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Allen Ruffles

Out of Africa County County’s 2020 Budget Under Tax Cap, Over $120M

Out of Africa

County County’s 2020 Budget

Under Tax Cap, Over $120M

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles discusses the 2020 county budget from Djibouti. With him are county Rep. Meg Kennedy, the Budget Committee chair, and Deputy Treasurer Andrew Crisman. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – The 2020 tentative Otsego County budget is done, by way of Uganda, Burundi and Tanganyika.

It is under New York State’s tax cap, and Otsego County continues to be “one of the lowest taxed counties in the state,” County Treasurer (and Sgt.) Allen Ruffles reported Monday, Nov. 18, in a Zoom-enabled videoconference from his quarters in Djibouti, where he is stationed until early next year with the New York State National Guard.

Ruffles, who was assigned to the Horn of Africa last spring, participated in all budget meetings from 11,466 miles away in Camp Lemmonier via Zoom, a videoconferencing software being introduced throughout  county government.

As it happens, the eight-hour time difference has worked well, as Ruffles gets off work in the evenings just as the Budget Committee is convening in the mornings, said Deputy Treasurer Andrew Crisman.

According to County IT Director Brian Pokorny, a large screen has been installed in the second-floor conference room at the county Office Building at 197 Main St.  It was used to communicate with Ruffles, but will be used increasingly for less exotic communications.

For instance, instead of bringing department heads up from offices in Oneonta’s Old City Hall (242 Main St.) or The Meadows Complex to answer a question, they will be able to talk face-to-face with county board committees through this new tool, he said.

The total tentative 2020 county budget is $120,200,165, up from an approved 2019 number of $116,805,295.

The tax levy – what local property owners pay – rises to $12,144,437, up from an approved 2019 number of $11,707,812.

That increase is $3.73 percent, but state allowances – unpaid taxes, for instance – brings it under the Cuomo Administration’s 2 percent cap, Ruffles said.

The public hearing on the budget will be at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the county courthouse in Cooperstown.  The county board will be asked to approve the document at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4.

In reviewing the tentative budget, Ruffles, Crisman and county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, the Budget Committee chairman, discussed these areas of interest:

  • So far, the expected impact of the state Legislature’s judicial reforms hasn’t been felt. A new prosecutor in District Attorney John Muehl’s office, for instance, was covered by savings discovered by the new public defender, Michael Trossett, in his office.
  • Spikes are evident across the board in spending on county buildings. Old City Hall renovations went from $48,000 to $126,000, for instance. Much of this results from a contract with Trane, the Fortune 500 HVAC company; upgrades in heating, air-conditioning and energy efficiency are expected to save money long-term, Kennedy said. Asbestos, common when the county Office Building was erected in the 1960s, is being removed across the board, she added.
  • The Office of Emergency Services budget drops from $621,000 to $411,000, but is still double the $237,000 in 2018. Lately, the department has been investing in an e911 system that allows ambulance squads to stay connected even while responding to rural areas of the county that lack service. Much of the expense is being made up from grants, Ruffles said.

Overall, Kennedy said, the county board was committed to fully funding the M/C salary increase that grew of out a Personnel Department study last year aimed at keeping supervisors’ salaries at a par with similar counties.

Ruffles, who said he’s run into Dan Crowell, the county treasurer before him, who is also a National Guardsman on assignment in Djibouti, expects to be back in the U.S. in the latter part of January.

Beyond long-distance budgeteering, Ruffles has had other adventures, including spending four weeks in Tanganyika, hunting poachers during the day and sleeping in a tent at night.

One night, he awoke to an orange glow, and discovered his camp with in the path of a roaring wildfire.  “I’d never seen anything like that,” said the Edmeston native.

 

 

2020 County Budget Would Top $120M
CLICK FOR TENTATIVE 2020 COUNTY BUDGET

2020 County Budget

Would Top $120M

COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Treasurer’s Office today released a tentative budget for 2020 that, if adopted as is, will cross the $120 million mark for the first time, by $200. If approved, the tax levy would rise 3.73 percent to $12,144,437.

The public hearing on the budget is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26.  The budget must be adopted by mid-December.

CROWELL: In September, Budget Is Always Out Of Balance; By Year’s End, Balanced
LETTER from DAN CROWELL

In September, Budget Is

Always Out Of Balance;

By Year’s End, Balanced

To the Editor:

I hope all is well in our hometown!

Dan Crowell

I saw your article (“Treasurer Warns Of Overages, But Chair Unruffled,” Sept. 20 on www.All- OTSEGO.com) on the budget gap. For what it is worth, in some ways the county treasurer and county board chair’s perspectives are portrayed as divergent. However, from my experience, they are both right.

There is no black magic that can resolve the gap (treasurer), but it is not time to panic (chair).

For the eight years I was engaged in the budget process, there was typically a gap at this time of year, ranging between $2 million to $12 million depending on the year.

September, October and November are busy months with methodical and detailed review, reduction and adjustment, ideally in deep consultation with the departmental leadership.

There is no magic and there is no silver bullet expenditure to cut.

It is a compilation of scrutiny on hundreds of line items across the spectrum of operations and magnitude of cost.

They have good people on both sides of the aisle working on it and I am sure they will address the gap.

DAN CROWELL

A former county treasurer, Crowell is deployed
to Somalia with the
Army Reserves.

Treasurer Warns Of Overages, But Chair Unruffled

Treasurer Warns

Of Overages, But

Chair Unruffled

$12M Gap Already Down To $7-8M,

Bliss Says As Deliberations Ensue

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles during last year’s budget deliberations.

COOPERSTOWN – Saying he has no “black magic” to fix it, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles has advised the county Board of Representatives it is facing a $12 million gap in the upcoming 2020 budget.

“I hear every year that Dan (Ruffles predecessor, Dan Crowell) used to work his ‘black magic,’ and always reduced the budget somehow last second,” said Ruffles in an email from the Horn of Africa, where he is on assignment with the Army Reserve.  “There is no magic: We will be using the fund balance to help offset this gap.”

However, county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said a budget working group has already reduced that to $7-8 million, and he’s aiming to produce a budget that will be under the 2 percent state-mandated budget cap.

County Treasurer DepartingFor Year’s Mission In Africa

Army Reserves Deploys Allen Ruffles

County Treasurer Departing

For Year’s Mission In Africa

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles and wife Amy were downtown this afternoon doing last-minute errands before he departs this evening for a year-long deployment in Africa. An E5 sergeant in the 403rd D Civil Affairs Company, Army Reserves, Syracuse, he will be based in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.  He has received his first month-long assignment: on a four-man team training game wardens in Tanzania to help stem poaching on game reserves there. While Ruffles is away, his deputy, Andrew Crisman, will handle the office, although the treasurer is taking a fully loaded laptop with him.  That will allow him to communicate with Crisman, particularly during the development of next year’s county budget, a process that  begins this summer. An Edmeston native, Ruffles taught at Laurens Central, then spent several years in banking before his election to succeed Dan Crowell in November 2017. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
County Treasurer Deployed In 2019

County Treasurer

Deployed In 2019

Ruffles Called To Horn of Africa

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Allen Ruffles during recent county budget discussions.

COOPERSTOWN – Allen Ruffles, in his first year as county treasurer, has received word he will be deployed to the Horn of Africa early in 2019, perhaps for nine months.

As his predecessor Dan Crowell, he is in the Army Reserves, serving as an E5 sergeant in the 403rd Civil Affairs Delta Company.  Crowell was also deployed for nine months during his term as treasurer.

Ruffles deputy, Andrew Crisman, formerly a longtime banker with NBT Bank, would handle county treasurer duties in his boss’s absence.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Editorial for November 30, 2018.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Maria Ajello makes her monthly plea: Give me my house back.

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.

The Freeman’s Journal – At this month’s county board meeting, Allen Ruffles, the freshman county treasurer, announces steps he’s taking to streamline foreclosures and tax sales. At right is chairman David Bliss.

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.

Low Turnout At Hearing Clears Way For ’19 Budget

Low Turnout At Hearing

Clears Way For ’19 Budget

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)

County Board Supports Reducing Window On Tax Sales To 3 Years

County Board Supports

Reducing Window On

Tax Sales To 3 Years

Acting on the recommendation of Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, the county board at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6, passed a resolution supporting reducing from four years to three the time before a delinquent property goes up for tax sale. Ruffles walked reps through his computations intended to show that, in the fourth year, the burden of back taxes, fees and interest on property owners becomes insurmountable. The first tax sale affected will be in 2022. Ruffles also recommended the county board create a buy-back law, so delinquent taxpayers can use the equity in their homes to remortgage their property to pay their taxes. That will require action at a later date. Ruffles is flanked by county board Chairman Dave Bliss and Jenna Utter, deputy clerk of the board. (Images from AllOTSEGO.com video of the proceedings)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH FULL VIDEO

OF COUNTY BOARD 11/6/18 MEETING

Ruffles Sworn In As County Treasurer

Ruffles Sworn In

As County Treasurer

With his wife Amy, and his two children Mia, 9, and Cooper, 4, by his side, Allen Ruffles takes the oath of office on this morning, marking the beginning of his tenure as Otsego County treasurer. Ruffles is succeeding Dan Crowell, who opted to step down at the end of 2017. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)
New Year’s Day Swearings-In Set In Oneonta, Cooperstown

New Year’s Day Swearings-In

Set In Oneonta, Cooperstown

ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig, Town Supervisor Bob Wood, county board reps and local elected officials will be sworn in for new terms at 1 p.m. Monday, Jan 1., at Hartwick College’s Shineman Chapel.  The new county Democratic chair, Kim Muller, will emcee.

Meanwhile, that morning, the new county treasurer, Allen Ruffles, will be sworn in at 11 a.m. at the county courthouse in Cooperstown by county Judge John Lambert.

Voters Deciding Today On County, Town Races

CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE BALLOTS

Voters Deciding Today

On County, Town Races

Retired assemblyman Tony Casale, above, right, introduces Cooperstown insurance man Ben Novellano, Davenport, to Cindy Seward, left, seated next to her husband, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, at this morning’s Cooperstown Rotary Election Day Pancake Breakfast, a traditional stopping off point for candidates and politicians. Novellano, a Cooperstown Rotarian, chairs the club’s Pancake Breakfast Committee.  Next to Casale is his wife, Theresa, and son Vince, Otsego County Republican chairman, who is chatting with Allen Ruffles, unopposed for county treasurer in today’s voting.  Inset photo, polling staffers Patricia Swanger, left, and Betsey Snyder check in voter Earl Peterson at Cooperstown’s polling place, the parish hall at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Catholic Church.  Polls are open across Otsego County today for county and town races, as well as ballot questions including whether to call a statewide Constitutional Convention.   Polls are open until 9 p.m.  (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Ruffles Declares Run For County Treasurer

HE AIMS TO SUCCEED CROWELL

Ruffles Declares Run

For County Treasurer

Edmeston native Allen Ruffles, second from left, listens to state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, declare support for the deputy treasurer’s candidacy for the top job. At right is Treasurer Dan Crowell, who is supporting Ruffles. At right is the candidates family, wife Amy and children Mia and Cooper.

COOPERSTOWN – Citing his experience as deputy county treasurer, Allen Ruffles – raised in Edmeston, now living in Cooperstown – today officially announced his candidacy for Otsego County treasurer.

With wife Amy and their two children, Mia and Cooper, by his side, and flanked by the county’s top elected Republican, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and top elected Democrat, current County Treasurer Dan Crowell, Ruffles made the announcement in front of several family, friends and supporters at noon in front of the County Office Building.

“Throughout my life, commitment and dedication have been very important to me. As a teacher, youth coach, financial adviser, bank manager, member of the Army Reserves and now as your deputy county treasurer, these principles have always driven my desire to serve and give back to a community that has given so much to me,” Ruffles said during his announcement.

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for THURSDAY, JUNE 1
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for THURSDAY, JUNE 1

Exhibit Of Local Art

14-19eventspage

OPENING RECEPTION – 5:30-7 p.m. “Our Town” exhibit featuring works by the students of the Cooperstown High School. The Fenimore Art Museum, 5798 NY-80, Cooperstown. Info, www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/Our-Town

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS – 6-8 p.m. Come meet young professionals from the Otsego area. Allen Ruffles will host with representatives from local businesses like Bassett, NYSHA, NYCM, NY Life, and Otsego County. They will be giving resume and application tips, interviewing advice, and presenting about their businesses. Rustic Ridge Winery, 2805 St. Hwy. 80, Burlington Flats, Info, www.facebook.com/YoungProfessionalsNetworkYPN/

Casale: Ruffles Happy With GOP, Never Sought Democratic Backing

Casale: Ruffles Happy With GOP,

Never Sought Democratic Backing

COOPERSTOWN – Responding to his Democratic counterpart a few moments ago, county Republican Committee Chairman Vince Casale said county treasurer candidate Allen Ruffles doesn’t want a Democratic cross-nomination.

“Mr. Ruffles has only sought the Republican nomination,” said Casale.  “He has never reached out to the Democrats at all,” and he has no plans to do so now.

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