A Failure to Pursue Growth Oriented Strategies

I took this from the NY State Comptroller’s Office Fiscal Stress Monitoring Report  on Montgomery County and to be clear: Montgomery County is not considered to be under fiscal stress. What struck me about the Environmental Indicators is not what they show but what we are doing, or more aptly, not doing in light of them.

If you look over the numbers, you basically see no growth whatsoever, low income , high unemployment and a shocking child poverty rate.

Given that, you would conclude that the county really needs to focus on reviving the local economy through some growth oriented approaches to counter the negative indicators along with a more active role for the state and the federal government to drive dollars into the local economy.

It’s also more than clear that the county faces serious structural and systemic issues in its economics. So no matter how folks harp on cutting costs, consolidating, getting rid of waste, yadda, yadda, you see that it will not deal with the underlying fundamentals facing the county. Of course, the picture is similar for the city of Amsterdam as well.

The vital political, business and economic challenge here is restoring economic growth — through public and private means, everything else is just a sideshow.

Montgomery County Environmental Variables

Montgomery County Environmental Variables

Getting to the Right Model for Reviving the City

I thought this was a good read from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank,Redefining Historic Preservation . Here are the main points consistent with what this blog and several others have been advocating and wholly counter to what policy makers are actually pursuing:

 

As someone who has worked in historic preservation and community revitalization for more than 14 years, I believe that the practice of historic preservation and downtown revitalization are the best tools for communities facing the “shrinking cities” problem and brain drain—the loss of their younger demographic.

To build a successful and sustainable economy in the 21st century, it is critical for communities to differentiate themselves. They must create an environment that is compelling. While there is nothing wrong with chain or big-box stores, they are ubiquitous and can be only a part of the equation. What makes a community unique are its authentic assets—historic downtowns and neighborhoods.

To paraphrase noted economist Donovan Rypkema, when a building of quality (usually a “historic” building) is standing, there are only four options:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Stabilize the building and wait
  3. Rehabilitate the building
  4. Tear the building down

If the fourth option is chosen, all the others are eliminated along with any flexibility; the neighborhood is most likely sentenced to be another weed lot, the downtown another surface parking lot. Both of these draw little to no property tax revenue, show a lack of community creativity and are uninspiring to visitors and residents alike.

We cannot let our communities, particularly our smaller and more rural communities, die the death of a thousand cuts. We also cannot afford to continue to falsely prop them up, hoping the population loss will magically stop or they will be saved via the illustrious spec building or industrial park. We must make sure our communities are of quality. Focusing on the existing built environment, the historic core, is a first and strong step toward that end.

City Motto: “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

From today’s Recorder editorial:

Hatzenbuhler, who does a lot of her caterwauling on the social Internet — that bastion of civility — went back and forth in an unprofessional manner

 

From the Oxford dictionary, we find that civility is synonomous with: courtesy, courteousness, politeness, good manners, graciousness, consideration, respect, politesse, comity.

So what the editorial wants you to believe is that the lack of civility in our city is from the dirty, dirty “social Internet” — the dirty thing that you are using to read this page right now. In other words, civility resides everywhere else but the dirty “social Internet”. Curse you, Facebook!

So when you read my critiques of the editorials here, here and here, the inherent lack of civility in the tone and substance of those pieces apparently does not contribute to  the lack of civility in the public debate. Certainly, the image of a clown car with today’s editorial seems wholly consistent with fostering a more civil and informed debate, n’est-ce pas? This is like listening to someone extol the virtues a vegan diet while devouring a rare filet mignon.

And speaking of bastions of civility, let’s turn to local AM radio– the breeding ground and wellspring for the rumors, innuendos and misinformation embraced by Ms. Hatzenbuhler and many others — as that certainly cannot be contributing to the lack of civility in our public debate. After all, that is not the dirty social Internet. So when a caller goes unchallenged on how the 9/11 terrorists did not kill enough “city people”, ostensibly to make a point on the superiority of upstate conservatism versus downstate liberalism , that certainly does not diminish the civil tone in our public debate.

How lucky indeed are we to have such bastions of civility within our local media.

Incredibly, we are to believe that, if not for the dirty social Internet, our local media has no part , no responsibility and no association at all with the lack of civility and coarseness in the public debate. To the bastions of civility, they see themselves as mere spectators, sidelined to watch and tsk-tsk at the ugly public spectacle taking place before their eyes. They get to pick and choose the gladiators but grow faint once the bloodshed ensues and bemoan the savagery.

Alderwoman Beekman brought up how kids perceive the lack of civility as a form of bullying. The kids are right: this is not how things should work in the public sphere. Nor is this adult behavior to be modeled and exemplified by kids.

If we want to at least pretend to act as adults and restore some sense of civility, we should maybe consider that local media , maybe , just maybe, might want to be accountable and responsible to shifting the tone of the debate as it seems pretty clear that the lack of civility exists well outside of just the social Internet. Why just point to social media while blissfully ignoring the the more prevalent and mass-marketed local media outlets for the very same lack of civility? All the social Internet does is make what goes on behind-the-scenes more visible; let’s not kid ourselves that lack of civility is a new phenomenon here solely the province of social media. This seems especially ironic in light of local media’s very own presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Finally, for the sake of the kids, let me explain why adults act this way in a manner which most kids can appreciate:

“Do As we Say, Not as We Do”.

 

How the Muni Golf Course Highlights the Sheer Hypocrisy Around The City’s Financial Situation

Well, I’m sure you saw this post coming in light of the request to the Council for $25K for a study of Muni by the Robert Trent Jones Foundation.

I can assure that you tonight , you will not hear a peep from the Council on how dire the city’s fiscal picture is and how it is incumbent upon them to protect our seniors and our taxpayers from spending a single penny on anything. As it is the golf course, apparently the concern for seniors and taxpayers is a quaint notion. For anything but the golf course, say basketball hoops or spending $25K on parks or funding the museum, we certainly cannot afford or justify that in any way, shape or form.

I can also assure you that our local editors and pundits will find no problem spending $25K on the golf course even though for every other expense or initiative, they constantly summon the demon of our unknown fund balance and “unaccounted” funds. Funny, but it seems that the golf course has some eerily similar financial and operational issues with its revenue projections which just may bite taxpayers. But, as it is the golf course, the normal fears and demagoguery are kept off the pages and airwaves.

Nor do you get the stern rebuke of why are we focusing on golf versus the very serious, ponderous work of our city’s finances and cutting expenses? The answer: ‘cus it’s something they support and want and hence is not subject to the usual wailing and gnashing and thrashing about that accompanies any other item someone else may want. How dare you question that!

Of course, the above will be dismissed as “city taxpayers don’t pay anything for the golf course”. I’ve already dispensed with the falsity of that claim several times so I’m not revisiting that. (Fair warning: if you comment with any derivative that “city taxpayers don’t pay anything..”, you will get red carded from posting here)

Finally, I will be curious on how our “fiscal’ and “business” minded council and pundits justify lowering fees to golfers while incurring these large expenses in light of the financial pressures on the course. I’m really curious what business model justifies lowering price and incurring more cost in a service oriented business under high competitive pressure.

All I’m saying is that there is a delicious amount of hypocrisy on what gets funded, how and why in our small city all under the guise of “priorities” and “running things like a business”.

And for the record: spending the $25K is the right thing to do and I’m in favor of the effort at Muni to bring in some consulting and develop some type of strategy to build and restore the asset value of the course.

I say that even with the risks that taxpayers may get left with the tab if the operations and finances of the course are not improved. After all, it is a public course.