In response to a recent post, we received a fair question from one of our readers: "Why the incessant focus on taxes, as if the only issue is that "they are too high," and, thus, by inference, "if they were lower, all would be better in the City of Geneva?"
In most cases we respond to comments in kind, meaning that we post a response comment that gets tucked below the initial question underneath the initial post. Sometimes, if people aren't looking specifically for the comments, they get a bit lost in the shuffle. But this question brought us right to the heart of the blog and our mission. As we discussed our response, we realized that the answer to his/her question merited a free-standing, full post.
Let us launch into this post with an acknowledgement that our commentator is right. We do obsess about taxes. Here’s why. For us, our blog is essentially about accountability, whether it pertains literally to government spending and taxing, or, more generally, to government’s fidelity to the democratic process, fairness, objectivity, professionalism, etc.: whatever the appropriate criteria and context for a particular action. We believe the essence of accountability is responsibility for one’s actions, which means being able to justify them to the satisfaction of various constituencies.
That means we end often end up following the money. After all, the law allows government to tax us, and we are obligated to pay, or risk loss of property or incarceration. So, we expect that taxation and corresponding spending will be appropriate, serving the best interest of the community, and not slanted toward personal profit of any individual or group, for example.
Our outrageously high city property tax rate, among the highest in the United States makes the issue more pressing. Under these conditions, who can afford a tax increase? Even if new tax revenue were to be well spent, if folks cannot afford it, it's no bargain. The only people we know who seem not to complain about taxes are tax-and-spenders who think government spending is inherently good and who can usually, themselves, comfortably afford it.
Now, let's take a look at the two parts of the question, in reverse order. First, we're not saying that lower taxes would make everything better. As you know, taxes are a function of both the tax rate and property assessments. So, even if the rate stayed the same, a severe drop in assessed value would mean that taxes would be lower. That would not be a good situation; hopefully, there's unanimous agreement on that.
So when we say we want taxes to be lower, we are speaking of the rate. And there are a couple of ways that could happen, either through reduced spending (so the tax levy, the amount to be raised, is lower) or through increased property assessments, or through increased revenue from non-property tax sources, or some combination of those.
That situation, a reduced tax rate, gets to the heart of the first point of your comment. We focus on the tax issue because it's the best indicator, in our view, of how local government is, or is not, working. It is a part of a larger whole.
We maintain that the City of Geneva's taxes have been too high because they do not represent the best possible value for the tax dollars paid. We've observed so much waste, inefficiency, and free spending in government that we feel the only way to reign it all in is to slow down the intake.
In addition to wasteful spending, there has been an over-reliance on increased assessments that are based on blips in market value, not actual neighborhood improvements. There has been a lack of creativity in pursuing alternate sources of revenue, shared services, and efficiency. Remember when the City told the Attorney General's Office that purchasing a used bucket truck from a Councilor was a 'good deal' for taxpayers, because it saved at least $200 each to change light bulbs in some City locations? $200 to change a light bulb? By the way, we also question whether the truck was really acquired for that purpose and how frequently it’s used in that way.
We are also concerned about property values and marketability of property in the City. High taxes are a significant factor in depressed property values in the City, which have increased only about 1% a year for the past ten years. That means if you bought a house ten years ago, it is likely only worth about 10% more now; that's well below inflation, and doesn't take into account the national home mortgage crisis.
Another impact of high taxes is in the area of economic development. Private citizens and businesses seem to prefer to buy in the town, where quality of life approximates that of the City—because we are essentially one community—but taxes are much lower. Consequently, increases in population and economic growth have hit the town, to the detriment of the City, all because taxes are lower in the town.
That is why we offered guarded praise to the City Manager and Council for this year's budget. Not simply because the tax rate stayed the same, but for the first time in our collective memory, the Council and Manager developed a set of priorities that take the financial challenges seriously and get the city poised for new and improved operations--putting money into programs that work and avoiding, whenever possible, taking on more crippling debt, focusing on programs that help taxpayers and their neighborhoods instead of handing out tax breaks to benefit a small group of investors, making open and well-considered decisions instead of back room deals for the good ol’ boys.
So, it's not that we think that lowering taxes will make everything better. Instead, we believe that we will see lower taxes when everything in Geneva is done in a better way.
Just so we end on a consistent note—namely, more worries about taxes—we’ll close with concern over the economic picture, and its possible long term impact on City taxpayers. The downturn of the national, state and local economy is sure to have consequences. Sales tax revenue will go down. While state officials have pledged not to touch state aid to cities, that is not guaranteed. If the market downturn persists, in a year or two, City tax payers could get hit with an increase in what the City must pay into the state pension fund to make up for investment losses or decreases in earnings. So we recognize that the City must operate within constraints, but a public understanding of those constraints and some consensus-building around priorities is, in our view, a sound approach.
Thursday, October 30
Q: "Why the 'Incessant' Focus on Taxes?"
A: Because Taxes are the Best Indicator of how Government Is, or Is Not, Working
In response to a recent post, we received a fair question from one of our readers: "Why the incessant focus on taxes, as if the only issue is that "they are too high," and, thus, by inference, "if they were lower, all would be better in the City of Geneva?"
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 9:47 AM
Monday, October 27
During our October 17th radio appearance, WGVA morning host Ted Baker presented us with a riddle: “How many Councils does it take to tear down an old gas station?” You can hear how we answered by clicking on this radio archive link; essentially, we said it only takes one Council acting in good faith, in the public eye, and with adequate funding to implement its decision, no matter which way it were to come down on the issue.
The City has itself to blame for the mess. As we’ve explained here, in a series of posts on the topic over several months the “quagmire” the current Council finds itself in is a function of three things:
- Making a back room deal with a developer;
- Acquiring property without adequate public disclosure; and
- Trying to create a process that fits a predetermined outcome.
Council acquired the building willfully-- through an active petition, not merely through tax default action, as many still wrongly believe-- to make good on a back room deal. The old gas station had been sitting there for years, unused and with taxes unpaid, but a federal income tax lien in the property allowed the City to avoid taking possession of it and incurring responsibility for environmental clean up.
It was one of those buildings which brought passerbys to say, “I wish they’d do something with that before it’s too late,” but the federal government had more pressing matters and just let the building languish.
Then, sometime around 2002, a budding arts development group (the Geneva Arts Development Council) decided that the building would be a great ticket area and lobby for the imagined performing arts center they contemplated building on the land between 305 Main Street and the Smith Opera House.
A series of small group meetings with various local leaders-- including Chris Iversen, Carl Fribolin, Alaine Espenscheid, Rich Rising, Clark Cannon, and Bob Schick—took place to discuss acquisition of the vacant building. The arts group had limited resources and didn’t want to spend money paying off all of the liens on the property. They wanted to save their money for the renovation of the property. So, they asked the City to petition the federal government to discharge the liens and allow the City to retake the property based on its very delinquent property taxes.
At the time, the City Manager told Council about a report from Fire Chief Ralph DeBolt stating that the underground storage tanks on the site had been removed and/or filled in. City Manager Rich Rising also said that the Director of Public Works, Gordy Eddington, had gotten some ‘preliminary estimates’ on the site cleanup and, therefore, Council was told by Rising, any environmental liability on the site was “very small.” It was so small, he said, that the arts group would provide the City up to $50,000, which conceivably would more than cover the City’s clean up expense-- as long as the City conveyed the building and the clean land around it, to the arts group for $1.
However, consultants hired by the arts group to do a feasibilty study for the performing arts facility concluded that the facility wouldn’t be viable (you can read their report here) and would actually drain resources from the existing Smith Opera House, putting that landmark building in jeopardy. Unfortunately, Council did not heed this warning and directed City Attorney Clark Cannon to pursue taking ownership of the property.
There were several other development proposals from the arts group in that time period, but all involved the reuse of the existing building. When Capraro re-joined City Council in late 2006, Rising conducted the new Council ‘orientation’ session, stating that the Council policy on 305 Main Street was the see the existing building stabilized and reused, given its prominent placement on Geneva’s Main Street.
But then the development deal fell through, the Council realized the mess (literally) it had gotten City taxpayers into, and instead of admitting its error and trying to make it right,Rising led the Council majority down the path towards demolition, trying to ‘make the facts fit the theory.’
So why wasn’t the building immediately demolished? Because the City Council got sticker shock from the cost to demolish the building. The cost to demolish was, in fact, much higher than the initial estimates to clean up the site with the building in place. So Rising encouraged the City Council to apply for grants from the EPA and the DEC for site cleanup that included demolition. But, those agencies are giving out your taxpayer dollars, and they want some assurance that the projects are being done in the most responsible way possible.
The City was awarded both grants, pending completion of this review. The City has not yet accepted the DEC money, but it has started working with the EPA. As our previous post indicated, the EPA is not content with the information provided regarding demolition. To say it another way, a federal agency has deemed that the information that Council based its demolition decision on is actually not a compelling case for demolition. The EPA wants the City to demonstrate that it has seriously developed and discussed alternatives to demolition.
So, unless the City wants to reject a federal EPA grant and leave City taxpayers on the hook for the environmental cleanup, it has to follow the EPA’s requirement that it explore all options related to cleaning up the soil without demolishing the building.
After voting for a $16+ million spending plan for the 2009 budget, they proceeded to argue for about an hour about spending $2,400 on the ‘alternatives assessment’ that’s needed for the EPA. But what was there to argue about? A private (as in non-tax-payer) agency provided all but $4,400 of the study’s cost through a grant that the City Council agreed they should apply for. The Landmark Society of Rochester (again, a non-taxpayer-funded agency) kicked in another $2,000, leaving a gap of $2,400. As we wrote about earlier, this study is part of the process to draw down the $250,000 EPA cleanup grant. But instead of just saying “okay, $2,400 investment for $250,000 in grant funds seems to make sense,” the Council majority refused to pony up the money. Never fear, the Geneva Historical Society came to the rescue, agreeing to pay the $2,400 balance if the City refused.
So, you might ask yourself, “If there was a gap, and the gap was covered by the Historical Society, what else was there to argue about for an hour?” Well, it seems that some Councilors are still uncomfortable with the idea that there might actually be an option to remediate the soil that doesn’t involve demolition. But why? Why are some people so stuck on demolishing that building when there’s no plan for reusing the site and everyone agrees that it will not be an attractive site for developers given the size and grade of the land?
Imagine, in an ideal world, a Council that said “here we are, we’re a new group, and we find ourselves with this piece of land with a troubled history. Let’s put aside the baggage of the past and just look at the situation with a fresh set of eyes.” What do you think a responsible group of public-policy-makers should do in that situation? Would you think it was reasonable for them to say “let’s look at the options, look at the funding sources for each option, look at the return on investment for each option (with regard to property tax, impact on Main Street, etc.) and then have an open, public discussion to select the best course of action?” Or, would you prefer that the group say, “you know, that building’s not our problem. The previous group wanted it down and we’re just going to charge ahead in fulfilling their wish.”
Why must Geneva’s residents, under a new Council, be forced to suffer the tax implications of the mistaken decisions of the prior Council?
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 8:17 PM
Wednesday, October 22
Our Friday morning radio appearance with WGVA’s Ted Baker covered a lot of ground. We led off with discussion of the 2009 City Budget which was carried by Council with no tax increase. This year’s budget is a legitimate “0%” tax increase budget. People’s taxes are not going up. Contrast this with the 2008, which saw no increase in the tax rate, but an over 7% increase in property assessments, resulting in most Genevans paying at least 7% more property tax. That budget (which Capraro and Augustine voted against) brought unwarranted praise for Council.
Capraro went on to extend guarded praise for the new City Manager, Matt Horn, who, in contrast to his predecessor, created a transparent budget process that insisted Council articulate its priorities and responded with a responsible spending plan that tracked with those priorities--without raising taxes!
Of course, in the context of a declining economy, Capraro said he is "not optimistic" that revenue projections--particularly sales tax and state aid--will be as high as anticipated and again stressed the need to look at budgeting solutions other than future property tax increases, such as shared services and alternative sources of revenue.
We were then given a riddle, "How many councils does it take to tear down an old gas station?" We'll answer this more fully in a future post, but the short answer is: It only takes one Council acting in good faith, in the public eye, and with adequate funding to implement its decision, either way.
Ted then asked us about the lakefront plan, as proposed. While it is absolutely clear that the community has reject Building 12, the most important point is that Council needs get the process gets back on track with regard to weighing community values against special interests. We indicated a way that Council could discuss and act on the plan in a responsible, praise-worthy fashion instead of bringing upon themselves the blame of the community for letting outside forces unduly alter the outcome.
Listen to this, and our former radio appearances by visiting the NoStringsGeneva Radio Archive.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 11:12 PM
Wednesday, October 15
In our previous two posts about the 2009 budget process, ("Council Visioning" and "Budgeting Around Priorities") we indicated that if the new City Manager followed the priorities that Council set, we expected a 0% tax increase. And that’s 0% talking both about the tax rate and the rate of reassessment, not the kind of “back door tax increase” that one of our readers called last year’s political stunt (you can read the comment here).
Truth be told, we weren’t sure it would happen. In years past, just when it looked clear what the next logical, reasonable step would be, we’d end up unpleasantly surprised by some new kink in the works. So, we had to look twice when the budget proposal was released. You can read it for yourself here.
This year the only assessment increases come from individual properties that have undertaken significant improvements. The total increase to the assessment rolls was less than 1/2 of 1 percent. In municipal finance terms that means that, if the tax rate stays the same, people’s tax bills stay the same. It’s called ‘holding the line’ on taxes. This fact sheet put out by the NYS Office of Real Property Services provides some more explanation of how your property taxes are calculated.
The 2009 City budget proposal, as put forward by City Manager Horn, does not call for an increase in the tax rate. No assessment increase + No rate increase = No tax increase. Really. No doublespeak like last year’s “no tax increase” budget, no “back door increase”, just a stable balanced budget.
How was it done? The major change appears to be a restructuring of retiree health benefits. Currently the City pays 100% of the premiums for a health insurance product that provides rather limited coverage. The upside of the current plan seems to be its prescription drug benefit. However, there exists a better plan that covers more diagnostic services and specialist appointments as well as better hospitalization and supplement benefits like vision, but has a more costly prescription co-pay schedule. That makes the premium the City pays significantly lower. Staff could have made the argument that changing plans but continuing to pay 100% of the premiums was a good deal for retirees and a good deal for taxpayers. But staff understood the importance of that prescription drug benefit to the retirees and wanted to share some of the City’s cost savings in a way that was sensitive to those concerns. Therefore, in addition to paying 100% of the health care premiums, the new proposal is that each retiree receives an annual health saving account of $750. This should cover the difference between the current prescription copays and the new plan. Let’s take an example of a retiree who needs 6 prescriptions per month. The current health insurance plan has a flat $2/month co-pay. So that retiree currently pays $12/month out of pocket, or $144 annually. The new plan uses a three tier system with the most expensive class of drugs carrying a $40 co-pay. But the new plan also allows prescriptions to be filled with a 90 day supply rather than 30 days. So let’s assume that our hypothetical retiree’s prescriptions are mostly expensive, name brand drugs at the top end of the tier. That means total co-pays of about $185 every three months, or $740 annually. With the $750 HSA, this retiree not only has all of his/her prescriptions covered (saving the $144 out of pocket currently paid) but also has $10 to spend on things like gym memberships or other health related items. A side-by-side comparison of the two plans appears on pages 14-15 of the budget message.
The budget also brings the police department to full strength but postpones the hiring of that community aide position that was a last-minute addition to the 2008 budget. The restructuring of the City Attorney position also yields a cost savings as Council agreed to eliminate the full time secretary position and the benefits associated with that.
But the 2009 budget isn’t all about cuts, it’s about priorities. Like we said in a previous post, the first priority Council established at its worksession was increasing value for the tax dollar. Keeping taxes stable and maintaining the same level of service means that the value of the tax dollar doesn’t decrease, but it would take some additional initiatives to show an increase value. Enter “GenevaWorx.” This program, making its debut in the 2009 budget proposal is an effort to use the City’s GIS programs in a way that coordinates city efforts on yet another priority area: Improving Neighborhood Conditions. You know the expression, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing?” Well, sometimes this describes the operations of city government. Code enforcement doesn’t always know that the property with multiple code violations also happens to be the one that is getting notices from the Comptroller’s office for tax delinquencies or the one the Police department has been called out to every Friday night. Having this information brought together in one system will allow staff, Council, and the public to diagnose and address conditions that threaten neighborhood health.
The one area in the budget that shows no change from 2008 is ‘outside agencies.’ But, if history is any guide, it is this segment of the budget that receives the most attention and is most likely to result in changes that potentially increase the tax rate. We’ll have more to say about that, about the appropriation of city tax dollars to community agencies, but for now we hope that City Council can take a look at their work, at the budget process, and commit to its logical outcome: Voting in favor of the 2009 no-tax-increase budget.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 12:58 PM
Monday, October 13
The regular business portion of the October 1st City Council meeting was eclipsed by a community-based talk-in on the Bergmann draft of the Downtown/Lakefront Plan, facilitated by City Manager Matt Horn. Talk about civic engagement, the banquet room at the Ramada was filled to capacity with interested citizens there to speak and/or to listen.
It was not the typical ‘public comment’ format of Council meetings, where people approach Council, like an attorney approaching the bench, and state their case, with a belated reply from this or that Councilor, later in the meeting, after folks had gone home.
Instead, the Bergmann proposal was divided into six main components, and each component was given its own place on the agenda. Members of the public could speak about that aspect of the project, Councilors could share their views and reactions to what was said, and then everyone would move on to the next component. In the interest of time, speakers were asked not to re-state a position that had already been articulated. The idea was to solicit what Ken Camera calls “public intelligence,” signaling that from the public many intelligent ideas can be found.
Unfortunately, meeting planners did not foresee the time the process would take and discussion of the project’s “Building 12” component went on toward midnight and Council reaction was tabled for another day. Following the logic of the project, the placement of Building 12 on the agenda made sense; but, in hindsight, it’s clear Building 12 merits its own meeting.
When it came to discussing Building 12-- the condo/visitor’s center/interpretive center/parking garage/retail/commercial/catch all building on the lakefront-- not everyone followed the rules, and something of an auditory illusion was created. Those expressing opposition to Building 12 limited their comments to new ideas that hadn’t been previously expressed, while the Chamber of Commerce, the entity that would have its offices in the new building and would staff the visitor’s center component, took multiple turns at the microphone expressing the same point: Build It Now!
According to the Finger Lakes Times (in their editorial opinion piece of October 3rd), this meant that just as many people supported the building as opposed it. Not so (on the numbers), and not so simple (on the reasons)!
From the discussion, three points of view emerged. Here is our attempt to explain and assess them. First, our description of each:
Don’t Build It, or Anything, on the Lakefront: The argument here is that the lakefront is a public asset because it is public. That doing things to enhance the public access to the lake, like a low-impact marina (no repair or gasoline functions), a beach, improved seating areas and walking paths, public art and family-friendly spaces will attract tourists and residents alike and continue to draw people to Geneva who then spend their time and money in our community.
Build Something Limited, but Dynamic: The argument here is that putting a major facility, like the ‘interpretive center’ or museum on the lakefront near the Ramada would, in addition to the public additions named above, be something that could catalyze downtown by providing the kind of dynamic link that would get people moving back and forth across Rtes. 5&20. Within this view, there are some people who think condominiums might be some part of this, and others who favor a standalone facility. But the reason offered in favor of condos. is usually just to offset the operating costs of the public facility and it’s not clear that such a subsidy would be necessary, or if it is necessary, that it would have to come from property taxes, so condos. shouldn’t be seen as the main point of agreement amongst people who fall into this category.
Start Building #12 Now, Before It’s Too Late: The argument here is that we have $5 million in State money that needs to be used now. We also have a visitor’s center that needs to be relocated (because it seems there is unanimous consent in the community that the Chamber no longer belongs in its current city-owned location). Apparently there is some thought that the visitor’s center must be on the lakefront, along with the Chamber of Commerce offices. Because none of these uses are money-makers, we need some commercial and residential space to carry the costs. This option might best be called “Status-Quo-Plus.” It’s status quo because Geneva would still have a building on the lakefront housing the Chamber of Commerce, but it’s ‘plus’ because it that building would be larger and more obtrusive, but it’s status quo because any tax revenue gains would go back into supporting the increased cost of operations,
From this discussion, it was easy to see why Councilor Lou Cosentino was met with such contempt when he tried to start the discussion with a show of hands for people who were “pro-development” vs. people who were “anti-development.” Despite the Chamber of Commerce’s attempts (via its pre-meeting newsletter and some statements from its leadership) to characterize the discussion in this way, it’s just not that simple.
Lucky for Geneva, the attendance at the meeting was high, and the audience seemed willing to engage in a thoughtful consideration of the complexities of the various plan components. Now the City waits to see how the Council adjusts the plan to reflect those realities. We’ll have more to say on the matter, but first, we encourage your feedback on whether our reconstruction of the arguments adequately and accurately captures what you are hearing out there.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 5:14 PM
Wednesday, October 8
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a ‘woe is Geneva’ frame of mind. Yes, our taxes are high but so is our quality of life, depending on what you’re looking for. Different populations want different things from their communities. We addressed an earlier post “ReThinking City Living” to the needs of young families and did a post on the benefits of downtown living for those seeking a more urban cultural experience [link to ‘downtown’ post]. There’s another group that gets a lot of media attention nationally, but not much attention locally and that’s the ‘baby boomers.’ Each year, Money Magazine issues a report on the “Best Places to Retire.”
The most recent list is prefaced with the following:
“Many baby boomers dream of retiring somewhere by the water. These half-dozen places are on a lake, a river or an ocean - yet won't sink your retirement budget.”
In addition to affordable housing stock, these retirement recommendations also focus on communities with “top-notch health care, loads of culture, lots of green space.” Although Rochester, NY and several downstate communities made the list in 2006, we didn’t find any cities in New York State on the list for 2008. It is worth noting that this is Money Magazine, so when they’re picking a handful of communities to feature they’re likely to go for places with lower taxes, but even when that’s factored into things, we believe that Geneva meets all of the magazine’s criteria as one of the best, and here’s why:
- You can by more house for less money in Geneva than in most of the places featured.
- Geneva has its own hospital, with a cardiac practice affiliated with Rochester General Hospital, and is within an easy drive to several highly ranked facilities for various specialties.
- There are an abundance of golf courses, public tennis courts, and other recreational opportunities.
- The lakefront is open, accessible and quite active.
- The Smith Opera House and the local groups affiliated with the performing arts and the Colleges bring a variety of cultural offerings into the community; additional events from festivals to Broadway shows are available year round within a short driving distance.
- Visiting grandchildren would have lots of things to see and do.
- The community is ethnically and racially diverse, including the influx of people affiliated with the Colleges, Hospital, and Experiment Station.
- Downtown features retail, restaurants, and eclectic offerings such as a Natural Foods store, clothing, shoes, and jewelry.
- The climate is temperate, yet allowing the full experience of all four seasons.
- Natural beauty is all around, not just at the lakefront but the entire region.
- Geneva sits at the natural center of a growing wine region providing social, educational, and other opportunities.
So, by most of Money magazine’s key measurements, Geneva is the ideal place for retirees to relocate. But there are a few things that Money is looking for that Geneva lacks. First and foremost is a stable economic environment as it relates to taxes. Based on the city manager’s initial budget proposal, we might be working towards improving that situation, but the tax rate is still a deterrent for many prospective residents. Second, we do not have a sufficient selection of downtown housing (not to be confused with the proposed lakefront ‘suburb’ of downtown). Baby boomers, the research shows, are drawn to housing in a “pedestrian-friendly town center.” They are also drawn to communities that have made a commitment to green and sustainable development practices, because that demostrates a commitment to health and longevity. For instance, Fort Collins, Colorado and the surrounding area gets a nod for its commitment to clean air. These are conditions and initiatives that Geneva can do immediately and successfully. Our downtown buildings and infrastructure are the raw materials we can cultivate.
Perhaps the real challenge Geneva faces in attracting the attention and investment of baby boomers is a matter of self-perception. We need to break of out of the “take whatever we can get” attitude and move towards a “deliver what we deserve” point of view.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 9:03 PM
Thursday, October 2
One unintended positive outcome of the City of Geneva’s downtown/lakefront planning process underway this year is that State Senator Mike Nozzolio is now leaving it up to local planners and the City Council to designate the location of a proposed visitors’ center. That’s as it should be.
Earlier this year, the Senator had secured from the New York legislature a series of earmarks for a number of what we felt were worthwhile projects for our community, announced as the “21st Century Geneva Initiative.” Back then, the Senator had announced the center would be on the lakefront, even though we were in the midst of a planning process involving two outside consultants, and that had not been decided. Nozzolio had set up a shadow committee and convened meetings to discuss the lakefront building's operations, even though City Council has never taken up the issue for discussion.
One consultant, Fairweather, placed the center on the lakefront into his feasibility report (concluding that the standalone facility was not feasible); and the other consulting firm, Bergmann, followed suit and incorporated it into their major planning document currently undergoing public scrutiny.
Then, as noted in a previous post, the Nozzolio website re-positioned the visitors center, changing its location from the lakefront to downtown. When or why that happened, we're not sure, but it is significant because the Fairweather and Bergmann documents—the central planning documents of the City— had given its location on the lakefront, and much of the plan for lakefront development, specifically "Building #12,” followed from that.
At last night’s City Council meeting, the Mayor announced that a phone conversation between him and Senator Nozzolio's staff had yielded yet another take on the plan-- the location for the visitors center was now unspecified. The center would be located, the public was told, where Council decided-- if, indeed, it were to become part of the plan. And, as reported by the local paper, Nozzolio's staff denied assertions by Chamber of Commerce leadership that the money would evaporate in short order.
To be absolutely clear about this issue, here’s what Nozzolio's website says, today, October 2, 2008:
"New Finger Lakes Visitor Center in Geneva
A new Finger Lakes Visitor Center located in Geneva will be a signature building for the Finger Lakes region that will serve as a destination for tourists and the Finger Lakes region. The Center will be interactive for visitors and will place an emphasis on the natural beauty of our area as well as the wineries in the region. The Geneva Chamber of Commerce will relocate to the new facility and will continue their work to promote tourism in the region. The Visitor Center will be state-of-the-art and will serve as a destination for all those seeking information on the many attractions of the Finger Lakes region.
The Finger Lakes Visitor Center will be modeled after the very successful New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, which highlights the food and wines produced in New York State."
This speaks well for civic engagement and represents a vote of conficdence in community-based planning, now well under way in the City. Thank you, Senator Nozzolio, for listening to the voices of your constituents and responding to their needs.
Posted by Capraro and Augustine at 12:07 PM