Letters to the Editor for May 23
Schoharie County can’t afford creek stabilization project
Re May 19 article, “County to back flood repairs to creeks, streams”: At their meeting May 18, the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors committed millions in local taxpayers’ dollars in an attempt to “stabilize” eroded stream banks throughout the county.
These stream banks are on private property, and they often adjoin town roads — not county roads. The total cost is expected to be almost $24 million, with Schoharie County taxpayers holding the bag for as much as $6 million of that amount.
The county has absolutely no legal obligation to undertake this very expensive project — stream banks are not a county responsibility — but the board voted to do it anyway, despite concerns I raised about our already battered ability to pay for this project.
Here is the way these things usually work: The sponsoring municipality, in this case Schoharie County, is expected to pay the contractors for all of the work as it is completed. Then, after the contractors are paid in full, the county will be able to apply for partial reimbursement from the federal government. That means that humble Schoharie County (we’re the fourth smallest county in the state) will need to come up with $24 million over the next few months and pay it out to contractors to do work on private property.
Then we will have to wait anywhere from six to 18 months to get back $18 million — potentially leaving us $6 million “in the hole.” All for something that we don’t own and have no responsibility for.
There are several problems with this plan, not the least of which is how do we come up with the $24 million in the first place? Our county, debt-free prior to Hurricane Irene, borrowed $10 million last December in order to make up-front payments to contractors for road and bridge repairs on county-owned flood-damaged highways. That money is long gone, the debt remains unpaid, and we are still waiting for state and federal reimbursements.
Our flood-ravaged county jail and county office building both sit unrepaired and unoccupied, and we will have to come up with many millions more in up-front money just to have them rebuilt.
Obviously, we don’t have $24 million sitting around. I think it is unlikely that a bank will now loan us that amount (1.5 times our total annual property tax levy) to perform stream bank stabilization on properties that don’t even belong to us. And even if they do lend us the money, and after we eventually receive partial reimbursement from Washington — that still leaves the question of how do we repay the balance of the $6 million still owed and yet stay within the limits of the mandated 2 percent property tax cap?
I believe this action by the Board of Supervisors was well-intentioned, but ill-considered. Instead of taking immediate action by voting to take this project on, they should have at least given my office a chance to evaluate the long-term financial impact to county government, and they certainly should have found out exactly what our final costs would be.
Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone tried to get the other members of the board to wait until the funding for the project was secured, but in their haste to move forward, the supervisors passed the motion unanimously. I am afraid they have made a commitment that the taxpayers simply cannot afford, and they have done it at a time when we are already in financial distress. I recommend they reconvene as quickly as possible and re-evaluate the full impact and fiscal implications of their decision.
William E. Cherry
The writer is county treasurer and budget officer.
Shooting terror suspects so much easier, cheaper
I read with dismay that the House passed a defense bill that also included provisions to combat terrorism (May 19 AP article, “Defense bill’s passage defies deal”). Unfortunately, these provisions are clearly too weak and, in addition, will only add to our mounting federal deficit.
The article states that the House “reaffirmed the indefinite detention of ‘suspected’ terrorists, even of U.S. citizens captured on American soil.” Here is what troubles me: First, although this allows us to cage these “suspected” terrorists (theoretically for the rest of their lives), they nevertheless remain suspect. It’s altogether possible that they continue to harbor terroristic thoughts and motives. They thus remain a potential threat. Furthermore, caging these suspected terrorists costs money, and lots of it. It’s expensive to keep someone indefinitely in detention — feeding, guarding, housing. This only adds to our mounting federal deficit.
Our lawmakers should take a more progressive approach. They might do well to take a lesson from Syria’s Bashar Assad, who continues to assert that the civil unrest in Syria is the work of terrorists. Put some teeth into the law and shoot on sight!
Suspected terrorist? Pow, blow ‘em away. The cost of feeding, housing and guarding these suspects? Gone! Terrorist threat? Poof! All for the expense of a few bullets. Certainly a job for Homeland Security if ever I have seen one.
As [Sen.] Barry Goldwater said in 1964, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Mr. Goldwater would be proud of how far we’ve come.
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