Picente Praises County’s Fiscal Stewardship, Tells Chamber: ‘Change is Already Here’

Calling Oneida County’s sound fiscal stewardship a foundation that can help the region accomplish its goals for economic and community growth, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr. today announced a wide-ranging program of efforts to grow jobs, enhance the region’s workforce, and continue to promote efficiency in government.

Speaking to the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce in his annual State of the County Address, Picente also somberly reminded the more than 300 people in attendance that the community’s loss cannot be forgotten.

“There is one young man who served this county and our nation with heroism and dedication, and who is not with us today. Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy Kurt Wyman was killed in the line of duty this past year. … Words can never do justice to those who put their lives on the line for us, but I would ask that we pause a moment now to remember Deputy Wyman and all of those who serve, who will ride out today to face dangers they do not know, and who carry with them our hopes and our prayers as they protect our communities,” Picente said, noting that Deputy Wyman was the first deputy killed in the line of duty since the Sheriff’s Office was created in 1798. “We will not forget him, and to be sure of that Sheriff Robert Maciol and I will be sending legislation to the Board of Legislators to name the Law Enforcement Building in Whitestown the Deputy Kurt B. Wyman Law Enforcement Building. This will ensure that future generations of law enforcement personnel, all who visit and, most importantly, Kurt’s children, will know what he meant to this community and what he stood for. “

Picente, who has made fiscal responsibility a hallmark of his administration, opened his address with promising news on the county’s fiscal position. “When I first appeared before you as your County Executive, I laid out for you a vision that we have implemented year by year -- to build a region of innovation, to develop a culture of transformation, and to establish a rock-solid fiscal foundation without which no plan can succeed. We are on course. I am very proud to tell you that, based on the projected numbers we are seeing as of today, Oneida County will end 2011 under budget, which will mean that in every year of my administration, we have achieved an operating surplus while providing critical services to the people of Oneida County. That’s five consecutive years of sound fiscal stewardship and strong management oversight that ensures the fiscal stability of this county and allows us to look at the needs of our communities and our region from a position of strength.  We are not borrowing money to run our operations, or running a deficit. Throughout my administration, mandates have chewed up more and more dollars, but we have found the ingenuity along the way to deliver services in ways that save money.”

Picente cautioned that rising costs mean the county cannot loose its tight fiscal grip.  “Just because we have staved off the kind of red ink drowning other governments does not mean the county will be creating line items in the budget for everyone who wants and needs funding. We are elated that 2011 sales tax was up; but the history of our recent times has shown that a good economy can go bad quickly. My commitment to fiscal austerity was not a short-time gimmick. It’s a long-term commitment. The way government worked; the way government spent. That’s all history, and we are not going back to those days.”

Picente praised Gov. Cuomo’s proposals to help counties address Medicaid growth, but said the problem is deeper. “Broad and deep reforms are essential because New York must reduce the costs of this program. … When I look at the needs of Oneida County for infrastructure repairs, economic development investments, and community support services, and then I look at the millions taken for one mandate, I am very frustrated and angry that Oneida County’s people have been forced to do without because this state has never fully, totally reformed Medicaid and addressed the issue of mandates.”

Picente also praised Cuomo’s called for a new Tier VI in the State Retirement System. “I am a very strong believer in the worth of public employees. However, from 2001 to 2010, Oneida County’s retirement system payment went up 548%. I have this to say: The costs of inaction are far worse than the costs of change. We cannot afford to pretend this issue will go away. This has to be dealt with, and the Governor has taken the bull by the horns to act.”

Picente spoke at length about progress at Griffiss Airport by noting: “Change is coming. Change is already here.” He noted that:

-- Allegiant Air, a commercial aviation company, is exploring coming to Oneida County this fall to offer scheduled non-stop service to popular Florida destinations. “This is the proverbial toe being dipped into the water. They are considering flights a couple of days a week. But this is just a beginning. If they believe our region can support them and make them a profit, that is a strong vote of confidence in our economy and a first step that can lead to so much more. “

-- MidAir USA, a repair facility, is looking at an expansion that could mean another 106 jobs to work on giant 747s, along with the 213 jobs in its existing repair operation

-- MidAir’s fellow tenant, Premier Aviation, is now doing repair work for Air Canada, a solid contract that helps this important employer maintain around 150 jobs.

“Griffiss is a very apt symbol for everything we are doing in Oneida County. In some of our darkest days, it was a symbol of emptiness and defeat. No longer. We have been to the point where many of us decided success was not in the cards for this county. That is a mistake,” Picente said. “Today is a day to look at our successes and challenges and our vision for things that can be.”

In his wide-ranging message, Picente also said:

BRAC: Oneida County will be devoting $100,000 to the upcoming fight to preserve defense-related jobs at Griffiss. “I will be going to take an active, aggressive hands-on role by going to Washington to serve as a tireless advocate on behalf of our region at the Pentagon, at the Capitol, at any level that will help our cause,” Picente said. 

Redistricting: “Let me just urge all of you here to join me in expressing dissatisfaction with the disgraceful way Oneida County has been carved up in the various proposed scenarios of redistricting. Whether the redistricting gurus of Albany are looking at the state Senate, the Assembly, or Congress, the message should be the same: Oneida County deserves to be treated with respect and kept whole in the final drawing of district lines. Any other proposal is not worth the paper it is drawn upon.”

Public Market: Noting the strong success of the initial Public Market at Union Station in 2011, Picente said, “This year, now that our initial renovations are completed, we will be working to build upon the 40 to 50 vendors we had each week, and attract more than the 500 people who came each week. Through federal funding we secured, this year will be an exciting next step in a project that has been one of our most popular and successful initiatives.”

Broadacres: “County Government will issue an RFP to examine development proposals for the former Broadacres Skilled Nursing Facility in Deerfield,” Picente said. “We will, of course, work in partnership with town government and residents, but I think it is important that we examine the ideas that are out there. If we can take that empty property and find a use that enhances the community and our economy, I want to move forward.

Macy Nano-Center: “The investments we are making are long-range investments to secure an employer with transformational potential. Of course we have a choice. We can sit by and do nothing and be absolutely certain no such employer will come here, or we can work with our state and regional partners and develop this site to its fullest potential. We have already shown positive impacts. For example, more than $100 million in construction at SUNYIT has taken place that is linked to this effort. These investments set the stage for even more transformation to come.”

Home-building Tax credit: Picente proposes that County Government enact a local law, under Section 457 of the Real Property Tax Law, to create a five-year property tax exemption for income-eligible first-time homebuyers who purchase or build a newly constructed home. The tax exemption would start at 50%, and then be phased out.

High tech training: “Today’s youth are tomorrow’s workers and leaders.  We know nanotechnology will be a major part of the economy of the future.  Oneida County will be implementing the SEMI High Tech U project, in partnership with the Workforce Investment Board and the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties. SEMI High Tech U is an industry-driven, math and science based career exploration program.  Oneida County is funding $10,000 towards this partnership to assist in training 40 teachers from grades 7-12 this summer. I want to help our schools give our students the tools they need, and help get them excited about opportunities that exist today, and will exist tomorrow.”

Entrepreneurship: “Energy and enthusiasm are two of the most vital intangibles any community can have. Our county needs the bold, daring spirit that comes with entrepreneurship, as so many of you here today can attest in your personal stories. That’s why I’m excited to announce that County Government, in partnership with MVCC and other local colleges, as well as the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce, is developing a wide-ranging continuum of entrepreneurship activities. Everyone says we need to grow our own future. Through the anticipated launch of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy by MVCC and the other parts of this plan as they emerge, you will see that we are doing just that.”

Consolidation / Realignment: Picente, who had begun his successful quest to achieve consolidation of 9-1-1 centers in 2008’s State of the County Address, called for continued changes to make government work better.  “In the coming weeks, I will send our Board of Legislators a proposal that would replace our system of four elected County Coroners with a Medical Examiner’s office. With the greatest respect for the efforts of our current Coroners, I believe that we need to maximize the ability of Oneida County to provide high-level expertise to address the sophisticated level of forensics that are possible with today’s technology.”