Fresh, Brainy Town Board
Needs Issue: Create Greater Oneonta
Editorial for The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 18-19 2014
Say you were elected to the Oneonta Town Board, determined to prevent fracking from happening in the town.
Then, you discover, there’s no natural gas under the town.
Now what? You’re bright, energetic. You get along well with your equally brainy and motivated colleagues, who find themselves in the same quandary.
That came to mind Monday evening, Dec. 15, at the discussion on town-city collaboration organized by Albert Colone and Bill Shue’s GO-EDC in the Oneonta Middle School cafeteria.
Common Council representation was spotty, although Mayor Russ Southard and Council members Bob Brzozowski and Madolyn O. Palmer were there, (plus City Manager Martin Murphy, Fire Chief Pat Pidgeon, Finance Director Meg Hungerford and other City Hall staffers.)
But the town board members – plus Town Supervisor Bob Wood, who played the evening’s central role – were there in force: David Jones, the first anti-fracker elected to the board, three years ago now, and freshmen Patty Jacob, Andrew Stammel and Trish Riddell Kent.
They were curious, attentive and, as evident in their back-and-forth after the meeting, having lots of fun working together.
This group, you quickly conclude, is a juggernaut in search of a target. (Hold that thought.)
Supervisor Wood was his usual restrained, diplomatic and cannily obscure self, but he’s been a reluctant passenger for too long on the locomotive Colone and Shue are trying to stoke anew.
As the presentations – on a town-city water and sewer district; on O-STAR, a combined sports, tourism and recreation agency, and on actual consolidation of the two municipalities into a Greater Oneonta – underscored, unity offers too many benefits to ignore (or, in Wood’s case, to parry.)
Bottom line: Greater Oneonta might save as much as $500,000 if it unified services, and might receive $2 million, $3 million, or even more in sales-tax revenues if the two municipalities became one.
One stumbling block has been the tax rate of the combined entity, down in the city, up in the town. But Shue reported, per a law passed in 2011, that can be negotiated in the consolidation agreement so that rural areas with few services pay less than urbanized neighborhoods.
Another stumbling block, allegedly, is that it would cost less for the town to build a whole new plant and distribution system to supply water to the Southside than it would for the city to run a pipe across Lettis Highway to Route 23. But consultant Fred Krone of GEMS (Grants and Essential Management Services, Utica) said that the USDA and other agencies, so sold are they on consolidation, would help offset any inequity, so (former) town ratepayers wouldn’t be subsidizing (former) city ones.
With state and federal governments so eager to reduce New York State’s 4,200 taxing jurisdictions, Krone said, any consolidation “rings a whole lot of bells with lots of agencies.”
And yet, Governor Cuomo’s CFA system, supposedly bottom-up and rational, gave another $600,000 toward the town’s go-it-alone Emmons-based water system. Go figure.
Not only is the Emmons plan dumb growth – promoting sprawl and allowing businesses to hopscotch from the Town of Oneonta/County of Otsego into the Town of Davenport/County of Delaware – the grant flies in the face of state policy, which is supposed to support “collaboration, cooperation and consolidation,” a phrase much-heard Monday night.
Politics – someone’s pulling the strings – not rationality, is at play here, with potentially devastating effects for everybody a generation hence, if not sooner. (Also, given the otherwise relatively paltry CFA grants announced in the last few days, this ill-considered project is draining the well for everyone else.)
Forget fracking. Here’s a real issue for the brainy Oneonta Town Board to tackle, with Wood or without: How to achieve “collaboration, cooperation and,” finally, “consolidation” of the two Oneontas.
What does success look like? A prosperous, well-funded Greater Oneonta, with a flourishing downtown and tidy neighborhoods, adding needed infrastructure, prudently and consistently, from the center out, rather than willy-nilly.
Oneonta Town Board members – Jones, Jacob, Stammel, Riddell Kent – don’t take our word for it. You’re fresh to the issue. Drill down. Understand it. Come to your own conclusions.
We may be wrong, but likely – very likely – you’ll embrace smart growth and work toward the greater benefit of Greater Oneonta, which – with 6,000 people working in the city and living outside it – will benefit everyone in the City of the Hills’ orbit.