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News of Otsego County

Common Council

Seward Lauded, Given Key To City At Common Council Meeting

Jim Seward Lauded,

Given Key To Oneonta

Mayor Gary Herzig,  lower left, presents retiring state Senator Jim Seward, R-Milford, with a Key to the City for his support of Oneonta over his 30 years as senator.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Comparing retiring state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford to “Ghostbusters,” Mayor Gary Herzig lauded the Senator and presented him with a key to the city for his “timeless support” to the City of Oneonta.

“It was never quite ‘Who you gonna call,’ because usually, he called me first,” Herzig said. “And he always asked, ‘What do you need me to do?'”

Oneonta Law Requires Masks In Private Homes

Oneonta Law Requires

Masks In Private Homes

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – With a 5-2 split on party lines and one abstention, Oneonta Common Council Tuesday, Oct. 6, moved closer to applying the state’s “Mask and Face Coverings” law locally, potentially bringing it into everyone’s living rooms.

Echoing the state law, the local law that is now going to public hearing requires people to where masks in all “public and private indoor and outdoor locations” when they cannot socially distance.

“This law covers nothing that isn’t already covered in the Governor’s executive orders,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. The law is intended to enable OPD to enforce the provisions, now in Public Health Law, within city limits.

“Right now, it’s difficult to write a ticket because we don’t have a way to reference the executive order,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner, “This just makes it easier, like we were writing a ticket for littering.”

“The police aren’t going to go around knocking on people’s doors,” said Herzig. “If someone calls in a large, noisy party and the police find that there is not appropriate social distancing, this gives them the authority to ticket them under city law.”

Democratic Council members Luke Murphy, First Ward, David Rissberger, Third Ward, Kaytee Lipari Shue, Fourth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward and Mark Drnek, Eighth Ward, all voted yes.

The nays were Republicans Len Carson, Fifth Ward, and Scott Harrington, Sixth Ward.

Democrat Mark Davies, Second Ward, abstained. “As an employee of SUNY, I need to recuse myself,”
he said.

“I disagree with that statement,” said City Attorney David Merzig. “The law will be applied to all citizens.”

Explaining his vote, Murphy said, “Two days ago, I was walking past someone on Main Street, and it was so busy that we couldn’t get six feet apart without going on someone’s lawn. Luckily we both had masks.”

“It’s about marketing,” said Drnek. “People don’t want to come to Oneonta because they have a perception that it’s unsafe, but when I wear a mask, and you wear a mask, we know it’s safe to shop, to dine, to visit local merchants. Our community needs to know it’s safe to be in downtown Oneonta.”

“I’ve taken more engagement on this than any other issue since I started,” said Carson. “And 99 percent of the people I speak to are totally against this.”

“I understand the importance of wearing a mask,” said Harrington. “But I spoke to a lot of people in my ward, and they feel like it’s an overreach, that they’re adults and they know the guidelines.”

“We have a public health law, and I never hear complaining about the masks,” said Rissberger. “But as soon as we’re about to solidify the law, people get upset, which makes me wonder if they’re really wearing the mask.

It’s no different than the seatbelt law or the car seat laws. If the public health law isn’t overreach, than neither is this.”

The law now moves to a public hearing, which will be held Tuesday, Oct. 20. Following the public hearing, Herzig will then have to sign the law.

BRENNER: Officers’ Dedication, Professionalism Have Earned City’s Support

LETTER FROM THE CHIEF

Officers’ Dedication,

Professionalism Have

Earned City’s Support

Editor’s Note: In this July 19 letter, Oneonta Police Chief Douglas W. Brenner expressed his concern about the“Say Their Names” photo display at the Westcott Lot. Nonetheless, Common Council unanimously approved the display Tuesday, July 21, and it was installed this past Sunday.

The Oneonta Police Department has always placed the needs and concerns of the residents and visitors to the City of Oneonta as its first priority.

Promoted to Oneonta police chief in 2017, Douglas W. Brenner has served with the OPD since 1998, after 12 years experience in the sheriff’s department and as a corrections officer. 

While not insensitive to the issues facing the nation and the world, the efforts of the members of the department are best focused on what we can do for our neighbors to make Oneonta a better place for everyone.

On the agenda for the regular meeting of the Oneonta Common Council for July 21, Item 9 is listed as a topic for discussion and pertains to a photographic display supporting Black Lives Matter to be placed on the fence at the head of the Westcott lot on Main Street.

I would be remiss not to express my concerns with a photographic display that could show members of law enforcement locally in a negative context.

The city is blessed to have residents and visitors who can freely express themselves in a respectable and constructive manner, which has been seen on at least two occasions in the recent past.

We enjoy good neighbors, friendships and any display that disrupts the community feeling and positive energy of the community serves no purpose but to divide, especially when the content of the display is in relation to incidents that did not occur locally and show all law enforcement, including members of Oneonta Police Department, negatively.

Any display that could have ramifications that are potentially divisive to the City of Oneonta, its residents and its businesses, is not an image that should be promoted.

In addition, as the chief of police, one of my top concerns is for the wellbeing of the members of the Oneonta Police Department.

Police officers throughout the nation are under attack for the disturbing and unlawful actions of a few other law enforcement officials from other agencies who they have no contact with, no allegiance to, any sympathy for, and no tolerance for such actions.

This has caused a national shortage of those who wish to serve their community. Oneonta is no exception to this shortage. The department currently has two unfilled patrol officer positions and two members who are eligible for retirement. The current civil service list is almost exhausted and there is no entrance exam scheduled for this year by the state.

Many other departments throughout the state are accepting lateral transfers, as are we, but are able to offer more advantageous working conditions.

If my officers sense that the City of Oneonta is not supporting their hard work, their dedication to community, their professionalism, their unwavering dedication to fairness by allowing a divisive display, the probability of losing more officers increases.

We at the Oneonta Police Department enjoy a positive relationship with our friends and neighbors in the city, and work very hard to promote good relationships with all members of the community in which we protect and serve. A display that intentionally shows all members of law enforcement in a negative light based on the actions of a few from well outside our area would be devastating to the morale of the finest officers I have ever had the pleasure to work with and lead.

As the chief of police and a lifelong community member, I would hope that all factors are taken into consideration before any display is permitted in the City of Oneonta. Our strength comes from ourselves, and the residents in the City of Oneonta are compassionate, respectful,
have concern and empathy for our neighbors, and love of community.

Any display that does not emphasize the positivity only serves as a catalyst to create division and polarization of this community.

Yours in service,

Douglas W. Brenner

Chief of Police

Common Council Asked To Spend $1.6M Tuesday

Common Council Asked

To Spend $1.6M Tuesday

ONEONTA – Common Council will be asked to spend $1.6 million when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but Mayor Gary Herzig said the biggest portion is paid by a federal grant, and the $182,000 “multi-purpose” police vehicle was custom-ordered before the coronavirus’ economic crunch hit.

The semi-weekly agenda released last evening includes:

Oneonta Could Lose $2.5 Million In Revenue

Oneonta Could Lose

$2.5 M From NY Cuts

City Hall Can Absorb It, But Cuts Needed

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special To AllOTSEGO.com

Virginia Lee

ONEONTA – With an estimated 20 percent cut to state aid, Oneonta could see a total loss in revenue of $2.5 million in 2020, City Hall’s Finance Director Virginia Lee told Common Council this evening.

“With the number of events that have cancelled, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose $2.5 million,” she said.

Last week, Lee predicted that sales tax losses alone could remove as much as $1.6 million from the city’s revenue stream, with state aid being reduced by as much as $400,000 in a severe scenario.

Common Council Livestreams Meeting

Common Council

Live-Streaming Meeting

Council member Luke Murphy, First Ward, seated, maintains social distancing as Mayor Gary Herzig conducts tonight’s Common Council meeting, now streaming live on the City’s Facebook Page. City Hall is currently closed to the public due to the state’s recommendation to protect people from Coronavirus, but citizens are encouraged to watch online and send questions. “If you have concerns, you can reach out to me directly, and I will personally get the answer for you,” Herzig said. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
City Meetings To Be Live-Streamed, Activities Cancelled, Mayor Reports

OPT Remains Open, Activities Cancelled

‘Social Distancing’

To Guide City Hall,

Mayor Announces

Mayor Herzig.

ONEONTA – To implement “social distancing” in the fight against spreading coronavirus, Mayor Gary Herzig announced this evening that Common Council meetings  will be streamed on Facebook Live.

CDC images of coronavurus

“The public is encouraged to attend remotely,” said Mayor Gary Herzig in a statement. “The severity of this pandemic can only be minimized by all communities acting locally to mitigate the spread of this virus.

“Here in the City of Oneonta, we owe it to ourselves, our neighbors and our fellow New Yorkers to voluntarily implement social distancing measures in all group activities,” he said.

CLICK FOR MAYOR’S FULL MEMO TO PUBLIC

 

Council Goes Ahead With $70,000 For Destination Oneonta

Council Goes Ahead

With $70,000 For

Destination Oneonta

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Council member Drnek repeated his concern that Destination Oneonta not lose its focus on downtown. (James Cummings/AllOTSEGO.com)

ONEONTA – Two weeks after delaying funding for Destination Oneonta, Common Council voted unanimously to approve $70,000 for the downtown promotion organization.

Still, questions remained.

“Is there a vision and strategy for Destination Oneonta’s future,” said Council member Mark Drnek, Ward 8, who raised the original concerns, “in which it becomes more self-sustaining, even as its core mission remains unchanged but it’s membership grows to be more inclusive of the Greater Oneonta area and less exclusively representative of Downtown business?”

City Due To Buy Eyesore Tonight

City Due To Buy

Eyesore Tonight

Oneonta Common Council is scheduled to vote this evening on buying the former Oneonta Ford building at Chestnut and Market streets for $425,000, pending final authorization of a $478,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corp. The state earmarked the money for demolition of the existing building and preparation of the site for development. This would end four years of negotiations with the Twelve Tribes, which also owns the Yellow Deli across the street. The site was intended for a “food hub” building, but it’s unclear what the status of that project is today. Common Council convenes at 7 p.m. at City Hall. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)
Weather, Holidays Keeps Council Members Home From Final Meeting

Meeting Rescheduled For Wednesday

Weather, Holidays Keep

Council Members Away

From Their Final Duties

Winter weather and holiday travel plans resulted in a near-empty Oneonta Common Council meeting earlier this evening, where outgoing members Michelle Fraser, First Ward, Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward, and Dana Levinson, Fifth Ward, didn’t attend their final meeting as Council members. With Michelle Osterhoudt having resigned Nov. 30, that left only, from left, David Rissberger, Third Ward, City Manager George Korthauer,  Mayor Gary Herzig, City Clerk Kerriann Harrington, Russ Southard, Sixth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward, and Joe Ficano, Eighth Ward, in attendance, leaving the council without a quorum. Though Ficano and Southard, both outgoing, were honored by Herzig for their contributions, inset photo, a special meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 to address agenda items that could not be voted on tonight. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Common Council OKs $20 Million Budget

Common Council

OKs $20 Million Budget

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – It’s unanimous. The $20 million budget for 2020 has passed.

The Oneonta Common Council voted tonight on the city’s 2020 budget and approved it unanimously.

Two weeks ago, the council met to discuss the initial proposal for the $20 million budget for 2020, which had included two full-time firefighting positions, a 10 percent sewer rate increase, and a 2.5 percent property tax increase.

After that proposal was largely rejected by the Common Council and the Mayor, they asked City Manager George Korthauer to adjust it.

The initial budget proposal had a $500,000 increase in payroll, including union costs and benefits for city workers.

Korthauer worked with Director of Finance Virginia Lee to bring that down to $250,000 by cutting several positions, including a full-time firefighter slot. “We’re trying to be very conservative,” said Lee. “The list is very long. It’s a constant review.”

To ensure that the fire department isn’t lacking, the new budget includes several part-time positions. In total, there are five new positions in the city that include public work such as street and infrastructure, as well as a new code enforcement position.

“Infrastructure has a life,” said Korthauer. “This Oneonta group is very talented. They handle maintenance and construction.”

“The city’s team is just wonderful,” added Lee.

Yet another expense in the initial proposal was a 10% sewer rate increase. This would cover the maintenance of pipes, operation of the wastewater treatment plant, and repairs to the sewer system.

The current plant, which is at least 40 years old, needs work. “It’s like a well-oiled machine,” said Korthauer. “We need to bring it back up to its original design.”

That cost would equate to a minor increase in water bills, but the common council expressed concern that this would weigh too heavily on city residents. “Cumulatively, it’s an impact on people,” said Russ Southard, 6th ward.

Korthauer was able to lower the sewer rate to 5 percent by putting off certain renovation projects until the following year.

The total of additional costs initially equaled as much as a 2.5 percent increase in city property tax, which Herzig and the council insisted be lowered. “I don’t want to see a 2.5 percent tax increase,” said Melissa Nicosia, 2nd ward.

Korthauer and Lee were able to lower the tax rate to 1.75 percent by cutting positions and lowering sewer costs, but also due to a new law passed earlier this year that requires out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax on purchases.

A percentage of the corresponding tax dollars (anticipated to be 12.5 percent) ends up in Otsego County in the form of tax revenue, which allows the city to make budget adjustments without a burden on taxpayers. “We’ve never used a tax levy in the history of the city,” said Korthauer.

Mayor Gary Herzig also expressed his concerns for the city charter. “Our charter short-changes the people of the city. It needs to be addressed,” he said.

The current charter requires that the city manager present the budget proposal one week before the council is required to vote on it. “The council should be given more than a week. The budget is complex. It’s 150 pages long and not self-explanatory,” he said. “Give the council members three weeks to review the budget, not one.”

Additionally, the mayor would like to see a change in council voting. Currently, any change to the budget requires a supermajority of 6/8 council members. “One person’s opinion carries more weight than the majority…to me that is wrong,” he said. He hopes to address the charter starting in January.

Council Member Michelle Osterhoudt Announces Resignation

TERM RUNS THROUGH DEC. 31

City Council Member

Osterhoudt Resigns

Michelle Osterhoudt

ONEONTA – Council member Michelle Osterhoudt, Fourth Ward, has announced she’s leaving Common Council Nov. 30, a month before her term expires, citing family obligations.

She didn’t run for a second term, and will be succeeded by fellow Democrat Kaytee Lipari Shue on Jan. 1.

“While I have enjoyed my position and truly love Oneonta and the Fourth Ward, it is clear that my obligations to my job and family have been in conflict with my position on Council,” she wrote in a statement. “I have decided to share this decision with the media first – so that the message comes from me.”

MANNION: Who Knows More About Ward 8 Than Mark Drnek?
LETTER from RAY MANNION

Who Knows More About

Ward 8 Than Mark Drnek?

To the Editor:

I dare you to try to find another person alive who knows more about Main Street Oneonta businesses than Mark Drnek. Mark knows the first and last names of almost every business owner in Ward 8, where he is running for Oneonta Common Council.
He knows what they sell and to whom they sell it. He knows what their businesses depend upon, thrive upon, and what they need our city to do to make them more successful.

When I heard Mark was running for office, the first words that came to mind were “Oh, thank God!”

In all my years in Oneonta, I don’t think I’ve met someone as hard-working, creative, passionate and committed to our city as Mark.

Mark volunteered his time and resources in 2011 on some promotional videos for the city. While working with Mark, I was blown away by his creative ideas for attracting visitors of all ages, local and tourist, to Main Street.

Please vote for Mark. Great things will happen to Oneonta once he is in a position to serve our city.

RAY MANNION

Oneonta

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