Economic Development from the Ground Up
A business-friendly county has good infrastructure, responsible government, a clean, safe environment and good county services.
Lack of broadband has been a deterrent to growth. We need to bring internet access to all corners of the county.
Physical infrastructure—roads, bridges, water and sewer—matters too. The continuing failure to remedy both physical and accounting problems in the county water and sewer districts, and the uncertainty about how future planning will proceed, is damaging to our prospects.
Access to affordable childcare and quality housing for young families will help make Seneca County into a place where people want to live and work. Public/private partnerships can help us make progress on both those fronts.
The natural beauty of Seneca County is an economic asset. Protecting it must be a priority. We should not encourage ventures that damage the environment, because in the end the human and economic costs will be too high.
Responsible, credible government also matters to growth. Failures of oversight and accounting, cost overruns on public buildings, scandals and recriminations are not attractive to entrepreneurs.
The county has mechanisms by which taxpayers directly or indirectly fund new businesses or business-promotion efforts. For example, there is a special tax on hotel room charges that is meant to be spent to build up tourism. The Seneca county Industrial Development Agency can offer PILOT agreements (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) which essentially give short-term tax breaks to encourage businesses to stay or start up here in the hope that the gain in jobs and commerce will in the long run more than make up the difference. These are potentially beneficial efforts, but they require oversight and accountability. We need to make sure that businesses receiving PILOTs and the like actually delivery on promises of jobs and benefits to county residents.
Bottom line: No one will want to invest here unless Seneca County is a place where people want to live and work, and where tax money is spent to benefit the people of the county.
Transparent and Accountable Government
Taxes are inevitable. But we should know how our money is being spent, and we should be confident that it is spent wisely. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.
A few months ago, we were all unpleasantly surprised to learn that the former BonaDent building, which the county had purchased for $3.2 million in 2106, needed a new roof at the cost of over $1 million. According to the Finger Lakes Times, “County Manager Mitch Rowe said several committee members were critical of former County Manager John Sheppard, who recommended the purchase of the BonaDent Building, reportedly without a detailed assessment of its condition.” (FLT 3/6/19). We can’t do this again.
The Board of Supervisors has not inspired confidence in recent years. The 2017 NYS Comptroller’s report on the management of county water and sewer districts identified inadequate oversight by the Board of Supervisors as a significant problem. There are still outstanding DEC violations in the sewer districts that have not been effectively addressed. The audit done by the Bonadio Group found material errors in the county financial reports for 2017. Then there was the mysterious firing and rehiring of the emergency services manager with no explanation, and the investigation of the former county manager. It just doesn’t look good.
We need to have procedures in place to anticipate and accurately evaluate costs, and to require competitive bidding. We need to avoid conflicts of interest. We need sources of impartial, disinterested advice. When we rely on experts to give us advice, we need to make sure that those experts do not stand to profit from the projects about which they are advising us.
Taxpayers should also know that their elected officials are acting solely in the interests of the community, not special interests. One way to avoid control by special interests is to know where political candidates get their campaign funding. I pledge to report every donation I receive. I will not take money from Seneca Meadows, or any other corporate donors. Funding this campaign through donations from county residents and grassroots supporters insures that I will represent your interests, not corporate interests, on the Board of Supervisors.
As your representative, I will keep you informed about the issues and my views on them. If I vote to spend your money, I will explain my reasons for doing so you in a newsletter and on social media.
Bottom Line: Taxes are your money, you deserve to know how they are being spent.
Protecting our Environment
I believe that county government should fight to keep our air, land and water safe. This is an economic issue as well as a moral one. Would you open up a business in a place where your kids could not breathe clean air or swim in the lake?
The Seneca Meadows Landfill is, for many of us, the single most important issue we face. Despite numerous promises to address its odor problem, Seneca Meadows continues to emit odors that disturb residents. In the long run, it will lower property values and discourage new business. For this reason I believe that the Town of Seneca Falls should maintain and defend Local Law 3, which requires the landfill to cease accepting garbage after 2025. At the county level, we must be vigilant in making sure that the landfill does not expand, and we should be willing to speak for the residents of Waterloo and other town affected by the landfill. We should insist that regulations be enforced, and provide a mechanism (hotline or website) for monitoring odor complaints independently and accurately, so that residents do not have to rely on Seneca Meadows itself to monitor odor complaints. It is disappointing that the county has failed to do this as yet. The fact that some SMI employees are seeking public office in Seneca county makes it imperative that we elect representatives who are not beholden to Seneca Meadows and will stand up for the environment! I do not take money from Seneca Meadows.
Harmful Algal Blooms are now spotted in the Finger Lakes every summer. They pose a grave threat. We should aggressively promote research and mitigation efforts. Shoreline restoration and storm water management will help prevent chemical runoff, and we should do as much of that as we can right now. We should also keep up with research on techniques for mitigation and be at the front of the line to try them out. Ultimately, in order to stop HABs from happening at all, we need to address climate change, and we need to encourage farmers to adopt new practices to reduce their use or production phosphorus and nitrogen that promote HABs in our lakes. County government needs to partner with farmers, scientists, state and federal government to manage this transition, create the right incentives, identify alternative technologies and secure funding so that we can have a healthy farming economy AND healthy lakes.
The proposal to build a steel galvanizing mill at the former Seneca Army Depot may be our next big environmental controversy. The developer, Earl Martin, has said that his mill will use a new technology that reduces the negative environmental impacts normally associated with galvanizing. I very much hope this is the case, and have no reason to personally distrust him. However, we should insist on having all the details of his plans and on having a thorough environmental review in which all sides of the question are heard.
A Solid Waste Management Plan is needed for Seneca County. We, of all people, should understand the value of composting and recycling, reducing the solid waste that is burned or dumped into landfills. Let’s set an example!
Bottom Line: We all have a right to clean air and water. They are not worth sacrificing for short-term profit. In the long run, protecting our environment is good economic policy.
Investing in People and County Services
Early in 2017, the County Manager’s Office released a study which highlighted the number of county employees abandoning Seneca County for better paying opportunities at competing county agencies in the Finger Lakes. (FLT, 8/9/17). Since then salaries have been raised, but attrition still seems to be high. We need to make sure that all county employees are well-paid, well-managed and not over-extended. We also need to make sure that the physical environment in which they work is safe and functional. All our county workers deserve respect, and we all benefit from better services when we can hire and retain the most qualified employees.
The Seneca County Department of Mental Health has been energetic and innovative, but they desperately need a better physical facility. They should get one, so that they can do their crucial work of combatting mental illness, alcoholism and opioid addiction.
There are many wonderful organizations working to address the many problems that Seneca County faces: suicide, domestic violence, food insecurity, homelessness. I believe that we are all better off in a community where that families do not live in sub-standard unsafe housing, where victims of domestic violence have safe places to go, where people in “food deserts” have access to supermarkets, and mental healthcare is widely available. We should honor and support their efforts, but we cannot rely on the voluntary sector alone. The government should explore public-private partnerships where appropriate, pursue grant opportunities aggressively and invest (wisely) where necessary.
Bottom Line: Let Seneca County be known as a community that pursues creative and compassionate solutions to the problems we face, and honors the county employees who do the work.