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News of Otsego County

legislation

New Senator Joining Salka To Stem COVID Overreach

New Senator Joining Salka

To Stem COVID Overreach

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Senator Oberacker and his wife Shannon smile at the end of his swearing-in New Year’s Day in Schenevus. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

This could be the begining of a beautiful friendship.

Fresh from his swearing-in as state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, in his hometown fire hall at 1:08 p.m. New Year’s Day, the freshman signaled he is planning to collaborate with Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, on two key pieces of legislation:

One, as he promised during the campaign, Oberacker plans to introduce legislation mirroring Salka’s to overturn the Democrats’ bail reform, which has allowed suspects in petty and some less-petty crimes to be immediately released.

Two, the new senator is planning to carry the flag in the upper house for Salka’s counter-legislation to two Democratic bills requiring New Yorkers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or, in one of the bills, face possible detention. “That should be a personal choice,” said Oberacker.

“Peter and I have become good friends,” the second-term assemblyman said Tuesday, Jan. 5, the first day of the 2021 session. “I’m excited about having a member of the Senate to consider and possibly carry our legislation through this session.”

Both men appeared Tuesday morning via Zoom on the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the State meeting.

Afterwards, Oberacker, his Chief of Staff (and former campaign manager) Ron Wheeler, and his Communications Director Jeff Bishop headed to Albany, where the senator has been assigned Office 506 in the Legislative Office Building in Empire State Plaza.

Salka was clearing his desk in his Oneida office, planning to head up to Albany Wednesday.

To help continuity between his predecessor, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who represented Otsego County in Albany for 34 years, the new senator will occupy Seward’s Oneonta office on South Main Street.

He has also kept most of Seward’s staff, except his chief of staff, Duncan Davie, the former Oneonta town supervisor, who retired.

Already, Oberacker said in an interview Monday, Jan. 4, constituents are calling, seeking his assistance.

On New Year’s Day, Maryland Town Justice Joseph Staruck swears-in newly elected state Sen. Peter Oberacker, whose wife Shannon
holds the Bible. Oberacker’s mother, Carol, also a town justice, served with Staruck. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

The foremost issue is COVID-fueled unemployment. “I’ve had many inquiries. A lot of folks are wanting to know what should they do, how they should go about it.” He convened a staff meeting that afternoon “to put together an action plan.”

The second issue came out of the Mohawk Valley, where RemArms, controlled by Roundhill Group LLC, described in news reports as “a group of experienced firearms manufacturing and hunting industry professionals,” is seeking to work around the United Mine Workers in reopening the Ilion plant.

The plant, which has traditionally employed many people from Northern Otsego County, was sold to RemArms when Remington was broken up under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to www.syracuse.com.

Oberacker said he has been seeking to ensure to clear red tape and allow the plant to reopen as soon as possible.

The new senator attended two days of orientation at the state Capitol in mid-December, “to get to know my fellow senators,” and to get guidance from “the vast knowledge that incumbents have. It harkens back to being a freshman on campus.”

Asked about the chances of overturning bail reform, Salka pointed out that Upstate Democrats like Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, support him, suggesting he may win votes from across the aisle on his measure.

“We’re hoping to present these bills” – bail reform and blocking mandatory vaccinations – “and get bi-partisan support,” he said.

Meanwhile, he pointed out, Job One will be “the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the $16 billion deficit,” which has risen from $10 billion in a year due to COVID challenges.

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.

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