Stolen Copper

Far too often, we hear of thieves breaking into an older building and wrecking the place. But they’re not after electronics or jewelry. Instead, they rip out copper piping to sell as scrap.

That very thing happened in Troy, New York last week at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. Reports say that 100 feet of copper piping was stolen, leaving behind a mess and an inability to operate the heating and plumbing systems within the building.

While no one has been arrested as of the date I write this post, I still question the intellectual capacity of the thieves. Certainly, I would not be hacking away at a water-filled copper pipe to steal from a church.

After all, copper is a great conductor. It’s the kind of thing a lightning bolt would really love to travel along. Just saying…

Seriously, though, I was especially saddened to hear about this theft.

You see, my wife and I were married at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church more than a decade ago. It was the church we attended while we were in college. The church family provided us with a home away from home. The pastor, his wife, and their kids demonstrated hospitality every week. They picked us up at college, and they shared a wonderful home-cooked meal with us every Sunday after church.

Outside Sixth Avenue Baptist Church on our wedding day.

Outside Sixth Avenue Baptist Church on our wedding day.

Without a doubt, the church family played a huge role in helping both of us face the academic and social challenges of life at college.

It was why we chose to say our vows at the church.

Sixth Avenue Baptist Church is located in an area of Troy that has seen better days. It is a century-old, large brick building. Beautiful stained glass windows adorn the large sanctuary.

It was our church, and I know I’m just a tad biased, but I it was the site of the best wedding I’ve ever attended.

Not everything associated with our wedding day is still around. The bakery that made our cake: closed. The Hudson River boat that hosted our reception: replaced with a newer model. But the church building has continued to provide space for groups ministering to that area of Troy. It’s not the same pastor or congregation these days, but I’m confident the ministry remains especially important for the area.

So, when another church in the region, Victory Christian Church, stepped up to provide financial help, I was very grateful. I suspect, though, that there is still a large need to replace and fix what these thieves have stolen.

So, my wife and I will be putting a check into the mail. It’s not anything big, but I’m convinced that ordinary folks can make a difference for a church like this. I have faith that it will be used for important things in the local community.

Anybody else want to help out?

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Bring on Spring

We’ve been overdue for a good ol’ New York winter. And this year, we got one. So did most of the rest of the country.

I’m guessing that my friends in Texas and Georgia haven’t been as accepting of this year’s winter weather, though. Heck, I’m not sure my friends downstate have appreciated all the snow. Certainly, Governor “I panic at the first sign of snow” Cuomo will be glad to see spring arrive. That way he won’t have to close Interstate 84  ’cause a wee little snowflake hit the ground.

Still, I admit it. I’ll be glad to see the arrival of warmer weather. And I’m hopeful that it will get here soon.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the outdoor skating rink at the Empire State Plaza during my lunch break one more time today before they close it for the year. Or until winter returns in July. (I’m kidding… it probably won’t return until September.)

Skating Rink at the Empire State Plaza - NYS Capitol in the background.

Skating Rink at the Empire State Plaza – NYS Capitol in the background.

Bring on Spring!

Private Employees, Public Pensions and the Taxpayer

Here’s one to make your head spin. I hope I do the topic justice.

Sunday’s front-page story on the Times Union caught my eye. (It’s now available online.) The headline:

You pay for it: Tax dollars help cover pensions for private lobbying

Note to newspaper editors: putting “you pay for it” in the headline makes it more likely that I will read it. And this story, like so many others also increases my blood pressure. If you’ve got the time, I encourage you to read the whole story.

The TU reports that a number of private non-profits partake in the state’s public retirement system. Yeah… taxpayer funded pensions. It’s all perfectly legal, approved by the State Legislature decades ago. Groups such as the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the New York Association of Counties (NYSAC) receive this publicly-funded benefit.

Did I mention that these group actively lobby the State Legislature? I’m starting to get twinges of “conflict of interest.”

Furthermore, many of their employees are paid quite well. Some receive solid six-figure salaries. No biggie, right? Sure, until I read this buried near the end of the TU story:

The leaders of the non-state agency groups, who can get raises without approval by the Legislature, may end up with pensions that well exceed what lawmakers, state commissioners, judges or governors will get in retirement. The payouts for everyone in the pension system are based on the top three years of compensation.

I cringed.

It gets better. These organizations are largely funded through dues paid by towns, counties, etc. Wait, make that taxpayers. But don’t worry, because they are looking out for the best interests of those government entities.

Also found out they provide periodic training. Again from the TU story:

Nick Caimano, a former member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and, before that, a Queensbury town councilman, said he attended training sessions organized by the municipal associations and found them to be of little value. “If both those associations ceased to exist tomorrow, the only thing that would happen is that our local governments would have more money.”

And that makes me wonder about how this works in Schenectady County where I am running for County Legislature. After perusing the county’s nearly $300 million 2011 budget, (a great cure for insomnia, by the way), I discovered this line item:

Municipal Association Dues

This appropriation covers the cost of dues in various associations not specifically related to any one department.

The amount of this specific appropriation is $13,469. I’m guessing that it’s a portion of the dues paid to have groups like NYSAC “lobby” for the county.

Do these organizations provide a good service to the public? At this point, I’m not convinced. But I certainly want to know if we’re getting any bang for our buck, especially at the county level.

After all, whether it’s dues or pensions, we are paying for it.

6/22/11, 2 AM update: this post is also published on my campaign blog.

Dogged by State Symbols

The New York State Legislature finally passes an on-time budget, and what happens? Suddenly, they have more time on their hands. At least, I think that’s the case with all the recent proposals for new state symbols. We already talked about the state veggie. Now it’s the state dog.

The Times Union’s Capitol Confidential blog reports that there is a bill to name the “rescue dog” as the state dog. Supposedly, it will bring awareness to the importance of adopting dogs that are in shelters after being rescued.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against this latest idea. Just seems to me that if the trend of naming new state symbols continues unabated, we’ll only be aware that there are too many symbols.

One final thought. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I’m suspicious of my cats. I think the “state dog” thing has ticked ’em off. Cats don’t like to be ignored. They want to do the ignoring. Don’t be surprised if you see a feline meow-in at the state capitol. I urge our state legislators to designate a state cat quickly. Otherwise, I cannot guarantee the safety of their office furniture from the claws of their whiskered constituents.

From April Showers to April Sleet

It’s April, so showers are to be expected. After all they eventually bring Pilgrims. Wait… no, I mean May flowers.

We’ve had significant rain recently. But c’mon. Do we really need sleet?

I’m waiting on somebody to blame it on global warming.

Springtime in New York.

Designating a New York State Tax

Hot on the heels of New York’s official veggie debate, I looked up New York’s state symbols. I found an extensive list on I Love NY’s website.

Now, I knew about the state bird, (bluebird). I enjoy the crunch of the state fruit, (apple). I had heard about the state flower, (rose). And I bet the state tree, (maple), isn’t always happy with the state animal, (beaver). My dad’s favorite would be the state fish, (trout). But who knew that we have a state shell, (bay scallop)?

So… I had a thought. (Ignore the warning siren going off in your head.)

There’s still something missing. I think we should designate an official “state tax.” After all, the state is famous, make that infamous, for its high rates of taxation. It could be anything: income, property (I know it’s local – but they are driven higher by state mandates), sales, gasoline, cigarettes, or one of those crazy taxes masquerading as a “fee.” It could even be that good ol’ soda tax. Yeah, it disappeared with the new governor, but something tells me that it’ll be back someday, soda being evil and all.

Better yet… you pick:

The Great State Veggie Debate

Now that we’ve got a budget, it’s time to move on to the important legislation. Like selecting a “state vegetable.” Actually, this is one of those legislative debates that I might enjoy. (It’s true. I’m not a humorless critic of the state legislature.) Besides, I’m pretty fond of farming… this one might be fun.

According to recent news reports, there are bills circulating to designate the onion or its opponent, sweet corn, as New York’s state vegetable. There’s even a poll on the New York Farm Bureau’s Facebook page. Looks like corn’s winning. The Farm Bureau also suggested cabbage and pumpkins as possible contenders in this race. (Wouldn’t be fair though, because cabbage would always be “ahead.”)

Groan.

Wait, stay with me here.

So, who would I pick? Let’s look at the candidates:

  • Onions. While they are a necessity in my wife’s delicious chili, I’m not sure about this one. Might have to change New York’s welcome signs to say, “Welcome to New York. Don’t cry. It’s just the onions.”
  • Cabbage. No way. But I’m biased. I had a traumatic experience when I put my hand through a rotten head of cabbage while working on a produce farm as a kid. –shudder
  • Sweet Corn. A distinct possibility. Some folks may argue that corn is a grain and not a veggie. However, it is a favorite of my five-year old. Therefore, I’m calling it a vegetable. Tempting, but not my choice.
  • Pumpkins. Yeah… this should be the winner! You can carve them. You can make pie with them. You can launch them with a trebuchet.

Vote Pumpkin!

Schumer and Remington Arms

I was trolling through Twitter tonight, catching up on some news and looking for ideas for a blog post. I recently added Senator Chuck Schumer’s Twitter feed to the list that I follow. (It’s good to keep up with your representatives, even if you don’t agree with them.) One of his tweets caught my attention:

40-50 new jobs coming to Central New York http://tinyurl.com/4cd9grb

Okay, I’ll bite. I clicked on the link. It took me to a story from the Utica Observer-Dispatch. The dateline was Ilion, NY, the headline: “Remington Arms expands again, creating 40 to 50 jobs.” I was very intrigued. My wife grew up in Ilion. Her father retired from Remington Arms. One summer during college, my wife even had a job in their materials lab. She ran materials tests on firing pins and gun barrels. I’ve got a materials engineering degree, so I thought her summer job at the firearms manufacturing plant was pretty cool.

But back to the article…

Sounds like great news. That portion of New York’s Mohawk Valley is desperate for jobs. I was pleased to read some positive news.

Then I read this:

The announcement was presided over by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

I almost fell off the couch. Schumer? At a firearms manufacturing plant? Some people might describe him as “Mr. Gun Control.” I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or shake my head. I wonder who invited him to the event.

Heck, Mr. Schumer was the guy who annoyed many of his upstate constituents after Kirsten Gillibrand, then serving as the Representative from NY’s 20th Congressional District, was selected to replace Hillary Clinton as NY’s junior Senator. In a January, 25, 2009 interview on Fox New Sunday, Schumer was asked about some of Gillibrand’s more conservative political viewpoints, including a positive rating from the National Rifle Association. Schumer said the following:

The district she [Gillibrand] represents is quite different than much of the state. It’s very rural. In some ways, it’s more like Montana than New York City. It has no large cities.

Personally, I interpreted that comment as a not-so-subtle dig on upstate gun owners. Maybe that’s not the case, but I still find it a bit ironic to read that he went to Remington Arms.

The Observer-Dispatch story ended with this quote from Schumer:

“Remington Arms is becoming the economic engine of Herkimer County,” Schumer said.

I’ll agree with the statement, and I hope that the new jobs are a precursor of more positive things to come. Still, I wonder if Schumer really shares my views on these new jobs in the firearms industry.

I can’t wait to hear my father-in-law’s thoughts on this!

Springtime… uh, yeah

It’s the first full day of Spring here in ol’ Upstate NY.

How can you tell? Easy. That white stuff falling from the sky is just a figment of your imagination.

At least that’s what I told myself when I woke up to this:

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According to Sunday’s Times Union, nearby Albany, NY acquired over 84 inches of snow this year. Apparently that’s 32 inches more than usual. If my math is correct, I shoveled around 3,000 cubic feet of snow this winter. Still, I’m not complaining. Syracuse, NY received more than 170 inches of the fluffy stuff.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the arrival of the tulips. They were poking through the ground yesterday. Hopefully they’ll be visible again tomorrow.

April Fools’ Day and Sales Tax

Had to check my calendar today. For a moment I thought it was April Fools’ Day.

You see, I read this in a story from Fox23 News:

New York state is bringing back its sales tax exemption on clothes and shoes…

Wait a minute, I need to check the calendar again. Nope, it still says that it’s March 19th, not April 1st. Let me pinch myself. –ouch!– Nope, not dreaming.

Can it be true? New York State is actually reducing a sales tax?

Before we get too enthusiastic, let’s look at some of the facts. There used to be an exemption on sales tax for clothing and shoes priced below $110. That exemption disappeared last year. After all, the state needs our money. It’s due to be reinstated in April but with a limit of $55 per item. Supposedly, the $110 exemption will be restored in 2012. (Although, according to the Times Union‘s Capitol Confidential blog, that may not be the case.)

Then I realized that the trigger date for the exemption changes is, you guessed it, April 1st!

I sense an April Fools’ joke coming on.

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