A Better Day to Forget

If I ever come across a DeLorean and a flux capacitor, I’m sure not going to program January 27, 2015 into the computer and drive 88 miles per hour into the past.

Not that the day was tragic. Just awful enough that I don’t want to repeat it.

Technically, this lovely day began the night before. I went to sleep dreading the snow storm that was breathlessly predicted to arrive with a foot or more of snow. New York was awaiting the snowstorm of the century: the “Blizzard of 2015.” (Just imagine James Earl Jones doing the voiceover announcing the “Blizzard of 2015.”)

Well actually, I wasn’t dreading the arrival of snow. After all, I’ve lived in Upstate New York for a long time. A foot of snow… no big deal. I laugh in the face of a foot of snow. I guffaw at everybody who panics. At least until I start shoveling. Then I grumble, but only a little.

Actually, what I was not looking forward to was the lack of snow. The lack of snow that was not predicted by just about every meteorologist. The vaunted “Blizzard of 2015” had shifted to the east, largely sparing New York State.

Sorry Boston.

But why my dread?

I knew I would have to wake up my kids and tell them that school was on. These were the kids who had put their PJ’s on inside-out and backwards. The kids who dropped ice cubes in the toilet and placed cold spoons under their pillows. If any of us had the knowledge and ability to do a “snow dance,” I’m sure that would have been attempted.

No snow day. No sleeping in. It would be a normal day of Common Core and more.

After a fitful night’s sleep, I awoke to the morning I expected. Tears and gripes, at least from the older son.

Off to school for the boys. Off to work for me. And the day got better.

And by better, I mean worse.

Shortly thereafter, my wife texted to say she’d been pulled over and ticketed for an expired inspection sticker.

I guess in the midst of my wife’s major December medical emergency, we forgot to get her piece o’ junk car inspected. So, just as my wife pulled into a medical facility for a blood test related to her previous stroke, she was warmly greeted by a Schenectady police officer.

With a ticket.

And then our day got even better.

Turns out, the big blue lemon needed $500 in repairs to pass its inspection.

But time trudged along, and soon enough I was on my way home from work, negotiating my way through blowing snow that had shown up to the party, fashionably late.

Still, it started as a relatively normal winter commute.

And then it got even better.

I was slowly driving under an overpass on my way to the toll booths at the entrance to the New York State Thruway.

A deep rumble from above startled me. It was followed by a massive curtain of snow falling from the overpass, right in front of me. There was a plow above me relocating some snow. And that snow formed a wall directly in my path.

There was no stopping. All I could do was ease off the gas and cruise straight through.

The snow thumped onto my car. For a heart-stopping moment I could not see a thing.

I’m pretty sure I said a naughty word. (Sorry, Mom.)

I’m not wishing for anymore better days.

County Consolidation: Perils and Possibilities

I’ve been mulling this topic for the better part of a week…

The term “consolidation” is increasingly tossed out as a solution to the fiscal crisis in New York State and its local governments.

It is painfully obvious, especially for anyone reviewing his or her property tax bill, (payment due tomorrow for my fellow Rotterdam residents), that something must be done. But should the consolidation of city/town/county services be a part of that solution?

My answer: a solid “maybe.” It really depends on the services being consolidated. It’s also important to ask some questions:

  • Does the consolidation take control farther away from the local populace?
  • Would consolidation likely cause future bloating of the bureaucracy?
  • What does the local electorate think?
  • Has this been done elsewhere? If so, where? How successful was it? What similarities are there to my locality?
  • What are the risks? The rewards?

More and more localities are looking into consolidating services at the county level. As reported in a recent Times Union story, The City of Schenectady participated in a study focused on the possibility of combining police functions in Schenectady County:

A state-funded police consolidation study done for the city has yielded one clear answer: that other departments in Schenectady County are not willing to consider merging with each other.

Not really a surprise in my book. Also not a surprise: according to the TU, the study cost state taxpayers $45,000. Yeah, it’s not free. But the study, conducted by the Picker Center for Executive Education at Columbia University, does suggest that there might be savings in combining some aspects of policing.

Again, according to the Times Union story:

Eimicke [Director of the Picker Center] said he could only estimate savings the city would see — up to $560,000 — if records, communications and training were combined with other departments.

Not a drop in the bucket. But not exactly earth-shattering savings either.

Much of the discussion about consolidation revolves around the potential savings and/or potential reduction in quality of government service.  Yet, I think there needs to be a focus on the voter, too. I’m a big fan of making government more local. At the local level, individual voters have more bang for their vote. Any consolidation discussion must include the voting public.

In my experience, consolidations are fraught with risk. But they can be quite beneficial. Any consolidation that I’ve experienced had its share of pain and missteps. It’s a process that must be examined with great care. It’s a process that must be open. (I’ve experienced a business-related consolidation that I would call a dismal failure due to lack of transparency.)

I believe that it is worth a look. But let’s be very careful and avoid spending tax dollars haphazardly to find out.

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