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November 1, 2013
by Mark Mutkowski
The unfunded mandates Gregg Bresner writes about have been a clear issue now for at least a decade and the solution to the problem will require sacrifice from all constituents, but we are not even in a conversation at this point, we are just kicking the can. Any town board absolutely does need to have a strategy for dealing with the New York State, not just throwing its hands up.
The nature of the conversation is unpleasant. Unfortunately, everyone in any job (public or private) is going to have to pay an increasing portion of their health benefits and is also going to have to contribute more and more of their salary to fund retirement. It is a simple fact that the money will run out down the road without Madoff-like returns from here on out.
Gregg is really just making statements of unpleasant facts and backing them up with data. Ultimately the public sector has to confront this. Every town should be part of the conversation in Albany, and if enough of them were, something would get done. I think some new blood in town hall would figure out how to get its message across and maybe recruit some other towns in the region to do the same. Grass roots efforts need some thought leaders and agitators. This is a marketing challenge—that is effectively what lobbying is. I think Team New Castle will be pretty good at that.
The data seems pretty black and white—there has been a failure of the current and past town boards to contain controllable spending. While the data may be black and white, solutions are always more nuanced. The school board has done an admirable job of controlling spending and this has required the cooperation of the teachers union. This should not be the kind of “us versus them” kind of conversation that some commentators have suggested. Nevertheless, there are probably some hard decisions that will have to be made, and not everyone will come out of it happy. Such is the environment we find ourselves in, strangled by the mandates in a lackluster growth environment.
This brings me to the last piece of the puzzle, which is growth. Growth is something our town has been lacking for some time. The downtown needs attention. The botched redo of the triangle and the lack of traffic lights (which could have been tastefully done on decorative polls instead of overhanging) should be fixed. How many wasted hours a year do our residents spend in unnecessary traffic downtown? How many wasted tax dollars are spent on directing traffic? How many people avoid town during certain hours because it takes too long to get back and forth?
I think some new blood in town hall would be better equipped to figure out how to stimulate the right growth in our town, and the downtown should be the center of gravity. The current town board’s efforts seem misplaced and misguided. Misguided by an ancient master plan, and misplaced due to years of insular thinking. If that is what experience gets you, I will vote for some new blood.
Sometimes you have to ruffle some feathers to get your message across and while I don’t agree with everything that has been said in the campaign by Team New Castle, and I have even cringed on occasion, I agree with a lot more than I have heard from the other side (which has also had its own cringe-worthy moments). The incumbents are well intentioned, but they are stuck in a rut and I believe Team New Castle brings a higher level of energy and creativity that will expand the boundaries of what is possible in our town.
Mark Mutkowski is a 15-year resident of New Castle.