By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Joshua Beams, a 2005 SUNY Oneonta graduate, was appointed as Otsego County administrator, effective Oct. 4, at a special meeting of the county’s Board of Representatives Tuesday, Sept. 7.
The position was originally approved in December 2019, but the hiring was delayed a year because of a 2020 hiring freeze at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The position was discussed in county government circles for decades, as Otsego County is governed by a group of 14 legislators and has no executive branch of government. The county’s Inter-governmental Affairs Committee studied governmental forms and executive roles for a year before approving the change in 2019.
The position they settled on is an administrative one that answers to the legislature, but will serve as the county’s chief operating officer and chief budget officer. Several departments, such as the newly created county business officer, will be realigned to report to Beams.
According to his LinkedIn page, Beams graduated from Syracuse’s Maxwell School with a master’s in public administration with a concentration in state and local financial management. He served in the Army for 13 years, six while on active duty, and has been an Empire State fellow since 2014.
“I have followed several great leaders in my life, and the common thread that connected all of them is their ability to be innovative,” Beams wrote on LinkedIn. “They took a problem by the horns and with
ingenuity and creativity came up with a solution that the rest of the team, no matter if it were five or five-thousand, could rally around.”
The Otsego County board also approved hiring 20 people to staff the county’s new emergency ambulance service in the county.
Some board members were displeased by how little written information was being given to set a plan in motion.
Another concern was Oneonta taxpayers might pay more in taxes for a service they won’t need or use as much as rural residents.
Public Safety and Legal Affairs Chair Daniel Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, said he would like to give a more detailed plan but that the situation was “kind of blowing up in our face.”
Wilber referenced the death of a young boy in Worcester last week and said EMS services have been slow in the county for some time.
“We had a situation last week where a seven-year-old boy needed CPR,” Wilber said. “His mother did CPR on him for 27 minutes before help arrived. … The writing is on the wall for that, for the seven-year -old.”
Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said the problem with volunteer workers aging out is not unique to Otsego.
“Other counties are all facing the same thing,” Bliss said, who mentioned that the problem had been “really exacerbated in the last year and a half” because of COVID.
Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Butternuts, Morris, Pittsfield, said the reality is the county is slowly replacing volunteer services with paid services and it will cost taxpayers money.
However, the five representatives from the city and town of Oneonta were concerned their constituents would be paying more than their fair share.
“We’re still sitting here talking in hypotheticals about it and ways that we can pay for it and ways we can figure this out,” Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, said. “That is not okay. And I understand it’s the way it is and the way we’ve done things, and we’re trying to do better in that regard by bringing on a county administrator, and I really, really hope that we never have to do this again.”
Oliver said he was “on the fence” about this about “bringing on 20 people when we don’t know if we’ll be able to pay to keep them in a couple years. That’s daunting.”
Still, the urgency of the moment won over all of the representatives.
“A few weeks ago, they waited 66 minutes for an ambulance in Otego,”
Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, Otego. “It’s ridiculous. We need something now in these rural areas.”