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Pastoral Poverty

A piece in the Times today illuminates the divide in Middlefield between farmers and people who have moved into the rural town.  It might reflect some on Dryden, too.

The dispute has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and has often set people who live in suburbs or villages against the farmers and landowners who live outside them. The discord is compounded by hard times on both sides and by communication online giving everyone instant access to limitless information confirming their point of view...

Like many farmers, [Jennifer Huntington] sees the drilling opponents as largely comfortable urbanites in an area increasingly home to retirees and second-home owners who know nothing about the economics of farming and little about the safety of drilling.
“This land and my family are my life,” Ms. Huntington said. “We probably use three to four million gallons of water to feed my cows. I’m not going to spoil something I need to make my living and for future generations to come.”

Proponents of fracking say that many farmers are on the verge of losing their property.

“The term we use is pastoral poverty,” she said. “You have farmers trying to hold on to land that’s been in their family for 100 to 200 years. People like the landscape, but it’s people living in poverty who are maintaining what they like to look at.” ...

Many drilling proponents, meanwhile, say the professionals and retirees drawn to the area have become antigrowth fanatics...

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The crowd of about 120 was quiet and polite at the candidates’ debate at the Dryden Fire Hall last Wednesday.  I spent my time watching the body language in the crowd. The anti-fracking polemic of Linda Lavine got a chilly reception based on the crossed arms, shifting of positions and shaking heads.  Maybe it was the intensity that was off-putting, or maybe they’ve heard just about enough about drilling.

The strongest reaction I saw was in favor of attracting business and spreading out the tax base of the town.  While the town tax rate hasn’t gone up, assessments have and people see their tax escrow payments going up alarmingly every year.  A bunch of new businesses are going in just up the road in Cortlandville... but we won’t see any benefit from sales tax revenue across the county line.

The budget talk is complicated, and seems to disintegrate into a he-said, she-said battle of jargon.  A few things stood out... a lot of money spent on consultants for an unloved zoning proposal, a bunch more people working in the planning department, a move by the town board to bypass the tax cap passed by the state.   Recreation used to be done by volunteers.

The next candidate debate will be in Varna on Tuesday, closer to Cornell and the anti-fracking epicenter.  

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