News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
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City of Oneonta

Uncreative? With Full Plate, That Might Be Just The Thing

Editorial for October 12, 2018

Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing

‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.

Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.

The Freeman’s Journal – Saying “I’m not creative,” Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky planted himself in the Otsego County Board of Representives’ chambers last week and made a convincing case that slow and steady can win some economic- development races. Visible, from left, are county Reps. Stammel, Shannon and Clark; Clerk of the Board McGovern, Board chair Bliss and county Rep. Frazier.

Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
to renewables.

Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.

Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!

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Isn’t It Time For City To Act, Or Get Out Of The Way?

Editorial for October 5, 2018

Isn’t It Time For City To Act,

Or Get Out Of The Way?

You know, of course:
Creativity is making something out of nothing.
Or, better, recognizing potential where nobody else does.
The scoop in last week’s paper is a case in point: A group calling itself The Market Street Alliance is proposing a distillery in the former Oneonta Ford building, that dreary, long-empty, black-painted hulk at the foot of Chestnut Street, across from Foothills.
But that’s just the beginning: The idea is to make it a centerpiece for a downtown Oneonta transformed into a beverage center, with breweries, wineries, even mead-makers. (Yes, mead, that honey-based brew quaffed by King Hrothgar and his knights.)

Peachin
Herzig

The local CPA and investor in the prospective distillery, Johna Peachin, got the idea from a visit to her son in Walla Walla, Wash., where she participated in a
monthly Sip & Stroll event.

At the Walla Walla – “twice as nice,” promoters say – Downtown Foundation, Events Manager Cindy Frost says her region is
being marketed these days as
“The New Napa Valley.”
There are over 100 wineries in the Walla Walla valley, and three-dozen wineries have tasting rooms in the downtown, attracting top-tier restaurants and hotels there.
Last summer, the foundation came up with the idea of the Sip & Stroll, which has just finished its second May-to-September season.
One evening a month, the wineries waive the fee on their tastings, and about 100 people have been buying $10 tickets to partake. Many participants, of course, then buy a glass or two, shop, dine, etc., making it worthwhile for the downtown establishments.
The evening’s a magnet, which is what every downtown wants.
The $1,000 revenue is used to promote the event, Frost said.

The Freeman’s Journal – If entrepreneurial Market Street Alliance can revive Oneonta Ford as a distillery, fine. But what if in can’t? “My concern is the building will sit as it is for very many years to come,” said Mayor Herzig.


Peachin said she and fellow investors have a sales agreement with the Twelve Tribes, the religious community that owns the adjacent Yellow Deli.
She mentioned Ken Wortz, an owner of Kymar Distillery in Charlotteville, Delaware County, as an investor. And landlord Brian Shaughnessy and businessman Al Rubin accompanied her to the July 26 Otsego Now meeting where the original pitch was made.
The timeliness may not be great – just a few days before this news broke, Peachin had exploded negotiations between the Town of Oneonta Fire District and City Hall. City officials may not be too interested in accommodating her right now.
Still, the idea is intriguing.

Hold on a minute.
As outlined on this week’s front page, City Hall and the DRI (the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative), see the Oneonta Ford site as THE prime prospect for Artspace.
Artspace is that Minneapolis-based national entity that has been creating combinations of housing and studio space for artists across the nation since 1987. (Check www.artspace.org; very exciting.)
The colleges are active partners, seeing Artspace as a way to attract students; City Hall, as a way to keep them here after graduation. Doesn’t downtown Oneonta as an art magnet sounds much more enticing than Oneonta as a beer and liquor magnet, which, to a degree, it already is?
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig low-keys it: It’s the preferred site, but if the Twelve Tribes has another deal, the DRI, the most exciting news for the City of the Hills in a century, will just look somewhere else.
Come on. Are we serious or aren’t we? The state has already committed $3.5 million to cleaning up the Oneonta Ford property and building something new there, with more – likely – to come.
Enough dithering. Common Council should man and woman up, condemn what’s been an eyesore and a hazard for decades, pay the fair market value, and get started.
The Peachin group may make it work; but it may not.
If it doesn’t, the site could be locked up for decades to come. Our great-grandchildren will be seeing the same mess we are today, only moreso. Does anyone want that?
If Peachin’s creativity spurs City Hall – finally – into action, she certainly will deserve the community’s thanks and
appreciation.

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Balance Today’s Energy Needs, Tomorrow’s Energy Wishes

Editorial for September 28, 2018

Balance Today’s Energy Needs,

Tomorrow’s Energy Wishes

It’s a great idea.
In a column at the end of August, Adrian Kuzminski – citing the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, completed in March – wrote,
“Let me suggest … that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.”
He concluded, “Get key people in the room and tackle the problem.”

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C, Hartwick/Milford, invited Irene Weiser, a member of the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force, to attended the Sept. 18 meeting of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. That task force’s mission is to encourage economic growth while working to reduce gas usage.
NYSEG, which also serves southern Otsego County, had proposed an $18 million gas pipeline into the Town of Lansing, an Ithaca suburb. The task force has been working with NYSEG, trying to find an alternative to the pipeline; it issued an RFP (request for proposals), but received no proposals. It is not revising the RFP and plans to try again.
That may mean, as Irene Weiser reported, that the RFP was poorly drawn. Or it may mean there’s no ready alternative to natural gas right now, at least a full alternative.
One IGA member, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, drew the latter lesson. “I struggle with the short term and the long term of it,” he said. “… We need to figure out some short-term solutions while we’re building for an energy-smart future.”

The Freeman’s Journal – Irene Weiser from the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force is flanked by, from left, Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham, Sustainable Otsego Moderator Adrian Kuzminski and Leslie Orzetti, executive director, Otsego County Conservation Association, at the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Tuesday, Sept. 18.

On these editorial pages over the past two months, a number of knowledgeable writers have submitted well-argued letters and op-eds on the gas vs. renewables debate, spurred by Otsego Now’s CGA application to install a natural-gas decompression station in the former Pony Farm Commerce Park at Route 205 and I-88. Kuzminski is in the no-gas camp, joined by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham. When it appeared to some that the OCCA seemed to be open to hearing more about the decompression station, Executive Director Leslie Orzetti responded emphatically: The Otsego County Conservation Association does not support gas expansion.
On the other side, Kuzminski’s fellow columnist, Mike Zagata, argued fossil fuels are necessary right now. Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky said, without natural gas, the Oneonta area has actually missed going after 500 jobs this year alone. Dick Downey of Otego, who led the Unatego Landowners Association in support of the Constitution Pipeline, likewise falls into this camp.
Dave Rowley of West Oneonta, the sensible retired Edmeston Central superintendent, who served as interim superintendent in Oneonta before Joe Yelich’s hiring, probably caught it best in last week’s op-ed: Everyone wants renewable energy, but it’s simply not sufficiently available. For now, natural gas is necessary.

This is a long way of saying, everybody’s right. In the face of global warming – yes, not everybody “believes” it’s happening; but why reject the preponderant scientific consensus? – clean energy is a necessity.
California is on the forefront, with its Senate Bill 100 aiming at 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. (New York State is aiming for 50 percent by 2030.) Greenhouse-gas emission is a separate category.)
Further, Otsego County’s population (60,000) is 0.02 percent of the nation’s (320 million), one 200th of 1 percent. Even if local energy needs were fully served, it is a negligible piece of a huge national – even international – challenge.
We all want to be part of the solution, but the solution is not going to be reached between Roseboom and Unadilla. It will be developed at the state and national levels, and when there’s an answer, we can support it and embrace it.

Meanwhile, the county’s population is dropping. Some 16.3 percent of our remaining neighbors (slightly more than 9,000) live below the property line ($24,600 for a family of four). That poverty rate is 14 percent higher than the national (14 points).
Plus, there are millions of state dollars – some $15 million so far – targeted for the City of Oneonta’s revitalization.
Now’s not the time to ensure our unmet energy needs – for homes, institutions, businesses and industry – remain unmet for a generation and a half.
Yes, the county Board of Representatives should name an energy task force; Adrian Kuzminski is right. But it should have two goals.
• First, to come up with ways to meet today’s energy needs now; perhaps CNG – compressed natural gas – is part of it (though not XNG trucks on roads that can’t handle them). But so are renewables, like the second solar farm being built in Laurens.
• Second, to fast-track renewables – solar, winds, heats pumps, the whole gamut – to put ourselves on the cutting edge of the future.
For her part, Kennedy is commited to pursue the task-force idea. In an interview, she said it must be made up of “people who want to reduce demand; and people who know the demands.
At base, though, true believers need not apply, only open minds, or the cause is lost.
To end where we began, with Kuzminski: “We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.”
So let’s do the job.

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A Good Idea From Fire Commissioners: Dissolve, Let Town Negotiate OFD Pact

Editorial for August 31, 2018

A Good Idea From

Fire Commissioners:
Dissolve, Let Town

Negotiate OFD Pact

The Freeman’s Journal – A packed house at Oneonta’s Elm Park Methodist Church in April 2017 urged town Board of Fire Commissioners: Renew the fire-protection contract with city’s paid Oneonta Fire Department. Sixteen months later, talks are still stymied.

When one least expects it, a breakthrough.
The Town of Oneonta’s Board of Fire Commissioners has voted, 3-2, to set a hearing to consider dissolving. The vote could come at the end of the hearing, scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Elm Park
Methodist Church.
Good idea. About time.
If the fire district is dissolved, a “fire zone” continues to exist within the town, so coverage will continue. The Town of Oneonta would assume responsibility for negotiating with the city. That’s good too.
There’s probably no one better than Town Supervisor
Bob Wood, previously a longtime fire commissioner himself, to bring talks with the city to a sensible conclusion.
For more than two years, negotiations have gone nowhere on extending the contract with City Hall for professional fire protection for the town’s Southside, and neighborhoods beyond the city’s East and West ends.
Only state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma
imposing a two-year settlement in January 2016 assured businesspeople and homeowners coverage as negotiations continued.
The two commissioners objecting to dissolution are the newcomers, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, who since their election last December have been foiled in efforts to get the talks moving again.
The three in the majority bloc, chair Johna Peachin, veteran commissioner Fred Volpe and Ron Peters, who is associated with Peachin’s accounting firm, have not responded to city Mayor Gary Herzig’s requests for negotiations, the mayor says.

As noted here before, Coccoma imposed a regimen that allocates one-third of the costs of the city’s Oneonta Fire Department (OFD) to property owners in the town fire district; the remaining two-thirds would be covered by city taxpayers.
An independent consultant agreed to by both sides came up with roughly the same formula.
Still, no movement.
The majority bloc has been tangled up in the issue of revenues created by the OFD’s ambulance squad, which generates about $1 million of the fire department’s $4 million budget.
In effect, those revenues – insurance payments generated whenever a city ambulance carries a patient from either the city or town to Fox or Bassett – pay down the total, meaning there’s less for city taxpayers and fire-district property owners to split.
The bloc believes the way it’s being done is illegal, but so far hasn’t found anyone with authority to agree.
Again, if an “i” or two needs to be crossed to bring everything up to Hoyle, Bob Wood has the understanding to figure it out amicably with Herzig.

There are implications for the future.
For one, a town can’t operate its own fire department under New York State law, an option the fire commissioners have been threatening to pursue in negotiations with City Hall.
However, if it came to that, the town could create a town-wide fire district that could do so, a lengthy process – but slower is probably better. Plus, that may never happen and shouldn’t – the town and city’s fates are linked.
Arguably, given the $1 million contribution from townsfolks, it makes sense for a liaison to be brought into discussions with Common Council on policies regarding the OFD. Perhaps Al Rubin, who has tried to be an honest broker since joining the fire board, would be a good prospect for this role.
Regardless, it’s time to move forward. If the majority-bloc fire commissioners have concluded they can do no more, it makes sense to leave the scene.
The Oneonta Town Board is more sensitive to what the public wants – only a handful or two of voters turn up at Fire District elections – and the public has said it wants the standoff resolved.
With Wood at the helm, along with town board members of good will, an end to a worrisome situation may finally be within reach.

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The Arithmetic Is Inexorable: 2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District. Make The Deal

Editorial, August 10, 2018

The Arithmetic Is Inexorable:

2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District.

Make The Deal

Judge Coccoma

Judges generally are loath to get involved in situations that should be resolved through the political process. But once in a while their hand is forced.
Such seems to be the case shaping up in the now years-long standoff between Oneonta City Hall and the Town of Oneonta Board of Fire Commissioners over what the town should pay to be covered by professional firefighters in the city’s Oneonta Fire Department.
In December 2016, with the city-Fire District contract expiring, the dispute ended up in state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma’s Cooperstown courtroom.
Unable to broker an agreement, Coccoma imposed a two-year contract, with the Town Fire District paying $1.1 million a year for the OFD’s services.
He also instructed both sides to choose a mutually agreeable mediator to propose a fair outcome, and they settled on VFIS (Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Service), based in York, Pa., the nation’s foremost arbiter of this kind of thing.
The resulting report allocated 64.2 percent of the cost of operating the OFD to city taxpayers, and 35.8 percent to Town Fire District ratepayers, which include the big boxes on Southside Oneonta (in the town).
The outcome, according to city Mayor Gary Herzig, was in the neighborhood of the $1.1 million Coccoma had already decided upon. City Hall accepted the report; the fire commissioners did not.
Since, much has happened, but the bottom line is: No progress.

As he’s said all along, Mayor Herzig says today he is agreeable to a settlement tomorrow.
The traditional formula has been roughly: The city pays two-thirds; the fire district pays one-third.
“We’re comfortable with that formula,” said Herzig, referring to the VFIS numbers. “The outcome is very similar to the formula that’s been used for the past 20 years. (The VFIS formula) is more complicated. The bottom line is not very different.”
Because the fire commissioners’ leadership stopped calling back, he continued, City Hall has stopped trying.
“We’ve said now for months and months, our door is open. We’re willing to sit down and negotiate at any time. The response we get is: ‘We will not negotiate with you. What you’re doing, it’s illegal.’ I have no idea what they mean.”
The new fire commissioners, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, thought they had found a solution in appealing to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to audit the situation and recommend a solution. But it seems that DiNapoli, sensibly, was reluctant to allocate resources to a local situation with no statewide implications.
Rubin believed including OFD’s ambulance service revenues – due to insurance payments, EMS runs at a profit – would open the door to a deal. But Herzig said the revenues are part of the $4 million OFD budget – there’s no secret pot of money to be discovered. If you push in here, it comes out there.
In the end, it’s hard to escape the arithmetic: one-third to the Fire District, two-thirds to City Hall.

Which brings us back to where we started.
The judge directed the parties to bring in a mediator. That was done. A formula was recommended by the foremost experts. Still, the deadlock continues.
At the end of this year, five months from now, Judge Coccoma’s order expires. If he fails to extend it, most of the Town of Oneonta (minus that covered by the West Oneonta volunteers) will be without protection.
At one point, the commissioners said they would start their own department; that seems impractical. Otsego County’s impressive local volunteer departments have built expertise over decades, even generations. You can’t just snap your fingers and duplicate that.
The other option would be to contract with a volunteer department. But volunteers, trained as they may be, are mostly working fulltime jobs, some out of the area. Can they be expected to stand ready, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for another Christopher’s inferno along Otsego County’s foremost commercial strip?
The VFIS report – you can Google it at www.allotsego.com – reports the Insurance Services Office rated the OFD service are 2/2Y, put it among the top 3 percent best in the nation. Businesses in the Fire District (and city) are seeing low insurance rates as a result.

Judge Coccoma was right to impose a two-year settlement; the alternative was an unacceptable threat to public safety. Not to pre-judge the judge, but what option does he have if the fire commissioners and city officials appear before him again at year’s end?
We’re all adults here. Life is compromises. The fire commissioners have no option but to make the best deal – somewhere in the vicinity of one-third vs. two-thirds – and move on.

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HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for FRIDAY, APRIL 27
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for FRIDAY, APRIL 27

Art & Poetry Opening Gala

14-19eventspage

ART & POETRY – 6 p.m. Contest to explore the beauty of living life free from the negative impacts of addiction. Opening Gala in the CANO Gallery, Wilber Mansion, 11 Ford Ave., Oneonta. Call 607-432-0090 Ext 106 or visit www.facebook.com/LEAFArtContest/

SPRING SUMMIT – 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. Event for Youth Food Movement featuring film, school garden discussion, Disco soup, live music, seed starting, internship/job info, Community Building. Cooperstown Farmers Market, 101 Main St., Pioneer alley, Cooperstown. Call 607-437-2862 or visit www.celebrateorigins.com/yfm

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21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103