Solve derelict housing problem by teaching demolition skills
Re Feb. 23 article, “A housing headache”: I’m wondering if there could be a silver lining to this dark cloud of buildings foreclosed by the city and that need expensive repair the city cannot afford. I think lot of boys of all ages would have a ball tearing down a building and then having the vacant lot become a place for recreation for them to play basketball, etc.
Vacant lots can serve so many purposes to the community, even as community gardens.
First, once all electricity and natural gas has been disconnected, perhaps a demolition expert could offer a class to teens, or any people in the neighborhood with time on their hands, or volunteer groups, to learn about the demolition process. Hopefully, the necessary tools and Dumpsters could be donated. I’d like to think that many of the local people would volunteer and be happy to have something to do that would be directly beneficial to them.
Yes, demolition by hand would take a lot longer than a machine, but that serves a purpose in itself by giving people something beneficial to do with their time.
One might say that by having volunteers do the work that it would create a liability for the city should someone get hurt. Couldn’t volunteers sign a waiver? I personally see a lot more liability to the city by having these buildings just stand there, aside from the possibility of crime or fire, thus cost and endangerment for our police force and firemen.
The only way to clean up the neighborhood is to demolish eyesores and buildings that simply become a haven for criminals and undesirables, and then to create space for the neighborhood to all enjoy.
Privatizing bus service can save schools money
Michael Goot’s Feb. 12 article, “Officials discuss closing schools,” is a painful reminder of the fiscal crisis facing many of our schools today. The balancing act of having to make extremely difficult financial choices while continuing to provide what is most important to all of us — the education of our children.
Unfortunately, Niskayuna’s struggles are not unusual in this day and age of budget cuts and taxpayer angst. The district should, however, be commended for its exploration of common-sense cost savings measures that will not have a negative impact on student services.
One, in particular, being explored by the district, is making a transition from a district-run pupil transportation system to one operated by a private pupil transportation operator. At an annual cost of over $4 million per year, more than 5 percent of the district’s annual budget, these costs are significant. Making the switch could save the district 20 percent or more on their transportation costs without sacrificing reliability or safety. That’s close to $1 million per year in savings, enough to prevent the closure of two of the district’s elementary schools or the Van Antwerp Middle School.
School districts across New York have already reduced transportation costs by an estimated $200 million a year by switching to private school bus operators. Yet, many other school districts continue to provide their own busing at a greater expense.
The New York School Bus Contractors Association has proposed legislation to help cash-strapped school districts, including Niskayuna, save even more money by allowing districts that switch to a private school bus operator to keep all unused transportation aid for up to five years for whatever important educational needs they have.
Another savings idea supported by the NYSBCA is eliminating the sales taxes on school buses — taxes that ironically are being paid by school districts and state government. The repeal of this tax would apply to school buses, parts, maintenance, and fuel used to transport school children — learn more at www.nysbca.com.
Both initiatives would help put back an estimated $100 million in our classrooms, where it really belongs.
The writer is president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association.
Ballston board members did not put farms first
When [Town Board members] Tim Szczepaniak, Mary Beth Hynes and Bill Goslin refused to allow residents of Ballston a chance to purchase the Cappiello Farm last fall, many were heart-broken. They would not look us in the eye as they refused to save the farm from development and return it to its agricultural roots.
Between the insults hurled at the family and the harassment, their inaction nixed a deal that had been a win-win for everyone. So much for Farms First! We thought we’d lost the farm, literally.
Farms First really means “initiation and expansion of farms and agricultural practices.” We welcome a business which fits that goal, but we wish our elected officials did too. Buckley Farms’ purchase of Cappiello Farm saved the hides of these officials and will restore the land to active farming, preventing developers from building more unneeded houses and apartments. I could not ask for more.
As a fourth-generation farmer in the town of Ballston, I welcome Buckley Farms to the community of farming. Our town began with farming over 200 years ago and, to quote Town Historian Rick Reynolds, “farming and all the businesses that grow from it continued to play a large role in the community into the 20th century.”
Ask anyone who has moved to Ballston in the last 50 years and they will tell you it’s because of the beautiful countryside and good schools.
One thing you don’t need to tell a farmer: Watch out for the fox in the hen house.
The writer is the deputy town supervisor.
‘Second rate’ not in military, but other areas
As he departed, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned against allowing the automatic spending cuts associated with “sequestration.”
Panetta said that such cuts to defense programs could quickly turn the United States “into a second-rate power.” Panetta’s concern about the United States turning into a “second rate (military) power” is ironic from two perspectives.
First, with sequestration cuts to defense spending, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects a $547 billion baseline defense budget in 2013; $509 billion in 2014; $508 billion in 2015; $520 billion in 2016; and $526 billion in 2017.
Even at these “reduced” levels, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) data shows that U.S. defense spending would still exceed the combined expenditures of the next top 10 defense spenders. Therefore, under sequestration the United States would obviously not become a second-rate military power.
Second, when we examine our nation’ ranking in areas relating to education performance, health outcomes and gun violence, we might conclude that we are indeed becoming a second-rate nation.
Consider the following examples. Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment shows that the United States ranks 33rd among nations in student mathematics performance and 21st in science performance.
According to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United States ranks 40th among nations in life expectancy and 34th in infant mortality rates.
Finally, World Health Organization and Organization of American States data shows that among developed countries, the United States has the highest rate of firearm-related deaths.
Perhaps we should be more concerned about improving education and health outcomes, and reducing gun violence, and less concerned about reductions in defense spending.
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