You may have noticed that Dec. 15 piece in the New York Times, “The Hard Truths of Trying to Save the ‘Rural’ Economy.” In it, reporter Eduardo Porter wrote: “I’ve lived most of my life in big cities. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live in a small town or a family farm, or how it feels when all the jobs in a community seem to be fading away.”
You might expect what follows: It sounds like one of those stories Times reporters periodically transmit from Timbuctoo or some similarly exotic locale. All impressions. As if rural economic development – the War on Poverty, if you will – is all about feelings.
Here’s a more concrete objection: Porter equates Upstate New York – criss-crossed by four lanes, peppered with international airports, abounding with excellent colleges and universities, a couple of hours from the largest metropolitan economy in the country that also happens to be the center of the financial universe – with Harrison, Neb., wherever that is.
We have long known that, when it comes to many things, we can undoubtedly be classified as a first-class dinosaur. This is particularly true when it comes to current technology. We will admit to being able to send and receive email. We can also, to a certain extent, manage to look things up on the Internet.
However, we made the decision long ago to abandon Facebook. And we must admit that we are clueless about exactly what is what when it comes to social media. So we decided that perhaps a bit of research on the subject just might be in order.
We started with a definition of social media which read: “websites and
applications that enable users to create and share content or to
participate in social networking.” That leads us to wonder just what the websites and applications might be.
The amiable Dave Bliss, who is entering his second year as chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, patently has achieved his first goal: A “change of culture” toward a more amiable atmosphere.
“I believe we have a working relationship with departments heads and other board members,” the former 24-year Middlefield town supervisor, a Republican, said in an interview assessing his first year at the helm, and looking ahead to the second.
“Democrats and Republicans are evenly split – we need to work together.”
A case in point surfaced at the county board’s organizational meeting on Jan. 2, where Bliss was reelected by a 12-2 vote.
Each month there’s a consent agenda that lumps together a few dozen routine resolutions so they can be taken care of in one vote – a huge time saver in a usually lengthy meeting.
But any county rep can ask that any resolution be removed for individual debate, as Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, sensibly did in this case on the “Climate Smart Communities Pledge,” which NYSERDA is encouraging local governments to adopt.
Latest ‘Citizen’ To Win
In early 2015, when the credentials of Hometown Oneonta/The Freeman’s Journal “20 Under 40” honorees were published in this newspaper, Stacie Haynes – one of the 20 – called to say how impressed she was by everyone’s accomplishments.
“I’m not worthy,” she said.
It was explained to her that an independent panel of community leaders from Oneonta and Cooperstown had convened, reviewed nominations from the public, and chosen the 20 as among the most promising young people in Otsego County.
The newspaper’s editors hadn’t made the selection and, under the guidelines, had no standing to add or remove anyone.
This year, though, Stacie Haynes, now executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, more than proved the “20 Under 40” judges’ confidence.
Handel’s “Messiah,” performed every other year by the Voices of Cooperstown at Christ Church – on Saturday, December 15, this was one of those happy years – brings to front of mind the inevitable light and darkness that is part of everyone’s life.
Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth that has characterized American life since Nov. 8, 2016 – “dumpster fire” has just been added to Merriam Webster – a whole area of scholarship has come to the fore, compiling the facts that prove: The world is actually becoming a better place.
Here are some of the points Steven Pinker, the Harvard professor and author of “Enlightenment Now,” made in a TED Talk last April:
• For most of human history, life expectancy was around 30 years old worldwide. Today, it is more than 70 years old; and in most developed parts of the world, it’s over 80.
People Create ‘Center
Of Energy Excellence’?
‘Energy Infrastructure Summit,’
County Task Force’s Makeup Will
Help Answer That Question – And Soon
Where angels fear to tread…
The angel in this piece is Barbara Ann Heegan, Otsego Chamber of Commerce president, who this week announced the chamber is planning an Energy Infrastructure Summit Thursday, Jan. 31, at The Otesaga.
“By bringing other stakeholders to the table, we can help inform our membership on the best path forward on meeting our energy needs and the needs of economic development,” Heegan said in an interview.
Of course, the intent is right on, and businesspeople – with an eye on costs and profitability, as well as the good of the planet – are in many ways as good environmentalists as anyone else.
Take Jim Doig, Sidney Federal Credit Union’s recently retired president. Heegan toured the bank’s new headquarters a couple of years ago, and saw energy consciousness everywhere: geothermal heating, solar panels – even rainwater captured to flush toilets.
“That’s one example of how a business, a bank, has really taken advantage of clean, renewable energy,” said Heegan. The chamber formed an Energy Committee last January, chaired by Country Club Auto’s Peter Armao, and its members suggested the summit idea.
George H.W. Bush
Life Is An Example Of
Simple Courtesy To Us All
When he was first running for U.S. senator from Vermont in 1974, Patrick Leahy, now eminent ranking Democrat and erstwhile chairman of the Judiciary Committee, used to joke, “Washington D.C. you can’t get there from here.”
Whatever way you look at it, it’s a long way from here to the corridors of power and vice versa. But it’s boys from cities and towns much like Oneonta and Cooperstown all over the nation who get elected president of the United States more often than not.
On Presidents’ Day for a decade now, this newspaper has celebrated points of inspiration and guidance American presidents can provide to those of us back home.
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.
When the Susquehanna SPCA learned last February it had won $500,000 from Governor Cuomo’s Companion Animal Capital Fund, Executive Director Stacie Haynes sought bids to upgrade the aging shelter in Hartwick Seminary.
To a person, all of the prospective contractors said: Don’t spend a half-million on this building, Haynes related the other day in an interview leading up to the
announcement in this week’s edition of “Shelter Us,” a $2 million capital campaign to build a brand new animal shelter.
A tour the other day brought the insurmountable challenges of the compound at 4841 Route 28 into focus.
One, there’s not enough room. But, two, the particle-board walls and semi-porous concrete floors are simply impossible to keep clean. All the scrubbing by staff and volunteers can’t remove the stains, mold and smell. In effect, the complex is generally worn out.
It’s time for a change.
This year, the shelter proved its worth – if there was ever any doubt:
• On Friday the 13th of April, shelter volunteers were called to a nightmarish scene at a farm near Garrattsville to oversee the emergency relocation of 103 starving and neglected animals – donkeys, pigs, chickens, ducks, Pyrenees, even a parakeet.
• On Wednesday, May 16, Fox Hospital discovered 19 kittens in a plastic bag in a restroom, abandoned. Haynes’ assistance, Becca Daly of Oneonta, took over the care of the 5-day-old cats, and the SPCA found foster homes for the other 14.
• On Tuesday, Oct. 2, sheriff’s deputies rescued 53 tiny Lhasa Apsos packed in a Milford home, and dropped them off for medical care at the shelter. Within a week, the animals had been put on the path to health and adoption.
• Just 20 days later, on Monday, Oct. 22, a shelter team retrieved four pigs left in a shed at the far end of a dirt road in Laurens.
All this is done by a modest professional staff, assisted by more than 100 volunteers, people like Arlene Nygren of Goodyear Lake, young Bob Wood (not the supervisor) of Oneonta, Cat Chicorelli of Cherry Valley, Betty Steele of Hartwick, and many more – our neighbors, contributing selflessly to Otsego County’s greater good.
This requires a substantial budget, a little over $600,000 this year. About $100,000 comes from foundations, but the rest through revenues from a well-run thrift shop, fund-raising programs and donations.
A tiny part of this money – about $7,500 a year – comes from individual contracts with 18 towns to take care of animals seized by dog-control officers. While deputies and state troopers drop off animals as necessary, no operating funds come from county and state coffers.
For almost 100 years now, the Susquehanna SPCA has been largely a volunteer effort, funded by people who care. In the difficult decade our nation has gone through, here’s an example of good citizenship that shines bright.
Now, we all have the opportunity to get involved, through “Shelter Us.”
The $2 million campaign is off to a good start with the $500,000 grant, and another $180,000 donated through the “quiet phase” of the campaign. Now, the public is being invited to give, to ensure a quality future for an organization that has proved its worth to the Otsego County community at large.
The beauty of “Shelter Us” is there’s an opportunity and a need for everyone to contribute according to our means. The important thing is to make this one-time contribution now.
The original plan was to launch the campaign in the new year, but an opportunity has arisen: Anita Vitullo of the Utica area, founder of Staffworks, which has an Oneonta office, has offered to match a dollar for every dollar donated in December, up to $10,000, to “Shelter Us.”
So double your money – and the shelter’s – by donating during the month of December.
The Susquehanna SPCA has been serving the community for 100 years. Now’s the time to build a foundation for the second hundred years for an institution that’s not only essential, but widely revered.
State Zigged To Democrats,
But County Zagged To GOP
The Wall Street Journal headline was sly: “Blue Wave Breaks Softly.”
The article reported that, as of Nov. 6, Election Night, Democrats gained 27 Congressional seats in the midterms, regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
That pales compared to Democrats losing 63 in the first Obama midterms in 2010, and losing the House as well; still, even one-vote control is control. (As canvassing ensued, it looks like Democrats may end up with plus 35 to 40 new seats; still, not the GOP Armageddon some were salivating over. And Republicans increased their margin in the U.S. Senate.)
Whatever – nationwide. But when you look at New York State government, the Blue Wave broke hard Upstate, not least over Otsego County, with some unnerving implications.
The state Senate zigged, turning from enduringly Republican to Democratic, a feat accomplished for only two years in a half-century.
But Otsego County zagged: With the loss of Democratic Assemblyman Bill Magee of Nelson, the one state senator and four assemblymen representing our county are all Republicans, about to dive into a Democratic sea.
That can’t be good.
State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who will be operating without Magee’s steady support in the Democratic House for the first time since 1991, said he’s used to working in a bipartisan manner.
In an interview, he used the term “equitable distribution” twice, hoping the Democrats will extend the concept that has allowed the state’s largesse to be enjoyed statewide.
That would be great, but we’ll see.
More of an issue than Democrats and Republicans is Upstaters vs. downstaters, Seward observed. Only three of the state’s 30 senators are from north of Westchester County. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
The GOP county chairman, Vince Casale, addressed the legislative picture. Now in control of Assembly, Senate and Governor’s Office, he predicts Democrats will seek to legalize marijuana as soon as January, and will press for adoption of the NY Plan, Medicare-like coverage for all Empire Staters – exciting, but perhaps bankrupting.
Depending how hard and fast the Democrats push, what went around in 2018 may come around in 2020.
Meanwhile, even local Democrats are a bit uneasy. Richard Sternberg, the Cooperstown village trustee who is also a member of the state Democratic Committee, said he hopes that, since our mayors are Democratic (Oneonta’s Gary Herzig and Cooperstown’s Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch), the funds will keep flowing.
And, as architect of Democratic gains on the Otsego County Board of Representatives last year, Sternberg is looking ahead to creating a majority next year; he’s only one seat short.
Given the new Albany reality, becoming aligned with the ruling party only makes sense, his remarks suggested.
If anything, we here in Otsego County compounded the zag by voting heavily for Marc Molinaro, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Republican challenger.
Arguably, Cuomo’s done more for Otsego County than any governor in decades, Democrat or Republican, and did so by embracing an all-American principle: competition.
The governor’s concept – divide the state into 10 regions and make them compete for state economic-development funding, and may the best ideas win – was brilliant.
In the past five years, Otsego County has competed and competed well, winning millions annually through CFAs; (the next round of “consolidated funding application” grants is due to be announced in December). Plus, remember Oneonta’s DRI.
In the world of New York State realpolitik, here’s more good news in the returns.
While the county as a whole supported Republicans, Oneonta and Cooperstown are strong Democratic enclaves, supporting Senator Seward, the county’s favorite son, but breaking blue on everything else.
Oneonta, for its population, and Cooperstown, for its iconic status, are not to be ignored, whatever party controls the state political apparatus.
Whoever’s in charge in Albany, there’s a lot to be done here, so fingers crossed.