News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
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Town of Oneonta

Southside May Become Center of Renewable Energy

Town May Follow City’s Suit

Southside Could Become

Geothermal Energy Center

Jay Egg, CEO, Geo Egg, inset photo, speaks about heating Southside Mall with geothermal energy at a packed Oneonta Town Board meeting this evening in West Oneonta, as Town Board member Randal Mowers listens.  “The writing is on the wall,” Egg said about future energy use.  Municipalities and counties like Westchester are already declaring moratoriums on expanding natural-gas use while the state is green-lighting renewable energy.  The Town of Oneonta is considering installing a geothermal heating system in Southside and other parts of the municipality, while the City of Oneoneta this week contracted with Geo Egg for a feasibility study on retrofitting a geothermal heating system in South Main Street.  (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

Fortin Park Becomes A Tobacco-Free Zone

Fortin Park Becomes

A Tobacco-Free Zone

Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood and Town Clerk Cheryl Shackelton, left, stand with Deyanira Cisneros and Bonnie Peck, right, from SUNY Cobleskill’s Research Foundation, who presented them with several signs this morning at Town Hall. The news signs will soon be hung in Fortin Park in Emmons, proclaiming the area a tobacco-free zone. That means no cigarettes, vaping and or chewing. The signs are part of the Advancing Tobacco Free Communities program , funded by a grant from the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control. “Ten years ago I owned a grocery store that sold cigarettes,” said Wood. “If I was to own a grocery store today, I would not sell tobacco at all. (The town) is glad to get ahead of the advancing tobacco technology to protect our youth.” Although the signs throw a little bit of a misconception, vapes are to be shown as crossed out and therefore ban the use of them in these areas which is the right move, although vapes don’t contain tobacco as you can in this Vape Starter Kit, a chemical in tobacco – nicotine (the addictive substance smokers crave) should be the slogan for the poster, instead reading ” This is a nicotine-free zone” (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Truck That Hit School Bus Ran Red Light, Police Say
After Collision, Truck Burst Into Flames

Truck That Hit School Bus

Ran Red Light, Police Say

An Oneonta School Bus bus was damaged when a driver ran a red light and smashed into the front. (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Benjamin J. Goodwin’s truck caught fire after he hit the school bus.

ONEONTA – A pickup truck that caught fire after colliding with an Oneonta City School District mini school bus on Monday, Nov. 26, had run a red light, according to Trooper Aga Dembinska, Troop C public information officer.

Benjamin J. Goodwin, 34, Laurens, was driving the a black 2002 Chevy Silverado pickup northbound on Route 205 when it went through the light at Country Club Road, striking the school bus, Dembinska said. The eastbound bus was in the middle of the intersection.

The truck caught fire, and Goodwin managed to get out of his vehicle before the fire could reach him. Accidents like these require specialist legal help, learn more about why here.

School Bus, Pickup Collide In Oneonta

School Bus, Pickup

Collide In Oneonta

At dusk this evening, a school bus and a pickup truck collided at the intersection of Route 205 and Country Club Road in the Town of Oneonta. Three children on the bus were uninjured; a school monitor and driver were also aboard. The driver of the pickup appeared slightly injured, but the woman in the passenger seat appeared uninjured. The front of the school bus was crumpled in. No official details were immediately available. (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)
Judge Opens Way For Dissolution Of Fire District

Judge Opens Way

For Dissolution

Of Fire District

Commissioners Speedily To Convene,

May Now End City Coverage Of Town

Judge Coccoma

COOPERSTOWN – State Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma today issued a decision that appears to clear the way for the dissolution of the Town of Oneonta Fire District and the end to the city’s contract to provide fire coverage to Southside Oneonta and other neighborhoods.

Specifically, Coccoma dismissed the Town of Oneonta’s lawsuit and said it has no standing to prevent the town Board of Fire Commissioners from dissolving.

Fire Commission Chair Johna Peachin immediately scheduled a meeting for 1:30 p.m. at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Oneonta, and could vote within the hour to dissolve and leave town residents and businesses in limbo.

Please check back; this is a developing story.  Managing Editor Libby Cudmore will be reporting from the fire district commission meeting.

HERE IS JUDGE COCCOMA’S DECISION

 

Uncreative? With Full Plate, That Might Be Just The Thing

Editorial for October 12, 2018

Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing

‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.

Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.

The Freeman’s Journal – Saying “I’m not creative,” Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky planted himself in the Otsego County Board of Representives’ chambers last week and made a convincing case that slow and steady can win some economic- development races. Visible, from left, are county Reps. Stammel, Shannon and Clark; Clerk of the Board McGovern, Board chair Bliss and county Rep. Frazier.

Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
to renewables.

Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.

Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!

Custom Electronics Wins Grant To Build Batteries, Add Jobs

Custom Electronics

Wins Grant To Build

Batteries, Add Jobs

ONEONTA – The State of New York has approved a $750,000 grant to help Custom Electronics manufacture a new product line of smart batteries for use in disaster recovery, hospitals and the entertainment field, Otsego Now announced today.

The total project cost is $2.2 million, and is expected to create 50 jobs at the plant at 87 Browne St., Town of Oneonta.

A Good Idea From Fire Commissioners: Dissolve, Let Town Negotiate OFD Pact

Editorial for August 31, 2018

A Good Idea From

Fire Commissioners:
Dissolve, Let Town

Negotiate OFD Pact

The Freeman’s Journal – A packed house at Oneonta’s Elm Park Methodist Church in April 2017 urged town Board of Fire Commissioners: Renew the fire-protection contract with city’s paid Oneonta Fire Department. Sixteen months later, talks are still stymied.

When one least expects it, a breakthrough.
The Town of Oneonta’s Board of Fire Commissioners has voted, 3-2, to set a hearing to consider dissolving. The vote could come at the end of the hearing, scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Elm Park
Methodist Church.
Good idea. About time.
If the fire district is dissolved, a “fire zone” continues to exist within the town, so coverage will continue. The Town of Oneonta would assume responsibility for negotiating with the city. That’s good too.
There’s probably no one better than Town Supervisor
Bob Wood, previously a longtime fire commissioner himself, to bring talks with the city to a sensible conclusion.
For more than two years, negotiations have gone nowhere on extending the contract with City Hall for professional fire protection for the town’s Southside, and neighborhoods beyond the city’s East and West ends.
Only state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma
imposing a two-year settlement in January 2016 assured businesspeople and homeowners coverage as negotiations continued.
The two commissioners objecting to dissolution are the newcomers, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, who since their election last December have been foiled in efforts to get the talks moving again.
The three in the majority bloc, chair Johna Peachin, veteran commissioner Fred Volpe and Ron Peters, who is associated with Peachin’s accounting firm, have not responded to city Mayor Gary Herzig’s requests for negotiations, the mayor says.

As noted here before, Coccoma imposed a regimen that allocates one-third of the costs of the city’s Oneonta Fire Department (OFD) to property owners in the town fire district; the remaining two-thirds would be covered by city taxpayers.
An independent consultant agreed to by both sides came up with roughly the same formula.
Still, no movement.
The majority bloc has been tangled up in the issue of revenues created by the OFD’s ambulance squad, which generates about $1 million of the fire department’s $4 million budget.
In effect, those revenues – insurance payments generated whenever a city ambulance carries a patient from either the city or town to Fox or Bassett – pay down the total, meaning there’s less for city taxpayers and fire-district property owners to split.
The bloc believes the way it’s being done is illegal, but so far hasn’t found anyone with authority to agree.
Again, if an “i” or two needs to be crossed to bring everything up to Hoyle, Bob Wood has the understanding to figure it out amicably with Herzig.

There are implications for the future.
For one, a town can’t operate its own fire department under New York State law, an option the fire commissioners have been threatening to pursue in negotiations with City Hall.
However, if it came to that, the town could create a town-wide fire district that could do so, a lengthy process – but slower is probably better. Plus, that may never happen and shouldn’t – the town and city’s fates are linked.
Arguably, given the $1 million contribution from townsfolks, it makes sense for a liaison to be brought into discussions with Common Council on policies regarding the OFD. Perhaps Al Rubin, who has tried to be an honest broker since joining the fire board, would be a good prospect for this role.
Regardless, it’s time to move forward. If the majority-bloc fire commissioners have concluded they can do no more, it makes sense to leave the scene.
The Oneonta Town Board is more sensitive to what the public wants – only a handful or two of voters turn up at Fire District elections – and the public has said it wants the standoff resolved.
With Wood at the helm, along with town board members of good will, an end to a worrisome situation may finally be within reach.

The Arithmetic Is Inexorable: 2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District. Make The Deal

Editorial, August 10, 2018

The Arithmetic Is Inexorable:

2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District.

Make The Deal

Judge Coccoma

Judges generally are loath to get involved in situations that should be resolved through the political process. But once in a while their hand is forced.
Such seems to be the case shaping up in the now years-long standoff between Oneonta City Hall and the Town of Oneonta Board of Fire Commissioners over what the town should pay to be covered by professional firefighters in the city’s Oneonta Fire Department.
In December 2016, with the city-Fire District contract expiring, the dispute ended up in state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma’s Cooperstown courtroom.
Unable to broker an agreement, Coccoma imposed a two-year contract, with the Town Fire District paying $1.1 million a year for the OFD’s services.
He also instructed both sides to choose a mutually agreeable mediator to propose a fair outcome, and they settled on VFIS (Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Service), based in York, Pa., the nation’s foremost arbiter of this kind of thing.
The resulting report allocated 64.2 percent of the cost of operating the OFD to city taxpayers, and 35.8 percent to Town Fire District ratepayers, which include the big boxes on Southside Oneonta (in the town).
The outcome, according to city Mayor Gary Herzig, was in the neighborhood of the $1.1 million Coccoma had already decided upon. City Hall accepted the report; the fire commissioners did not.
Since, much has happened, but the bottom line is: No progress.

As he’s said all along, Mayor Herzig says today he is agreeable to a settlement tomorrow.
The traditional formula has been roughly: The city pays two-thirds; the fire district pays one-third.
“We’re comfortable with that formula,” said Herzig, referring to the VFIS numbers. “The outcome is very similar to the formula that’s been used for the past 20 years. (The VFIS formula) is more complicated. The bottom line is not very different.”
Because the fire commissioners’ leadership stopped calling back, he continued, City Hall has stopped trying.
“We’ve said now for months and months, our door is open. We’re willing to sit down and negotiate at any time. The response we get is: ‘We will not negotiate with you. What you’re doing, it’s illegal.’ I have no idea what they mean.”
The new fire commissioners, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, thought they had found a solution in appealing to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to audit the situation and recommend a solution. But it seems that DiNapoli, sensibly, was reluctant to allocate resources to a local situation with no statewide implications.
Rubin believed including OFD’s ambulance service revenues – due to insurance payments, EMS runs at a profit – would open the door to a deal. But Herzig said the revenues are part of the $4 million OFD budget – there’s no secret pot of money to be discovered. If you push in here, it comes out there.
In the end, it’s hard to escape the arithmetic: one-third to the Fire District, two-thirds to City Hall.

Which brings us back to where we started.
The judge directed the parties to bring in a mediator. That was done. A formula was recommended by the foremost experts. Still, the deadlock continues.
At the end of this year, five months from now, Judge Coccoma’s order expires. If he fails to extend it, most of the Town of Oneonta (minus that covered by the West Oneonta volunteers) will be without protection.
At one point, the commissioners said they would start their own department; that seems impractical. Otsego County’s impressive local volunteer departments have built expertise over decades, even generations. You can’t just snap your fingers and duplicate that.
The other option would be to contract with a volunteer department. But volunteers, trained as they may be, are mostly working fulltime jobs, some out of the area. Can they be expected to stand ready, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for another Christopher’s inferno along Otsego County’s foremost commercial strip?
The VFIS report – you can Google it at www.allotsego.com – reports the Insurance Services Office rated the OFD service are 2/2Y, put it among the top 3 percent best in the nation. Businesses in the Fire District (and city) are seeing low insurance rates as a result.

Judge Coccoma was right to impose a two-year settlement; the alternative was an unacceptable threat to public safety. Not to pre-judge the judge, but what option does he have if the fire commissioners and city officials appear before him again at year’s end?
We’re all adults here. Life is compromises. The fire commissioners have no option but to make the best deal – somewhere in the vicinity of one-third vs. two-thirds – and move on.

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