The now-famous Schoharie County “stimulus wish-list” that has been circulated to state and federal representatives has been hailed as a coordinated, quick-thinking effort by our county’s leaders to get out in front of what could be a huge opportunity. However, it’s a shame that with all this energy and “quick thinking”, this quite extensive list was the best our county could come up with. Looking over the ambitious list of proposed projects, what I find most disheartening is the utter lack of vision shown by our county’s leadership. Instead of long-term, forward-thinking ideas that will foster vibrant and sustainable communities, this list is a one-stop funding shop for all of the absolute worst ideas that have been floating around Schoharie County for the past ten years, as well as some entirely new bad ideas.
The projects for which the county is requesting funding range from reckless speculative ploys to outrageous boondoggles to pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams. And those are the good ones! Then there’s the outright scandalous $90 million dollars being requested for three totally unwarranted I-88 exits. The notion that these new exits would stimulate job growth is doubtful at best. However, they would pad the wallets of the local highway developers (Lancaster) who will most likely get the contracts. Some of that money will trickle down to the workers but other than that there would be little upside.
But the real danger in proposing these interchanges is that if even one of them is funded, at $30 million a pop, and this takes away all that money for other needed projects it will be a colossal and tragic waste for this county.
At best, most of the projects reflect a wide-eyed belief that if only a new exit is built here, or a new water line here, or a gas line here that the skies will suddenly open up and jobs will rain down. All while the promise of Empire Zone-created jobs goes unfulfilled after over two years of waiting. Anyone who actually believes the county’s projected job creation figures, well, there’s a bridge on Podpadic Road for sale.
As usual, little thought is given to maintaining our downtowns as livable and functional communities. And this is the real opportunity associated with the stimulus bill, and it’s the one our leaders completely missed.
All of our commercial centers in Schoharie County are in need of facelifts, and this is nothing new. But where is the money for downtown streetscape improvements and façade rehabs? Where is the money to rehab the upper-level apartment units in Downtown Cobleskill’s business district? For that matter, where is the money to replace those damn windows in the Newberry Square building?
I know that its hard to restrain oneself when the government is giving away free money. Even those who regularly decry government pork are going hog wild. However, a list of bad projects that goes on and on (and on) is a bad strategy for capturing federal stimulus dollars. Even if there are good projects on the list, which there are, they are inevitably going to be overshadowed by all the bad ones. A far shorter list, with a few solid (and less costly) projects that are long overdue might have gone a lot further. In the end, it may be that our county’s leaders have actually screwed up something as simple as free money. Nice one, guys.