By Dick Downey Local Commentary
The Daily Star
---- — In a flurry of letters to the editor last week, Sustainable Otsego unfurled its banner in support of its candidates.
It read, “Fracking Is Bad," in spite of the fact that 90 percent of all new wells in the USA are fracked (yes, your car is probably running on a fracked product), the switch in electrical generation from coal to gas has reduced CO2 emissions United States to a 20-year low, the up-tick in natural gas supports 2.1 million industry jobs, manufacturing has returned to the Rust Belt, the United States has surpassed Russia as the world’s largest producer of energy, and even the leadership in the current administration, along with the EPA and the Energy Department, support development.
However, all politics is local, so let’s look at Otsego County. What does Sustainable Otsego bring to the table?
The County has a $7 million budget shortfall. Taxes are continually rising. For those unable to pay taxes, the recent tax lien auction sold 57 properties at disappointing prices. For those hanging on, there is a huge overhang of unsold houses. Most of the job offerings are part-time and/or dead end.
If upstate New York were a state, it would rank second-lowest in the nation in the in-migration of a 25 to 40 year cohort. In other words, young people aren’t coming here to live.
Why should they? The City of Oneonta’s median household income is about $33,500. In comparison, perennially poor Mississippi’s median is $37,100. While Otsego County’s median, as a whole, is higher than Oneonta's, it is still well below the New York State median.
With fewer adults in their child bearing years coming here to work, school enrollments have dropped 18 percent over the last 10 years. However, with unfunded mandates, school budgets remain high (and in trouble). There’s been no growth in population in 10 years. The population ages.
Sustainable Otsego foresees a “viable and sustainable future” by somehow magically creating light industry, organic farms and niche farming, bed-and-breakfasts and alternative energy. Nothing wrong with any of these endeavors but where’s the data that shows this preferred “wish list” economic segment will be drawn to our county, and if drawn, will have the heft to pull us out of our hard times?
In point of fact, this model has been on the books for almost a decade since the Otsego County Economic Development Planning Initiative was inaugurated in 2005. Read it and see how many of the specific objectives/visions have been realized. None. There have been a few individual success stories (they make headlines in the papers) but nothing substantive to halt the downward spiral. You can have studies, forums, grants, subsidies and member items but unless conditions align for economic growth, you’re blowing smoke.
People in business know New York’s problems. They are high taxes, high energy costs and over-regulation. Lower these, and entrepreneurs will take care of themselves.
Sustainable Otsego is on the wrong side of every one of these issues, particularly energy. Leaving aside the issue of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking will be settled in the courts, the legislature, and/or the governor’s office), Sustainable Otsego and its cohorts oppose gas. Period.
They oppose transmission of gas through the Constitution Pipeline. They oppose the construction of distribution pipelines such as the Leatherstocking. They oppose the use of liquid natural gas for stranded facilities such as Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown.
It doesn’t matter where it comes from, they’re against it. Never mind that gas would save the residents and businesses in Otsego County millions of dollars. Literally M-I-L-L-I-O-N-S of dollars. That’s real dollars we’re talking about, the monthly heating and cooking bill at home: heat for the hospital, the school, the office, the plant at work. Sustainable Otsego will have none of it.
New businesses read the papers to look into community attitudes when they are looking to relocate. What message would they get from Sustainable Otsego?
As ideological one-trick ponies, Sustainable Otsego candidates have mastered the art of ignoring facts and reality. Should they succeed in electing a majority on the Otsego County Board of Representatives, you may as well take the “Do Not Resuscitate” sign from Bassett Hospital and hang it on the Otsego County doorknob. No Business Need Apply.
A low turnout in an off-year election presents Sustainable Otsego with an opportunity to slip into a position of power. Only your vote can prevent this from happening.
DICK DOWNEY is a member of the Unatego Area Landowners Association.