Discussion Briefs

One key aspect of The Benjamin Center’s mission is to bring key regional concerns to the attention of citizens and policymakers to support their informed discussion of the public policy problems facing the Hudson Valley. Quality information will help us to work together to develop our own, local solutions and advance the need for changes at the state level.  To date we have published 12 discussion briefs on a wide range of issues including Education, Food Security and Agriculture, Sustainability and Renewable Energy, Water Policy, Public Health, Criminal Justice, and Tax Policy.

discussion_brief_12_coverDiscussion Brief #12: Public Education in Ulster County: Finding the Right Scale

Author Robin Jacobowitz, Ph.D., interim associate director of The Benjamin Center, reports that despite the public attention given to school district consolidation, it may no longer be a viable, blanket solution to achieving economies of scale in public education. In the brief, Jacobowitz suggests a conversation of “scaling-up” be considered as an alternative to determine the best way to achieve the desired scale without sacrificing quality or community.

Discussion Brief #11: Poughkeepsie Plenty: A Community Food Assessment

Authored by Leonard Nevarez, Professor of Urban Studies at Vassar College, Susan Grove, Coordinator of Poughkeepsie Plenty Food Coalition, and KT Tobin and Joshua Simons of The Benjamin Center, the brief reports the findings of a two-year study of food access and security in the City of Poughkeepsie. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Conversely, a “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” defines food insecurity. Poughkeepsie Plenty: A Community Food Assessment finds that food insecurity is a troubling problem in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Discussion Brief #10: Energy Action Consortia: Moving Municipalities Toward Collective Sustainability

The report is a case study of how the national economic crisis in 2008 produced local opportunity for a collaborative group of municipalities in Westchester County, N.Y.

From a founding membership of 12 municipalities in April 2009, the original group of collaborating towns and villages has grown into the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC), a not-for profit enrolling 18 municipalities with a combined population of more than 274,000 residents. Thanks to its achievements over the last four years, NWEAC is now recognized in Westchester County and beyond as an innovative leader in energy policy and practice, and more generally in sustainability issues.

Discussion Brief #9: Food Insecurity in Ulster County

As families in the Hudson Valley shop and prepare to gather for the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, SUNY New Paltz Professor Sue Books reports in a newly released a discussion brief that a significant number of county residents are living in poverty, suffering economic hardship, or experiencing “food insecurity.”

Books, a professor in the Department of Secondary Education at SUNY New Paltz concludes, “We are living side-by-side in two worlds. Some of us shop for food regularly and conveniently in a range of venues, from full-service groceries to local farm stands. Others must obtain food wherever and however they can in a shadow system of food pantries, soup kitchens, and food distributions.”

Discussion Brief #8: Federal Mandates on Local Education: Costs and Consequences – Yes, it’s a Race, but is it in the Right Direction?

The author, Kenneth Mitchell, district superintendent of South Orangetown School District in Rockland County and executive committee member of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, reports that “There are serious challenges to (the Race to the Top) federal program’s validity, and the research upon which it is based. Without substantive validation, New York State and U.S. taxpayers are funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever before.”

Discussion Brief #7: Water Conservation and Long-term Water Supply Planning in the Hudson Valley: A Rockland County Case Study

Authors Stuart Braman (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) and Simon Gruber (CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities) begin with the apparent paradox that though the Hudson Valley has an abundance of water Rockland County faces a water shortage. This circumstance is the result of land use decisions taken over many decades in the face of massive growth pressures. Responding to the shortage now, they argue, requires managing the complex interaction of four factors: home rule, fragmented state regulation, no access to a key regional resource (the New York City water supply system), and reliance on a private water supplier, United Water of New York.

The authors conclude, “The inability of a private actor to compel public behavior to conserve water, the powerful commitment in New York to home rule in land use decision making, and the highly diffuse and decentralized nature of local governmental authority make it very difficult to develop systematic, comprehensive approaches to regional water policy. In addition, profit-making private companies, responsible to stock holders, are likely to be less considerate of citizen priorities in policy choices. Just as this case demonstrates the need for an integrated state approach, it shows the importance of finding means to induce collective local action to assure the well-being of local communities and ecosystems.”

Discussion Brief #6: A Solar Hudson Valley: Toward Further Progress

A joint project of The Benjamin Center and The Solar Energy Consortium, the report surveyed the state of the solar industry in the nation and New York State. Among its findings: although solar manufacturers in the region have made some gains, they require tax incentives now more than ever to help level the playing field with overseas competitors.

Discussion Brief #5: Agriculture Supporting Communities in the Mid-Hudson Region

The study details century-long trends in the number and size of farms. Nationwide, and in our region, while the overall number of farms has decreased dramatically, the proportion of both large and small farms has grown, and mid-sized enterprises have been squeezed out. Over the past twenty years, the number of small farms has increased in our region.

Because many of the small farms in our region are CSAs, our abundance of them led The Benjamin Center’s Regional Well-Being Project to test some ideas about the civic effects of this development. The study, which includes surveys of CSAs members and residents from throughout the region about connectedness to community and civic engagement, finds that CSA members have high rates of volunteerism and political participation in their communities.

Discussion Brief #4: Hudson Valley Water: Opportunities and Challenges

This paper, authored by Scott Cuppett and Russell Urban-Mead, finds that our abundance of water is one of our region’s most important current and future resources. It argues that there is an urgent need in the Hudson Valley for regional water resource planning and protection in the Hudson Valley to assure the region’s future. The authors encourage watershed planning initiatives that integrate best preservation practices with water resource uses, while encouraging economic growth. They recommend approaches and strategies that capitalize on our ecosystem’s ability to provide clean and abundant water through better land use decisions.

Discussion Brief #3: Is There a Doctor in the House? Physician Recruitment and Retention the in Hudson Valley

The study, authored by Kathryn Reed, MHA, CMPE, who is the Executive Director of the Catskill-Hudson Area Health Education Center located in Highland, NY, finds that the Hudson Valley needs far greater success in bringing doctors to o region.

“If we don’t pay attention to physician recruitment and retention now,” Reed asserts in the brief, “there will be a price to pay in the availability and quality of medical care in our region in the years to come.”

Discussion Brief #2: A Collaborative, Regional Approach to Jailing in the Hudson Valley

This paper is a preliminary look at taking a regional approach to county jailing. It suggests that at a time when there is still significant pressure to expand upon and build new jails, there is already enough jail capacity in the eight Hudson Valley counties considered in the study to meet current and future regional needs.

Discussion Brief #1: Equity and the Property Tax Burden for Citizens in Ulster County:

This is the first of several discussion papers on the property tax and other issues that we believe will help citizens and policymakers make informed decisions.