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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Three decades of tracking rural New York"
ALBANY, Oct. 8 -- Here are a few words worth recalling for
Columbus Day, directly from
Little could he have imagined. Our annual Columbus Day observance typically inspires all sorts of reflections on the continent’s discovery and, especially, on where we’ve been over all these centuries -- and where we’re headed.
“We cannot escape history,” Lincoln told the Congress in 1862, and Americans have long demonstrated this need to reflect on what we stand for as a nation as the guidepost for what we want to be.
So I thought I’d go ahead and add my own two cents this Columbus
Day by turning to the 2010 Census data released earlier this year. I’ll
just note here that if you spend any time at all browsing the nation’s
once-a-decade Census (www.census.gov), it’s an unbelievable trove
of information --
Earlier this year, for example, the highly anticipated unveiling of the latest Census data produced this headline: “Census: 8 of 10 Americans now urbanites.”
To quote from the Census Bureau news release, “Urban areas -- defined as densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas -- now account for 80.7 percent of the U.S. population, up from 79.0 percent in 2000. Although the rural population -- the population in any areas outside of those classified as ‘urban’ -- grew by a modest amount from 2000 to 2010, it continued to decline as a percentage of the national population.”
Maine and Vermont, respectively, are billed as America’s most rural states in terms of percentage of population. According to the Census data, 61.3 percent of Maine’s population lives in rural areas, compared to Vermont’s 61.1 percent. But I was curious to know where New York State stood in this regard. The answer is that as far as rural population percentage goes, we’re a ways down the list at roughly 12%. But if you take a look at the actual rural population figures (in other words, the specific number of citizens classified as rural), we’re a Top 10 rural state with approximately 2.3 million rural New Yorkers (the state of Texas, by the way, tops the list with more than 3.8 million rural residents).
My point is that it’s no surprise that the New York State Legislature saw fit to create one of the Legislature’s longest-standing institutions -- the joint, 10-member bipartisan Commission on the Development of Rural Resources -- exactly 30 years ago this year. Even today more than two-thirds of New York’s 62 counties are designated as rural, including all of the counties comprising my Senate District, and it’s been a constant challenge to raise the state Legislature's awareness of traditionally upstate, small city, rural issues. As our state and America as a whole become increasingly urbanized, according to the latest Census, the challenges for rural legislators keep getting tougher. We’ve witnessed it time after time right here in New York during the ongoing debates over state tax policies, economic development priorities, infrastructure allocations and in so many other ways. So it’s been the mission of the Rural Resources Commission to pay attention to issues like farm preservation, telemedicine, broadband access, volunteer recruitment/retention, water quality, education and transportation, to name just a few items on a much more comprehensive rural New York agenda.
I was appointed as a member of the Commission in 2011, and I’m especially grateful to be joined on it by area Assembly representatives Phil Palmesano and Barbara Lifton. It’s worthwhile, and important, work.
In particular, the Commission periodically issues a publication called Rural Futures that's a good read if you’re interested in staying up to date on rural affairs locally, statewide and nationally. It’s a publication that the Commission’s been extremely proud of over the years, one that offers valuable information on state legislation, interesting and insightful trends in rural communities throughout New York and around the country, as well as summaries for local leaders and officials on grants, publications, useful websites and upcoming events. The Fall 2012 issue has just been published (you can find a copy on my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov) and it features updates on new rural-related state laws, the increasing trend of farmers using manure-based technology to generate electricity, the Allegany/Western Steuben Rural Health Network, and a new publication from the United States Department of Agriculture titled “Federal Resources for Sustainable Rural Communities.”
On this 30th Anniversary of the Rural Resources Commission, then, I’m proud to say that the commission has long been noted as the voice of rural New York within the state Legislature.
The latest Census may be telling us that 8 out of 10 Americans are urbanites. But it’s important to remember that New York remains a prominent rural state, a state where more than 2.3 million citizens are considered residents of rural New York.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869