Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meet the Candidates

If the next "Meet the Candidates Forum" is as lively as the last, you won't want to miss it.

We joined Republicans candidates and a League of Women Voters moderator at the Neptune fire hall to meet the public. It's great to see so many people come to hear about Dryden voter issues.

I was glad to be able to provide some clear town budget information. Only two people in the audience indicated that they already knew that nearly one-third of the town income is from sales tax. I've been analyzing the budget (here and here) to see if we're spending money (and time and effort) in ways that truly reflect our priorities. Aside from the $1 million we spend to support the 120 volunteers who provide emergency services in Dryden, townwide spending is nearly equally divided between roads and "everything else," including recreation, public works, administration, planning and building, courts and town clerk responsibilities.

David and I both spoke about our work over the past year with the fire departments. And David took the floor to describe his plans with Tompkins County Area Development and other agencies to support business in Dryden with a new micro-grant program and reactivation of the revolving loan program.

Joe Solomon (second from the right) will be a newcomer to the town board. He's been attending meetings as a spectator, a real testament to his interest and commitment. As an engineer, he can't help being attuned to the infrastructure issues under discussion.

Justice candidate Jason Leifer (on the right in the photo) talked about his commitment to fairness in the courts. His experience as a lawyer and public defender in Tompkins County are what inspired him to run for this important office.

Join us Tuesday, October 2 at 7:00 PM at the Etna fire station and October 28 at the Varna fire station to learn more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Gathering of Democrats

Thank you, Simon, for taking custody of my camera at yesterday's picnic. It gave me a chance to talk and listen more than I can when I'm taking pictures.
It was a festive event - a classic Tompkins County picnic with Cornell barbecued chicken, vegetarian lasagna and lots of potluck salads, side dishes and desserts.

Jason and David and I were having a great. time.

Guest speaker June O'Neill said that within minutes of being elected Chair of the NYS Democratic Committee earlier this year, Irene Stein (Tompkins County Committee Chair) came up to her and said, "We're having a picnic..." O'Neill could hardly decline the invitation since it was obviously her first as state chair.

Here O'Neill is using an old joke (so old it's attributed to Abraham Lincoln) to illustrate Senate Majority Leader Bruno's maneuvers. "How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg?" A few answers were shouted from the audience.

And here David and Jason and I (and very few others - that's Caroline Supervisor Don Barber over on the far right) are agreeing that the answer is four.
Be sure to let Bruno know that calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I've been an admirer of Wes Clark since the 2004 election. I was surprised as he rose to the top of the list of people I'd support in the presidential campaign. Although I never expected to feel so positive about a General, Clark stood out as one of the smartest, best-educated candidates.

But Friday on C-SPAN he said something that's been like a grain of sand in my oyster shell since then. Asked, "At what point in your life did you decide that the military was a career for you?" He replied, "Well, I was always interested in the military because I grew up in Little Rock and in the south and in the midwest people are very patriotic anyway."

What? Like people in the north and far west aren't?

He goes on to explain, "Most of my friends’ fathers had served in World War II. They always talked about it. And then, uh, we had the Korean War and we had crises every couple of years. And so you became attuned to this. The idea of trying to protect America was a sort of natural thing to think about. "

I don't recall being aware, when I was growing up in Plattsburgh, of whether or not my friends' fathers had served in World War II. They didn't talk about it. So, maybe there is a regional difference.

But is that what "patriotic" means? Talking about war? Both American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster say, "Inspired by love for or devotion to one's country." Love and devotion are pretty strong words. How about "committed?" And "country" is a pretty broad concept.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Freeville Harvest Festival

The Freeville Harvest Festival yesterday was chilly but festive.

The Dryden Jazz Quartet provided wonderful music. Through that door in the background was the excellent chicken barbecue. I was too busy tasting at the chili cook-off to take pictures but it was great, too.

They do things in a big way in Freeville. It's not that they have a small fire truck. It's that they have Chief Andy Down and Deputy.

For comparison, here they are with regular size Bambi and Matty.

Andy tells me he has has three dogs, each of whom eats four pounds of dog food a day!

One can never have enough soap and candles. I bought delightfully scented candles and soap from Cindy Mueller of Lovey Mushy Things.

Constitution Day

Simon mentions the Ithaca Journal bit announcing that

"The Dryden Middle School will be observing Citizenship Day on Monday, Sept. 17, with a flag raising ceremony at the school's track. The entire middle school will gathers to say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing the national anthem and see a flag raising ceremony..."

Although there's no further mention of it on the Middle School announcement page, I hope the faculty is planning meaningful observations of Constitution Day. The announcements page changes daily. So, perhaps Monday there will be more information. September 17 is the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. In 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming Citizenship Day to be a holiday celebrated on September 17. In 2004 an amendment made by Senator Byrd to a spending bill established September 17 as Constitution Day.

Despite the White House proclamation urging citizens "to conduct ceremonies..." the amendment establishing Constitution Day specifies that every school and college receiving federal money must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17. Sounds like an enforcement nightmare but it's a good idea. The Department of Education's Constitution Day page includes links to many useful sites. Even the Department of Defense has a 20-45 minute online Constitution Course for DoD employees. Google Constitution Day and you'll find lots of good resources.

Two years ago I wrote about the C-SPAN constitution quiz. I hope they do that again tomorrow. Last year I admitted I don't understand the Pledge of Allegiance. I know that's not something you want to hear from someone who's asking for your vote. But in all honesty, I can't spell "allegiance" with real confidence. "I pledge allegiance to the flag... " ? Let's say allegiance means loyalty and skip the flag part. "I promise loyalty to the Republic..." Okay. But it's just not as clear as the oath I took to "protect and defend the Constitution." I understand that and I understand the Constitution and that's a promise I have no trouble making.

Friday, September 14, 2007

September Board Meeting

Last night's meeting opened with a public information session about traffic in Etna. Joe Solomon and his wife have come to the board several times to talk about the problem of speeders on Lower Creek Road failing to make the 90 degree turn and crashing into the guardrail, his woodpile or his house. Last night Etna residents joined him to describe the problems. Everyone who spoke emphasized that the increase in traffic and especially in speeding makes it dangerous to walk on Lower Creek Road.

There are mixed opinions about whether or not stop signs at the sharp corner in front of Joe's house will help. The stop signs on the straight stretch in front of the post office are often ignored. And it's likely that stop signs at the corner will results in increased squealing tires, grinding gears and reving engines. Likewise there was little support for traffic calming devices or speed bumps. (Tho' there was some admiration for the culvert repair that created "The ditch that Jack built.") Everyone agreed that speed limit enforcement would help. Thanks to Sheriff Meskiill for coming to listen. I noticed that he was taking notes - maybe on the descriptions of vehicles that the residents recognize ad chronic offenders. Finally there was a suggestion that intrigued everyone: that section of the road could be made one-way.

Moving on in the agenda, we quickly passed a resolution authorizing the Ambulance Company to change their mileage reimbursement rate to match the rate set by Medicare.

In recognition of the fact that this was our last meeting in the old town hall, Mike Lane spoke about the history of the community's relationship to the building. For more than a hundred years the Town Board met in various houses and public places. Court was held in the homes of the Justices. (Particularly poignant because later Justice Valentinelli arrived with a deputy and a person in handcuffs to ask for the use of the room for an arraignment. He didn't go for our suggestion that he could have done it at home.)

The first part of the Town Hall was built in 1950 by town employees at an incredibly low cost. For twenty-five years this building sufficed with Court being held in the front room (which is now Henry's, Kevin's and Dan's office). In 1975 the addition which is now the Court and Meeting Room was built. And for another 32 years the building served us well as each generation of Supervisors and Board Members set aside money for the eventual building of a new Town Hall. We've arrived at their goal. We'll take possession of the new Town Hall next Wednesday and begin moving in on Thursday. The next Town Board meeting will be held in the beautiful new Court/Meeting Room. (There's now a separate room where Justices can conduct arraignments if the courtroom is occupied.)

Mike cautioned us that "the new space will invite expansion of government." We should resist the temptation to add new staff positions - the most expensive part of our budget.

Art Berkey spoke to thank the Town for striping Thomas Road making driving much safer in bad weather and at night. He also presented Varna Community Center's 2007 application for funding and asked for help resolving the 2006 request which is still in limbo. Our new process for supporting community centers is not without its bugs. But it's very close to working well. The deadline for this year's funding is September 30. The Recreation Committee (David Makar and Steve Stelick) will review applications and make recommendations to the board next month.

Martha Robertson reports that the County Budget is available for review. And the first public information meeting will be at 7:00 PM October 1 at Boynton Middle School. I know it's hard to find time to do everything. But a look at the budget may be worth your while. It includes a ton of information beyond the budget itself: Organizational chart and contact information, historical perspective on tax levy and rate, comparisons with surrounding counties. (Pity Cortland County with its $14.91 per $1,000 tax rate - more than double Tompkins County.)

The document defines countywide services as follows.

County government is the local deliverer of state and federally-regulated welfare, mental health, and public health services. County government is the main repository for public records. County government maintains an extensive network of roads and bridges. It provides police protection through a sheriff’s office, and is responsible for prosecution of criminals and the disposition of offenders. It assures that election law and the right of every citizen to vote
is assured.

Still this leaves out Emergency Response and Planning for $1.6 million, TC3 for $2 million, the public library for $2 million and many more smaller programs. Go ahead. Look at it (pdf). It's interesting.

Back to the town board agenda. Recreation Commission Chair, Don Scutt, introduced new recreation Department Coordinator, Melissa Bianconi and announced that the next Recreation Commission meeting is scheduled for 6:30 PM October 2 at the Ellis Hollow Community Center. Melissa said that her transition into this job has been smooth. Fall programs are going well. Tackle Football starts Saturday with games at 3:00 and 5:00.

Environmental Planner, Dan Kwasnowski, introduced the seed manager from RPM the new enterprise on Route 13 which grows trees for restoration projects. Dan had noticed a spectacular Bur Oak tree on town land and contacted RPM to ask if they were interested in collecting seeds from it. Indeed they are and we agreed to allow that in exchange for some trees.

Dan went on to talk about the Stormwater legislation and the Farmland Protection grant application and the Conservation Boards plans to update the open space inventory and to develop guidelines for accepting and managing property donated for conservation .

Bambi Hollenbeck, Town Clerk, reported on a meeting of town clerks in Tompkins County to discuss alternatives to the SPCA contract for dog control. SPCA is planning to double the price of the already expensive contract and the town clerks who met think there are good, less costly alternatives.

Are you still with me? We're up to the Discussion section of the agenda where interesting things sometimes come up. But I'm running out of time so I'll try to make it brief.

The Emergency Services Committee reported that we've been meeting with the fire departments to review their budget requests in order to understand their needs and advocate on their behalf in budget meetings. The fire department contract has been revised with two proposed changes regarding incident and finance reporting. The draft will be circulated among the departments for comments before it is adopted. We've been working on a definition of "active firefighter" which we'll bring to the board for consideration next month. And I'm happy to report that the Etna Fire Department has submitted the reports required for payment of the balance of their contract.

On behalf of the Finance Committee I submitted a report of the Internal Audit Supervisor Trumbull and I conducted with the bookkeeper, town clerk and court clerk. The only concern noted is that capital assets are only tracked in the Highway Department. With the opening of the new town hall, it may become more important to track other assets.

On behalf of the Personnel Committee I reported that I met with Attorney Perkins to review the first section of the proposed personnel policy. We have to arrange a meeting to review his suggestions and finalize the rest of the proposal for his review.

David Makar proposed establishing relationships with Tompkins County Area Development, Alternative Federal Credit Union and Better Housing of Tompkins County to resume lending programs using the HUD money repaid from grants in past years. David recommends using part of the economic development funds for microloans up to $2,000 for small businesses.

David also presented a Request for Proposal from the Technology Committee for revising the Website. We accepted the proposal for telephone and internet access for the new town hall. The new phone number is 844-8888 with a short automated menu for access to each department.

From the Recreation Committee, David announced receipt of two applications for Community Center Funding. And we discussed a third application from the OURS program. The deadline for applications is September 30 following which the committee will review applications and make recommendations to the Board.

[These were all interesting discussions, but I'm really running out of time. Next month maybe I'll start with the end of the agenda and work backwards.]

We had some fun discussion a dedication plaque for the new town hall. We twisted Bambi's arm to plan a dedication ceremony and open house in October.

Supervisor Trumbull asked for and received approval of temporary appointment of Deb Hattery as part-time typist through December 31, 2007.

We agreed to re-appoint Stan Marcus as representative to the Environmental Management Council and Dan Karig as representative to the Water Resource Council.

We discussed Attorney Perkins report on gas lease proposals and decided to take no action at this time.

Henry Slater said he met with a representative of the Murray Center regarding their proposal for cleaning services for the new town hall.

Finally, we reviewed data from the new meters measuring total waste water flow into the Village waste water treatment plant and meters measuring flow from the Cortland Road Sewer District. Comparisons to metered water, it seems that a great deal of infiltration is taking place. That is, stormwater must be flowing into the sanitary drains and this may be part of the strain on the waste water treatment plant. Steve Trumbull, Steve Stelick, Dan Wakeman, Mike Hattery and Reba Taylor are meeting to discuss long range plans for sewer district development. At the next meeting Attorney Perkins will provide the report from the last discussions in 2002.

That's it. If anyone actually made it all the way through this with me, please leave a comment.