- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

(Plattsburgh) Press-Republican on property assessments by the Plattsburgh city government.

June 14

The City of Plattsburgh Common Council must stop stepping outside its boundaries to reduce property assessments.

Councilors have granted a couple of controversial reductions and that has opened the door to more entities entreating them to lower property values.



When assessments are reduced, the amount collected in taxes lessens - and that is not what the city needs as it struggles with a budget that is bursting its seams.

The City of Plattsburgh’s total taxable property value for 2017 is $1,013,868,350, but another $431,334,050 worth of property provides no revenue, as it is wholly tax-exempt.

So the money lost from individual properties that are granted reductions has to be spread to the other taxpayers. And it’s not just the City of Plattsburgh that is affected - the City School District and Clinton County get a piece of the tax pie as well.

The former Imperial Mill property on Main Mill Street was one of the first to make a special arrangement with the city when, in 2013, it was granted a sizable assessment reduction - from $7.8 million to $200,000. It is scheduled to gradually increase to $1 million by 2026.

College Suites (now Broad Street Commons) approached the Common Council for reduction in assessment from $12 million to $5.3 million in 2015, as it was going through a reorganization in bankruptcy court. That change was granted in a controversial decision, with city officials saying it was better to get a reduced amount of tax money than to foreclose on the property and risk it sitting empty.

Earlier this year, city councilors agreed to reduce the property assessment for Vilas Home, the stately senior-care home at the corner of Cornelia and Beekman streets, from $2.7 million to $2 million.

Renaissance Village on South Catherine Street is also seeking to have its assessment lowered from $4,449,000 to $3,108,305. The City Grievance Board denied the appeal, and owner Eugene Creech took the matter to court.

He says he has fewer tenants these days - only 112 of 183 units were full - and directly cited the reduction the council gave to College Suites. “It’s only fair,” he said, that his assessment be lowered as well.

The city has a trained assessor who comes up with the property assessments.

Owners who are unhappy with their number have an established route to pursue in appealing their assessment: the Grievance Board. That five-member body weighs the evidence, as prescribed by law, and votes on a decision.

It is not the Common Council’s job to step in and make changes based on information that is outside the parameters that should be followed.

Assessments should not be based on the property owner’s ability to pay taxes.

Nor should the city give breaks depending on who the owner is - for example, out of empathy with an entity that provides needed services.

New York state stipulates that assessments be based on the true worth of the property, assessed at 100 percent of their market value.

If, for example, a developer overbuilt on an apartment complex - as some might argue College Suites did - and then, years later, was not able to fill the units, that is not the fault of the Common Council or the other taxpayers who share the cost of city services.

When approached for an assessment reduction, the Common Council must send the property through the proper appeal channels. That is the route that is most fair for all city taxpayers.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2rsoR67

The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on a potential presidential for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

June 13

Consider what Gov. Andrew Cuomo did in just the past week.

He reaffirmed that “health care is a human right” and issued orders that will protect New Yorkers from whatever becomes of the House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that is now being considered in the U.S. Senate.

As soon as President Donald Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, he joined with governors Jerry Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington to form the United States Climate Alliance, states which will work on their own to uphold the provisions. Since then 10 other governors have signed up and six more have expressed interest.

He appeared with Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, to announce a push to defeat six Republican House members, including John Faso, in the next elections in 2018 to help give Democrats a majority.

And he finally stepped into a lingering Albany stalemate saying that it would be optimal for Democrats to control the Senate, as they do the Assembly, now that a win in a special election on Long Island gives nominal Democrats a slim majority if they would all caucus and vote together.

If there were any doubt about his ambitions, these should put them to rest. He is on a mission to solidify the Democratic brand in the state and win re-election as governor in 2018 with a margin so wide that it will propel him to the top of the list to take on Donald Trump in 2020.

And he is doing this from a position of formidable strength. The most recent Siena College poll showed that his popularity in New York was up dramatically, the highest since 2014. And the numbers show that support is both wide and deep.

He is popular among men and women, in the city, suburbs and upstate, among young, middle-aged and old, in households with low, moderate and high incomes. The only category where Cuomo’s unfavorable ratings beat his favorable ones is with Republicans. But you have to take that in context because Republicans in New York really don’t like anybody, being the only category giving a thumbs down to both the Senate and Assembly as well as the governor.

Add to all these moves his flawed Excelsior scholarship plan to make college more affordable and his longtime support for gay rights and women’s rights and you can make the case that Cuomo is trying to follow in some impressive footsteps. Franklin Roosevelt implemented the New Deal in Washington as president only after trying out many of the features as governor in Albany.

Those who like the governor and those who do not can agree that he operates under a cloud, the one that started when he summarily disbanded the corruption-fighting Moreland Commission after it got too close to home and that continues with investigations and prosecutions of some of his colleagues.

If Cuomo survives, he will have to be sure to thank Donald Trump who fired Preet Bharara as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, diluting a threat to both.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2rs7cvr

The (Auburn) Citizen on saving Owasco Lake.

June 14

There are a lot of differing opinions about the biggest problems facing Owasco Lake - and some competing theories about what the biggest contributors to its degraded water quality might be and what should be done to mitigate them. At the end of the day, however, there is strong agreement that the lake is one of the most important assets of the Cayuga County area, so we encourage everyone to play a part in planning for its long-term future.

Two upcoming meetings have the potential to play a big part in planning for the lake’s future - but only if the public pays attention and gets involved.

The meetings are being held by a committee that will review the current rules governing the lake’s watershed - a process that hasn’t been completed in more than 30 years - and likely recommend some changes. A report will be forwarded to the state Department of Health for final approval.

And the key to effective, responsible changes in watershed regulations will be robust involvement from a wide spectrum of stakeholders. There are a variety of concerns, including blue-green algae, faulty septic systems, erosion and agriculture. So it’s important that everyone comes to the table with an open mind and an expectation that there may be things about potential revisions they don’t like.

This isn’t an issue to be ignored and let someone else take care of. It isn’t a government issue, it’s a community issue. And the community needs to play a part in carefully steering the future of Owasco Lake. The success of this exercise will be finding consensus, and key to doing that will be honest - but civil - discourse between people who are concerned about the lake. And that includes all of us.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2s1Q6TR

The (Syracuse) Post Standard protecting the sanctity of voting.

June 9

What if we held an election and nobody believed the results?

That is the seed of doubt Russian agents sought to plant when they attempted to hack into the computers of a voting services company in Florida, according to leaked classified documents. Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election - the topic consuming Washington, D.C. - reached deeper into local election infrastructure than anyone previously thought.

And we mean local. Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland and Orange counties in New York are customers of the voting company that was hacked. They use VR Systems’ EVid system, an electronic poll book, to verify that voters are registered. Onondaga County still relies on the official paper poll book to check in voters at the polls, and the state Board of Elections says there is no evidence hackers compromised voter registration rolls in New York.

Still, it’s alarming that hackers might have tried, and more frightening to imagine what might happen the next time if vulnerabilities in our election systems aren’t fixed.

The decentralized nature of elections in this country often is portrayed as a strength. Each state has its own rules and each county has its own elections board to run polling stations and count votes. There is no single, national system of voter registration or vote counting that can be hacked. However, states and localities with aging equipment and a lack of technical expertise and funding remain fat targets for cyber attackers. In our closely divided country, it might only take a swing district here or there to swing an election outcome.

It is 15 years since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, after the razor-thin presidential election of 2000 was decided by a few hundred hanging chads in Florida. HAVA required states to modernize voting equipment and make it easier for disabled people and military voters to cast ballots.

In New York, HAVA’s implementation was slow and contentious. But the state made the right choice in choosing optical scanners and paper ballots, ensuring that hand recounts can be done, if necessary. Many other states use touch-screen voting machines, and in at least 15 states, voters leave no paper trail at all.

The Russian “spear-phishing” campaign targeting local elections officials is a wake-up call for every state and local elections board. They need to regularly update voting software and hardware, harden their defenses against cyberattacks and train their staffs to recognize and thwart attempts to mess with voting systems.

Voting is the machinery of democracy. It is also its foundation. Attacks that undermine the integrity of the ballot box ought to be met with resolve and action.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2sp1qtM

The New York Times on protesting in Russia.

June 14

Let’s get this out front: Aleksei Navalny, who called the protests against corruption held across Russia on Monday and was himself once again arrested, will not defeat Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency in March 2018. Mr. Putin has a firm grip on power, continues to enjoy enormous popularity among Russians and controls Russian television. So why do these demonstrations - this one was the second in four months - arouse worldwide interest?

One reason is that they offer evidence that Mr. Putin and his cohorts, despite all their power, have been unable to cow Russians into silence. Though a large majority cherish the stability Mr. Putin has brought or accept his claims that Russia’s problems are the work of a devious West, Mr. Navalny and other critics of the government have succeeded in mobilizing the internet and social media to maintain a lively opposition in major cities. The thousands of demonstrators who were out in the streets on Monday may be only a small fraction of the population, but many were young and all went out knowing that there was a high risk of arrest. In fact, more than 700 were detained in Moscow and 300 in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Navalny has shown himself a master of mobilization. Though he has been criticized by some liberals for his history of nationalist views, he has focused his indignation in his popular blogs and calls for protests on what is arguably the most vulnerable attribute of the ruling elite: its corruption. Though somewhat tolerated in better times, the wealth accumulated by Russia’s rulers, which Mr. Navalny has documented, grates on people feeling the economy turn increasingly sour.

Mr. Navalny’s latest sally was a remarkable video cataloging the purported riches of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, including estates, yachts and a European vineyard. Among the amenities on one of Mr. Medvedev’s properties was a special shelter for ducks, which has provided demonstrators with a popular prop: large yellow toy ducks.

Mr. Navalny called the protests for Russia Day, a national holiday, when Mr. Putin would be celebrating “political stability, unity of goals and the consolidation of the country.” And instead of holding the demonstration at an authorized location outside Moscow’s center, he shifted it at the last moment to the central Tverskaya Street, which had been cordoned off for re-enactments of major Russian historic events. That ensured a police crackdown on the protesters - many of whom carried Russian flags while chanting “Russia without Putin” to underscore that they are the true patriots - in the midst of holiday crowds and people in historical costumes. Mr. Navalny himself was arrested leaving his home and quickly sentenced to 30 days in jail.

State television predictably took no notice of the protests, focusing instead on Mr. Putin presiding over a Russia Day award ceremony. But pretending the protests didn’t happen won’t work forever.

They strike at a weakness in Mr. Putin’s system of rule - pervasive corruption and lack of accountability - that is painfully familiar to most Russians in every corner of the land, and that Mr. Putin cannot facilely dismiss as the work of a hostile West.

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Online: https://nyti.ms/2rrHuHo

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