November 19, 2013

Editorial: New state role after tax cap


---- — The crucial effort by the City of Plattsburgh to rebuild South Catherine Street points up the new irony in local government in New York state: A city can’t afford an expensive project because the state won’t allow extra spending. So the state has to pay for the project.

No rational person could deny that South Catherine Street needs an overhaul — even Gov. Cuomo, who has seen it. The pavement is pitted and rutted, and what’s underneath — water and sewer lines — needs replacing.

This condition didn’t just come to the attention of Mayor Donald Kasprzak, City Engineer Kevin Farrington and the Common Council. It has been a well-known problem for more years than anyone would like to acknowledge.

It has even been the source of a class debate throughout the city. Some people on the South End of the city, for which South Catherine is the main artery, have long believed that it is because theirs is the less affluent side of town that nothing has been done. Had, say, North Catherine Street or Prospect Avenue been the scene of such neglect, something would have been done about it years ago, they insist.

First-class housing has developed in the South End over the years, though, as former Plattsburgh Air Force Base property has transformed into cozy communities.

Additionally, South Catherine Street has evolved into one of the city’s showcase thoroughfares. It is used by Canadians rushing to Plattsburgh International Airport for cheap flights South and West and busy executives headed for thriving industries in the South End. Potholes, travelers and executives make uncomfortable bedfellows.

For generations, city leaders have been especially protective of streets that are entry points into town, fearing visitors would get an unfavorable first impression of Plattsburgh before the city had a chance to sell itself.

South Catherine Street is not an entrance point, but it certainly has the potential to create a lot of unfavorable impressions.

By now, the deterioration there has ballooned into an $8 million project. For a city with an annual total budget of around $50 million, that’s an imposing amount to manage — especially now, with the state’s 2 percent cap on local taxes.

So where does the city go for the funds? The state, of course.

The city hopes to have the state OK money for the project within months, if not weeks. Then, the work could begin with the spring thaw and continue, if necessary, into 2015.

Let’s hope the state embraces its new role of pitching in on local costs.