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.
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Oneonta is “onta” adventure. And art. And something delicious and something unique.
“The campaign will let people know that Oneonta exists and what it has to offer,” said Mayor Gary Herzig.
During Common Council this evening, Herzig announced a statewide online marketing campaign Trampoline Ad & Design, the who created the city’s new campaign, “We’re Onta Something,” will launch statewide “soon.”
Herzig explained Trampoline’s marketing campaign will be on social media, with some of it “just on websites,” and show four categories in which Oneonta is “onta something” – artistic, unique, adventurous and delicious.
50TH ANNIVERSARY THIS WEEK
Stuck In Traffic, Mayor Herzig Didn’t Make It
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
“Meg called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to this concert,” said Cooperstown Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh.
That concert? The famous Woodstock festival, held Aug. 15-18, 1969, on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel Woods, 50 years ago this week.
“Woodstock was one of the most important cultural and music moments in history,” said Greg Harris, president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. “It was the pivotal time when young people were questioning their place in the world, and they came together with others feeling the same way in this massive gathering.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Woodstock at 50” exhibit opened earlier this summer, featuring never-before-seen color film footage, photos and artifacts from the “Summer of Love.”
Sporting his “We’re Onta Something” shirt, Mayor Gary Herzig and First Lady Connie did some shopping at the City of the Hills Arts Festival, held this afternoon on Main Street in Oneonta. Warm weather and bright sunshine brought plenty of people downtown to visit the more than two dozen artisans and vendors who lined the streets for the annual festival, which also included music, readings and demonstrations, including Brenda Brooks of Studio BB in Goodyear Lake, right, who was busy painting a landscape next to her booth. “I had a lot on my walls, so I thought I’d sell some to buy more canvases!” she said.
CITY HALL EXPERIMENTS
The Market Street entrance to Neahwa Park has been closed for a week, beginning yesterday, a test to see if one vehicular entrance – at Main and River – is sufficient for park users.
“The intent of this temporary, experimental road closure is to observe its effects on traffic entering, exiting, and within Neahwa Park,” City Hall announced in a press release.
TOWN HALL IN ONEONTA
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to ALLOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Ask and you may receive.
“Cities like mine have maintained taxes at the state-mandated cap of two percent – even at zero percent, but state aid to municipalities have not increased in 10 years,” said Mayor Gary Herzig during a Town Hall with Oneonta’s Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, in Council chambers this evening. “Why won’t the legislature not step up to and provide aid to cities who are fighting to renew their infrastructure, economic development, maintain services, attract new people and prevent people from leaving?”
Salka began his answer suggesting the lack of state aid increases to cities was because the legislature was controlled by “downstate interests,” legislators did not understand what Upstate New York needed, and the governor thought “there were too many towns and cities” and “wanted things big.”