Here’s to a new year

Out with the old and in with the new. Keep on keepin’ on. What’s done is done. Keep your eyes on the prize.

The list of clichés urging us to always look forward is endless. True, it’s good to be optimistic; but in a new year, what do we really have to look forward to? With 2012 now on the record books and 2013 just beginning (and still no jet packs, mind you), there’s a chance that legislatures – primarily federal legislators – can break away from the “do nothingness” that plagued 2012. The question is, will they? What challenges at the of the last year will finally be resolved this year at the national, state and local levels (that is, if any are resolved at all)? Mainly, what promise do taxpayers have that things in 2013 will be any different as we enter another year of unknowns?

So far, 2013 seems to have picked up where 2012 left off, with political partisanship in Washington driving a wedge even further between Democrats and Republicans. Heated debates over gun regulations – or lack thereof – have people up in arms (figuratively and literally, as seen in the spike of gun sales); and this week, the fiscal cliff debacle was met with only a temporary solution that ensures tougher debates are right around the corner, when lawmakers once again address the national debt ceiling.

It’s a growing list of issues, some of which have been tabled for years, that was left in limbo for a new Congress. And who’s to say 2013 will be any better?

Hitting closer to home, the Farm Bill that so many local farmers hoped might pass by the end of the year was finally extended as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Good news as it means milk prices won’t skyrocket; bad news as it also puts farmers who spent the year promoting a new bill back to square one. Advocates now have to address a new Congress to pass a new Farm Bill by September. Essentially, they’re in the same position they were at this time last year.

More controversial, the local issue of hydraulic fracturing – something I can’t bring myself to support – is at the forefront for area businesses, municipalities and landowners alike; yet it feels like little has been done in terms of state legislation. In fact, the decision to permit fracking has been stalled several times already, with nothing to show for it but new sets of regulations. Those new regulations might be considered a step forward by some, but face it: they’re not going to sway anti-fracking groups. So will this be the year fracking becomes an industry in Chenango County, or will the battle that seems to go nowhere wage on for another year?

The Chenango County Board of Supervisors successfully managed county finances in 2012, making claim as one of only four counties in the state to be debt-free. But that success doesn’t reflect the fiscal health of many Chenango County municipalities, including the City of Norwich, which exceeded the 2 percent tax cap for the second consecutive year and drew from reserves to lower its tax rate increase for 2013.

With rising pension and healthcare costs, several local governments are turning to their reserves to get by another year. Those reserve accounts are drying up fast, with little hope of replenishing them any time soon. Some say consolidation is the answer while others argue otherwise. Regardless, it’s an idea that addresses a problem, and it’s likely one to be seriously considered, especially if it means less burden on taxpayers. Yet it bears the question: Will consolidation and shared services be a viable option in 2013 or be ignored for another year?

In fairness, I know it’s still too early to tell what 2013 will bring. Perhaps this is the year of phenomenal change at the local, state and federal levels. Then again, 2012 didn’t bring the change we all hoped it would. Maybe this year will just be more of the same. After all, what evidence do we have to suggest otherwise?

So here’s to a new year. May it be slightly more productive than the last.

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