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Return to Oz, 2007

Hi, my name is Dorothy and I just got back from another visit to Oz. If you are like me, you probably havent visited Oz since you were young and read L. Frank Baums beloved book that was first published in 1900 and made into the classic movie in 1939. I must admit I remember the film best in black and white, and actually prefer to watch it that way. A lot has changed since my last visit. Munchkins no longer are politically correct. Im not sure I saw any witches; at least none cackled, dressed in black or wore silver (ruby in the movie) slippers. The Scarecrow is now made of aluminum and foam, and he is equipped with an internal PC that controls movement, lets him speak fluently in 14 languages, has more RAM than the Lunar Module and certainly qualifies as a Brain. PETA doesnt allow any Lion to be called cowardly since it could be psychologically damaging to the King of Beasts. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that Uncle Sam was playing the Tin Man. A lot hasnt changed. The yellow brick road is still there. Of course it is in very bad condition and in need of being rebuilt. Unfortunately, like Kansas and New York, Oz doesnt have enough money in the budget for either that project or infrastructure in general. Health care and fuel prices have gone through the roof in Oz too, and property taxes are already way too high. On the plus side; dreams are still important, hard work is encouraged, and adventures abound. What about The Wizard? Yes he is still there, he didnt really leave in his balloon, and he still thinks he can perform miracles. It was hard to say for sure because of the smoke and mirrors, but I think he looked like Uncle Sam, too! Please allow me to tell you about MY Oz dream. Back in Kansas, excuse me I mean New York, my dream is to be able to build a wastewater treatment system for Essex Hamlet. This would certainly clean up the water around the Hamlet and, in a small part, the entire Lake. The odor of raw sewer would disappear, green slime on the rocks would lessen and the probability of the return of toxic blue green algae would decrease dramatically. A wastewater treatment plant would greatly reduce health threats to humans, wildlife and fish. Our local economy is based on tourism, and all of this would help our struggling merchants. The problem, of course, is funding - just like it is in Oz. With a little more than 100 homes in our sewer district, and construction cost of $7.2 million, the cost per house would be over $70,000 each without including operating costs. Not exactly what you would call affordable. Essex has followed the money trail down every pathway we can find. Through hard work, and a large dose of luck, we have done quite well locating a large amount of funding. We received $500,000 in Bond Act money and a $1,000,000 grant through the efforts of Governor Pataki. We are traveling the roadway to Rural Development and Environmental Facilities. But we still have a rather large hole to fill in the funding plan that apparently can only be filled with federal help. At this point it seemed like only two opportunities existed for federal funding. One would be an earmark. Representatives have a very limited amount of earmark money, and in New York State our senators have so many requests that a small town in a small county is very unlikely to receive an earmark, particularly of this magnitude. The other option, we were told, was to pursue a STAG Grant. STAG stands for State Tribal Assistance Grant, and yes, it goes back over a century to the old Indian Reservation days. Essex then joined a couple thousand towns, villages and cities traveling down the yellow brick road by applying for assistance through the STAG Grant program. We knew the odds against us succeeding were long, but the goal was lofty and if you arent in then you cant win. After tons of work, and help from many people, our application was sent to both of our federal senators and our congressman, John McHugh. oth Senator Clinton and Congressman McHugh liked our application well enough that it was one of only a couple hundred from New York State that was sent to Washington to be judged by the STAG Grant Agency. We had overcome one huge obstacle on the Yellow Brick Road. The odds against us were still long, but we were still in with a chance to win. We joined arms and while singing Were off to see the Wizard continued on our way to the Emerald City, I mean Washington. The odds of getting an application through the STAG Grant agency is similar to Dorothy getting through all the obstacles on the way to the City of Oz. The application is judged on many factors including need; state, regional and local support; and the narrative. We certainly have the need, we have received state, regional and local support, and our narrative was one of the best they ever judged! Wow! Not only did we make it down the Yellow Brick Road, we made it into the Emerald City, met the Wizard and had our wish granted! Ding Dong! Essex Hamlet was one of only five projects approved from New York State!The news of our $5,000,000 STAG Grant was released by our Senators, and published in the May 24, 2007 Plattsburgh Press Republican. How can you get more official than that? Unfortunately, like Dorothy and her cohorts, we were then told we still had to travel to Winkie Country and kill the Wicked Witch before our wish would be really granted. Our project was approved, but not funded. We still have one more huge obstacle to overcome. Sadly, we didnt have the bucket of water when we needed it most, and apparently we cant kill the old Wicked Witch. We have been told that the one funding opportunity for this year has passed. We werent included in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill HR 2764 as an Earmark. If you make it through the STAG Grant process, why do you need an Earmark? Is that the only way to get funding in Oz, I mean Washington, today? Merit means nothing and patronage is all that counts? The STAG grants are turned over to the Army Corp of Engineers as approved projects, but the Administration prohibits the inclusion of any approved projects in the Corp budget. That means that only projects receiving Congressional Earmarks will receive funding. According to the Corp, now and then a few get funded, but not very many are lucky. The Administration and many others in Washington ridicule Earmarks, saying that grants should be funded on merit. Unfortunately, no such funding exists today. How do I explain to the people of Essex that while we won the lottery, the pot of gold has nothing in it except for newspaper articles with empty promises? Im confused. Uncle Sam, is that really you behind the curtain? Ronald Jackson is the supervisor of the town of Essex.

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