts.
But Chapman said the Council already has achieved a lot. “If we hadn’t done anything [with the original budget], it would have been a 19 percent increase,” he said. “When we started this process, we were facing long odds,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker told the audience at the hearing. “We always hear, ‘Do things differently. Reduce the cost of government.’ That’s what we’re doing.”

The $21.4 million spending plan is nearly $1.8 million lower than this year’s, but $1.3 million of that reduction came because the garbage program has been deleted from the regular budget and is now a separate fund....
...Mullaney said that 24 jobs have been dropped from the budget and that privatizing the garbage service accounts for only 11 of those. The other jobs were vacated by retirements in the last month, he said, and only one or two are being filled...
The articles mention that only three people spoke and non were set against the garbage plan. Be sure to get your spring cleaning done early! ;)

 

11/10/10

Another LUSJ article on the garbage transfer comparing it to the attempt back in 1991 to do the same.
...A glance back at the US&J headlines 19 years ago shows striking similarities between then and now. In the midst of another budget crisis, another Common Council is wrestling with the same bear of a problem: How to maintain expected services without gouging taxpayers. Trash collection is in the mix in both crisis periods primarily because of demand for recycling, but also because big-ticket items are naturally open to scrutiny in fiscal tough times...
Getting employee's out of the city system is crucial when their overall costs are taken into account. Seen here is the looming public pension crisis for a number of NYS municipalities.
...There isn’t a moment to waste in pushing for changes to alter what is otherwise a collision course with dire consequences. Taxpayers cannot afford to continue supporting public employee health insurance into retirements, bolstering a model designed during a time in which this area had high-paying manufacturing jobs and public jobs tended to be lower paying with rich benefits. Manufacturing jobs have been lost and public employee salaries are higher now than aver-age private sector ones. What’s left is the legacy of a rich benefits package without the tax base to support it...



A Buffalo news article mentioning Erie County's current tactic of not using surplus' to cover re-occuring expenses.
...The moral of the story became: Don’t pay everyday, recurring expenses with nonrecurring income. Reserve money is considered nonrecurring one-shot money. When you spend it, it’s gone. Today’s county government money managers, including those at the control board, agree with the strategy to pay everyday expenses only with recurring income— income from sales taxes and property taxes, primarily...
This is not being proposed this year but it was done last year and had to be accounted for in this year's budget.

As a reminder. The public comment session is tonight at city hall.

11/9/10

The Buffalo News and   LUSJ has reported on the current budget status heading into tomorrow's public comment session at city hall.

The Common Council’s tentative 2011 city budget calls for a 69-cent tax rate cut.
Once trash collection is privatized and a flat pickup fee is levied, however, many property taxpayers will see a year-over-year increase in city living costs.
The garbage pickup fee is presently estimated to be $124 per “unit,” meaning per single-family home, apartment, business or other type property occupant, even tax-exempt users.
Average residential property assessment is $79,000. If the 2011 budget is approved, the average tax bill will fall to $1,247, down about $12 from this year’s bill, but when the $124 is added onto the 2011 bill, the average property owner’s cost of living here will rise $112.
Only when assessed property value is $179,000 does the owner “break even” on the city’s removal of refuse collection costs from the budget, according to calculations by 4th Ward Alderman Andy Chapman. Only where property is assessed for more than $179,000 will the owner see a true cut in city living costs...
Here is the current preliminary budget spreadsheet as of today (11/9)

Smith proposed to lay off five police officers by shifting dispatching duties to the Niagara County’s Sheriff’s Office.
“You can’t arbitrarily make that decision in a week [before the budget vote],” Tucker said. “Not only are you affecting the five people who are losing their jobs, you’re affecting this community.”
“We’ll be looking at public safety in the next year,” Council President Richelle J. Pasceri said. “Our population base is dwindling. Our tax base is dwindling. These numbers are too big to lay on taxpayers’ shoulders year after year.”
A reminder that we can only cut ourselves so much before we have nothing let to offer. The end vision should be creating a place that will draw new people to build income/taxible value.

The trash has partially come out, incrimental raises are paid for and we are borrowing for the new pumper. How are we feeling?

Previsous Budget 2011 discussion is here: Budget 2011-Part 1 "Requests"

11/02/2010

Look Up Your Polling Place

Posted by MJ

Last minute, I know. But here is the county web page to look up the proper polling place based on your address.

You can also see a sample ballot.

11/01/2010

Council Agenda 11-03-10

Posted by MJ

Here is the agenda for this Wednesday's meeting:



Looks like several public comment sessions will be set:

Nov 10th: 2011 Budget
Nov 17th: Salaries of Officers
Dec  1st:   Dog Licensing

11/01/2010

Budget 2011-Part 1 "Requests"

Posted by MJ

November 1st

Forbes and the National Affairs have interesting articles on national pension deficits and public sector unions respectivlely

The Buffalo News reported on LPD and LFD interactions with the common council.

Passuite said he expects four retirements and is asking for $197,736 in sick and vacation buyouts. "Each of these gentlemen has more than 400 sick days," the fire chief said.


Again: get rid of this allowance to buildup rediculous amounts of sick/vacation time. Pay out yearly to avoid these large one-time payments.

LFD food for thought:
As far as I understand it currently the (4) 12 man platoons (A,B,C,D) cover 12 hour shifts on a 6 day cycle. One week half have a 36 hour week and the next they have a 44 hour week. 48 man total requirement for up to 12 men available at a time.

Idea:
Group the platoons into two (AB and CD) half of platoon would man the station in 12 hour shifts and half would be on call the whole day for events that required additional man power. The following 6-day shift the roles would reverse. Ths would enable up to 12 men being paid to be able to respond to a necessary event at any time while only requiring 32 members total (33% reduction). This is dependent on the number of calls. I would enjoy being on call every other day if I could sleep at home, relax at home,  work on the house, interact with the kids etc if the number of call ins were reasonable. Do statistics show that it is possible to stay home a whole day without being called in?

Let me know if my math is wrong...


October 28th

Aldreman are asking for the ability to "reduce their pay" and the garbage system may be phased in.

Although a nice gesture, I don't see the need for the accounting/law complication of the "set my pay rate". I'd rather see what they are looking to give up donated to park upgrades, replacing our trees etc. The types of positive funding that quickly gets lost in budget cutting.

October 27th

The Buffalo News and LUSJ reported on the budgetary effects of the early retirement buyouts.

Why does the city still allow employees to build up this much unused sick time and holiday pay? It's rare to see a modern day operation that let's someone carry more than 1 week over to the next year and does not buy out the remaining annually.

Reminder:  Budget documents are here. I'll be adding some more today.

October 22nd:

The LUSJ reported on the Building Dept and the lack of resources that have led to a lapse in the "rental housing blitz"
The city’s street-by-street rental housing inspection effort has slowed considerably this year, Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool said this week.
In discussion with Common Council members about his department’s 2011 budget request, Dool disclosed that it has been several months since his three-man team last blitzed a street to arrange inside-outside inspection of all rental properties on it.
Increased numbers of complaint investigations and permit inspections have kept the team tied up, he said. Departure of two staff memebrs since mid-2009 — a full-time housing inspector and veteran chief inspector Jim McCann — leaves the team running to keep up, Dool said.
This is the type of funding that we must make sure is not overally cut. The lack of power to complete the job will only lead to slipping housing values and hold back investment. It is good to see that they have been busy with building permits as they are a barometer of investment. We are one of them.


October 19th:

The Buffalo News reported on the warning against using the fund balance again to help balance the budget.

City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney warned aldermen Monday that the city’s fund balance can’t be used to prevent a tax increase, layoffs or both in the 2011 city budget, because there isn’t enough money available...



...A tax increase can be avoided through “cost avoidance,” Mullaney said. But 82 percent of the general fund budget consists of salaries and employee benefits. That’s where the layoff prospect comes in...
It should be a rather obvious point. I'd envision the fund being used for last-minute or mid-year hold backs from the state etc. Being used to just balance the budget from the start would only seem to delay the painful decisions.

I'm rather surprised by the percentage of taxes that goes to labor (82%). It does appear to be around that of major cities (from a quick web search). Of the 18% that's left, where does it go?

October 14th:

The Buffalo News and the LUSJ are reporting on the doom and gloom of the 2011 budget kickoff.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Wednesday that layoffs are possible in the 2011 city budget, while Common Council President Richelle J. Pasceri called her colleagues “cowardly” if they’re not open to a tax increase....


This will be our existance for the foreseeable future: budget after budget of nail biting and gap closing. Hopefully someone in the city gov't will initiate the effort on planning how to turn the slow decline around and increase our chances at future growth. Not just small pieces of it but a complete cohesive plan that we can all rally around. Without it, we're all looking at annual tax increases as the years pass by....