2017 – now, that was a year for local democracy.
Twelve of the 14 seats on the Otsego County Board of Representatives were contested – only Gary Koutnik in Democratic Oneonta and Dan Wilber in Republican Town of Burlington got a pass.
This year, regrettably, there are three, but one race calls out for an endorsement:
Michele Farwell, the Democrat running for reelection in District 2 (Morris, Butternuts and Pittsfield).
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By noon Monday, 10/28
Every county board has top performers, the most influential, the reps who make things happen.
Currently, that would include the peace-making chairman, David Bliss, plus Meg Kennedy, Peter Oberacker, Andrew Marietta and perhaps Ed Frazier. When they speak, things happen.
Others, certainly, may have a slightly different list.
A good case can be made to include Michele Farwell in that select group for one initiative alone: She suggested the county board join a lawsuit against Big Pharma to try to reclaim some of the costs of fighting the heroin epidemic.
Now, it seems likely the county’s claim will be recognized.
Just a freshman, she also is co-chairing the county Energy Task Force with Kennedy. Energy is a divisive issue. It’s unclear if a consensus can be reached. But both Kennedy and Farwell have shown restraint and consideration in navigating a ship in rough waters.
Like the best of the reps, she doesn’t speak a lot (or too little.) But when she speaks, she’s worth listening do.
Farwell is being challenged by an independent, Marcia Hoag, who should be saluted for running in a year when so few have stepped forward. But Farwell has earned reelection.
In the two other contested races:
• District 3 (Otego-Laurens), Republican Rick Brockway is amiable and approachable, the kind of legislator that every elected body requires. He knows
the territory, and he knows his would-be constituents. Vote for Brockway.
• District 14 (Oneonta’s Wards 7-8), Jill Basile, has the edge against Wilson Wells, a Libertarian and engaging young man. As the Democratic nominee in the Democratic city, Basile has appropriately attended the past several county board meetings to prepare herself for the job she will probably hold.
NYSEG BRIEFS ENERGY TASK FORCE
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Work on increasing the DeRuyter-Oneonta gas pipeline’s capacity by 25 percent will begin next year, NYSEG has told the Otsego County Energy Task Force.
That could mean the “interruptible power” – Oneonta’s colleges and Fox Hospital are required to switch to more expensive fuel oil when temperatures drop below zero – will kick in less often, county Rep. Michelle Farwell, D-Morris, the task force co-chair, told the county board at its July meeting Wednesday.
from the ENERGY TASK FORCE
To the Editor:
Your June 20-21 editorial on the Otsego County Energy Taskforce ends with the sentence: “We’re all in this together.” We on the Taskforce Leadership Committee couldn’t agree more.
But the editorial’s main assertion that the business community has been shut out of the process is not based on fact and includes inaccuracies and unhelpful hypotheticals that need to be corrected.
Chief among these is the statement that the Economic Development subcommittee does not contain anyone from the business community. This is not true. We took considerable care to make sure that all of the subcommittees had members from the private sector contributing as members or advisors.
To imply that the CEO’s of the Otsego County Chamber and Otsego’s IDA are not able to represent the interests of the business community is somewhat remarkable since that is precisely their job.
We ARE all in this together – with the purpose of creating a practical actionable plan to address the current and future energy needs of Otsego County. This is our stated purpose, and the mission we adopted is to “address the needs of the community to become energy secure and resilient while making long-term progress in improving the health of citizens, economic growth and environmental sustainability.”
Because perspectives differ widely, we have gone to great lengths to avoid “us versus them” divisions. In the interests of the county and our taskforce, we hope you will cover our ongoing
work accurately and in good faith.
The impulse to “read tea leaves” or to proclaim the plan as “DOA” before it’s written only serves to magnify the divisions that we endeavor to mend.
The Otsego County
by JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com
WEST ONEONTA – In the first convening of the 38-member Otsego County Energy Taskforce Town Hall Wednesday evening, County Board Rep. Meg Kennedy, a founder of the group, announced its end goal: an ambitious plan “that will address the current and future energy needs of Otsego County” by October 2020.
Calling the plan’s timeline “ambitious,” Kennedy said the Taskforce aimed to complete a draft of the plan by June 2020, have a public commentary period the following month, for a minimum of 30 days, and go through a SEQRA review of the plan that August, all before the Otsego Board would vote on adopting the plan in October of that year.
Editorial for November 30, 2018.
Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole
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.
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.