December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

As 2008 comes to an end, we'd like to thank those of you who have enjoyed reading Niagara Times. Over the past year, we had over 76,000 page loads and nearly 56,000 unique visitors. Your support is greatly appreciated.

We will leave you with the immortal words of P.J. O'Rourke: The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.

Have a safe and happy New Year, we'll talk with you in 2009.

December 30, 2008

Lead On, McDope

I'm not one to over-dramatize, but for the sake of analogy, let's say I am a general. Periodically, it's my responsibility to lead my troops onto the battlefield. Unfortunately, I am not a great leader. I make questionable decisions, show a propensity for cowardice, and repeatedly place my troops in a no-win situation. Despite my failure as a general, my troops love me. They say that I am a "troops general". I'm not overly tough on my troops and I don't go out of my way to discipline them when they do not perform at an adequate level.

Let's take the analogy and translate it into something we can relate to, our beloved Buffalo Bills. Of course the general is Dick Jauron. Every aspect of our above general can be attributed to Jauron.

What I can't seem to comprehend is why being a "players coach" is enough. Why is it enough for Ralph Wilson to keep Jauron, and more perplexing, why is it enough for all of the players to love him?

If your coach leads you into a situation that is repeatedly untenable, why is that acceptable? Do you not WANT to win? Would you rather play for a coach that is likable than a coach that puts you in a position to win every week? I can't imagine that there is a Bills fan that does not despise Bill Belichick. But every single one of them would love to see Spygate wandering the sidelines at One Bills Drive. Why? It's not because he's a likable fella. The guy wins. Over and over again with different personnel and despite changing circumstances. No one will EVER say that about Jauron.

In August, I predicted that the Bills would go 6-10. An inspired effort against Denver cost me my prediction by one game. That's now nine years in a row of no playoffs. This year, I had the opportunity to go to five Bills games. I declined every one of them. It's not because I don't like them, I simply refuse to support a team that pretends to care about winning. If they don't care, why the hell should I? I work all week; I'm not giving up a Sunday with my family to watch an organization, from the top down, who could care less about putting a winning product on the field.

Marshawn Lynch spent Sunday's game in a suite because he strained a jheri curl or something. Instead of being on the sidelines helping/guiding/coaching Fred Jackson and Xavier Oman, he was hanging out with buddies in a box. He then reportedly left the game early. Probably to go run someone down on Chippewa.

What kind of message is that sending to the team, Marshawn? More importantly, where the hell is Dick Jauron? How on earth can he let Predator sit in a suite? Does he not comprehend the "team" concept? I can damn well promise you, if Jerome Bettis was injured and not playing, Bill Cowher would demand that he be on the sidelines with his teammates. Not Jauron. He simply doesn't get it.

This team, no, this organization is a complete disaster. Personally, after years of supporting them, I care no more. Leave town. Go to Toronto or L.A. or wherever your little hearts desire. Or, make a commitment to winning. Fire Jauron. Bring in Cowher or Parcells, or better yet, find the next Mike Tomlin. Otherwise, you can write me off forever.

December 29, 2008

Paterson Plays Chicken

A new Quinnipiac University poll indicates that 46% of New Yorkers disapprove of the way that Governor David Paterson is handling the state budget so far. What's shocking is that 40% of us gave him positive marks on his budget work.

Paterson's budget is full of nothing but additional taxes and fees. There are no attempts to reign in the reckless spending that has plagued this state for decades. There is no indication of a willingness on the part of Paterson to reform the most expensive Medicaid program in the country.

While we have discussed the possibility of a tax on foods that make us fat, in essence doing so because of the costs associated with treating obesity and obesity-related illnesses, we never thought an "obesity tax" would become a reality. If Paterson has his way, it will.

So will increased fees. Eighty-eight of them in Paterson's budget proposal, including movie tickets, taxi rides, soda, beer, wine, cigars and massages. It also extends sales taxes to cable and satellite TV services and removes the tax exemption for clothes costing less than $110. All while proposing a $698 million reduction in school aid and $3.5 billion in health care reductions.

So what the hell is that 40% thinking when they support his budget proposal?

The Quinnipiac poll also indicates that an overwhelming majority would opt instead to boost state income taxes for households making $1 million or more per year, with 84 percent in favor of that proposal and just 13 percent opposed. That isn't in Paterson's budget.

It appears that Paterson is playing some type of "chicken" with the Senate and the Assembly. There is no possible way that any version of his current budget proposal will incorporated into the final product. The problem is that we, the public, are the ones who will be forced to blink. Paterson, when all is said and done, will continue to promote the status quo; just as he's done for his 20+ years in the Senate.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy, forgiveness.

To an opponent, tolerance.

To a friend, your heart.

To a customer, service.

To all, charity.

To every child, a good example.

To yourself, respect.

---Oren Arnold

Merry Christmas to all, we'll talk to you Monday.

December 23, 2008

Bush

We've made no secret of our displeasure with the past eight years of George Bush. His Presidency has been shrouded in one controversy after another, and he has lead us into an extremely unpopular war. When you factor in the very harsh realities of the crashing economy, many believe that the legacy of W will be as one of the least popular Presidents in history.

Despite our belief that Bush has made some questionable decisions during his tenure, we've never disrespected the President. And although many have, the glory of our country is that we, the people, have been given that right by our founding fathers. We can say virtually anything we like about our leader, with the exception of threatening him, and not fear repercussions. This freedom is not universal. In many countries, you will be imprisoned or put to death if you speak against the leadership.

That freedom to question their leadership has recently been given to Iraq. Five years ago, should you have had the courage to question the leadership of Saddam Hussein, you would find yourself dead. No judge, no jury of your peers and no three hots and a cot.

With this freedom comes new found courage. The courage to question the decisions of your leaders, and apparently, the courage to be disrespectful to foreign leaders. Unfortunately, the supposed great people of this country find humor in that.

As most of us have seen, George Bush recently had two shoes thrown at him while conducting a press event with the President of Iraq. In their country, show throwing is a sign of great disrespect to the target. Bush, obviously stunned, did his best to maintain his composure while adding a little levity to the situation.

In our country, our citizens laughed heartily at the spectacle. Someone went as far as to create a flash Internet game where the participant can simulate tossing shoes at Bush. A young lady in my office sent me a link to the game, which apparently has become quite popular. She had added the commentary of "this is hilarious". Really? A game that is created solely on the basis of our President being humiliated and disrespected on the worldwide stage is hilarious?

I'm not sure if this is a sign of changing times, but if it is, it's a change for the tragic. If this is the mentality of the people of this country, it doesn't matter who is in the White House.

The shoe-throwing incident was not a sign of disrespect against Bush. It was a sign of disrespect against our country. If you think it was funny, you're an idiot.

When Iran held our hostages in 1979, there was no disrespecting our country. Not from from abroad and not from within. Can we return to the point where we feel good enough about ourselves to not find humor in our leader being disrespected on the world stage? I certainly hope so, but we've got a long, long way to go.

December 22, 2008

Family Court Consolidation A Reality?

I had the opportunity to catch the Niagara County Legislature's budget meeting from last week on cable. While sifting through the usual politicking, I did catch one very interesting nugget of information from Niagara Falls Legislator Dennis Virtuoso.

Virtuoso has been a critic of budgeting for assigned counsel (since he became a member of the minority and is no longer “responsible” for paying bills). But as any reasonably intelligent person knows, the County is mandated to pay for attorneys for poor persons involved in various family court matters, including custody disputes. Since the County has no control over the number of custody cases filed, it stands to reason that it has no control over the number of cases assigned.

But the County, in the last couple of years, has placed attorneys on staff with a salary to help reduce the number of cases assigned to private attorneys to avoid paying the mandated hourly rate.

One of the difficulties in controlling these expenses is the structure of the family court in Niagara County. There are three family courts in the county. Erie County, on the other hand, has one. We've touched on the need for consolidation of the family courts before, but were stunned to hear Virtuoso state that we have too many family courts and we should consolidate. Why? Because Virtuoso is so parochial in his thinking, we never thought he'd be willing to move family court out of Niagara Falls.

Realistically, there is no reason that we need a family court in Niagara Falls. Virtuoso knows this and I give him credit for having the backbone to acknowledge that consolidation is necessary. The family court in Niagara Falls is a drain on our resources. There is no reason that the people of Niagara Falls can’t drive to the County seat to resolve their family issues on the taxpayer dime.

With both the Minority Leader and the Majority Leader on the same page on this issue, we're hopeful that we see consolidation of the family courts moving forward soon.

December 19, 2008

An Ode To Budget Woes

T’was the week before Christmas,
and all through the city;
All the creatures were stirring,
not with joy, but with pity.

He had taken his oath of office,
as Client 9 fell from grace;
He came with great fanfare,
like the man he’d replace.

But his status was short lived,
his esteem, it had ceased;
As the numbers were crunched,
when his budget was released.

There were no reforms,
few cuts to be made;
Loads of new taxes and fees,
and a boost to welfare aid.

He’s going to tax your cable TV,
he’s going to tax your new shoes;
If you want to get healthy,
he’ll tax your gym dues.

He wants to tax your smokes,
it’ll cost more to drive;
One really has to wonder,
if our state can survive.

His budget gives little hope,
to those who’d like to stay;
In fact it’s worse than that,
he’s driving us away.

So tonight, David,
when it's getting late;
Please turn out the light,
but not on our state.

December 18, 2008

A Little Levity

Q. What do the Buffalo Bills and Billy Graham have in common?
A. They both can make 70,000 people stand up and yell "Jesus Christ .”

Q. What's the difference between the Buffalo Bills and a dollar bill?
A. You can still get four quarters out of a dollar bill.

And my personal favorite.....

Q. What do the Bills and a possum have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

December 17, 2008

Paterson's Sickening Budget

Governor David Paterson has preached his rhetoric of how we all must share the pain with his budget. Well, Paterson obviously forgot to include himself in his slew of cuts, but didn't forget to screw the people of New York with his stunning 137 proposed new and hiked taxes. The $121.1 billion plan represents the biggest tax hike in state history and slashes services across the board while, amazingly, still increasing spending by $1.4 billion.

Everyone will be touched by Paterson's sickening tax increases. The plan includes:

* An "iTunes tax" of 4 percent on videos, music or pictures downloaded from the Internet.
* A 4 percent entertainment tax on tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events.
* The tax on beer increases 24 cents per gallon, or more than double the current rate, which means about 30 cents a case.
* An 18 percent tax on nondiet soft drinks.
* A 4 percent tax on cable TV and satellite services.
* Hiking the cost of "personal" services - including haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages and gym memberships - by 4 percent.
* A 4 percent sales tax on clothing and shoes under $500, except for two weeks out of the year.
* Elimination of the law that caps the state sales tax on gasoline at 8 cents per gallon.
* Boosting the average vehicle registration fee for drivers by $11, from $44 to $55. Fees for new or renewed licenses also would increase 25 percent, or increase from $50 to about $62 to renew a license over eight years.

In addition, all drivers would have to get new, "reflectorized" license plates at a fee of $25 each.

The plan also calls for the state to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, which will drive small businesses out of business.

Paterson has been flying high with his approval ratings. After this fiasco of a budget, which will make the state even less competitive, we should all be getting a serious dose of reality.

December 16, 2008

Source: Big Changes Coming to Sewer District

Fresh over its resounding court victory that clearly established that the Sewer District is just another county department, Niagara County leadership is poised to drastically overhaul the district governing board.

According to sources, the Legislature will NOT just simply whack all the town supervisors and replace them with county legislators as some had expected. Instead, a plan is under consideration that would establish a mix of supervisors, legislators, perhaps civic leaders on the board and make sure there is a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

As one person said to me, "we want to restructure and reform the district and bring some sunshine to their operations, not create a political war between the towns and county."

That being said, creating a mix on the sewer board would still mean that at least some of the current supervisors serving would get the boot, which may not sit well with any of them. Yet, if the supervisors howl too loudly, they could all ultimately get replaced.

One thing is certain: the court decision leaves the supervisors with very little leverage other than try to place nice.

December 15, 2008

Where in the World is Greg Lewis?

All across the country, you are reading stories about how bad our economy is right now and the steps being taken to try to help companies, governments, etc. work their way through it.

Governor Paterson has been sounding the alarm bell for some time and is about to unveil a slash and burn budget. President-elect Obama is preparing the country for some hard times. Government leaders everywhere are parroting former Governor Hugh Carey's famous line: "The days of wine and roses are over."

Yet, here in Niagara County, County Manager Greg Lewis has been silent. Lewis continues his tweedle dee management style that is all about creating a fiefdom for himself while making sure all the really tough decisions get pushed to the Legislature. Lewis likes to tell everyone he runs government except when something controversial comes along. They he can't hide behind the Legislature fast enough.

If Lewis were any sort of leader, he'd be out in front with ideas and plans to significantly restructure the way Niagara County delivers services. Let's be honest, if not for petty politics, we could do major consolidation and save taxpayers a bundle.

But Lewis has yet to pitch one big idea since coming to Niagara County. Maybe, just maybe, I'll give him some credit for divesting the county of Mount View, but that's it.

He is content to rule over the status quo and look for opportunities to expand his kingdom (like his desire for a homeland security department.) The Legislature should be demanding that Lewis put together a list of potential cost savings areas for their consideration. They should demand that he reach out to city and town officials and begin talks on consolidation of services. They should require that his budget reduces departmental spending across the board.

Lewis' saving grace is that the Legislature doesn't do anything of these things. Lewis' contract is up next year and we are going to start zeroing in on his performance and let the people decide whether he deserves and extension.

If that decision had to be made today, the answer would be no.

December 12, 2008

Friday Ruminations

Over the past week or so, we've seen two reports that encourage the consolidation of local governments. First the Suozzi report, which addressed school districts, now AG Andy Cuomo is offering up a plan to eliminate some of the 10,500 local government bodies across the state — such as counties, towns, school districts, authorities and special districts — that can tax and assess fees for everything from town lighting to sewage systems. Erie County leads the state with 1,044 such entities. Niagara County has 92. Let's hope we're not getting more lip service from Suozzi and Cuomo. Of course, if someone would like to make an argument as to why we need two Wilsons and two Lewistons in the county, I'm all eyes.

Congratulations to the Niagara Falls School Board for having the guts to do what few other districts in the area, or in this state, have the stomach for: Cutting staff in light of declining enrollment. As opposed to my district, which has increased personnel significantly over the past 10 years while enrollment has plummeted.

National Dems are questioning the qualifications of Caroline Kennedy to Senate. Other than coming from the most corrupt political family in the history of this country, I can't quite see what would qualify her either.

I had to chuckle when I read the Buffalo News headline earlier this week. The headline read, "Bills’ Toronto venture fails to rouse passions of Canadian fans". I can assure you, the Bills disgraceful performance didn't do much to rouse passion in American fans either. Stop the BS, fire the most inept NFL coach since Rich Kotite, and try to do something to salvage this dying franchise.

Governor David Paterson now has 10 days to sign or veto a bill requiring the state to begin collecting taxes on sales of cigarettes by Indian retailers to non-Indians. It is estimated that the tax would generate $400 million in revenue for the much-depleted state coffers. Although signing the legislation is absolutely the right thing to do for so many reasons, we're going to go out on a limb and say Paterson doesn't have the will to pull the trigger.

Thank you to the Buffalo News for acknowledging us in Tuesday's "As Niagara Falls" section of the paper. The piece about Greg Lewis' politicking lead to a few email that may take this situation to entirely different level. Stay tuned.

Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek is the guest speaker at the Albany County GOP's fundraiser next week. Wojtaszek also is part of a spread on the national egopnews website in the New York section.

From a political perspective the turmoil in Albany related to who will retain the Senate majority and the gang of three is fascinating stuff. Word now is that the Dems are planning a coup to oust current minority leader, and presumed to be majority leader, Malcolm Smith.

Rezko + Blagojevich = Obama. May the truth set you free, Barack.

December 11, 2008

What The Bleep?

An allegation that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich conspired to sell President-elect Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder isn't the only shocker contained in the 76-page criminal complaint unveiled by the FBI on Tuesday.

Excerpts of tape-recorded conversations between the governor, his wife and various advisers contained in the complaint showed Blagojevich frequently using language that would have made Chicago's own Al Capone blush as he allegedly plotted to use public office for private gain.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the poker-faced federal prosecutor heading the case, used the word "bleep" several times as he gave details of the expletive-laced conversations during a news conference announcing corruption charges against Blagojevich.

Talking about Blagojevich's alleged effort to get a person benefiting from a $1.8 billion tollway project to raise $100,000 for him, Fitzgerald said the governor told an aide: "'I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they would perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, bleep 'em.' That's a quote. And the word 'bleep' was not the word he used.'"
The document cited by Fitzgerald gave other details, this time using the word 'expletive,', rather than 'bleep.'

"I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I'm saying. And if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself," the governor allegedly said of filling the U.S. Senate seat, speaking with a person identified only as Advisor A the day before the November 4 election that Obama won.

A Senate seat, "is a (expletive) valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing," the document cited him as saying.

Blagojevich is meant to fill the Senate seat that Obama vacated soon after his election win. Both men are Democrats, although Obama had long kept his distance from the governor of his home state.

A week after the election, the charges cite a conversation with his chief of staff, John Harris, in which Blagojevich said he knew that backers of Obama wanted "Senate Candidate 1" for the open seat but "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. 'Bleep' them."
Fitzgerald said there was no evidence of any discussions between Obama and Blagojevich on the open Senate seat.

Obama also told reporters: "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. But as I said it is a sad day for Illinois."

According to the document, Blagojevich was similarly forceful in his language when speaking about how he wanted to see his editorial critics on the Chicago Tribune newspaper fired.
The charges against Blagojevich weren't about the swearing, of course.

But it was all reminiscent of the transcripts of tapes of former President Richard Nixon's Oval Office conversations that surfaced during the 1970s Watergate scandal. The one phrase from those transcripts that everyone recalls?

"Expletive deleted."

From www.newsmax.com

December 10, 2008

Senate Dems Disastrous Start

For decades, the Republican Party has held the Senate chamber of New York state government. The Democrats have been just as dominant in holding the Assembly, and the Governor's seat has had its share of representatives from both parties.

But it was with a vengeance that the Dems sought to control all three legislative bodies, picking off Republican senators over the past several election cycles, until this year, when the Democrats finally got what they were looking for: A majority in the state Senate. Coupled with the Democratically controlled Assembly and a Democratic governor, they would now, heading into 2009, control the three bodies.

Election night was jubilant for the state Dem party. But over the past five weeks, that jubilation has turned to humiliation. The renegade "gang of three", who apparently have their loyalty for sale to the highest bidder, have seen their agreement with presumed Majority Leader Malcolm Smith fall to pieces in a most public way.

Smith, who as you may recall would not cross a picket line of women to enter a Niagara County Democratic Party fundraiser earlier this year after allegations of abuse by the party chairman, has failed miserably as a leader, before actually assuming his leadership position. Within his party, Smith is walking on thin ice. He brokered a deal with the gang of three before actually letting the other members of his caucus know the terms of the deal.

His ineptitude in guiding the Senate Dems through this transition period has been nothing short of disastrous, and there appears to be little relief in sight.

Some people are born into greatness, some people have greatness thrust upon them. Malcolm Smith promised the world, including Buffalo-area Bill Stachowski's appointment as Chair of the powerful Finance Committee. Not only has he failed to keep the most basic of promises that he made within his party, he has sold out his own caucus to retain his personal power base. That's not greatness, Malcolm, that's an egotistical man who is driven by absolute power. Get over yourself and start working for the betterment of the people of this state. We deserve that much.

December 9, 2008

This Is Tourism?

New York's $13 billion tourism industry is a critical part of our Upstate economy, providing jobs and paychecks for more than 150,000 workers north of the New York City line, according to the state Labor Department.

Tourism is already New York's second biggest industry and, according to one study, increased travel spending could actually rescue Upstate NY from its economic malaise brought on by the decades-long decline of our economic mainstay -- manufacturing.

So with tourism so important to the Upstate economy, why would newly empowered Senate Democrats choose a lawmaker from the South Bronx to be the industry's champion?

Presumed Senate leader Malcolm Smith of Queens yesterday announced that Sen. Jose Serrano will be the chairman of the Senate committee on tourism when the Democrats assume power on Jan. 1. The post is currently held by retiring (but tireless) Buffalo-area GOP Sen. Mary Lou Rath.

Serrano represents one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country - Mott Haven - industrial Port Morris, Manhattan's East Harlem and other tumble down Bronx neighborhoods. The only "tourists" to his district crowd into Yankee Stadium some 80 days each year, straying beyond the stadium perimeter just long enough to find their cars and escape after the game to Connecticut, New Jersey and points north and east.

Of course, with only five Democrat Senators living north of Westchester, Smith had a limited field of Upstate lawmakers from which to choose.

For a leader from Queens, to the south and east of the Bronx, Mott Haven (below) might just look like Upstate.

December 8, 2008

Black Caucus

This story starts out with, "Rep. John Lewis jokingly says he'll try to resist calling Barack Obama "Brother President" after he's sworn in as the nation's first African-American president on January 20." Lewis, obviously, is also black. Could you imagine if that comment was made by a white congressman? There'd be rioting in the streets.

The story goes on to say that "Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are still giddy that Obama, a caucus member when he was a senator, is about to become the 44th president of the United States".

Now, we've touched on this topic before, how we believe that it's disgraceful that blacks can get away with having a "black caucus", but God forbid if there was a white caucus, there would be hell to pay. When we discussed it before, someone by the name of John Restaino said I need to come explain myself on his show. Who he is and what show he has, I have no idea.

But with all of the articles I've searched, I've never seen anyone who can defend this. Whites are accused of racism all of the time, but it's blacks that have chosen create this divide by their multitudes of race-based groups. There is not a NAAWP. There is no United White College Fund. And there is no white caucus in Congress.

Why is this acceptable? Why is this blatant double standard of racism allowed to not only continue, but to grow?

We wish Barack Obama all the best in his efforts. But if he were truly a leader, he would address the black community and enlighten them to the fact that these race-based groupings only allow racism to become more pervasive. Dump Affirmative Action, Brother President. Oh shit, I can't say that; I'm not black.

December 5, 2008

Friday Ruminations

A word of advice to the Buffalo Sabres, go out and get Sean Avery. He is THE guy that you despise when he's on the other team, but love him when he's on yours. So he makes some bizarre remarks; it's better than being the most boring team in hockey.

I've taken my share of econ classes throughout my years. This masquerade of thousands of auto industry workers losing their jobs is ludicrous. The Big Three can file for "bankruptcy protection". This allows the companies to continue to produce while voiding those disgustingly overgenerous union contracts. I've seen no changes to the Big Three's business model that would entice me to support giving these people billions. So the union is giving up job banks. Woopdeefreakindoo. Bring your labor costs down to the $44/hour of Toyota in the U.S. from the current $70+. Otherwise, you'll be going the way of the dinosaur, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

As we've previously prognosticated, unions are already gearing up for the pending battle over the state fiscal budget for 2009-’10.

The Lockport School District, my school district, has been gouging taxpayers according to the results of an audit by the state comptroller's office. It's bad enough that they overtaxed the people of the community, but my biggest fear is what's going to be the union's reaction when they find out that the district has millions of extra dollars on hand. There is no doubt that they will be coming to the negotiating table with huge expectations. And Superintendent Terry Carbone needs to hire a PR specialist, because she is a disaster when it comes to dealing with the media.

Guv. David Paterson has named a panel of advisers to guide him through the Hillary replacement process. Shockingly, there isn't an Upstater among them.

Many of the local message boards are flooded with comments about NF cop Ryan Warme. If the allegations are true, I hope he gets what he gave 1,000 times over. He doesn't deserve the punishment that the average criminal would get. His violation of the public's trust requires that his punishment be significantly more severe. Personally, I say cut his nuts off, but that's just one person's opinion.

Have a nice weekend, enjoy the Toronto Bills.

December 4, 2008

No Hope in HOPE VI

There has been much discussion related to the HOPE VI project in Niagara Falls. We've posted about the fact that millions in casino revenue, dollars obligated to support economic development projects, will be diverted to fund this low-income housing project. In addition, there have been newspaper articles and radio shows dedicated to the fact that this land is currently contaminated with incinerator ash.

What hasn't seemed to gain traction is the fact that this project now has a price tag approaching $80 million. That would be $80,000,000 to build 282 low-income housing units at Center Court. Now, my momma didn't raise no math major, but a quick grab of my calculator tells me that those units will cost over $280,000 a piece to construct. That is simply staggering and appalling all rolled into one.

With that amount of money, the administrators of these funds could buy 282 $100,000 houses, invest $100,000 in renovations into those homes and have plenty left to furnish them. Better yet, instead of creating 282 low-income housing "units", how about utilizing that $80 million to buy 1,000 homes for low income families in Niagara Falls. Maybe inspiring people to take some pride in home ownership would reduce the sickening number of decrepit residences in the city.

With HOPE VI, there is no hope. It does nothing but keep poor people in a centralized area. Where is the hope in that? It's like the old saying: Catch a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Building low income housing units does nothing to build character and self esteem. Owning your home, in most cases, does.

Someone in the Cataract City, besides Ken Hamilton, needs to step up and say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. This project is a disaster. Do something to inspire pride in your community. Give people real hope.

December 3, 2008

School District Consolidation

It was with much fanfare that the Suozzi report on school property taxes was released this week. Unfortunately, it does little to address real solutions needed to alleviate our tax burden. School districts continue to engage in runaway spending, while taxpayers have little or no control over these egregious spending habits.

What the Suozzi report does address is the merging of school districts. Suozzi recommends forced merger of school districts with fewer than 1000 students. Niagara County has none.

But the Suozzi Commission also favors giving the State Education Department the power to require mergers of districts under 2000. According to these 2006-07 enrollment figures from SED, 4 of 10 of Niagara's districts fit that bill: Barker, Newfane, Roy Hart & Wilson. Since it's safe to assume that each of their superintendent's compensation packages approach $200,000 per year, we're talking about saving the taxpayers of Niagara County millions of dollars over the life of these superintendents current contracts by consolidating districts and eliminating the duplication.

There are currently over 700 school districts in the state.






NIAGARA COUNTY
Enrollment


Barker
1,008


Lewiston Porter
2,327


Lockport
5,177


Newfane
1,966


Niagara Falls
7,518


Niagara Wheatfield
4,069


North Tonawanda
4,293


Royalton Hartland
1,567


Star Point
2,844


Wilson
1,450


10 DISTRICTS
32,219


December 2, 2008

Greg Lewis Plays Politics

We've done little to hide our disdain for Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis. He's aloof, unrefined and a public relations disaster. But, we have given him credit when deserved for the positive things he's done for the county. We also respect, at least the appearance of, Lewis' ability to not allow his personal political beliefs to become public fodder. After all, it's vitally important for someone in his position to not allow his personal political feelings to infiltrate his actions as county manager.

Now, there has been speculation that Lewis is either an Independent or a Democrat. He was hired by the Democratic majority in 2003. Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, when Lewis had threatened to leave his position in 2006, stated that “I think this is really going to hurt Niagara County. He’s a class act.”

Later in 2006, after Lewis stated he would not be back, the Leg moved on with their search for his replacement. Lewis backtracked and presented the Leg with his contract for their approval. The Leg, having prepared to move on without Lewis, would allow him to participate in the interview process. Virtuoso responded by stating, “I think they should make (Lewis) the offer first....it’s a slap in the face to Greg Lewis”.

It's been presumed that Lewis, if not a Dem, is certainly in the good graces of the Democrats. (As a side note, it is curious that the county unions continue to support Virtuoso and the Democrats in the Leg when Virtuoso so easily dumps heaps of praise on Lewis, the worst enemy the county unions have ever encountered.)

While the public may speculate on Lewis' political beliefs, it's been just that, speculation, which is exactly how it should be. That's why the discovery of Lewis' overtly political activities is so disconcerting.

As part of Barack Obama's campaign, he encouraged supporters to participate in community blogs. Greg Lewis, our supposedly apolitical county manager, has one. In it, he makes comments such as "I am proud to be a Obama person - I am with you Senator 110%!", "I am so proud of Barack and Michele and I am so proud of all Obama people - a United States of America people! The last time I felt so good was my college student campaign working in Nebraska for Bobby Kennedy in 1968!" and "I am compelled to act to do what part I can do for all of us to go with Barack".

Now, we believe in freedom of speech and everything that is associated with such rights. But if you are going to work on the public's dime, in a position that requires you to remain apolitical, in a position that you yourself have stated the importance of remaining politically neutral, you give up your right to engage overt political support. Stating that you supported Bobby Kennedy in 1968 is indicative of your political leanings. Creating and participating in a community blog for one candidate is a violation of the public's trust.

Even more disconcerting is Lewis' financial support. According to this site, Lewis has given $704 to the campaign of Obama, $704 of his taxpayer funded salary. Most offensive is that Lewis' occupation is listed with the contribution. So anyone, anywhere, can pull up that site and see that the County Manager from Niagara County donated $704 to Obama. It would not be a stretch for people to assume that, as the Manager for Niagara County, his beliefs are representative of the people of this community. This is far from an objective appearance, and an absolute impropriety for anyone who must, at minimum, exude the appearance of political ambiguity.

Possibly the most offensive statement made is "I am so proud of all Obama people". The problem with this declaration is the fact that John McCain pulled 49.5% of the vote in Niagara County. So if Lewis is so proud of the Obama people, what is he saying about the other half of the people of this county, the ones who also contribute to his significant salary, health insurance and retirement package? I'll tell you what he's saying: He's saying "you suck and you're a moron for not supporting my guy".

As we alluded to, when you take a position such as a county manager, certain things are expected of you. One of those things is to stay out of politics. Lewis, who often espouses that he despises politics, has not only not stayed out of politics, he's jumped in with both feet. This is unequivocally unacceptable. For some who supposedly prides himself on holding others accountable, it's time someone in county government starts holding Lewis accountable. We deserve no less.

December 1, 2008

Laptops For Legislators

We don't call out the Niagara County Legislature often because, despite the misdirected rantings of a couple of ill-informed newspaper people, the county is well run. Taxes are going down for the third straight year, services are being maintained and the Legislature is continuing to downsize county government. That is exactly what I want from my government.

When it comes to perks, the county is bare bones. We've alluded to the fact that in Niagara County, legislators only make $15,000 per year. There are no paid staffers, other than a couple in the legislative clerk's office who serve all legislators, as opposed to our neighbors to the south in Erie County who make $45,000, with taxpayer subsidized district offices and staff.

But the premise of supplying each legislator with taxpayer funded laptop computers, as being considered by legislator Pete Smolinksi, is ludicrous. While we commend the county's efforts to contain expenses, this is one that we cannot support.

Smolinski says that having a laptop will reduce the massive amounts of paperwork legislators get because they can pick and choose what they want to print. You need a laptop for that? Wouldn't a desktop serve the same purpose? And in this day and age, what legislator doesn't have at least a desktop?

If you need a laptop to make you a more effective and efficient legislator, go buy one. My employer didn't pay for a laptop for me, but I went and bought one myself. My laptop, case and jump drive came to under $600. With the 12 months interest free financing, it was $50 a month. Legislator's pay is $1,255 a month. Suck it up and buy your own.

With the state and country, as well as many of the people of this community facing significant financial crisis, now is not the time to even be considering this.