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Defeat sneaks in on little cat feet

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In a breath-taking defeat for the proponents of a new Lewis County office building, the plan was defeated Tuesday night on a solid 6-4 vote, with new Legislator Craig P. Brennan, R-Denmark, and Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, tipping the scales against the $10 million project.

This was a bitter pill for those on the losing side of the tally to swallow. They had, after all, just gained a lopsided 8-2 vote in favor of approving a flawed environmental quality review document. It must have seemed that victory was firmly within their grasp. Sadly for them, it was not.

Mr. Brennan, commenting on his vote, noted that the constituents to whom he had spoken were strongly opposed to the cost of building a new building. Two other consistently opposed legislators, Philip Hathway of Diana and Paul Stanford of Watson, have long said the county cannot afford the expense of this building. Their position was justified in the only meaningful way — it gained majority endorsement.

On the eve of Tuesday’s meeting, the village of Lowville hand-delivered a scathing letter to Legislature Chairman Michael Tabolt that in no uncertain terms delineated the village’s opposition to the way the county had approached this project. In a nutshell, the village said the county has completely ignored concerns over the suitability of the proposed Stowe Street site and the infrastructure limitation the site suffers from.

There were plenty of reasons to reject the proposal. The question is, were there sufficient reasons to propose it?

County offices remain scattered throughout the county seat. The county is leasing the bulk of its space, which leaves it to a degree at the mercy of landlords, whose primary motivation, as it should be, is driven by earning a return on their investment. And county government has little space to grow. Although the idea of county government growing is not something a lot of taxpayers would immediately endorse.

Every action has its consequences. The decision to reject a new county office building has one immediately obvious consequence: the county won’t be incurring additional building debt. That is not bad news for any Lewis County resident.

However, other consequences are not immediately as clear. For example, if the building project was in any manner justified, what will the county do to solve any space problems that truly exist? And, now that six of 10 legilsators have voted against the building proposal, what will they do to build a new solution?

Often, finding alternative solutions is harder than turning down someone else’s flawed plan. While the argument is compelling that a multimillion-dollar communications project should take precedence, now, over an office building, there is at least some justification for legislators to be concerned about office space availability. Since a majority turned down the new office building project, it shouldn’t be asking too much for them to put extra effort into solving any problem that is a consequence of that action.

There is no free lunch. Now that Lewis County will not be saddled with debt from a building project, legislators need to knuckle down and make sure that adequate space is provided to conduct the county’s business.

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