An embarrassment of riches

Historically speaking the “mayor’s message” Kingston Mayor Steve Noble issues every Friday has been the title of the annual state of the city that mayors have presented to the common council since Kingston was incorporated 149 years ago. But then, history doesn’t much matter anymore.

Hizzoner’s Friday postings on the web actually make for interesting reading. There’s lots going on in the Colonial City beyond its booming real estate market and reemerging night life. This is positive PR for the most part, with the mayor acting as civic booster-in-chief. But I sometimes wonder what gets left out, which is to say, other than that, Mr. Mayor, what’s new?

For instance, all manner of events were listed this week, but not a mention of the biggest thing to hit Kingston the city since the British invasion. I refer to the $18.6 million in federal stimulus grants announced by senior Sen. Chuck Schumer almost two weeks ago. Eighteen million dollars and it doesn’t make the weekly feel-good list? I’d call this the elephant in the living room; except they don’t like elephants at City Hall.

Neither do county officials. A $34.4 million grant landed on their doorstep and all they could announce was that that designation of projects would be based on community input.

I can’t read their minds, and they wouldn’t say it anyway, but I think these officials were caught flat-footed by this cascade of cash.  I know in our household we have at least 10 projects for the $2,800 in stimulus that landed on our doorstep last week. I can reveal now that a new set of golf clubs did not make the final cut.

Ready-fire-aim comes to mind. Witness the 2009 federal stimulus where the government requested input on local projects before drawing up an $800 billion package. Former county executive Mike Hein produced a wish list from Marlboro to Saugerties.

Schumer also issued a 32-page listing of stimulus grants to the county’s 20 towns. Apparently based on unemployment levels, grants ranged from $32,000 in Shandaken to $1.5 million for New Paltz.

I’m assuming public officials will be getting all kinds of suggestions from the public on how to spend these windfalls. Last week, just after Schumer’s announcement, a reader asked about the multi-million-dollar Dietz Stadium renovation project, as in “whatever happened to the Dietz renovation?” I mentioned the $18 million just received. He sounded relieved.

It should come as no surprise that this massive federal give-way is hugely popular with the public, mostly because almost everyone and every sector gets a piece of the pie.

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CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS – I always thought the notion of “paid volunteer” was something of an oxymoron. Volunteers donate their time and talent for the good of their community, for free.

Not anymore, apparently. The county opened a COVID vaccination site at the former Best Buy site in Hudson Valley Mall last week, announcing it would pay volunteers something like $20 an hour. Volunteers. I made a few discreet inquiries to learn that some 200 volunteers (in addition to medical personnel and supervisors) would be required to administer upwards of 3,500 vaccinations a day, and they wanted to be sure they had the manpower.

Orange County officials tell me they’re running a larger program, “and we have no shortage of (unpaid) volunteers.”

M’thinks county officials should have had more faith in their constituents that they would step up (for free) during a public health crisis to help their fellow citizens.

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KINGSTON VERSUS POUGHKEEPSIE – It has long been sport among Kingstonians to compare their fair city with Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. From that vantage point of civic pride and with some statistical evidence, Newburgh is the pits, Poughkeepsie not much better, Kingston the jewel of the Hudson.

Those perceptions took a hit with the recent announcement of stimulus grants to Kingston and Poughkeepsie.  Kingston was granted over $18 million, Poughkeepsie, just $3.3 million, according to an announcement by Senator Schumer. This might be simplistic, but is Kingston, in terms of federal emergency funding, more than five times needier than Kingston?

Just asking.

I just wish that instead of dumping our stipend into my checking account, which the woman I love was watching like a hawk, the government had one of those beautiful federal checks (with Joe Biden’s signature) which I would have copied and presented to my grandchildren for future payment.