Think of the taxpayer before spending

My wish someday is to see government not treat taxpayers so cavalierly while spending their money.


That goes for all levels of government — federal, state, city … all the way down. Unfortunately, we see municipalities put on the spot routinely to annually shovel out money when municipalities have to “sponsor” a state grant application on behalf of some other entity. This antiquated model is something New York state should be ashamed to still use, but it always catches local politicians in its unsuspecting web.

Politicians hate hearing there is no “government” money, rather it’s all “taxpayer” money. Hard-earned dollars are derived from the sweat of current and former employees living in the Empire State.

In the last couple years, the city of Johnstown has been left holding the bag with two grants that it sponsored.

The most recent was the Johnstown Renewables situation, which may eventually bear fruit, although I’m not holding my breath.

The city of Johnstown — its lawmakers and by extension its taxpayers — bent over backwards to assist Johnstown Renewables. That’s the acid whey plant that is supposed to be built at the Johnstown Industrial Park and create 30 jobs to start. Sounds good, right? The Johnstown Common Council in August 2016 granted a permanent pipeline easement agreement to assist Johnstown Renewables. The city had previously received a $405,000 federal Small Cities Community Development Block Grant to assist the company, as its municipal “sponsor.”

Taxpayers paid $17,000 for administration of the grant — money that’s already been spent. The problem is the death earlier this year of the largest investor in the construction project prompted construction to halt in June. No one really knows if this half-finished venture will ever see the light of day.

Not to pick on the city of Johnstown, but it also got caught in the grant-sponsoring game in May 2016 when the city hired a firm for $17,000 to administer a city grant received in December 2016 for St. John’s Episcopal Church’s food pantry project. The city was awarded $400,000 by the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal’s Community Development Block Grant program. But St. John’s eventually rejected the state grant and taxpayers were left with a $17,000 budget hole.

This kind of money shuffling involving municipalities forking over money to assist another entity in the hopes of some kind of eventual success happens all the time. It affects all municipalities.

Perhaps local politicians — those serving Fulton County, Glove Cities, the towns and villages — can scrutinize these grant applications a little closer and rule out all of the possible grant doomsday scenarios before they even act.

I know it’s easier said than done because when you get a bunch of politicians salivating over a potential project — and there’s piles of taxpayer money collecting dust — guess what’s going to happen?

∫ Keeping with Johnstown, the Johnstown Common Council on Aug. 21 went into a closed-door, executive session to discuss this rarely-used reason: “Matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed.” I informed Mayor Vern Jackson last week that if he really wanted to, he could partially disclose some of what the heck that was all about for his Johnstonian constituents.

“It’s not that we’re under attack,” the mayor joked.

Jackson then informed me — and by extension the public since this conversation is being disclosed — that the discussion had nothing to do with foreign intervention or even a natural disaster. All the mayor would say is that city residents will know why its lawmakers had to discuss matters that will imperil the city “by the end of September.”

Very mysterious, indeed.

∫Again keeping with Johnstown, here’s my take on last Monday’s dog-shooting-by-cop incident. I’m a pet lover, but I think the officer had a complete right to protect himself if he felt his life was “imperiled,” as they say. I only have two questions. What if he had missed the pit bull in this wild scene and a stray bullet hit, say, a person or kid on the street or in a house? Was there anything less lethal to put Sasha the pit bull down, say a tranquilzer or pepper spray?

Discharge of a police weapon is a very serious matter, and I, like everyone else, have a complete right to ask tough questions.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the newspaper or its editorial board.