With the regional medical center campus project moving forward, we don’t want to waste much time looking back. But since a particular point continues to be raised, even post-Election day, let’s indulge in a few words on answering NHD’s “put it to a vote” mantra.
Let us play this out for a moment. Pretend that everyone agrees that, even though MVHS is a private entity that receives public money, we will have a vote to determine the public will concerning the siting of a new hospital. Now that we’ve agreed to put “it” on the ballot, what shall “it” be?
- The downtown site, yes or no?
- Downtown vs. St. Luke’s, pick one?
- Six or 10 or 12 prospective sites, choose your favorite?
- A blank ballot, write in the site you think would be best?
As soon as everyone agrees on what the ballot should say, we could decide who gets to vote. (Isn’t this fun?) Here are some options, but you may have your own ideas:
- People in Utica’s first council district, since that’s where the hospital project will be built–and that’s the area of greatest impact, according to NHD, on existing business owners, residents? (It would be impolite to point out that NHD’s most vocal proponent among district council candidates lost in the first district, but we just did.)
- The entire “downtown district,” since NHD contends that much of it (they have said, variously, 1/4, 1/3, or 2/3) will be “bulldozed/destroyed” by the project?
- Why not let Utica voters decide? The project, after all, is slated to be built in the city, so perhaps city voters should decide, since their tax dollars will support the project in myriad ways, e.g., the parking garage?
- But wait! Oneida County taxpayers should also have some say, right? THEIR tax dollars will support the parking garage, etc., so shouldn’t they get to decide? (But only if the ballot option selected is 2, 3 or 4, above.)
- Hold on now. New York STATE taxpayers are investing $300 million in this project. Clearly, they are making the largest investment–so shouldn’t THEY get to vote? (We wonder how folks in Buffalo and on Long Island feel about the coming demolition of the Seakan building.)
Clearly, we all have some decisions to make: What shall we put on the ballot, and who gets to vote will take some time. But before we examine either issue even more thoroughly, let’s consider all the local precedent for having the public decide the location of a private firm’s proposed expansion/project location; perhaps precedent will provide a guide to deciding how we might go about this whole vote thing.
There don’t appear to have been any previous public votes in Utica to determine the location of any other project: small, large, public, private, public-private, etc.:
Utica National Insurance. Remember when this company announced that it would build a new building in Downtown Utica, on Lafayette Street, the largest new construction in years in that neighborhood, and the old structures that were there would have to go? Remember the public vote that took place? Exactly. There WAS no vote to determine the siting of a private project in Downtown Utica.
Harbor Point. And everything near it, in North Utica. Announcements of private entities planning to locate restaurants, motels, etc., in an area that the City of Utica has spent quite a lot of time and money developing, have been happening for years. City tax dollars are involved; proper development of Harbor Point could be critical for recreational and tourism investment and impact on the city for decades to come. Why wasn’t there a public vote on the location of each and every proposed project?
State University of New York. Perhaps you’re not old enough to remember that, in the 1960s, our friends in Albany decided to build a new SUNY campus somewhere in the Utica-Rome area. The government entities involved and our duly elected officials decided on the site. And DOZENS of private properties were affected by their decision. There was a great deal of discussion about which site would be best, but no public vote.
This reminds us of the siting of Utica’s main US Postal Service facility on Pitcher Street, which also seems to have come about without a public vote–even though millions of federal tax dollars were involved, but we think you get the point.
This seems to us a sufficient examination of the “why not put it to a vote” question, but rest assured: the negative persistence of the relative few will go on. And on.