Making sense of the census

It may come as something of a surprise, what with all those “new people” moving into Ulster County since the 2010 census, that preliminary reports from the feds indicate Ulster could lose some 3,000 people when official figures come in later this year.

This kind of depressing news – that we are no longer a growing community, but one in decline – is usually greeted with demands for recount. Officials will argue that Census takers, owing to the pandemic, were hard to come by. A press release or two may still be on the drawing boards but, as yet, nobody’s here but us chickens. Imagine the din of chickens chest pumping if the preliminary figures had Ulster growing by 3,000?

The signs have been all around us for a long time. The mid-90’s closing of IBM in the town of Ulster was reflected in the 2010 census where county population grew by only about 2,500. A 2015 mid-census estimates showed modest growth, to perhaps 185,000 (from about 182,500). At the same time, grade schools were closing all over the county.

Make no mistake: census counts count and for the next decade. Federal funding is based on population, as is congressional reapportionment. New York State was expected to lose at least one seat in the House, maybe two. With a habitually growing county like Ulster running in the red, there may be more.

At the risk of whistling past the cemetery, let’s hope the census people got it wrong. But then, hope is not a plan.

Speaking of census, the recently-appointed Ulster County Reapportionment Commission will use official census figures to reconfigure Ulster’s 23 legislative districts.  Continuing a trend, the county (sans about 3,000 souls) will see modest growth in towns south of New Paltz, while losing population elsewhere.

The commission (with different people) drew up the current districts with a minimum of political manipulation. Under a system dictated by the 2006 county charter, the executive submits a list of names from which the legislature’s majority and minority select four people each. Selectees typically represent geographic quadrants and population centers of the county. The eight name a ninth as chairman. The legislature is bound by charter to accept the findings of the commission.

Ulster’s was a bold departure, one hailed by good government groups as uniquely democratic. Typically, and in a lot of other places, the majority party of the legislature draws the lines. Guess who gets screwed? The Republican state senate over a 40-year period was perhaps the worst example of egregious partisan reapportionment.

Also in the mix is the possibility, touted by some Democrats, of reducing the size of the legislature to a number divisible by three. There is precedent: when the county executive system was approved by voters in 2006, one of the carrots proferred to voters was the reduction of legislators from 33 to 23.

                                                                                                ***

GARBAGE TALK – The legislature has put out a call for volunteers for its short-handed Resource Recovery Agency board of directors. Only those with thick skin need apply, as this agency, appointed by the legislature, will decide where county garbage goes within the next five years.

                                                                                                ***

MUDDY WATERS – That the usually pristine Esopus Creek, one of the country’s premier trout fishing streams, looking for all the world like roiling effluent from Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, has forced city waterworks officials to stage a public hearing later this month.

Massive releases from overflowing city reservoirs have muddied the waters downstream, yea, unto the Hudson River at Saugerties and as far south as Esopus. Expect every public official with a bullhorn to dominate the hearing, to little long-term impact. We’ve seen this act before.

The 600,000 gallons are currently being released every day, being barely a puddle in the billion-gallon Ashokan reservoir, so here’s a thought: Why not build a holding tank on reservoir lands to deal with overflow, rather than dumping it downstream? I know, the lower basin is supposed to do that, but, obviously, it doesn’t.

                                                                                                ***

TSK, TSK, TISH  – It’s probably a good thing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he isn’t seeking a fourth term in a Democratic primary in June rather than in 2023. His Imperial Callousness, after dismissing some 12,000-nursing home related Covid-19 deaths with “who cares. Dead is dead,” would face a very crowded field and an angry electorate.

State Attorney General Letitia (Tish) James blew the whistle on Cuomo’s handling – or mishandling – of the pandemic with a damming report last week. Coming from Cuomo’s hand-picked A.G., this has considerable credence.

And Cuomo, better than most, has to take into account that three of the last four state governors, including him, have risen from the attorney general to the Second Floor.

The question now is how the infamously vindictive Cuomo will punish his former protégé. It could get ugly.