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David Bliss

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)

DEC Unveils Fully Accessible Basswood Pond Recreation Area

DEC Unveils Handicap Accessible

Basswood Pond Recreation Area

Cutting the ribbon on the new fishing platform, from left, Otsego County District 7 Rep. David Bliss, NYS Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Kathy Moser, DEC district four Regional Director Keith Goertz , and Catherine Seamon representing state Sen. James Seward’s office (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com).

By PARKER FISH • Special To www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. David Bliss tosses a bucket of trout fish into Basswood Pond after helping to cut the ribbon on the newly renovated State Forest recreational area.

BURLINGTON – The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation cut the ribbon this morning on the revamped Basswood Pond State Forest recreational area. The $100,000 project added several features to the site, while making the pond fully accessible to handicapped visitors.

“With the completion of these new accessible features, visitors with mobility impairments can enjoy the natural beauty and recreational opportunities at Basswood Pond,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“These improvements, through Governor Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, are just a sample of the recreational upgrades that New York has underway to better serve everyone who wants to enjoy our state’s great outdoors,” he said.

County Board Discusses, Agrees To Easing Standoff With Sheriff
FOR VIDEO OF APRIL MEETING, CLICK HERE

County Board Discusses, Agrees

To Easing Standoff With Sheriff

County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, praises county Board Chair David Bliss for working out an agreement that may end a standoff with Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. Frazier also sought to make sure yesterday’s vote endorsing the Devlin-Bliss agreement would give the chair sufficient clout to resolve the matter of the sheriff’s correctional-officer son, Ros, who has been barred from going on county property since an incident at the county jail in January 2017. Matt Ryan, the county’s labor attorney, reassured Frazier on that count.  Frazier is flanked by county reps Gary Koutnik, right, and Danny Lapin, both City of Oneonta Democrats.  For full debate, part of a video of the county board’s April meeting, click here (from videotape by Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)
Sheriff Surrenders Authority Over Son

Sheriff Surrenders

Authority Over Son

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Ed Frazier, foreground, thanks chair David Bliss for breaking the deadlock over the investigation of the sheriff’s prison-guard son. (Jim Kevliin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – After a 15-month standoff, Ros Devlin’s fate as a correctional officer is now in the hands of the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

With one abstention and two absences, the county reps voted a few minutes ago to accept Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s proposal to turn over authority for investigating and possibly removing his son from his job to county board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego.

In a short discussion, county Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, first thanked Bliss for moving matters forward, but he asked the county labor attorney, Matt Ryan, “Does this get us where we need to be?”

Otsego County 911 Receives $840K State Grant

Otsego County 911 Center

Receives $840K State Grant

Shaking hands with District -7 Representative David Bliss, R-Cooperstown, Otsego County Director of 911 Communications Robert O’Brien (right) was the main figure responsible in securing $842,330 in grant funding for Otsego County’s 911 dispatch services. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)

By PARKER FISH • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

In a press release sent out this morning, Otsego County Director of 911 Communications Robert O’Brien announced that the county’s 911 dispatch department had secured $842,330 in New York State grant funding. The total sum is divided between two seperate grants: $157,687 under the New York State Public Safety Answering Points Operation Grant Program for upgrades to the call center, and $684,650.00 under the New York State Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant Program which will be used to build three additional communications towers to improve coverage for the dispatchers. 

Otsego County Board Contingent Absorbs Lessons Of Governance

Otsego County Board Contingent

Absorbs Lessons Of Governance

A contingent from the Otsego County Board of Representatives – from left, chairman David Bliss, Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and county Reps. Michele Farwell, Morris; Danny Lapin and Liz Shannon, both of Oneonta, and Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Town of Otsego – are absorbing lessons of good governance from colleagues statewide at the New York State Association of Counties’ annual Legislative Conference today in Albany.  The keynoter was Harvard’s Stephen Goldsmith, director of Innovations in the college’s American Government Program.  Workshop topics ranged from shared services to ethics and integrity in government.
Autumn Cafe Reopens After Year-Long Hiatus

Autumn Cafe Reopens

After Year-Long Hiatus

The Autumn Cafe, which introduced organic delicacies to Oneonta – and where Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon used to lunch – has reopened after it was sold and closed for renovations for a year. But there’s much more in this week’s Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, from an assessment of Gene Thaw, whose Native American art collection reinvented The Fenimore Art Museum, to a report on how Dave Bliss’ election to County Board chair is being greeted at the county courthouse, to an exploration of early-adopting local drone flyers, to attorney Susan Lettis’ wedding notice.  On newsstands this afternoon.
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Bliss Appointments Reflect ‘Continuity’ 

COUNTY BOARD REORGANIZES

Bliss: Appointments

Aim At ‘Continuity’ 

Meg Kennedy Emerges With New Status

As Chairman Of Both Administration, IGA

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, presides at this morning’s reorganizational meeting. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – She went into today’s reorganizational meeting of the Otsego County Board of Representatives already with the greatest clout under the weighted voting system.

But Meg Kennedy’s rising stature was quickly affirmed.

She was nominated and elected temporary chair of the reorganizational meeting, presiding over the transition of the chairmanship from Kathy Clark, R-Otego, to David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.

And she emerged from the morning’s decision-making as chair of the Administration Committee – Ways & Means, through which all resolutions must flow before getting to the floor of the monthly county board meeting.

Bliss Tells Of Bipartisan Record; Berliant Says It’s Time For Change
DISTRICT 7 DEBATE (MIDDLEFIELD, CHERRY VALLEY, ROSEBOOM)

Bliss Tells Of Bipartisan Record;

Berliant Says, Time For Change

District 7 Representative Dave Bliss and challenger Leslie Berliant address a packed house at the old high school in Cherry Valley on Monday night. Bliss believes that his record of bi-partisan leadership shows his commitment to getting things done for the constituents of District 7. Berliant believes it is time for big changes in the County Board of Representatives. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)
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