After a year of hemorrhaging losses, the Biden Stimulus Plan will make Otsego County government “whole,” according to County Treasurer Allen Ruffles.
“That’s what I would think,” Ruffles said, after reviewing the news he was planning to deliver when the county Board of Representatives met Wednesday, April 7, for its monthly meeting. “It would make us whole.”
In all, county government, towns, villages and school board are expecting about $32 million from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID Stimulus Plan, signed into law March 11.
In January 2020, before the COVID-19 emergency, the county had put $4.8 million aside in savings. Soon, “that was gone, kaput,” he said. In the year since, the county gave up another $5.8 million in sales, occupancy and property taxes.
Total: $10.6 million. That means the so-called American Rescue Plan means the county will come out ahead by $400,000.
Maybe when marijuana vendors appear at Disney World, or when the venerable theme park comes up with a Marijuana Mile theme ride, or maybe Marijuana Maelstrom.
Then, perhaps, the Village of Cooperstown – “the pinnacle” of youth baseball camps, according to Lunetta Swartout, Cooperstown Stays proprietor, (and she ought to know) – should approve pot shops, or a “recreational cannabis dispensary,” or whatever, along Main Street in Baseball’s Mecca.
Maybe then, but now the debate is more than theoretical.
Simmering, simmering for years, marijuana legalization moved to the front burner over the weekend, when Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly agreed on legislation “to legalize adult-use cannabis.” The Assembly and Senate approved the bill Tuesday, and Cuomo was expected to sign it.
Otsego Electric’s Broadband initiative wasn’t mentioned in last week’s editorial on entrepreneurism in arts organizations – it’s an electric cooperative, not a dance troupe.
Still, it’s worth a separate nod.
While local governments and the citizenry at large were crying out to Albany and Washington for universal Broadband, CEO Tim Johnson and the Hartwick-based, non-profit rural-electrification entity simply did it.
As reported last week, in the past three years, Otsego Electric has strung 700 miles of wire in the 23 towns it serves, past 5,000 locations; 2,900 subscribed to its high-speed Internet service.
It’s a non-profit, so why bother?
“We could see the handwriting on the wall,” said Johnson. “We could see … the lack of opportunities to work in rural areas. We saw the possibility that this” – Broadband – “would stabilize our customer base.”
And that’s what happened.
During the Pandemic Year, when the world moved onto Zoom, there could have been a mass exodus. There wasn’t, and there won’t be.
Editor’s Note: Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, is retiring from the county board to focus on chairing the city Planning Commission, and to share his reflections on development and environmentalism through his blog, (accessible by Googling “danny lapin blog”.) This is an excerpt to his introduction to the blog.
One of my best friends in graduate school lovingly coined the topic of local government the “most important thing nobody cares about.” This was, of course, after hearing me prattle on about tax rates, land-use regulations, and urban planning in general for hours on end over the course of our two-year program in bucolic Upstate New York.
The decisions made by our local government affect us a lot more than we might think. Most apparent is in the layout of our road network and built environment. Those decisions were likely guided by a zoning code overseen by a local Planning Commission.
Decisions on how parks are designed, when basketball courts are opened or closed, and whether a new dog park should be built in town are controlled by local governments. Decisions on when to plow our roads, inspect the safety of our buildings, and how best to respond to emergencies are largely undertaken by… you guessed it… local governments.
Too often, I hear that town/village/city meetings are “boring” or that “nothing” gets done. People question whether they should take time away from their families, jobs, or other commitments to attend meetings.
I created this blog to break down key issues facing the city ranging from Downtown Revitalization to housing, taxes, sustainability, and beyond. I did this because I want us all to effectively evaluate each candidate based on the merits of their vision. Ultimately, who each reader chooses to support is up to them, however – it is my hope that this blog will play a small role in helping people understand the key issues facing our community.
So why create a blog now? In 2016, the City of Oneonta received a $10 million grant through the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This grant is intended to transform our downtown through the implementation of several small-to-to medium-sized projects. In the five years that have transpired, façade improvements are starting to pop up Downtown, a new marketing campaign was launched, and dozens of units of new housing are likely to come online in our community.
As the planner/engineer and creator of “Strong Towns,” Chuck Mahron, says change is at its strongest when it comes incrementally from the bottom up. As citizens, we get to act as glorified job interviewers as we select who will be Oneonta’s next mayor. The first step to the interview process is for us to figure out what are some of the key issues facing our city. It’s time to step beyond the
dinner table where many of us has an idea of what Oneonta needs, enter the public square, and debate these issues in the open.
The next New York State budget is on its way to passage, and with the federal stimulus of $12.6 billion it will not be as bad as projected. But there are still many problems ahead. Our state had a budget deficit before the pandemic, and a declining population, which the census will likely confirm later this year.
We must look for new ways to bring people back to New York. Without more people, our state will continue to suffer, and the problems will continue to grow. What is one way to bring people back?
How do we get more jobs? By investing strategically in the industries of the future, and we can do that without hurting businesses already here.
Green energy has dazzling potential. It is the industry with the fastest growing job basis in the country, and these jobs pay higher than average.
We need the energy too. New York has some of the highest utility rates in the country, and investment in green energy will lower energy costs, because the costs for renewable energy continue to go down.
Recognizing the value of green energy, the legislature passed the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act in 2019. This bill outlined clear and achievable targets to increase renewable energy production, storage and energy infrastructure.
Plus, it recognized that many communities across New York have been left behind and disadvantaged economically, so it makes sure that large parts of the investment go to these communities.
Our region has been left behind by Albany for far too long. This bill may start to change that. Of course, the question comes up of how to pay for these upgrades. We cannot print money like the federal government, so the answer is the Climate & Community Investment Act.
This bill will set taxes and charges against those businesses that pollute the most. The revenue will be turned into direct reinvestment in our state.
I support this legislation because it answers the question of how to pay for a specific state program. It may not be a perfect bill, it should be debated, and that debate can certainly make it better.
The results of this bill will help our region, and for that we all have reason to support it.
Before reacting, the Village Board is waiting to see what the marijuana-legalization bill due to pass the state Legislature April 1 looks like.
But Trustee Mac Benton, who brought the issue before the trustees at their monthly meeting Monday, March 22, is determined to push for pot-selling “storefronts” in Baseball’s mecca, seeing it as an economic-development opportunity too good to ignore.
If the new law doesn’t give the village the authority to make the decision to sell or to manufacture marijuana products, Benton said he will encourage fellow trustees to urge the county Board of Representatives to allow the village to do so.
“It the decision goes to the county,” Benton said in a text, “I’ll urge my fellow trustees to sign onto a letter to the county strongly recommending that Otsego NOT opt out.”
According to Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, there are two bills now under consideration.
Hickling’s Fish Farm Inc. is exactly what Otsego Electric President/CEO Tim Johnson is talking about.
In tanks inside four sizeable modern buildings on Pitts Road near here, the Hicklings are growing 65-70,000 trout yearlings annually, and another 20-30,000 pounds of 2-year-old bass, which – a delicacy in Thai and other cultures – are sold to Asian markets in Boston and other East Coast cities.
“The big money we’re spending now is in technology,” said Darren Hickling, a civil engineer who operates the business with his parents, Vincent and Linda, a nephew and one of the nephew’s high-school buddies.
With the county’s outmigration, Hickling said he can’t expand his workforce even if he wanted to: There’s no one to hire.
“It” – Broadband – “was an economic-development initiative for us,” said Johnson, who had been outside legal counsel to Otsego Electric for 25 years before becoming the top executive in 2015.
As a 501(c)(12), Otsego Electric – a cooperative founded during the Depression, owned by members to serve members – Otsego Electric is prohibited from making profits.
A few years ago, Angel Garcia had just completed what he described as an anti-racism mural, “balanced with positive imagery,” at New York City’s Dual Language Middle School on West 77th Street.
“The theme idea was to create a mural that would explore the topic of racism – and healing,” said the Brooklyn artist, who will be creating a mural in Pioneer Park this summer in connection with the Keith Haring exhibit that opens May 29, Memorial Day Weekend, at The Fenimore Art Museum.
He was leaving the school soon after it was completed, and there, in front of the mural, “was one student explaining the imagery to another. They were using the mural to educate each other.
“It was beautiful moment,” said Garcia, now 29, a prolific artist whose opus to date includes 10 public murals in New York City and many individual canvases.
The Fenimore’s president, Paul D’Ambrosio, said the idea of commissioning a mural downtown in connection with muralist Haring’s exhibit came out of staff brainstorming during the grant application process.
“Everybody loved the idea,” he said. “We couldn’t put the (Haring) artwork downtown. But we could create one.”
A wooden wall will be built in Pioneer Park’s left-hand corner. After the Haring exhibit closes, the mural will become part of The Fenimore’s permanent collection, D’Ambrosio said.
On appointing Anne Meccariello high school principal on March 10, 2020, CCS Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw praised “her sense of loyalty to the district.”
It didn’t pan out. She resigned Feb. 26, just short of a year.
April 1, Meccariello will become superintendent of schools in the Campbell-Savona Central School District in the Finger Lakes, 25 miles northwest of Corning.
“From the moment I saw the superintendent of schools position posted for Campbell-Savona, I knew I was very interested in becoming a Panther,” Meccariello – a Redskin and, after 2013, a Hawkeye – told WETM TV 18 in Elmira.
Gary Kuch resigned in 2008 to become Worcester Central superintendent, and his successor Mike Kring, served five years, and the revolving door began.
Seeking to boost test scores, the CCS school board and Superintendent C.J. Herbert created an “executive principal” position.
Lynn Strang was recruited from Hoosic Falls in July 2013, and raised the high school’s test scores into the two 2 percent in the state, winning CCS a “Rewards School” citation.
But the test scores rose as the outcry rose against “Common Core” testing, and she departed at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
A year ago, just before the start of pandemic lockdowns, some 10% or less of the U.S. labor force worked remotely full-time. Within a month, according to Gallup and other surveys, around half of American workers were at distant desktops. Today, most of them still are. And surveys of employers and employees alike suggest a fundamental shift.
While forecasts differ, as much as a quarter of the 160-million-strong U.S. labor force is expected to stay fully remote in the long term, and many more are likely to work remotely a significant part of the time.
Smaller metro areas such as Miami, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville and Denver enjoy a price advantage over more expensive cities like New York and San Francisco, and they are using it to attract newly mobile professionals. Smaller cities have joined the competition as well, some of them launching initiatives specifically designed to appeal to remote workers.
And more rural communities including Bozeman, Mont., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Truckee, Calif., and New York’s Hudson Valley are becoming the nation’s new “Zoom towns,” seeing their fortunes rise from the influx of new residents whose work relies on such digital tools.
Richard Florida and Adam Ozimek
Wall Street Journal
March 6-7, 2021
Bob Wood was dealt a winning hand when elected Oneonta town supervisor in 2008, and he played the hand well.
He announced his retirement last Friday, March 5 – 299 days to go until Dec. 31, he said – and expressed satisfaction that $12 million in projects – $3-plus million for a new town highway garage and $8-plus million for the long-awaited Southside water project – will be completed by the time he leaves office.
Of course, there are many other successes since 2008 that Bob Wood can point to – the expansion of the Browne Street (Ioxus, Northern Eagle Beverage) and Pony Farm commerce parks, the growth of All Star Village, Brooks BBQ’s bottling plant to be expanded and relocated in an East End shopping plaza.
But keeping the tax rate low – $10 per thousand for town, school, county and other property levies, as compared to $20 in the city – may be his foremost accomplishment. And that, arguably, led to everything else.
By the time he retires on Dec. 31, the Town of Oneonta’s municipal water system will be complete, and condos and houses on Southside Drive will be emerging, veteran Town Supervisor Bob Wood is predicting.
Simply, “the city does not have any more available land,” said Wood in an interview Friday, March 5, on announcing his retirement.
A handful of developers have already approached him with plans, he said, adding, “A lot of people are going to be happy on Southside Drive.”
The $8-plus million water system and a $3-plus million town highway garage, just completed behind Town Hall in West Oneonta, will allow Wood, supervisor since 2008, to leave office with a sense of completion, he said.
He also expects to see development on the town’s end of Oneida Street, where developer Eugene Bettiol Sr. was planning a hotel, plaza, diner and others attractions at the time of his passing in December 2017. Under new owners, that’s still alive, the supervisor said.
‘Happy are they … who give justice to those who are oppressed, food to those who are hungry, and shelter to those in need,” said Rev. Cynthia Walton Leavitt, pastor of the United Presbyterian “Red Door” Church.
The pastor was speaking Monday, March 8, as a member of the Caring for the Homeless Population Collaboration, founded in 2018 under the auspices of Fox Hospital, on the initiative of Dr. Reg Knight, who chaired Fox’s Ethics Committee.
Pastor Leavitt was leading the Blessing Service where Knight’s goal was reached: Oneonta’s one-of-a-kind Community Warming Station opened at 5 p.m. at 189 Chestnut St.
The first client showed up at 9:15 p.m.
Beginning Monday, and continuing through Sunday, April 11, the Warming Station will be open seven days a week. The first occupant showed up at 9:15 Monday evening, when temperatures would drop overnight to 21 degrees. (The night before the station opened, it dropped to 1.)
“We’re so blessed to have this open,” the pastor said.
Walton Leavitt has been involved since the beginning (and is also involved in the Hunger Coalition of Otsego County), driven by what she sees as a continuing need, evident in “an occasional knock on (her) door.”
Usually, it happens after Catholic Charities or other human service agencies are closed for the day or weekend, she said.