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Water Pressure

Albany councilman calls for greater oversight as Albany’s Water Board and Finance Authority proposes to increase rates for the fifth time in seven years

 

Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) wants state Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and state Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany) to introduce legislation that would create a financial-control board to oversee the Albany Water Board and Finance Authority. Calsolaro’s move comes after the water board’s financial advisor recommended the board increase residential rates by 6 percent, which would equal an increase of $30 for most average users. This increase would be the fifth rate hike in the past seven years.

In 2005, state Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s investigation into the water board found that the board was “very poorly run.” In 1999, the board had a $1.8 million surplus, but was in debt $10.7 million by 2004. Hevesi’s findings concluded that “there were no controls on operating expenses, which have increased rapidly, growing 34 percent from $12.5 million in 1999 to $16.7 million in 2003. There was absolutely no relationship between the capital budget and actual capital costs. For example, three capital projects were budgeted for $205,000 and actually cost $6 million.” The investigation also found that “water rates increased 25 percent over just two years, 2002 and 2003.”

Calsolaro said he is outraged by what he sees as the board’s inability to “straighten out their finances.” Calsoalaro said he feels one of the reasons the board has to raise the rates in Albany is because of a $7 million deal it made to lease the Six Mile Waterworks from the city of Albany in 2003. Calsolaro insisted, then and now, that the deal was made to infuse the city of Albany’s coffers with cash to avoid a property-tax increase. “It doesn’t make for good fiscal management,” Calsolaro said. “The water board is supposed to be separate authority and yet it is being managed through the same people.”

The water board now owes the city of Albany $9 million, down from $11 million. However, in 2009, the city’s annual debt payments will skyrocket from $3 million a year to $5 million a year.

Breslin indicated to Metroland that he would be receptive to the idea of an oversight board, and said, “Dominick’s heart is in the right place.”

McEneny seemed less receptive of Calsolaro’s plan but said he would consider it. McEneny noted that Albany’s water infrastructure is simply expensive to maintain. “There were literally wooden water pipes in it. The infrastructure literally goes back to the middle of 19th century, and the prognosis is that to keep up it is a costly system.”

Although he could not be reached for this article, board chairman Anthony Ferrara has publicly stated that the board has reduced overtime, personnel and equipment costs for the 2008 budget by $1 million.

Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) is incensed by the idea of a water-rate increase and insists the Albany Common Council has let the issue slide for too long.

“The reasoning for raising rates is to pay off debt; three years ago they were raised because they were in debt,” said Ellis. “We need to take a look at that. I think it keeps sliding under the radar, but we are the legislative body of Albany’s government, and if we are not prepared to hold a department accountable for mismanagement, for missteps, then we aren’t doing our job.”

A public hearing on the proposed rate increase will be held at the Common Council chambers in Albany City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Any change in rates likely would not occur until mid-March.

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Taking a Wide Stance for Privacy

Thirty-eight years ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that people who engage in sexual activity in bathroom stalls “have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Armed with that ruling, the ACLU has filed a brief in support of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Craig was charged this past summer for inference with privacy after allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover officer in a bathroom in the Minneapolis airport. The ACLU is arguing that the state cannot prove that Craig’s sexual advances would have drawn other people’s attention or otherwise been a public nuisance.

One Year Older, None the Wiser

After a tour of Guantanamo Bay, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that he would like to see the controversial prison shuttered. Mullen was touring Gitmo just days after the prison rounded its sixth year in operation. Apparently, the new chairman recognizes the probable damage caused to America’s reputation by the string of suicide attempts, hunger strikes, and prisoner deaths at Gitmo. “I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us,” he told the reporters, “that it’s been pretty damaging.” However, he added that he is not aware of any plans to close the prison.

New Hampshire Redux

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has said in recent weeks that he is suspicious of the New Hampshire primary vote because of “credible” reports he has heard that early hand-counted totals favored Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) while the computer count went in favor of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Polls had put Obama in a double-digit lead. This Wednesday, Kucinich put his money where his mouth is and paid to start a recount of ballots. Kucinich only garnered about 2 percent of the vote, and does not expect his total to get any better during the recount.

Congratulations! psych!

On Tuesday the New Hampshire Republican Party sent out a press release that read, “In a close-fought victory, Senator John McCain succeeded again [in] the Michigan Republican primary, winning over a traditionally unpredictable voter base in Michigan.” The problem was, he did not win. Mitt Romney, Michigan’s native son, did.



Something You’re Not Telling Me?

The North Greenbush Town Board transition team made its recommendation for appointments, and Charles Smith wants to know who was on that team

 

No time was wasted this year before the Freedom of Information requests began to fly in North Greenbush.

Charles “CB” Smith, longtime Rensselaer County gadfly and North Greenbush Democratic Committee member, has lodged a formal request for information regarding the makeup of the transition team that made recommendations to the town board about recent appointments.

“We had a transition team with input from about 10 or 12 people,” says Supervisor Mark Evers, “with four people who were the decision makers. But, ultimately, the board is the one who acted on the recommendations, and appointed people into the positions. And we did that in public, at the organizational meeting.”

The transition team went through resumes and made recommendations, but, Evers said, “it is obviously the five board members that makes the final decision.”

Although the work of the transition team had an apparent impact on the town, Evers said that the names of the members of the team are a private matter. Smith, along with former town attorney Josh Sabo, wonders why the names of the transition team aren’t being made public.

“The question is: who are they?” Smith asked. “Where is [Evers’] sense of responsibility to open government? Two years ago, he put out a press release with his fellow councilmen announcing his transition team. There was transparency. What has changed? What is he hiding? Who is he hiding? That’s a better question.”

Smith listed the names of people he speculates could have been on the team: F. James Germano, whose son, Anthony, was appointed to the planning board; J.R. Casale, the contractor to whom North Greenbush is still in debt for Water District 14; and Jack Casey, the chairman of the Rensselaer County Republican Committee.

“Who are the geniuses that recommended the hiring of an attorney with a criminal record?” Smith asked, referring to the hiring of Joshua Ehrlich to prosecute cases in the town court. Ehrlich had his driver’s license revoked after a 2006 Driving While Intoxicated conviction. “I think an attorney with a criminal record is a serious offense to public sensibilities and the integrity of the judicial system.”

“Mr. Ehrlich is a very well-respected,” Evers argued. “He is a highly qualified attorney with a lot of experience.”

But the lack of transparency on the transition team speaks to a culture of secrecy at Town Hall, which, Smith said, rewards cronyism.

“Look at David Soares,” Smith says, referring to the Albany County District Attorney, “fired the next day a prosecutor who was simply arrested on a drunk- driving charge. Fired him! He didn’t wait for the deposition. In North Greenbush, you have an attorney convicted on this charge, and you put him on the town payroll to prosecute crimes?”

Hiring Ehrlich was clearly political, Smith argued.

“Who told you to hire this guy, Mr. Evers?” Smith asked. “Who’s pulling the strings?”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Between the lines

Odds Logic

It could be your classic rags-to-riches story: Persistence pays off. Keep at it, and eventually you will prosper. Don’t stray from your goal. Make a plan, and stick to it.

Or so the Times Union would have you believe, in the story of Jacklyn Lyte and the $18 million Lotto jackpot she collected on a ticket she bought Dec. 4.

Twice a week, Lyte spent $2 on Lotto tickets; never more, never less, always at the Nite Owl News in Troy, near where she works. On Dec. 4, her ship came in.

“$2 twice a week equals millions,” the Jan. 6 TU headline pronounced. “Persistence pays off for Latham woman announced as winner of $18 million Lottery jackpot,” the subhead continued. The story, by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, opened with the sentence, “Jacklyn Lyte was a creature of habit when it came to playing the lottery.” However, Carleo-Evangelist did not write or infer that Lyte’s persistence in adhering to her weekly ritual somehow increased her chances of winning, and did not paint a picture of diligence rewarded.

It was the editors who wrote the headline and subhead who painted that picture, and they should know better than to mislead their readers with such faulty logic—and in the process, perhaps, encourage people to spend more money on lottery tickets.

Even the smaller-stakes lottery games in which frequent play is more likely to yield an occasional payoff do not reward persistence, because the odds of winning more than you spend always favor the house. And the number of tickets you’ve bought in the past has no bearing on your future chances; the odds of winning the Lotto jackpot are so minuscule that even a long-term plan of spending $4 a week on tickets does not significantly increase one’s chances of someday striking it rich. Each drawing, the odds are roughly the same: one in a freaking mega-million. When Jacklyn Lyte hit the jackpot, the reason was the same as when a one-time player strikes gold: blind luck.

To portray Lyte’s good fortune as the TU did promotes two troublesome falsehoods: (1) that playing the Lotto on a regular basis somehow brings you closer to that big payoff; and (2) that there is virtue in doing so.

Congratulations to Jacklyn Lyte; may she spend (invest) her windfall wisely. To the TU headline writers: She got lucky. That’s all.

—Stephen Leon




Loose Ends

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