OPT Remains Open, Activities Cancelled
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.
“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.
By IAN AUSTIN • Special To www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Following a presentation by Trampoline Advertising & Design, Co. this evening before Common Council, the big question was “When do we see results?”
Derek Slayton, Partner and Creative Director of Trampoline addressed council this evening with graphic designer Ali Havens, to update Common Council on the progress of Oneonta’s new branding campaign, which was launched in 2018 as part of the DRI Program.
“How do we know this is working?” asked Council member Mark Drnek, Eighth Ward, as he stressed the importance of goals and benchmarks. “It is not only bringing them to our webpage, but calling them to act and actually come to Oneonta itself. We want to be certain there is a reason. If there isn’t something happening that puts feet on the ground then it is unsuccessful.”
HERZIG STATE OF CITY
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig’s State of The City speech, delivered to Common Council Tuesday, Feb. 4, in City Hall.
Hundreds of people gave of their time during the past three years, to help us map out a vision for the future – and we owe them our thanks.
They worked to provide us with a new Comprehensive Plan, Artspace study (SUNY), Oneonta Theater study (GOHS), parking study, housing study and more. They worked together for more than a year in creating a vision for our future.
…Now it is our responsibility to act on the vision which they have created. We have made a start but we still have a way to go.
• The support we have given to our local businesses and entrepreneurs is unprecedented. More than $1 million is going to more than 40 local businesses to update building facades and signage – and we will begin to see the results this spring. We are looking to provide local property owners with another $1 million plus to help them turn vacant upper floors into quality market-rate housing – and we should be seeing new awards for this purpose very soon.
• It has been very exciting to see new, innovative, and unique businesses sprouting – almost like bright flowers in the spring. Underground Attic, Tribe Yoga, the B Side, the new Autumn Café, Table Rocks Bouldering, Silber Design, Noah’s World, Toonie Moonie Organics, Shakedown Street Café, to name just a few. And you know what they all have in common? – the City of Oneonta helped them to get started with Microenterprise grants of up to $35,000. In the past four years, we have helped 28 small businesses and startups.
• We were successful in securing federal funds to support the restoration of the historic Stevens Hardware building and Oneonta’s iconic Nick’s Diner. Now, I will be the first to acknowledge that we don’t always get it right. There are risks involved and we cannot expect to win every time. One of our losses this year was Bombers’ Burritos. It hurts to lose and I know it makes us look bad – but even the best teams cannot win every game and there are no wins if you chose to take no risks.
• This spring, we will see new attractive Directory Signs throughout our downtown, and Welcome Signs at all five of our city gateways.
• We have a new Marketing Campaign designed to get people’s attention and to communicate all that our unique city has to offer. I thank Destination Oneonta for its work in supporting this campaign. And I have asked Trampoline to make a presentation at the Feb. 18 Council meeting on what has been accomplished and what is yet to come.
• Following the vision laid out for us by the DRI-funded Oneonta Theater Restoration Study, we have begun the process of looking to the reinvention of the Market Street/Chestnut Street area as a potential Arts District anchored by the Foothills Performing Arts Center and a Restored Oneonta Theater. Hats off to Bob Brzozowski, Patrice Macaluso, Elizabeth Dunne, Elaine Bresee, and others who are putting together a real plan to acquire and restore the Oneonta Theater – Thank you.
• This year, we will remove the blight on the corner of
Market and Chestnut streets. Within the next 60-90 days,
we will begin to see designs for a redesigned Municipal Parking Garage, a new transit hub and a more inviting pedestrian-friendly Market Street with walkways to and from our Main Street.
• And creating a new Lettis Highway that respects the safety of those who choose to walk or need to walk will be a top priority.
• With the help of our Senator Seward, we have begun the process of reinventing our historic Damaschke Field. The first phase, this year, will be to remove the old decaying grandstand, install a temporary backstop, new baseline box seats and dugouts, and protect all seats with today’s new technology in protective netting. The following year, we will strive to create a new family-friendly multi-purpose area behind home plate.
• Our Council, this past year, created the foundation for the development of a center for jobs and innovation in our former D&H Railyards. We will create good jobs while, at the same time, respecting our environment. And Mark Davies – former Environmental Board chairman, now a Council member – I know will be our conscience on environmental issues.
• This year, we will begin to create a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan to take advantage of the fact that we have the beautiful Susquehanna River flowing through our downtown. And that would not be happening without the passion and determination of Judy Pangman, our Community Development Director.
• We will continue to rebuild our aging – old! – infrastructure. After completing the rebuild of both of our reservoir dams, and numerous water mains, we will now start on an $8 million upgrade to our 1970 Wastewater Treatment Plant.
• Dog lovers will get a first-class dog park in Neahwa Park this year.
• We can expect to see progress in rectifying neighborhood blight as we implement new ordinances passed by our Council to give our Code Enforcement Staff more tools and authorities to do so.
And under the leadership of Stephen Yerly, our Codes Office has sent a very clear message that unsafe rental properties will not be tolerated in the City of Oneonta. And that applies equally whether you have a one-unit student house or the largest building on Main Street.
• And all this is being accomplished with an average tax increase below one percent during the past six years.
Let me close with a very short story. Last week, I was walking down Main Street with a friend of mine who does not live in Oneonta. He looked around and said to me, “Oneonta has so much potential.”
All I could think about were the comments made, nearly 60 years ago, by my teachers on my report cards – which generally began with, “Gary has much potential, however. . .” It seems that some things you just never forget! My goal – our goal – is to stop having to hear about our potential. The way we achieve that is to realize our potential.
Thank you to the hundreds of citizens who have contributed, we now have a plan to do just that and it will take all of us – all of us – working together to make it happen.
Thank you – and let’s get to work.
Editor’s Note: This is the full text of Mayor Gary Herzig’s State of the City speech, delivered this evening to Common Council in Oneonta City Hall. It is Herzig fifth annual assessment of the city’s health.
By GARY HERZIG • Mayor of Oneonta
In 2018, Hartwick College’s president Margaret Drugovich introduced me to a young lady named Nadya Zhexembayeva, a 2001 graduate of Hartwick College. Nadya came to Hartwick College from Kazakhstan on a Freedom Support Act scholarship. She arrived, with $400 in her pocket, knowing very little English.
Today, as a consultant, she has helped companies such as Coca-Cola, IBM, Cisco, L’Oreal, and Dannon to thrive in today’s changing world by reinventing both their products and their business models. When asked what triggered her fascination with reinvention, she attributed it to her teenage years growing up in Kazakhstan. When the Soviet Union dissolved overnight, it left her society in shambles with no currency, constitution, police, or regulations. What she observed was that some panicked while others saw an opportunity – an opportunity for reinvention.
The sanctuary at First United Methodist Church in Oneonta was filled with inspiring words, social commentary and song this afternoon as crowds gathered to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 91st birthday. The event, hosted by the Oneonta NAACP, featured over a dozen speakers and performers including Yolanda Bush, seen above with Rich Mollen, as she sings “Rise Above,” written by Robin Seletsky and dedicated to the Oneonta NAACP. Mayor Gary Herzig, inset right, was also among the speakers, where he praised the NAACP and the Oneonta Police Department for their leadership in civil rights issues. He continued, encouraging vigilance, saying there was still work to do even in a “progressive and diverse” City like Oneonta: “Here in Oneonta, an individual visited our DMV and was told, ‘We cannot serve you,’ and was told to go to Cooperstown. In the year 2020 we are hearing this! As Dr. King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Oneonta must be open and welcome all persons.” Herzig’s reference was to the “Green Light” Law, where the state Legislature directed the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens; because of the special equipment and training required, county Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner has centralized processing those license applications at the main office in Cooperstown. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Young Politicians, Young Families
Youth will have its way, and that was certainly the case in Oneonta Common Council Chambers at 1 p.m. today, where the a youthful crop of candidates – with their children at their sides – took the oath of office, most on the Constitution instead of the Bible, from City Judge Lucy Bernier. Above, young Henry Shue, 9 months, in dad Jared’s arms, surveyed the packed room as mom Kaytee Lipari Shue was sworn in as Ward 4 Council member. Inset middle, a shy Addison Harrington, 5, stood for a portrait with mom Kerri, sister Meghan, 13, and dad Scott, newly elected Council member from the Sixth Ward. When newly elected County Rep. Jill Basile, D-District 14, was sworn in, inset lower, son Matteo, 7, put his hand on the Constitution beside his mom’s. Five new Council members were sworn in: Shue, Harrington, Luke Murphy (Ward 1), Mark Davies (Ward 2) and Mark Drnek (Ward 8). Len Carson (Ward 5) was absent. In addition to Basile, Clark Oliver, District 11, was sworn in as a county representative. Incumbent Council members David Rissberger (Ward 3) and John Rafter (Ward 7) were sworn in for new terms. In his introduction, Mayor Gary Herzig praised the youthfulness of the new officials – Oliver is the youngest county board member in history, and Murphy is still in his 20s. Due to younger citizens, Herzig said, “small cities are being reborn” as “vibrant, progressive and creative.” (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Meeting Rescheduled For Wednesday
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)
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
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.
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – The Neahwa Park dog park and new positions in fire and public works departments were among the items in the city’s $20 million 2020 budget, but with a deadline looming Council members decried the lack of time given to addressing the changes.
“This year’s budget is a very aggressive one,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “We give our Council members more time to discuss parking spaces than we do our budget.”
“It appears that there’s a lot more moving parts with this budget,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward.
“This is the most confusing budget,” said outgoing Council member Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward. “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the information I’m being fed. I don’t want to have to go through this with a fine-toothed comb.”
By LIBBY CUDMORE & JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – “Energizing.” “A Spark.” “New blood and vitality.”
That was how the audience at Common Council this evening described the proposed Lofts on Dietz, a multi-use project that would include artist’s housing and space for Hartwick College classrooms.
And when Common Council voted 7-1 to approve the sale of a portion of the city-owned lot to The Kearney Realty & Development Group, there was applause.
“This project checks a lot of boxes,” said Al Rubin, A&D Taxi. “We’ve had our failures in this city, but we need that spark. We have an opportunity and we need to seize it.”
Fans of Wise Guys Sammy’s rejoice! The popular eatery celebrated the official launch of their expansion this morning with a ribbon cutting with the Chamber of Commerce at 261-267 Main St. in Oneonta. The expansion has tavern style seating and boasts a wide selection of craft beers and wines to pair with your Sammy’s sandwich. Seen above are Jasmine Martinez, owner Sheryl Joubert, Donna Joubert, Barbara Ann Heegan, Roberta Vesley, Mayor Gary Herzig, Sheena Linebrink, Kayla Joubert, Tiffany Bettinger, Kelly Miller, Taylor Pushkar, Brett Burgin, Fred Vesely, owner Mike Joubert, Robin Bush, Tom Miller and Jacob Joubert. “This is a terrific Oneonta success story,” said Mayor Herzig, “It is a success built on hard work and quality food.” Mike Joubert, who owns the business with his wife, Sheryl, added, “This all started as a dream. But we continue to grow on a daily basis. This is our hometown, we are happy to be here and we love it!” Wise Guys Sammy’s also expanded to include their ice cream parlor Wise Guys’ Scoops, located across the street at 254 Main St. and run by Mike’s sister Megan Joubert.(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By JENNIFER HILL •Special to ALLOTSEGO.com
Each were recipients of a Microenterprise grant from the state, and all were named to the committee tasked with evaluating applications for the 2019 awards during Common Council this evening.
“My feeling was, who knows better what it takes to be successful in starting a new business?” said Mayor Gary Herzig.