Tillapaugh: ‘Village is Well Positioned’
Editor’s Note: Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh was a panelist at the recent Otsego County Chamber of Commerce “State of the State” Breakfast. The following is her address.
Good morning and thank you to the Otsego County Chamber for hosting this forum. I am honored to be included on this panel of city, county, and state elected officials and a representative of Congress.
For most of you, the calendar year is your fiscal year. That is not the case for our village—the Village of Cooperstown’s fiscal year is June 1st to May 31st, so we are two-thirds of the way through our current 2022-23 budget. Next month we will begin budget workshops to have a tentative 23-24 budget in place by the mandated deadline of March 20th.
Our General Fund budget is usually about $4.1 million and we also have separate Water and Sewer budgets which total approximately 2.2 million, resulting in about a $6.3 million dollar village budget.
The budget process will certainly be a lot easier this year. We can finally say that the summer of 2022 was a normal summer for our village, particularly in regard to revenue from the village’s major industry—tourism. Our paid parking revenue is an important revenue area. While not back to pre-pandemic levels, certainly a great deal healthier than the past two years. Contributing to the summer’s success was a July Induction Weekend for the first time since 2019, and our Main Street merchants reported excellent sales.
And not just local village businesses. Cooperstown, marketed as the Home of Baseball, is a tourism engine for the entire county and central New York region: a positive impact on lodging, restaurant, and attraction businesses. You will find the name Cooperstown adorning and benefiting many businesses far beyond village boundaries.
The burden of being a tourism engine, and building and maintaining all the tourism-related infrastructure, falls on our residents—all 1,752 according to a 2019 population estimate.
This is my twelfth year on the Cooperstown Village Board, having served as trustee, then deputy mayor and for the last five years as mayor. For the past 10 years, those of us in government leadership have made it a priority to not increase the property tax levy. The tax levy has remained at $1,779,194.00 for 10 years. That represents a $5.20 tax levy per $1,000.00 assessed value, or $520.00 on a $100,000.00 house. That is lower than many municipal tax rates in the county.
Keep in mind that as a village, we cannot create a local sales tax and are reliant on sales tax funds shared and distributed to all municipalities in Otsego County. One million dollars spent at businesses on our Main Street provides just $363.36 in sales tax revenue to the billage. The City of Oneonta and Otsego County receive more sales tax revenue from sales on Main Street Cooperstown than the village does.
Contrast our limited ability to generate revenue from the tourism industry to the millions in tourism infrastructure which the village maintains and improves to support that tourism industry.
Such infrastructure investment is only possible through careful stewardship of village finances and successful grant writing.
Village funding along with grant funding have enabled:
• A $2.7 million Federal Highway Administration TEP grant to improve Main Street with ADA compliant sidewalks, wayfinding signage and a DOT-compliant traffic signal with pedestrian crossing signals.
• An $8.4 million Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade completed in 2021, which ensures that we meet all the standards set by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, four years before they will be mandated. The upgraded plant protects the Susquehanna River—a valuable recreational and tourism resource—for decades to come.
• A $7 million upgrade of historic Doubleday Field, including restoration of the 1939 Grandstand, ADA compliant pedestrian access from Main Street and a new third base building known as the Fowler Pavilion, which has locker rooms and 19 public bathrooms. The village provides the only public bathrooms in our downtown.
• A $300,000.00 DEC Climate Smart Community Award to replace a Willow Creek culvert in the Village. The creek is a tributary of Otsego Lake and, en route to Otsego Lake, actually flows under the 1939 Doubleday Grandstand.
• A $146,000.00 DEC Water Quality Improvement Grant to construct a new salt shed at the village’s Highway Department, ensuring improved environmental stewardship and aquifer protection.
• A Federal Department of Justice grant to purchase body worn cameras for our Police Department, a $30,000.00 cost.
• An Empire State Development Capital Grant in cooperation with the County IDA for the installation of downtown Wi-Fi infrastructure.
• A $400,000.00 New York State Historic Preservation grant to restore the skylights and upgrade the lift in Village Hall, an 1897 building. In the past 10 years, we have invested nearly $1 million dollars in Village Hall, which serves as a Main Street anchor and a community center, complete with library, art gallery and spaces for a film series and lecture series.
Numerous smaller grants have supported everything from the creation of a tree inventory and the purchase and planting of trees to grants to support the installation of signage recognizing the Mohawk and Haudenosaunee people.
I have focused on fiscal matters, but no less important is the village’s continued implementation of goals and projects cited in our Comprehensive Plan. Developing more housing in the village, particularly apartment-style housing, is a goal in the plan. We don’t look at “zoning” as a bad word, but rather at how zoning regulations can help us achieve some of the goals developed in our community driven Comprehensive Plan. With that in mind, three years ago changes to the zoning law encouraged greater density of housing. The first apartment building constructed in nearly 50 years in the village will have an open house later this month: 10 Chestnut, also known as Chestnut Crossing, provides 12 energy-efficient apartments just a half block from the village’s Main Street. A larger-scale development on Averill Road is currently working its way through the village’s Planning and Historic Preservation Review boards.
Initiated by Bassett Hospital, the proposed project would address the shortage of housing in the village which impacts recruitment of medical personnel at the hospital and contributes to our region’s designation as a Health Professional Shortage Area.
We feel Cooperstown is well positioned to continue being an economic engine for our region. Our successes are the area’s successes and we enjoy working with our upstate organizations and municipal neighbors to ensure that upstate New York once again thrives.