“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.”
ONEONTA – Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to two seats on Common Council in tomorrow’s primary election. Polls will be open noon-9 p.m. at Foothills. Click below for questionnaires provided by the four candidates:
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 24 years experience in the local business community. Manager of Peter Clark Student Rentals 1995-2010, Owner of various rental properties 2010-present. College music instructor 1994-1995.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Steering Committee, Oneonta Comprehensive Plan re-write 2017-2019. I have been deeply involved with the Oneonta small business community as part of my day-to-day professional life since 1995.
FAMILY: Peter Clark, father, Angela Clark, mother. My father is one of the most successful businessmen in the history of Oneonta. Some people seem to think that should count against me in this race. That’s just silly.
PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT: I don’t care whether we have small government or big government, but we definitely should have COMPETENT government. That means we listen to our citizens. That means we don’t put a huge income-restricted housing project in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly against it. That means we recognize that the local small business community is struggling, and we address the needs this struggle brings to light. That means we embrace our local student population as full-fledged citizens of our community, citizens to be respected. They are, after all, half of the citizenry. That means we promote new job opportunities intelligently, because we recognize that there is terrible income inequality even in our small community, and that such inequality is thoroughly unacceptable. And that means we have leaders who understand the workings of our local economy, leaders that understand what grows the economy and what hinders it.
MAJOR ISSUES FACING CITY OF ONEONTA: Over 60 small businesses have closed since the DRI initiative was announced three years ago. We have, in that time, spent between 1.5 and 2 million dollars on consultants (mostly from outside Oneonta). We have shameful income inequality. According to the information I can get from the local school system, fully half of the families in this area are food insecure. And the city government needs leaders, like myself, who understand the needs of local business and the local economy.
MY QUALITIES:I understand the local economy very, very well, because I have been studying it for the past 25 years. Studying the economy is part of my job. Other than that, patience is a virtue. Impatience is also a virtue.
STATEMENT: Oneonta is in a period of rapid flux. The small businesses that weave our community together are certainly on thin ice. Many of the leaders currently in City Hall want to score cheap political points by creating a false sense that it’s “us” (the year-round residents) versus “them” (our college students). That kind of rhetoric is completely unproductive. We need leaders who understand business, understand higher education, understand housing, and how housing availability is effected by the local economy. If we keep waiting around for the DRI money to materialize and for the rail yards to be developed, we will all grow old waiting while the Oneonta that we know and love disappears beneath our feet.
Last week, I wrote to this newspaper to report at least 58 Oneonta stores and restaurants have closed down in the past three years. These establishments are NOT being replaced at nearly the rate at which we are losing them, thus creating an unsustainable situation.
That calls for an “all hands on deck” attempt at working together to clear the air of a fog of blame that pervades the city now. While that sounds a little fuzzy, in Oneonta it means something very specific. It means that Oneonta’s college students and the city’s permanent residents will finally need to start getting along.
The college students need to start being treated as full-fledged residents of the city, and the permanent residents of the city need to be treated to quiet nights, less vandalism.
I believe this will create several advantages. The first is that if we start respecting our college students, we may very well get more permanent residents. Mayor Herzig says we need more people, we need to actually grow our population, before we can re-grow our business community, and I think that he is right.
Think about it: every year we import 7,700 new members of the population, and then at the end of the school year, we send them away again. Usually, we grumble about them the whole time they are here, and attribute to the students every broken window, every new bit of graffiti, and every incidence of unpleasant noise, whether we have any proof that they are responsible or not.
We are a college town, and the sooner we embrace that fact, the stronger our economy can be.
Our re-branding consultant wants to concentrate on the “quirky, artsy” side of our city. I tried to point out to their representatives, pretty much to no avail, that there is in fact a history of college towns branding themselves as being quirky and artsy BECAUSE they have a college close by.
If we as permanent residents strengthen our ties with the students, all sorts of possibilities open up: Jerid Goss, another fellow running for City Council, has developed a plan for building a business incubator co-managed by the city and the colleges. This plan involves holding business plan contests for aspiring student entrepreneurs. The creators of the winning business plans would be invited to stay in Oneonta and start their businesses with help from the city government and the colleges.
The goal of keeping new businesses here, run by ambitious young people, would be to create local, well-paying jobs. This would both add new businesses to the local economy, and also grow the population by giving students something to stay in town for after they graduate. Just think of it: A fun, quirky space WITH JOBS!
“Spooky” is kind of a funny word for a newspaper, but it really is the word that best describes how I feel about so many longstanding local businesses closing. Several were touchstones of my life, businesses that have operated in the greater Oneonta area for decades.
I decided a couple of weeks ago to see if my spooky feeling could be backed up, so I embarked on a project of counting closed businesses. I decided to limit my count to businesses that had closed their doors (and not re-opened in another location) within the last three years. I decided to limit my count to stores and restaurants.
Within an afternoon, I had counted 58.
A few words about my methodology. (This kind of count is not as simple as it seems.)
I counted vacant spaces in the strip malls on the Southside. I counted vacant spaces inside Southside Mall, and I counted vacant spaces on Main Street, (although I did not count spaces – like the notorious Java Island space – vacant for more than three years.)
Otherwise I just used my memory. Some, like Asian Temptation, have been replaced by like-kind businesses, but many, including Oneonta institutions like Friendly’s, Ruffino’s and Christopher’s, have not. And many businesses on this list did not, ostensibly, close due to lack of traffic, including Ruffino’s and Christopher’s. But if Oneonta was thriving the way that we would like it to thrive, they would also have been rebuilt or replaced with like businesses.
Obviously, this is a high number of closings. The last few years and the advent of hugely successful Internet-based businesses has come with a lot of talk about “business disruption,” and how a certain amount of turnover in the numbers and types of businesses in operation is healthy. But I would submit that there is nothing healthy about 58 businesses closing in a small city of approximately 15,000 people within three years. That’s enough to tear a community apart.
People can quibble, but I think the general message that this list imparts is clear. We have a huge problem. When you add to this the community services that Oneonta has lost over the past few decades – an airline with a once-a-day run to New York City, several schools including a school district in the Center City Area, Fox Hospital’s obstetrics ward, the Soccer Hall of Fame – we really do appear to be a small city in decline. If this doesn’t concern you, it should.
I used up my allotted number of words, so next week I will write another letter with ways I think we can attack this problem. I will say this: I don’t believe that this problem has been caused by Mayor Herzig – who works hard every day to create jobs in Oneonta – or Common Council. I think the root cause is Amazon, and the new “digital economy” as a whole. But local politicians DO need to be part of the solution. More later.
Clark and Mark Davies are vying in the June 25 Democratic primary to run for the Ward 2 Common Council seat.
ONEONTA – In his 2019 State of the State speech, Mayor Gary Herzig Tuesday, March 5, said everyone wants to get to “net zero,” but – “please” – don’t oppose a plan for the D&H railyards “to create much-needed jobs.”
Particularly, “while we go about enjoying our indoor tennis courts, gyms, swimming pools and theaters – all heated with gas. These are not the values of the people of the City of Oneonta,” he said.
The plea fell on 112 sets of deaf ears.
This was supposed to be a celebratory evening, with Herzig and former mayor Kim Muller, who chaired the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) committee, announcing $2 million in grants for façade improvements, signage and redevelopment of upper floors for housing in the city’s downtown.
But as speaker after speaker – 30 in all, speaking for three minutes each – criticized the GEIS (generic environmental impact statement) on a multi-million-dollar plan to redevelop the 88-acre D&Y Railyards, time ran out and no announcement occurred.
ONEONTA – A “Fusion Ticket” has surfaced over the weekend – Democrats Seth Clark and Jerid Goss, and Republican Josh Bailey – aiming to run for Common Council in Ward 2, 4 and 8 respectively.
Along with Republicans Len Carson (in Ward 5) and Scott Harrington (Ward 6), who announced plans to run Thursday and Friday, the emergence of the Fusion Ticket means at least one person will be running in November for Common Council slots in five of the eight wards where Council members are planning to retire.