OTSEGO COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 2 – MORRIS, PITTSFIELD, BUTTERNUTS
COMMUNITY OF RESIDENCE: Gilbertsville
EDUCATION: BS Biology, Cornell University
17 years, patternmaker and printer at Adelphi Paper Hangings, Sharon Springs. Managing Editor from 1999-2000 at The Freeman’s Journal, Cooperstown
Town of Butternuts councilperson 2012-2016, Town of Butternuts deputy supervisor 2016-present. Copes Corners Park Committee chairperson, Village Improvement Society member, Butternut Valley Alliance member. Gilbertsville Mount Upton school garden volunteer.
My husband Norm works in the trades as a home performance contractor, and my daughter Maya is in the eighth grade at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Central School. My parents live in Morris, and I have many relatives in the area.
PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT:
Government must be fair and honest and work for everyone. We all have to participate in order to make democracy work.
MAJOR ISSUES FACING OTSEGO COUNTY:
There are many issues facing our county: a lack of good jobs, opioid addiction, poor roads, high property taxes, a lack of good affordable housing, agricultural decline, an aging population, and local government that gives up too easily in the face of these problems.
I strive to be fair and honest. I do my homework and follow through. I enjoy working for our community.
I have lived and worked here my whole life, and I know and love this area. There’s not much we can do about the ugliness in Washington, but I think we can make things better here if we focus on solving local problems. That means rebuilding our economy from the bottom up, encouraging local small business and entrepreneurship, pushing back against big corporations, and protecting the health of our region and the people who live here.
COPES CORNERS – In the 1940s, there were only two rules for visitors to Copes Corners.
“My grandfather, Walker R.R. Cope, told people that they were always welcome on his land, as long as they closed the gate so the cows didn’t get out,” said Fred Johnson. “The other rule was watch where you step!”
The cows are long gone, but Copes Corners will once again be open for camping, fishing and picnics, just as it has been – except for the past few years – since before the Civil War.
For years now, Otsego County’s annual auction of foreclosed-on tax-delinquent properties has eaten up a lot of oxygen at the county Board of Representatives’ monthly meetings.
It’s the Whack-A-Mole of county government, which suggests: There are unresolved issues.
So a take-charge presentation by the new county treasurer, Allen Ruffles, at the November meeting was welcome, if partial.
First, he declared, having studied the issue, giving delinquent taxpayers four years to pay back bills is counterproductive. In the fourth year, the fees and interest that accrue just make it all that more likely property owners won’t be able to catch up.
Three years is the standard among New York State counties, and Ruffles – as he can within his treasurer’s duties – has implemented it, effective 2022.
Second, he encouraged the county board, as a companion measure, to pass a law enabling property owners to “buy back” their own homes.
Himself a former banker, Ruffles said most delinquent properties aren’t mortgaged and contain more-than-sufficient equity to qualify for bank loans to cover what’s owed.
The county board should promptly pass the enabling legislation.
While Ruffles didn’t need the county reps’ blessing, Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, made a motion of support and it was approved, although three county reps – Kathy Clark, Michele Farwell and Andrew Stammel – abstained, uncertain about some of the particulars.
Ruffles’ presentation spurred a debate – of course, the Whack-A-Mole – on a related issue: Should county employees be allowed to bid at the annual delinquent-property auction.
There was general agreement that employees in the Treasurer’s and the County Attorney’s offices, who are elbows deep in preparing the annual tax sale, should be prohibited from bidding – elected officials, too – but beyond that there were divergences.
County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, objected to any restrictions, even on himself and the other reps, saying anyone who thinks a property is worth more could bid against him. The board vice chair, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, called a ban “100-percent optics.” Iffy. .
Farwell, the freshman Democrat from Morris, had a more textured view: “We’re the government, and government has lost the people’s trust. I think if you take an extra step to ensure the public’s trust in government, there’s a payoff there worth more than the opportunity for any employee in the county to bid.”
She summed up: “If you are an employee of McDonald’s, you cannot participate in those sweepstakes.”
Readers, ask yourself and fellow employees: In 10, 20 or 30 years on the job, has buying property at public auction ever come up in office conversation? Most of you would say, not at all; not once. It’s just beyond most people’s consideration.
The problem here is county employees swim in a sea where delinquent property-tax sales are dissolved oxygen. Everybody breathes that air. It’s conversation
in coffee breaks, where the treasurer’s and county attorney’s employees are sipping and sharing in the conversation.
There’s simply too much of an opportunity for inside knowledge to be acquired; for county employees, if you will, to prey on the rest of us.
Of course, it’s hard to listen to any discussion about tax sales without putting it in the context of the August 2014 auction, where Maria Ajello lost her Town of Richfield home to a neighbor who happened to be a county employee.
Another wrinkle: under a then-new policy, Ajello and a Town of Butternuts property owner, Bob Force, were denied the right to buy back their properties on the day of the sale.
They still feel that injustice, and anyone who hears Maria’s monthly plea for mercy feels it too. Injustice left alone festers, with unintended consequences: Fearful, the county board feels it must have a deputy sheriff on duty at all its monthly meetings.
To sum up, Treasurer Ruffles has taken a business-like step in shortening foreclosure from four years to three. Any business owner knows: If you let a bill go unpaid for even a year, the chances of getting paid are miniscule. But he and the county board, hand in hand, should continue to pursue not a best practice or two, but all THE best practices:
• One, pass the buy-back legislation, so captured value can be freed and people can stay in their homes.
• Two, ban every county employee from bidding on delinquent properties. Steady work, plus good health benefits and a secure retirement are recompense enough.
• Three, begin negotiations to make Maria Ajello and Bob Force whole – the properties they lost were worth many multiples of the taxes they owed.
Questionnaires that have been submitted so far by candidates for the Otsego County Board of Representatives in the Nov. 7 elections are highlighted below. As the rest of the candidates respond, the links will be updated. Please click on highlighted link to read, in candidates’ own words, why they are qualified to serve. And don’t forget to vote! Polls are open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7.
COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Board of Representatives this morning elected David Bliss, the former Middlefield town supervisor just elected to his second term, to be its chairman this year.
The vote was 10 “ayes,” two absentions, one absence, and a single “nay” from Kathy Clark, R-Otego, the chair Bliss replaced.
Unanimously, the reps then appointed Democrat Gary Koutnik, the veteran representative from the City of Oneonta, as the vice chair.
The absent county rep was Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, who departs as board vice chair. It was said he had to take his wife to the hospital.
The pairing of a Republican chair with Democratic vice chair is unusual but not unprecedented: Republican Sam Dubben and the late Rich Murphy, a Democrat, shared the leadership in 2010; and Republican Don Linberg was chair and Ron Feldstein vice chair in 2007.
Editor’s Note: This is the editorial opinion of www.AllOTSEGO.com, Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal. Letters to the editor on political topics received after 10 a.m. Tuesday will appear on www.AllOTSEGO.com. Polls are open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7.
With all the sturm und drang over the years surrounding the Otsego County Board of Representatives – MOSA or not, road patrols or not, economic development or not – a central truth was lost: County government doesn’t work very well.
It makes sense that Andrew Marietta, the freshman county rep for Cooperstown and the Town of Otsego, would quickly recognize that. As regional director of NYCON, the state Council of Non-Profits, his job is to get struggling organizations to focus on mission and map steps necessary for success.
Locally, from Foothills to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society to merging the Smithy Pioneer Gallery with the Cooperstown Art Association, NYCON, often with Marietta in the lead, has strengthened so many key institutions we take for granted.
The road to success is simple: Identify priorities – five at a time, maybe, not 100 – resolve them systematically, then move on to the next five. The goal, progress. Simple, but requiring vision and discipline.
Shortly after taking office in 2016, Marietta salvaged the $40,000 county strategic plan that had been put together the year before by the Laberge Group out of Albany, tapping common needs among the county’s municipalities. It was headed for the shelf, but his advocacy saved it, turning it into the guiding document of the county board’s Strategic Planning Committee.
COOPERSTOWN – It appears former county rep. Craig Gelbsman of Oneonta will remain on the Otsego Now board of directors.
The county board originally appointed Gelbsman to Otsego Now as its “liaison”, intending that he keep the Cooperstown reps in the loop on what the Oneonta-based economic-development entity was up.
Then Republican Gelbsman was defeated by Democrat Adrienne Martini last Nov. 7. But when his term expired Dec. 31 he continued to sit in on Otsego Now meetings, vote on measures, and last Thursday was elected board secretary.
Due to the snow, perhaps, no member of the public appeared at the public hearing on Otsego County’s 2019 budget, which began at 6 p.m. this evening in Courtroom #1 in Cooperstown. Above, county board Chair David Bliss, left, gave the floor to Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern to officially convene proceedings. The budget keeps the tax increase under the state tax cap, and includes $500,000 in raises for 104 “M&C” (management and confidential employees) following a two-year, 16-county study to determine “average” wages. This county’s wages, it turned out, are 20 percent below the average. The study also recommended the county reps receive a $3,000 raise to their $10,500 salaries, the first increase since 2008. Inset at left are county Personnel Director Penny Gentile, whose office conducted the salary survey; County Attorney Ellen Coccoma, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, and Deputy Treasurer Andrew Crisman. Seated in the jury dock, in top photo, are, from left, County Reps. Andrew Marietta, Gary Koutnik, Danny Lapin, Peter Oberacker, Michele Farwell, Keith McCarty, Andrew Stammel and Ed Frazier. Seated next to McGovern is her deputy, Jenna Utter. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)