Minutes will be posted when they are received.
By Jessica Farrell
Thirteen years ago, a neighbor and I met with a local reporter to talk about the pervasive blight on Sidney Center’s Main Street. At that time, several dilapidated buildings in our tiny “downtown” had been spray-painted with racial slurs and swastikas. They remained that way for weeks. Years of absentee landlords had left these once grand structures as eyesores, dangerous havens for stray cats and straying kids. For me, the graffiti were the last straw in a string of insults that Sidney Center had suffered during my years living here. Frustrated, I started making phone calls to see what could be done. I connected with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. Plans were made for them to facilitate a visioning workshop in Sidney Center. My kids and I passed out flyers and invited neighbors.
In 2006, residents gathered to discuss the future of our hamlet. We received a small Main Street grant for community barrels. Flowers were planted and a cleanup was organized. Flags were hung to display pride in our home village. People in the hamlet started meeting once a month to organize projects. In June of that year, the hamlet was hit hard by a devastating flood. We organized a bigger clean up. Our spirits were not dampened.
Several years later, the group became a nonprofit, the Sidney Center Improvement Group (SCIG). We continue to hold meetings on the second Tuesday of the month to address issues related to the environment, safety, and beautification of our hamlet. We organize free community events for all. It’s a hardworking group of neighbors that generously give their time and talent for the betterment of our home.
Through the years, SCIG members met with different code enforcers and supervisors about Main Street, to no avail. Life moved on. My kids grew up. I began to believe the buildings would outlast me. No one had answers, no one wanted to take responsibility, not the absentee landlords, not the town, not the county. As an unincorporated hamlet, our concerns are not a priority.
Blight greatly impacts the overall mindset of a community. It affects the children growing up and the people who visit. Community minded neighbors become frustrated and move away. For years, our Main Street represented hopelessness despite all our efforts.
This spring giant red X’s and police tape were placed on three Main Street buildings. I was told this was to warn firemen not to enter these structures in an emergency. Roofs caved in and exterior walls buckled. People became fearful one of these looming wooden relics might fall or a curious child might enter and drop through the floorboards.
Then, this summer, one building began to collapse. Even the structures had finally had enough. Within a few weeks, it looked like a bomb had fallen on Main Street. Thirteen years ago, I didn’t have the internet. This time, I sent a letter with photographs far and wide. The reporter who had met me on Main Street all those years ago returned. Suddenly people took notice. Neighbors spoke with the press. A “Support Main Street” petition calling for the demolition of three buildings circulated. It received 150 signatures.
On September 11th, Town of Sidney supervisor Gene Pigford met with the community at the Sidney Center Fire Station. Approximately sixty people came out to voice their concerns. The supervisor and town board members were empathetic to our plight. They were working to contact the building’s owners and bring closure to what had become a critical safety issue. Mr. Pigford assured us that the buildings would be taken down before winter 2018. Two days later, the Sidney Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to remove all three structures. I was overjoyed! At last these unsafe eyesores will be replaced with green space.
How did we get to this point? The cycle of neglect was decades in the making. Condemned properties are sold and resold at tax auctions, often sight unseen. There’s no plan in place for repairs. Codes are not enforced. The county and town get tax dollars and can wash their hands of any responsibility. Our Main Street is the final stop in the cycle. This is what decades of neglect and unaccountability look like. Ultimately, tax payers pay the price.
Despite a love of old architecture, I’ll be happy to see these places go. I imagine the future. Maybe next spring small trees and flowers can be planted in our new Main Street green space. Soon our general store will reopen after being closed for years. It’s time for Main Street Sidney Center to turn over a new leaf. Some of that rests in our leadership’s hands, some in ours. I believe our community has demonstrated that we’re willing to do our part.
By Michael Sellitti
The Sidney Center Improvement Group (SCIG) is a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization formed over ten years ago with one basic idea – getting people together to clean up Sidney Center. We’ve come a long way since then. As volunteers working together, our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living in and around the hamlet of Sidney Center. To further this mission, SCIG focuses on three areas: free community events, clean water education and outreach, and beautification and improvement projects. All these share the common goal of promoting a healthy Upstate NY lifestyle and helping to change local attitudes about realizing the renewed potential of our area when it’s supported by meaningful progress.
Over the next few issues of The New Franklin Register, I will outline each focus area with fewer words and more pictures, in order to show the results of our work to the community and to the next generation, who we hope will either stay or return to this area.
Because beautification and general improvement was the Group’s founding motivation, it seems like a natural place to start. For many years, SCIG has maintained over thirty flower barrels and several large planters, one of which holds the community announcement sign. These were initially purchased with a grant the Group received. Every year, flowers are planted and maintained by volunteers. One can drive through the hamlet and not only see the beautiful flowers but also the lively insects that inhabit these barrels. These cheerful bugs were constructed and hand-painted by volunteers, adding a unique piece of art to each barrel.
Another project, years in the making, has been to restore and improve the hamlet entrance signs. At the start of last winter, the signs were taken down and reconstructed, with care taken to help the signs withstand the elements for years to come. This will not only the enhance the curb appeal of Sidney Center, but also remind motorists that they’re entering a small hamlet, so please drive slowly.
Finally, as has been written about in previous issues, the Sidney Center Park & Playground is in the process of being restored. This is a larger effort with multiple parties involved. The success of SCIG over the years can be attributed to the partnerships created to accomplish these tasks. This spring, SCIG received a donation of approximately 200 trees from NYSEG’s Vegetation Management Department. These were given out to the public for free, and a couple dozen were planted in the park.
SCIG is an all-volunteer organization, therefore the success of these projects is contingent on support from members, friends, local leaders, town & county departments, and folks from the community. We are funded entirely through donations, grants acquired for specific projects, and fundraising events. With any volunteer organization, it takes time to accomplish tasks. SCIG appreciates everyone’s patience and understanding while we make progress in Sidney Center. SCIG is always looking for new, fresh ideas and perspectives. Volunteers are always appreciated so if you’d like to help in our effort to make Sidney Center a nicer place to live, please consider attending a meeting, which are always open to the public. SCIG meets the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 6:30pm at the Sidney Center Fire Hall, unless our facebook page states otherwise.
By Sarah Outterson-Murphy
Many people worry about the cost of their own healthcare, but local business owners also worry about their employees.
“I can’t afford to offer healthcare to my coworkers,” said Faiga Brussel, owner of Good Cheap Food in Delhi. “Years ago, I tried, and quickly ran into a brick wall of financial disaster and had to backtrack. Now it is so much worse.”
Health coverage is particularly important for local farmers, well aware of their work’s physical dangers (https://goo.gl/hGXYKT).
“The occupation itself is an injury to your body,” said Eleanor Blakeslee-Drain, who owns Berry Brook Farm in Delancey. “So health insurance is a must for us.” Blakeslee-Drain, her husband, and two sons will lose Medicaid this year, because their vegetable farm now makes enough money that they no longer qualify. “We used to joke that since giant agribusiness gets massive government subsidies to not grow corn, Medicaid was our small farm’s subsidy. But without Medicaid, I’m worried that our options will be either expensive or not very good coverage.”
These and other small business owners in Delaware County support the New York Health Act, state legislation that would cover all healthcare for New York residents. According to the grassroots Campaign for New York Health (NYHCampaign.org), the bill would eliminate networks, deductibles, copays, and insurance companies. All medically necessary care (including vision, dental, prescriptions, and devices like dentures and hearing aids) would be covered, as determined by your primary care physician.
NY Health has gained momentum alongside calls for national Medicare for All. The bill (A4738/ S4840) passed the state Assembly on June 14 for the fourth year straight but needs one co-sponsor for a Senate majority. Senator Seward, who chairs the Insurance Committee, is not a co-sponsor.
NY Health will be financed through a progressive payroll tax with employers paying eighty percent and employees twenty percent, and a similar tax on capital gains for upper incomes. Those making under $25,000 a year would pay nothing, according to an analysis by economics professor Gerald Friedman (https://goo.gl/MWq3Rd). For those making $50,000, healthcare would cost employer and employee a total of $2,250 a year, and for those making $75,000, it would cost $5,000.
This tax would replace premiums, deductibles, and copays, and would cover all dependents. Friedman concludes that costs will be this low, even after expanding coverage, because single-payer NY Health will reduce administrative complexity and begin negotiating drug prices.
Currently, businesses pay a lot more. According to last year’s Kaiser Employer Health Benefits survey, 2017 premiums for family coverage increased to $17,615 for an average small business worker, with employer paying sixty percent and employee forty percent (https://goo.gl/yNrTP8).
For local businesses with thin profit margins, this cost is daunting. The median weekly wage in Delaware County is $820 (goo.gl/B5qC6K). Do the math: family health benefits add twenty-five percent to labor costs at an average Delaware County small business.
Such costs can force an impossible choice: go without health coverage, or go out of business. Pam Gueldner, who owns a food service business in Ithaca with forty employees, wishes she could provide health benefits for herself and her employees.
“Not having health care raises anxiety levels in staff, and also creates a lot of turnover because employees eventually seek jobs that provide health care,” Gueldner explained. Even covering just employees, not their families, would add ten percent to her business’s labor costs. “That doesn’t sound like much,” she said. “But when you consider that our profit margin is zero to five percent, providing healthcare would put us in the red.”
Even when businesses provide insurance, insurance covers less each year. Deductibles now average above $2,000 for small business employees, according to the Kaiser survey. Even insured people avoid getting necessary care, making them sicker and less productive at work. NY Health will eliminate deductibles and other financial obstacles to care.
By providing health coverage for everyone, supporters argue, NY Health would encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses without fear of losing coverage. NY Health ties coverage costs to workers’ income, easing the relative burden of healthcare costs on low-margin businesses. It also eliminates the time businesses spend to administer health plans, allowing them to focus on growth.
Meanwhile, according to Friedman, the savings from reducing people’s healthcare costs statewide will pump money into New York’s economy and create around 200,000 new jobs, many of them in small businesses glad to have comprehensive, affordable healthcare.
Small businesses may not earn big profits, but they drive our economy.
“We create jobs in agriculture with respectable wages, we grow food for our local community, and we try to give as much help as we’ve gotten from our friends and neighbors,” says Blakeslee-Drain. “NY Health would level the playing field for farming families like mine.”
Sarah Outterson-Murphy lives in Delhi, parents two small children, and teaches English part-time.