HAMILTON: Are Tompkins’ Voters Looking for the “Morning-After the Vote Pill?”

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By: Ken Hamilton

The vote on who would make the sub-decision on raising taxes or paying a garbage fee was up to the voters; however, with that said, I think that the council made the wrong decision: the garbage fee only represents the seemingly long habit of trashy-thinking that city councils have long used to create the problem of having to vote on it in the first place. It doesn’t solve a fundamental problem, it just gives room to make more fundamental mistakes.

But with that said, and with the newly-reelected Niagara Falls Republican City Councilman Ken Tompkins being the swing vote, despite local newspapers heralding the semi-historic news of ‘the first time in decades that the council has had a Republican majority’, even that represents another problem borne of faulty-thinking. 

In Tompkins’ case, one has to wonder if the outcome would have been any different regardless for whom voters voted — in this council, or in the councils to come.

Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted to blast Tompkins for his vote for the extra burden on city residents. But in the course of his phone interview about it, the sub-issues of why the garbage fee seemed necessary arose, particularly in his justification for further burdening the homeowners and landlords with paying for a service for which they had long been paying through their taxes. In so doing; it all reminded me of the transition from the city’s water department to a water board.

It is evident that few, if any of the city’s politicians understand the fundamental purpose for why the city even exists; and if they did, then things like the water board, the garbage fee-in-lieu-of-taxes, HOPE-VI, the train station, and even conversations of when to build or to place statues and old chimneys wouldn’t be an issue.


City Councilman Ken Tompkins


When the garbage totes were implemented, the city did “look” a lot better. But when the city was incorporated on that March 15th, St. Patrick’s Day back in 1892, it wasn’t a very pretty place to begin with. No one incorporated it for the purposes of aesthetics, it was incorporated for the purposes of business, and the gorge would soon be lined with factories and railroads, and the upper river with and north-end with smoke-belching chimneys.

Now do we have to pay double for sanitation, health and safety?

The purpose of cities collecting garbage and trash was and is for the purposes of health, sanitation and safety. The cost of not picking it up and burning it, preventing epidemics, far outweighed the cost of so doing. That’s why it was fairly-paid with resident’s taxes, because of the public good that it provided – much as does streets, sidewalks, and the public safety of firefighting and policing. It would be great if those sub-set of criminals that drive up public safety cost had to also carry the burden of paying for it, but that ain’t going to happen because they are unwilling to do so; but we can count on good citizens paying their garbage fee, can’t we? What next: a sidewalk fee for baby buggies and a street fee for automobiles?

And then there’s the idea that there is a Republican or a Democratic way of micro-managing a city. There isn’t, but the political philosophy of a conservative or a liberal way of spending certainly holds sway – but even that has to be considered before any spending is done at all. We must stop this party affiliation thinking and expectations and begin to hold close to how the city charter says that we are supposed to run it. City councilmen and any candidate should be able to quote the charter in the same way that an old circuit preacher can quote the Bible, elsewise none are fit to be a councilman – and our city reflects that.

But we also have to have council people who understand the history of the city to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. Tompkins said in his interview that he is a registered Republican, but he must make his decisions outside of party-think for what he feels is the best for the city.  Kennedy said likewise in his texts, nobly adding, “… I have to govern as if I’m not going to get reelected.” And he may not.

Tompkins indicated that a raising of taxes to cover the trash pickup would likely lower the city’s bond rating to “junk bond status”, making it harder for us to borrow money and would further raise our interest rates.” He’s right, and that’s the same argument that I heard under the Elia administration in discussions about divesting the water department. And here we are, doing it again to solve the problem of doing it in the first place!

By spinning off water board debt, the city’s credit rating rose and it was able to borrow even more money at a lower rate, with significant savings to the city. But don’t you think that good budgeting and reducing the amount of borrowing, and the need for it, would have been a much better way to raise the city’s credit rating.

What most citizens don’t realize is that the citizens are not the city any more than being registered into a party makes you a member of that party. In both cases, not only are “the elect” are either the city or the party – sometimes both, but all that the citizen or registrant get to do is to vote for and to pay the bills of both.  Now with higher water bills, higher tax bills and a garbage tax (would a rose by another name not smell as sweet?), it is the citizens’ credit rating that takes the hit. The garbage fee will just be another double whammy to the dwindling taxpayer.

Much more needs to be said on this issue, and it will be said; but for now, perhaps we need to hear the outgoing Councilman Ezra Scott, who came in doing most things wrong, but sadly is leaving while he is doing most things right.

Scott said that the reason that the council tabled the resolution about the garbage fee was to give the mayor the time to come back to the table with a balanced budget — without the fee; but failing to do so, he understands but don’t agree with his colleagues who voted their conscious; he just thinks that an evaluation of the root causes of the need for one needs to be explored and rectified. I agree.

In the meantime, the only morning-after pill for an elected official is the next election; let’s take a smart pill and fix our thinking!



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