Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful ...

Many of you may know that I'm no fan of Thanksgiving. I don't like the food. I don't like the forced togetherness. I don't like concept that we should be thankful one particular day of the year. After all, what about the other 364 days?

We used to do a “thankful tree” in the Leffler house. Each day from November 1 until Thanksgiving, we'd each write something we were thankful for on a leaf and tape it to the fridge. It was a good way to remember to be thankful on more than just one day. And it reminded us that we really did have things to be thankful for.

Items included people, places we had gone to, things we had done, scenery we had seen, and anything that had made us happy, even if only for a smidgen of time.

I don't think I could do a thankful tree this year. True, 2009 has not been particular kind to this scribe. But it's not that I have nothing to be thankful for. Not by a long shot. It's that I've got so much to be thankful for, I'd have to do a “thankful forest.”

I have neither the time, nor the resources to do a thankful forest. So a thankful column will have to suffice.

I'm thankful for the people that have been in my life since my birth. My family. They've always stood by my side through each decision, right or wrong. Sometimes holding my hand. And sometimes kicking me in the rear. But one way or another, they've been there. And I thank them for that.
Particular thanks to my mom, who has been there to pick up the pieces on several occasions this year alone.

I'm thankful for the people I met in my youth, who in many ways helped to mold and shape me into the person I am today. I've reconnected recently with many people I had first met at the age of four, starting kindergarten. Truly life-long friends … even if there was a 15 year gap in the middle.

I'm thankful for many people I met in college, who – fortunately – keep the same awkward hours I do, always there eagerly awaiting my tales of that days victories. And on the days when the victories are outnumbered by the defeats, they remind me that the sun will rise soon and a new day will begin.

I'm particularly thankful for one friend from college, my best friend for the last 15 years. This has been a trying year for her as well, and yet she always seems to be willing to listen to my sorry tales and offer me the best advice she can give. I couldn't have blamed her had she disappeared this year, but she's still there every time I call. Every time I drop by. Moved on? Yes. Disappeared? No. I'm thankful I didn't lose that friendship.

I'm thankful for my children, who mean the world to me. They remind me that I was young once. And others have been my age before. They have their own trials and tribulations, similar to those I had at their ages. I thought then that I'd never get over the heartbreak of losing a friend or a loved one. But I did. And it reminds me that no loss is insurmountable. Even if you believe it is at the time.

I'm thankful for those who have come into my life recently. Or have had their roles in my life change recently. They've been bright spots in my life and I welcome the light. I'm particularly thankful for one friend who has been the central character in my life for the majority of this year. She's made me weep deeply. And smile broadly. But the highest highs were worth the lowest lows.

And I'm thankful for all the support and love I've received from people I barely know. It truly touches my heart to be looked-in on by people who's birthdays I don't know. Some of them, I don't know their ages. Some, I don't even know their names. And I was important enough to them at some point or another this year for them to call or write and ask how I was doing.

If you want to know how I'm doing, I'll tell you. I'm doing well … thanks to you.

This Thursday as you sit down for dinner with your friends, family, loved ones, or complete strangers, remember what you truly have to be thankful for. Someone loves you. And if no one else does, I do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tomorrow's column today ...

As a wordle, of course ...
I must say, if you're a regular reader of my writings, this one is different from just about anything I've ever written. Check your favorite GNN newspaper Tuesday morning ... or read it at scottleffler.com or wnymedia.net early Tuesday afternoon.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kudos as warranted ...

Typically, my column is a rant. I'm upset or complaining about something. Frankly, people seem to like it that way. I mean, who wants to read a column about how awesome everything is?

Fortunately, there is a lot that goes wrong in the world and I never seem to lack for a rant-worthy topic.

But sometimes things go right. Okay, things go right a lot. But sometimes things go really right … and I feel compelled to offer some kudos. For example, kudos to Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis for holding the line on the county's property tax levy. This year, the county collected $67.5 million in taxes from county residents. He's proposing to collect exactly the same amount next year.

A lot of people get confused about the difference between a tax rate and a tax levy. And I can't blame most of them. It's confusing. Put as simply as I can, the tax rate is the percentage of your home's value you have to pay in taxes each year. The tax levy is the total amount the county collects. You want to watch the tax levy. If it goes up, your taxes are most likely going up. Sometimes legislators like to tout that the tax rate is decreasing, but that's usually due to revaluation. If your $100,000 home is now allegedly worth $110,000 according to your town, you could – in theory – pay a lower tax rate … but still pay more in taxes.

Even Lewis seems confused about the issue, saying “Most people living in Niagara County will experience a reduction in taxes on their bill.”

This can only possibly be true if the minority of residents pick up the tab for that reduction. Unlikely. I'd say odds are most people's tax bills will be about the same, with a few going up and a few going down.

Mr. Lewis, be proud enough for holding the line. Don't try to make it sound like you're lowering people's taxes. No one likes a braggart. Especially when the claim is false.

Despite my kudos, there are some things to be concerned about. One of the ways in which the county was able to hold the line is because the state will be asking for $5 million less for the county’s share of the cost for Medicaid programs. Had the state not asked for less, the tax levy would be $5 million higher. As it is, county officials expect the state to ask for a more than $7 million increase next year. If everything else remains flat, that's a 10 percent increase in the levy … or to reiterate, a 10 percent increase in the average homeowners tax bill.

Another area of concern is that the county workforce is growing. The 2010 budget calls for 1,714 employees, up from a total of 1,671 in 2009. That's 43 more jobs that taxpayers are footing the bill for. Which might sound more reasonable if Niagara County were growing, but it's not. The population continues to shrink. Unemployment continues to rise. That means less people paying, but more people receiving.

Legislators are expected to meet individually to go over the spending plan. They have the final say and could, of course, increase it, but I don't see that as likely, to be honest.

I know I threw in some negative things there at the end, but all-in-all holding the line should be appreciated. Call your legislator and tell them you appreciate Mr. Lewis holding the line. And would appreciate it if they kept that line held … or better yet, do a little cutting.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some random-ish thoughts ...

For those of you who have befriended me on Facebook, you've likely seen posts of late about me going to "the gym."

I've been meaning to join some sort of health club or fitness center for MONTHS now, but never quite got off my fat (and growing) ass to actually do it.

Being single again, I seem to have a lot more free time, and decided to put some of that time to good use by joining a gym, finally.

I had requirements, though. It had to have the appropriate exercise equipment (treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes) ... And it *had to* have a pool. This was a somewhat difficult quest.

The YMCA in Lockport fit the bill, but I feel myself looking to steer clear of Lockport except when necessary. Frankly, I know too many people there ... And even more people know me. I've been enjoying a certain degree of anonymity living in Erie County and wanted to keep as much of that as possible, even though I'm back in the Town of Niagara.

The Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness center had gotten some good reviews from some people, so I checked it out. It was "okay," but was much more aquatic than fitness. I want a gym with a pool. Not the other way around.

I was fortunate to have coffee with an old friend last Friday (I seem to have a lot of coffee with a lot of old friends these days) ... and she recommended Bally's on East Robinson in Amherst. So I checked it out ... And loved it immediately. Signed up and have been going regularly.

I have been making good use of the indoor track, wearing headphones and listening to music as I walk a couple laps and then jog one ... walk a few more then jog one. After warming up on the track, I've been jumping on either an elliptical machine or a stationary bike ... again listening to tunes on my headphones.

Here's the thing: I seem to have a hard time listening to music and not singing along. I *know* this ... So I just mouth the words. I must look like a complete idiot, singing silently to myself around a bunch of total strangers. Hmmph. Oh well.

My goal in all this, by the way is to lose 15 pounds by the end of the year and then another 20 before summer. And maybe make some new friends while I'm at it. I should work on the whole "mouthing the words" thing then, huh?

******

I had my kids today and took them to Delaware Park for a bit. It's so peaceful and serene. And I need serenity now. We also trekked over to Massachusetts Street to see the Extreme Home Makeover crew at work. I was INCREDIBLY impressed. Word on the street is that they've had more volunteers for this job than any other in the show's history. (Way to go, Buffalo) As a result, they've got people doing bits and pieces of work at at least nine different sites in the neighborhood. And the neighbors are giddy at the prospect of cleaning up some of the blight there.

*****

A lot of people have asked when I'm going to get another radio gig. Plain answer is: I don't know if I am. There aren't that many openings in radio in WNY and there are many talented radio professionals looking for work. But that doesn't mean I've gone away - in any way.

I'm writing a weekly column for the Tonawanda News and the Lockport Journal and (apparently only sometimes) The Niagara Gazette. It runs on Tuesdays. Read it in print or online at their websites.

*****

Speaking of websites, you may have noticed mine was down (again) for a few days. Sorry. As you can see, its back up.

*****

I mentioned earlier that I'm single again. This does not mean that I want you to set me up with your sister's friend or anyone else for that matter. I'm gonna stay single for a while and figure some stuff out. When I'm ready to start dating again, if I need your help finding a girlfriend, I'll let you know.

*****

Alright I've surely shared too much. And I'll sign off now. Talk to you soon.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Celebrity sighting ...

Kind of.

Look who's kissing babies and shaking hands at the site of Extreme Home Makeover in Buffalo!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Prophecy FAIL ...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What we deserve?

In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

It was either Alexis de Tocqueville or Hunter S. Thompson who penned the preceding phrase, depending on which source you believe. Also could have been William Shakespeare or Thomas Jefferson.

It matters not who said it, I believe the principal to be true.

Note that the quote says “the people” and not just “people.” It's a collective statement. If you're the only person with any brains living on an island of idiots, you might not necessarily get the government you deserve. But your society as a whole, does.

I can't help but wonder how many of you felt I was talking about them specifically in the last paragraph. I won't ask for a show of hands, though. There was apparently plenty of hand raising last week. But that's neither here nor there.

It could be said that in this quasi-capitalist society in which we live, the people get the customer service they deserve. After all, what is capitalism but democracy with dollar bills?

Could it be said that the people get the health care they deserve? Really? Could we be so screwed up as a whole that we deserve the broken mess we have?

Cause let's face it, the health care system is broken from the top down. Or might it be from the bottom up. Really, who is to blame? The system? Or the system?

Yes, I realize I said system twice. The first system was the insurance carriers and the health care providers. The second system referred to us, the users.

Surely there is enough blame to go around. Yes, the insurance industry reeks of greed. I know of no other industry where you pay for something … and then have to pay extra if you actually use it. Anyone who's been to a hospital lately can attest to the fact that something is amiss there. You've got doctors and nurses answering to lawyers and bean-counters as if that somehow makes sense to anyone … other than the lawyers and bean-counters. It is, however, the “us” part of the equation that concerns me most. For I am not an insurance executive, nor a doctor, nor a bean counter. I am – for better or worse – part of the collective, “the people.”

So in steps government to fix things. The democratically elected government. The one we deserve.

God help us all.

Truly, one of the few things on the planet that I detest more than lawyers is politicians. Maybe it's because such a large percentage of them are actually just reformed lawyers.

I tend to believe less government is best, and as such abhor government involvement in most aspects of my life. I can only imagine what Thomas Jefferson would have thought of his government running the health care industry. I've been to President Jefferson's grave. I
imagine if I revisited it, I could hear him rolling over in it.

After all, it was definitely Jefferson who said, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.”

I tend to agree with the Democrats that the health care system is broken. I just don't tend to agree with their idea on how to fix it.

But mine is a lonely voice, drown out by the collective, getting the government – and the health care – that “the people” deserve.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Less is better ...

Less is not more. Never. But it might be better.

That's the question Niagara County voters have to answer for themselves as they pull the lever today on a ballot initiative to reduce the size of the Niagara County Legislature from 19 members to 15.

Proponents say the measure will save the county money by eliminating the salaries of the four legislators – a $60,300 savings per year. Opponents say it will reduce the level of representation for county residents as each legislator will have to look after a larger number of incumbents. Each legislator currently serves about 11,000 constituents. If the downsizing goes through, each will have about 14,000 constituents.

I say both arguments are hogwash.

The real savings comes not from the reduction of salaries in the legislature itself, but from the reduction of salaries of friends and loved ones who get themselves plum jobs in government. Instead of 19 people with pet projects trying to find family members and neighbors jobs, there will only be 15 people doing such. The nepotism savings alone could be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year … not to mention the potential savings from having less pet projects to worry about.

Meanwhile, the argument that a smaller legislature will be less responsive to residents needs makes an assumption that the legislature is responsive to your needs. I'm pretty sure we can agree that's a flawed argument. I mean, really, how often do you see your legislator? I'm going to guess you see them every other October when they're on your doorstep telling you what a great job they've done, right?

There's another theory that certain members of the legislature only favor the reduction because they can then reduce the number of seats allocated to Niagara Falls, thereby reducing the Falls' political power … and the number of Democrats in the legislature.

While I could see the benefit of such a power grab, it seems a bit too conspiracy theory for me and I thereby reject it. That said, I would like to see the districts redrawn by some sort of neutral third party when it's time for redistricting. I would also like to win the lottery. Odds are probably about the same. And I don't play the lottery.

Personally, I support the reduction of the legislature and think you should, too. I think the positives of potential savings far outweigh the negatives of unresponsiveness, mainly because I don't buy the argument to begin with.

I'll make it easy on you if you've yet to cast your vote. If you like to save money hold up one hand. If you only see your legislator around election time hold up another hand. If you've got both hands in the air, vote yes to downsize. If you've only got one hand in the air, vote no. And if you have no hands in the air, you've got more money than brains.



A personal side note: This is the first election in about a dozen years where I'm not working as a reporter or commentator election night. I have done so my entire time I've been back in Western New York and had also been a reporter my last two years in Ohio.

I'm not sure how this makes me feel, to be honest. It's weird, that's for sure.

But I'll still be participating in the election … by voting. Odds are, actually, that I've already voted by the time you read this. If you haven't voted yet and the polls are still open, please go vote. Men and women have died so you could.