Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Civil Unions

CSEA owes Mother Nature a debt of gratitude. In fact, they might want sacrifice a goat to mighty Zeus or some equivalent deity for the forecast of the severe thunderstorms that prevented the union from making asses of themselves and the greedy city labor leaders they were foolishly trying to support.

The giant inflatable rat will be tucked away in its satchel, when CSEA launches their quizzical protest of the New York Conference of Mayors meeting this afternoon. Union leaders claim the prediction of high winds and heavy rains prevented them from toting the iconic balloon the Saratoga Springs Hilton, where CSEA members will picket at a conference entitled “municipal budgeting during tough economic times.”

So let’s get this straight: The union that refuses to forgo pay raises and vociferously argued against cutting any City Hall or Public Works jobs to stop the ballooning Saratoga Springs budget was going to inflate a giant rat outside of a conference aimed at making reducing cost burdens so that workers won’t be laid off. Yep. Guess they didn’t think that one out too well, now did they?

Today, the rat and the CSEA cronies that inflate it serve as a constant reminder of the bloated, fetid condition of organized labor as it continues to show how much of a lumbering dinosaur it has become. This is especially the case with the Spa City’s civil service unions, which seem to view themselves as immune to the ongoing economic woes that have and will continue to inflict a burden on the taxpayers. It’s an ironic symbol of the inflexibility the city’s union leaders show when it comes to adapting to dire economic conditions.

And today’s demonstration is no exception. The intended target was obviously Republican Mayor Scott Johnson, who the CSEA is trying to portray as a hard-line union buster more interested in lining the pockets of wealthy law firms during a tough election year. But the whole approach has backfired when Johnson took to the press last week, outlining the atrocious recalcitrance of the unions as city –and state –taxpayers struggle to pay bills.

The city’s demands don’t seem all that unreasonable. Basically, Johnson’s hired ringers are asking the Public Works and City Hall employees union to forgo their annual raises this year, which amounts to a pay boost of about 3 percent. Raises would be boosted to 1.5 percent in 2010 and 2.5 percent in 2011. The unions were also asked pay a $500 annual contribution to their health care costs, an amount that works out to be less than $10 per week; a modest tithe to collect from the 195 workers, half of which receive free health care.

The unions responded with what can only be termed as an insult, considering the financial tumult facing the city and remembering how vehemently they protested to retain all of their jobs last winter. They agreed to waive their salary increase this year, but are demanding bi-annual raised for the next two years. These contractual raises –3 percent in January and 1.5 percent in July –would be given automatically without regard to performance. And no mention of whether they’d help reduce the burden of inflated health care costs that are driving the city’s budget upward at an alarming pace.

Certainly, the unions don’t want to capitulate too much, because they fear they’ll lose negotiating power when contract negotiations start again in 2012. They’re right in a sense. But they’re also not giving any credence to the situation facing the city this year and far into the future of the union contract. The City Council put a dump-truck sized band aid on the budget in the form of raiding the fund balance.

All this seems inconsequential to union sympathizers, who are again looking to boost revenues rather than make concessions. One of these trolls recently chimed in on the Saratogian’s City Desk blog, claiming the paper had unfairly maligned the plight of the unions by publicizing Johnson’s rhetoric.

“[It] would be nice to see you offer possible solutions to these problems instead of consistently being a mouthpiece for certain members of the city council,” chided the anonymous poster. “The unions provided this city council with a plethora of ways to raise revenue such as; a public safety tax added on to each hotel room in the city and a public safety tax added on to a ticket purchased at SPAC. These two revenue generating ideas have been implemented in cities across this state and would generate a tremendous amount of income for the city.”

Right. So to allow the unions cost-of-living increases double the size of most private sector workforces and to arbitrarily lend half the workforce free health care, city officials should consider imposing even more random taxes on the already-overpriced concerts, which aren’t even under the auspices of Saratoga Springs’ government. Sorry, but this sort of palaver is at the root of why the city is in the budgetary condition it’s in today.

Unions have enjoyed a good run in the city and have secured very reasonable conditions for the workers they represent. But to continue this run at infinitum is simply not possible, by any stretch of the imagination, especially when the year-after-year excuse for budgetary increases is the cost of healthcare and contracted raises. Their cost-of-living increase and healthcare benefits have long since outstretched the level of services they provide for the cost. Now is the time for the unions to extend a bit of civility to the city, rather than immediately chanting ‘inflate the rat.’ Their dickering has made them look foolish, greedy and ultimately uncaring about the residents they allegedly serve.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Riggis Suck

To describe the Spa City’s Riggi family as a group of arrogant ego-maniacal gasbags is to use far too endearing terms for them. About a six years ago, Ron and Michelle Riggi used their millions to turn the corner of North Broadway and Greenfield Avenue into a gigantic toilet. Now he’s using his seemly endless pile of cash to lay a giant log-sized stinker in it for the entire city to smell.

There were times when the city’s most ostentatious family seemed like that weren’t all that bad. They tossed money at the YMCA to build the new palatial facility off Ballston Avenue, and they’ve been diligent socialites at the city’s circuit of black-tie fundraisers. But with the stunt they are pulling on Greenfield Avenue, there’s simply no way around it any more: The Riggis flat-out suck.

This gang of wealthy plutocrats feels they’re special enough –ordained enough even –to flout city law by arbitrarily demolishing a home that has stood since the dying days of the America Civil War. They purposely hid their intent with the one-third acre property so that they could get a jump on demolishing its perfectly livable home before preservationists by the droves started lobbing grenades over their North Broadway fence and burning Riggi effigies outside city hall. Well, the gig is up.

The Saratogian reports the Riggis as the proud new owner of a historic home that will either be reduced to rubble or left to rot as they sue the living hell out of the city. This news comes roughly a month after a number of preservation-minded residents raised suspicion about the bizarre deconstruction of the two-story brick house; including the removal of its windows and adjoining porches.

Media inquiries into the matter determined Jim Taylor, the CEO of the Gloversville-based Taylor Made Products, had sold the property to an undisclosed buyer. Natural speculation drifted toward the Riggis next door. For years, there was speculation that the queen Riggi wanted more land to let her two dozen mongrels run free and unfettered. Unfortunately, her betrothed built a palatial compound on their more than ample acre of land, which happens to be one of the largest lots on North Broadway. And we all know small dogs don’t like running around on imported stone walkways.

So buying Taylor’s house and knocking it down seemed like a logical expansion for the Riggis. And they’re really one of the only families crazy enough to spend at least $1.1 million for a beautiful historic home, only to bulldoze it into the ground to expand their lot.

Now some more libertarian-minded residents might argue it’s their god-given right to do whatever they please with the property, provided they follow the letter of the law. Despite its age, the building is not located on any historical registry and is only considered a ‘contributing structure’ to a nearby historic district. But this argument simply doesn’t hold water in the case of the Riggis, who basically used surreptitious means to force the future demolition of the building.

They denied having any hand in the alleged asbestos abatement –a farce used to hide the fact they were having a clearinghouse of the home’s historic fixtures –being conducted on the property. Then when then media started sniffing around, the hastily slung together a limited liability corporation to hide the fact that they had bought the property. And they likely would have carried on with the unpermitted demolition –or at least as much as they could –if it weren’t for the stop-work order the city issued last month.

Now the home is exposed to the elements, leaving the city with precious few options. In its present condition, the building will sustain enough damage in a few years that it will become nearly impossible for even the most preservation-minded developer to rescue it from ruin. This is exactly the situation the Riggis will unfold for the city amid what is sure to be a nice long drag through the legal system.

This is what is known in Saratoga Springs as the Levinsky Method of demolition: Allow something to rot for long enough and the city’s bound to capitulate. Granted, it’s not the most expedient method of demolition. It took pompous developer Bruce Levinsky more than seven years to convince the city the wing of the Rip Van Dam built in 1832 was dilapidated enough to demolish. During that time, the city council hemmed and hawed until there was literally no option other than to allow Levinsky to have his way.

The same sort demolition-by-deterioration is occurring on Franklin Street, where a once-grand Victorian isn’t likely to weather another season without sustaining serious structural damage. Absentee owner Joseph Boff was also lobbying to wreck the building before the city’s Preservation Foundation intervened with an appeal to the media. Boff has since withdrawn his demolition application, but has not said whether he’ll try to restore the prominent home built in 1871. And with each day that passes, the notion that he will endeavor a restoration seems more and more unlikely.

In the case of both Levinsky and Boff, the property owners have somewhat legitimate claims, because fixing up dilapidated historic structures can be a real financial strain. However, the Riggis have no such argument for their project; or at least not yet. The home they purchased was listed in “excellent” condition, according to Saratoga County’s Office of Real Property. In fact, the building and garage themselves were assessed at roughly $844,000, a sum the Riggis don’t mind throwing to the wind.

So what can the city do? In short, nothing at all. The city council can approve a so-called demolition moratorium this week and hope to work something out with the Riggis. But their attorney is already threatening litigation if the demolition permit is not granted. Even if there is a moratorium installed, it won’t prevent the home from sustaining untold damage from the elements.

In truth, the only people who can do anything about this debacle are the residents of the city themselves. Anyone who has had the displeasure of meeting the Riggis understands they have a flavor for the limelight. Michelle loves to have her mug plastered in the Lifestyles section of the Saratogian, and her hubby hasn’t been one to shy away from cameras. So why not declare a moratorium on everything Riggi? Tell these bastards the Spa City views them as an icon of modern consumption and wastefulness. No pictures, no names, no nothing; effectively turn the Riggis into the name that nobody mentions. Not even if their snot-nosed silver-spoon sucking son appears on Gossip Girl.

Some of our more intrepid, less-law abiding residents could take things a bit farther. Rotten eggs lobbed from afar could easily lend a nice hue –and fitting smell –for the Riggi Mansion. Midnight dog walks could also lend a nice touch for the home’s exterior. Just tell Fido to aim between the bars of the wrought-iron fence. And lastly, there’s always the shouting of obscenities at them while they dine out or walk downtown; or do anything. In the end, they should feel a sense of the outrage they have caused with this stund. So here’s a nice and formal ‘fuck you’ going out to the Riggis from their friends over here at iSaratoga. Maybe one of these days they’ll grow a semblance of a soul. But that's about as doubtful as the city’s ability to protect its stock of historical structures from the whims of the rich and powerful.

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