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News of Otsego County

Djibouti

Assigned To Djibouti, Ruffles Trained Rangers, Dodged Elephant Herd

COUNTY TREASURER HOME

Assigned To Djibouti,

Ruffles Trained Rangers,

Dodged Elephant Herd

Ruffles’ most anxious moment during his East African deployment came when he was videotaping this herd of elephants, and they turned on him. See full video at www.allotsego.com

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles with wife Amy, daughter Mia, 11, and son Cooper, 6. The county treasurer arrived back in Cooperstown Sunday, Jan. 19, after a year’s deployment in East Africa. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – Only once did Allen Ruffles feel he was in any danger.

A sergeant in the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, he was living in a small wooden house in Uganda, training local wildlife rangers in anti-poaching techniques.

One morning, Ruffles – Otsego County treasurer in civilian life – heard a rumble and looked out the window at a herd of a few dozen elephants.  Grabbing his cell phone, he slipped outside to capture a video.

He must have made a sudden noise or movement, because suddenly the video is flailing as Ruffles scrambles back into the house.

Eventually, the herd settled down and went sedately on its way.

Other than that, Ruffles’ 12-month assignment – he returned Sunday, Jan. 19, from Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti to his Beech Street home and wife Amy, daughter Mia, 11, and son Cooper, 6 – was uneventful.

Except everything was eventful, he related in an interview the following day: the people, the food, the weather, and his forays from his home base to conduct anti-poaching training in Tanganyika, Uganda, Burundi, “the second or first poorest nation in the world,” and a short stint in Ethiopia.

The house in Uganda was a luxury. Mostly, Ruffles and his team lived in tents.

“Everything’s so simple,” he said.   “There’s no electricity,” and when in the bush, Ruffles would have to charge up a generator to power his laptop so he could confer with the Otsego County. The latrine – a hole in the ground.

The wildlife rangers his unit was training “know their stuff.  They can tell you everything about the animals,” but mostly lacked education and basic skills.  For instance, they would fire off their rifles randomly, and part of the training was in basic marksmanship.

Ruffles poses with two of the wildlife rangers he was training in “land navigation.”

Ruffles’ tent mate was a medic, training the rangers in how to treat a wound or tie a tourniquet.

For his part, Ruffles focused on “land navigation.” For instance, if a path is winding back and forth, you can make better time by going forward in a straight line.

If you come upon a gang of armed poachers, don’t confront them head-on.  Sending out a flanking movement, and when they move toward the main unit, surprise them from the side.

Another area of instruction was what Ruffles characterized as “ethics” or “human rights.”  Stumbling upon poachers, the wildlife rangers’ first instinct was to shoot them dead. The goal was to give the rangers a sense of due process – that not every offense was a capital one.

Coming from a culture where fruits and vegetables are treated to last for days, even weeks, on grocery shelves, Ruffles experience the real thing for the first time.

Once, in Burundi’s Kibira Mountains, stopped at a home surrounded by fruit trees – mangoes, bananas, berries – and the owner put together a salad bowl for the visitors.  “It was like candy,” said Ruffles. “The fruit was so juicy.”

In Tanganika, the unit had a local cook, Grace, who would whip up a fresh chapatti for breakfast, or a salad – flavor-filled, like the fruit – with Pili Pili dressing, made with hot Habanero peppers.  “When Grace made salad, that was the whole meal,” he said.

Back at Camp Lemmonier, the food was like your typical college dining hall.

There was little to do at headquarters, so Allen played a lot of basketball and worked out. With that, and his assignments in the field, he left weighing 238 and returned a trim 205, some 33 pounds lighter.

More moderate on assignment, the heat and humidity back in Djibouti was something to watch for, with the mercury rising into the upper 120s.  When that happened, a “black flag” was flown, cautioned the soldier from any exertion.  “Just walking to where we worked, I was drenched with sweat,” he said.

Ruffles was interviewed amid a family giddy with delight on his first day back.  He, Amy and the kids went out to lunch on Monday the 20th, and then took off to Utica on a shopping trip that afternoon.

And absence did make the heart grow fonder.  “Cooperstown is an amazing place,” he said.  “I just wanted to get back to Cooperstown.”  CCS school board President Tim Hayes lives up Beech Street, and made sure Amy and the kids’ driveway was shoveled every time it snowed.

While Ruffles’ commitment to the Army Reserves continues until mid-2021, he’s fulfilled his overseas responsibilities.  (In the last few days, Ruffles predecessor, Dan Crowell, also a reservist, returned from Somalia, and has fulfilled his military commitment.)

Ruffles is taking a couple of weeks R&R, but expects to be back in the county treasurer’s office Monday, Feb. 3, to get acclimated before the county board’s February meeting on the 5th.

He’s already issued an invitation to the three new county board members who took office Jan. 2 – Rick Brockway, Jill Basile and Clark Oliver – to brief them on county finances.

“I met a lot of good people,” he concludes, “and it was a really good experience to see what we have here compared to what they have there.”

 

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.

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)
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