Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thieves and scoundrels!

Readers here will get another preview of a letter I just sent to the editor.
Many of my fellow New Paltz residents may have seen the sign I placed in front of my home on South Chestnut Street, which proclaimed, "Homeowners are for the Middle School - Landlords are NOT!" My home was a good location for this sign, because it is not only highly visible, it's just down the street from a very expensive anti-Middle School sign on a rental property. (There are several of those large signs around town, all of which are on multi-unit, non-owner-occupied buildings.)

This morning I discovered that the sign, which was secured to a tree in my yard by and Eagle Scout well acquainted with knots, was missing.

I respect the fact that people have differing views on the Middle School. I welcome debate. I'm even open to change my own position, if I hear enough evidence to sway me. I do not have children in school, so I will not be swayed by emotional arguments, but I relish a factual debate.

I draw the line at supporting petty thievery to silence the opposition.
And yes, I'm filing a police report and sincerely hope the bastards are caught. On the other hand, if they need to be this petty they must be scared.


Brittany Turner said...

anti-middle school signs have been stolen, too. but i'm sorry to hear that yours was also taken.

Terence said...

I think it's reprehensible no matter what side of the issue you're on. This is why I characterize my activities as civic interest rather than politics. Politics is a deep pool with scum on the top, and I won't swim in it.

Brittany Turner said...

that's probably for the best. i heard it can give you a nasty rash, or just turn you orange...

AwesomeMaria said...

especially if it was on PRIVATE PROPERTY! I think that signs on public property are fair game ;)

but someone had to walk into your front yard, and cut the sign down with a knife.


the googlemanfriend said it best...the people are going to vote how they are going to vote...and if they vote the project no, and have a bigger tax increase down the road (in the long run...)....they sure will reap what they sow!!!

wanna make a new one?

Anonymous said...

With $50 million plus on the table, I too think the community is owed a better factual debate than what we've seen so far. In other communities, the local newspapers often do the investigative reporting necessary to get past the BS talking points and itemize what the true differences of opinions are on the facts. I wish we had a substantive local media here. This weeks New Paltz Times just skated on the pro side side of the bond issue and had virtually nothing to say about whether the points raised by the opposition had merit when examined objectively. One item for discussion-- can the school really be built at lower cost during our recession since they must pay the state's mandatory prevailing wages no mater how many people would be happy to work for less? Steve Greenfield is usually the one for some analysis, but he seems lost in the whirlpool of support and is pushing the flow forward without truly understanding the questions about the direction headed. My mama always said "when in doubt, don't do it." There may be some wisdom there.

Martin McPhillips said...

@ Anonymous

If you missed the presentation by Josh Honig and Kevin Barry to the town board last night (1/28) you should try to catch a replay on public access. It comes fairly early in the board meeting. They made some pretty devastating arguments in opposition to the renovation. Anyone who sees it will at least be given pause before they vote in favor of the bond.

P.S.: There are so many "Anonymous" posters now that it's hard to tell one from the other. Could I suggest taking a screen name?

Steve Greenfield said...

Anonymous --

I am not "lost in the whirlpool of support," which is a pretty non-objective description of support. Obviously I support the project, but only for objective reasons, and not because I or any other supporter have been caught in a powerful downdraft of irrational excitement.

Yes, we can get lower construction costs now than whenever an "upturn" returns. It has nothing to do with prevailing wages. It's the profit end where you find the savings. This is a matter of record -- bids for public projects are coming in below estimated costs. Two Village projects just came in at an average of 20% below projections.

The other element of recession that works heavily in our favor is interest rates. They are at historic lows right now, and the fed just renewed those low rates. The first thing that happens as recovery reaches a level where people feel more comfortable opening their wallets again is interest rates are raised to keep inflation from running away and eating up all the gains. This, too, is historic fact. Over 20 years, if the interest rate goes up just one percent due to "recovery," the cost of the project goes up $620,000. And of course by then prevailing wages will be even higher, fuel prices for the construction machinery will be higher, and construction companies, being busier, will be less hungry for any individual project and will submit higher bids, and then the higher interest will be added to that, so you're talking about a substantially increased cost.

This is not my opinion. There is a historic record of interest rates. There is current public construction bid history. There is confirmation of this from every school construction management and architectural firm I have questioned. There is universal agreement. In other words, no doubt. That is why it is easy for me to display my commitment to moving forward with confidence. It is not that I cannot acknowledge the questions. It is that I've spent two years going over them and I'm certain about the answers.

And you are right -- we are owed a better factual debate, but not because of a lack of objectivity by the NP Times. They opened their story this week with citations of the opposition's argument that the real debt is 100 mil and the state aid will not come through. Then they went with the counterargument of the real debt figures and the near-certainty of the aid. It turns out that those answers are correct. So once that's established as fact, concentrating the reporting on that is objective. We as a culture have lost our understanding of objective reporting. It doesn't mean reporting both sides (or as many sides as there may be) of in issue regardless of facts. It means pursuing all the questions raised, finding out the answers, and then reporting the truth. Some things, like should we use public funds to put up night lights at public basketball courts, are completely matters of opinion. Other things, like what is today's interest rate vs. historic trends in various economic conditions, or what is the current experience in public projects receiving bids for major construction, or what will be the operating cost of a new building vs. the old one, are matters of fact and are properly reported as such.

Martin McPhillips said...

The question of interest rates and construction costs are secondary.

The primary question is whether the $50 million plan to renovate the Middle School is the right approach. Or whether a much more modest repair overhaul is the way to go.

The interest rates and construction costs will be the same for either approach.

Anonymous said...

@Martin - please, consider the source

Josh Honig, um, 'nuff said

Kevin Barry, owns the property next to the high school, you have heard of vested interests? 'nuff said

And what is up with Zimet? Strange bedfellows this anti-tax hysteria movement has created. Where in the world has her judgement gone? Aligning with Gabrielli? the guy that funded and ran anti-Wetlands law campaign????

Martin McPhillips said...

@ Anonymous

I try to go by the arguments, not who is making them.

The presentation that Honig and Barry made to the school board was well organized and well expressed. I didn't agree with every word of it, but it certainly captured some important themes about the fiscal problems the state is having and how those are likely to impact the school district. A mere 'not good' impact would be the rosy scenario.

The innuendo about Barry, that he is somehow angling his property on South Putt into the equation by wanting the school district to spend less money renovating the Middle School makes no sense.

As for Honig, I've heard him many times during public comment to the town board and have usually been unimpressed and on one occasion appalled, but on Thursday night he was as sharp as I've ever seen anyone in town. He had his high beams on and he was very good.

Your characterization of the opposition to this project as "anti-tax hysteria" suggests that you presume too much about the state of your neighbor's pocket.

Martin McPhillips said...

P.S.: Correction -- that first sentence in the second paragraph of my last comment should read "presentation...made to the town board."

Need more coffee.

Steve Greenfield said...

There arguments made by Barry and Honig are false. The total debt to the district will be only 56 million after the bond is passed, not 100 million. The current budget has its state building aid intact, and the new budget just submitted by Paterson, while making good on its threat to cut all kinds of things, actually INCREASED school building aid by 222 million dollars over this year. So no matter how well-organized their talking points may have appeared to you, they are made up, so the points only score with people who already agree with them or don't know that they're lying. I'd hardly call that devastating in its impact. And since they both know that the aid in question is being increased, not cut, and since they know that means only the $56 million debt figure is accurate, that also makes them scoundrels of the first order who are trying to screw you out of your right to make informed democratic choices. Their strategy to succeed is to round up enough people who don't know the truth and manipulate them with unwarranted fear. Building aid is less likely to be cut than the chance we'll find Saddam's WMD's. You should be excoriating these people, not lauding them.

But you don't care about that. You're entrenched in your camp, and you'll stay there, no matter what evidence emerges that you're mistaken. You'll cheer on liars and thieves.

And the question of bid rates and interest rates may not matter to you, but they matter to a different poster who did not use a name, who had specifically requested explanations on those matters. They are also primary, not secondary questions, as they will be major contributors to the actual financial burden the taxpayers are being asked to assume, which, believe it or not, actually matters to rational voters trying to honestly weigh whether they think they can afford what they're being asked to take on.

Martin McPhillips said...

Well, let anyone interested watch the presentation by Honig and Barry, which involves much more than the prospective size of the debt, and let the viewers make up their own minds.

And I didn't say (my words are plain) that interest rates and construction costs don't matter. I accurately stated that they are a secondary issue. The primary issue is whether the proposed $50 million renovation is the right way to go. Or if a more modest approach would be in order.

The construction costs and interest rates will apply to both approaches, i.e., are secondary to the primary question.

Martin McPhillips said...


My first comment on this, or one of the first, that I made here at Terence's place, was that there was 'forensic insufficiency' on both sides of this debate.

I'm happy to stipulate to the lowest possible number for increased debt, which I pegged at $40 million ($30 million principal; $10 million interest), if all the expected state aid came through.

Nonetheless, I don't go for that kind of expenditure based on the pitch that it will only cost me the price of a Salad Shooter every month for 20 years.

That's a criterion, perhaps, but there are many more questions involved, some of which I've raised in previous posts.

Anonymous said...

OMG - Did Steve Greenfield just admit(see 5:58am) the Local Share WITH STATE AID is $56 MILLION IF THE BOND IS PASSED....

Where is that in ANY of the fancy brocures, power points, news letters etc that the School Board is printing with our tax dollars!

They claim - over and over - that the local share is only $29 Million! THey claim the $29 MILLION includes "ALL" associated costs. They have refused to admit the interest of $27 Million is associate with the cost of this proposal.

Just goes to show you - if you let Greenfield talk long enough he lets the truth slip out once in a while.

Anonymous said...

I jsut talked to Steve and KT a few days ago. They both told me the local share was $29 Million. I thought that was too much.

Now Steve says the local share is not $29 Million. Now it is $56 Million. What is going on? They haven't changed it on the School's web site?

How come someone doesn't have the actual number?

What really upsets me is listening to Rick Linden say he can't tell us how much the district has in savings if we spend $4 Million on this project? How can he or the school board not know how much is left in savings?

Anonymous said...

It always seems to me that when someone begins to make personal attacks, it is because they have run out of rational arguements. Enough name calling, what are you , 6 years old. What a fine example you are all setting for our kids.

By the way , my "vote No" sign has been taken twice,and it was nailed to a tree, both times. My neighbor saw a car stopped and wrote down the plate number, but really...

kt tobin flusser said...

Reveal thyself anonymous! When did I talk to you? Gadfly allows anonymous posting, but we greatly prefer it when people sign their names.

If it was at Lenape the other night, Rick Linden clearly reviewed these numbers, and very precisely delineated the difference between the principal and debt of this particular project, and the impact on the total district debt as a result, with and without the inclusion of interest. Even though the likelihood of no state aid is near zero, he also included scenarios assuming no state aid. These numbers and scenarios have been discussed by the board and presented to the public many, many times over the past five months.

With the addition of the Middle School project to the district's current debt, the total debt for the district will be $56m (and perhaps as low as $52m with the use of reserves). That includes ALL debt. This debt load is comparable to similar districts in NYS and at no time during the life of the loan will the proportion of debt to the overall budget get anywhere near fiscal warning levels as defined by the state comptroller's office.

Looking just at the currently proposed project, the local share of the Middle School project is $29m, $45 with interest.

The bottom line is this - for taxpayers, which includes both current debt and the MS project, $13.55 a month for a median valued home ($297K) over the life of the twenty year loan.

Note: Just so we are clear, this is me talking here, as an individual and not as a representive of the school board. All the info I have provided here has been discussed many times in public board meetings. And anonymous, I would be happy to discuss this proposal with you or anyone else that is interested - my phone number is 256.9691.

Martin McPhillips said...

KT in the fourth paragraph: "Looking just at the currently proposed project, the local share of the Middle School project is $29m, $45 [million] with interest."

O.K., so the "local share" of the Middle School renovation is actually $45 million when including the interest.

In your previous paragraph you imply that the current debt is $26 million. (I subtracted new app. $30 million debt from $56 million total debt = $26 million of existing debt.)

But if you add the potential new debt of $45 million (including interest) for the Middle School to the $26 million existing debt then you have $71 million total debt, not $56 million.

The next question: is that $26 million of existing debt just the principal? If so, what's the interest? If it doesn't already include the interest, then add the interest for that to the $71 million.

I note that in the school district's new newsletter (about to coincidentally hit mailboxes district-wide), which features the proposed renovation, there is no mention of the interest on the new borrowing, just steady reputation of the $29,750,000 as the "local share." Is that honest?

Martin McPhillips said...

Note: I'm assuming just above that KT calculates the total debt of $56 million by adding only the principal of the new debt, $30 million. That leaves, in my assumption, the existing debt at $26 million.

And that in turn leads me to ask if that $26 million is principal only (so that the $56 million total debt is merely the total of the new principal with the current unpaid principal on existing debt of $26).

It's possible, but it doesn't sound like it from the way KT states it, that to achieve the $56 million total debt she is adding $45 million of new principal and interest for the Middle School to an existing debt of $11 million.

Martin McPhillips said...

I can't blame lack of coffee this time: In the first of my previous two comments I wrote in the last paragraph "just steady reputation," when it should read "just steady repetition."

kt tobin flusser said...

@Martin, Rick Linden will have a letter to the editor this week that explains it all, I am not going to try to do a better job than he in explaining it. Some of the math your attempting is not that simply done because different debts are retiring at different points before and after the MS loan would be taken. I stand by the bottom line of $13.55 (on average, I neglected to note that above) across the 20 years after the MS loan is initially taken.

Lastly, you asked whether or not the portrayal of cost with principal only is honest. It is standard procedure to define capital projects at their costs. All general purpose governments and school districts conventionally portray costs in this way. (As do real estate brokers when selling houses.)

That said, in response to board discussions and public input, the $13.55 number is on the first page of the newsletter - which is a number based on principal and interest on all district debt.

Martin McPhillips said...

I think you've answered my question.

The figure of $56 million total debt is achieved by adding app $30 million of new principal debt (for Middle School) to app. $26 million of existing principal debt.

O.K., so add in app. $15 million for interest on the Middle School principal and we're up to $71 million in debt obligation. All we need is the interest owed on the existing debt to get to the total debt obligation to New Paltz taxpayers for the school district.

Then you write this:

"Lastly, you asked whether or not the portrayal of cost with principal only is honest. It is standard procedure to define capital projects at their costs. All general purpose governments and school districts conventionally portray costs in this way. (As do real estate brokers when selling houses.)

You know, I'm always reluctant to call the "fallacy of common practice," but I'm going to do it here. That's just not a good answer to the question of why the school district newsletter fails to mention the interest on the Middle School project (app. $15 million) in its newsletter.

If you're going to tell me "just like a real estate agent," well, a real estate agent conveys the seller's asking price and the bank tells you what the interest rate will be.

The school district owes taxpayers more, not less, information.

Steve said...

The following is my personal statement and is not an official position of the school board.

No, "Anonymous," I did not "admit" that the total cost if the bond passes if $56 million. So we did not learn that if I type enough I'll accidentally "reveal" something. All we've learned is that if you read enough, you're reading comprehension problem will give you something to misunderstand and your ego problem will motivate you to declare it, "gotcha"-loving culture we've become.

The Middle School local share, with interest over its full 20 years if the bond passes, is $45 million. Not 56 million. And not all of that $45 mil is to be paid out of taxes --the referendum calls for $4 mil to come out of district savings accounts -- which is the reason those savings were set aside in the first place.

There are still payments being made on debt taken on for the High School expansion, and a few much smaller projects. That has nothing to do with the Middle School. But the existence of that debt, including amounts, projects from which it derived, payment and state aid rates, and all other relevant data has been repeatedly acknowledged by the district, and the only confusion is why the opposition insists on listing it as $24 million when our share of it is only $11 million, which has also been repeatedly explained. Those of you who are complaining that the district's voters deserve an honest explanation of the debt burden are right - and you've been getting that consistently from district officials and school board members.

The people who are causing confusion (and even rage) be deliberately making stuff up (I say deliberately because all of them have been at the meetings where the business manager and school construction project managers have explained the reality, verbally and on papers distributed to the oppenents, but they continue to flog the false info) are the bond's opponents. Take your complaing about voters deserving a better presentation to them.

Martin McPhillips said...

The school district had the opportunity to make all of these numbers perfectly clear to every person in the district in its newsletter, but it didn't.

There's no mention of the interest costs for the Middle School project in that final pitch to the public. One would think that here was an opportunity to lay it out in plain black and white terms. But...

It throws the district's candor about this matter into doubt.

gadfly3 said...

The school board is saying that it is only presently a couple of hundred dollars more in taxes and is therefore no big deal. I would refer them to the current village tax default list recently published in the 2/4/10 new paltz times. ( This is only a list of village defaults not town, school county.)
I have been told this is the biggest list the village has published. Imagine what it will be next year. Imagine how many seniors will be forced out next year. I have no problem with education when the money goes for the children, not the administrators prestige or fancy store rooms or other non educational items. When reading the village tax sale list, I believe some of the names are of those who have taken strong stands for or against. Don't talk to me about taxes unless you have paid your fair share