This week’s “My turn” column is by James Powers, chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
Otsego County is moving forward, changing for the better. I am proud of our county government and would like to address several areas where I believe positive change is taking place. Otsego County is involved in several exciting communications projects.
More than $1 million in grant money has been secured from state and federal sources to fund these projects.
Blue Wing has been hired as the county’s communications consultant.
It will conduct a needs analysis and design a new Emergency Services Telecommunications System based on that analysis.
An equipment shelter has already been placed at the Blend Hill tower near the city of Oneonta. Rep. Michael Arcuri has secured $400,000 in federal money to fund a wireless telecommunications link from the city of Oneonta to the Blend Hill tower to connect the city of Oneonta to the county’s ESTS.
The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that the ESTS of the county be upgraded from its present two-gigahertz system. With the cooperation of local government and the grant money from state and local agencies, the ESTS system can and will be upgraded.
The county will be running its own fiberoptic line from 197 Main St. to the Public Safety Building, including Otsego Manor, the Highway Department, and the Meadows.
The county is laying the fiber-optic line itself at a savings of $300,000. This line, when completed, will provide a savings of $60,000 per year in telephone bills. In the future, businesses and the school might be added to the line.
New York state has invested $1.3 million in the county’s annex building to provide court space. We are planning a children’s center for the Family Court located in that building. It will be welcoming, comfortable, secure and close to the court.
The Board of Representatives voted to provide financial support for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood provides no- or low-cost essential health services to Otsego County residents.
Waste management has been a contentious issue in this county since the creation of the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority 20 years ago. The Otsego County Service Agreement with MOSA is due to expire in 2014. In preparation, Otsego County has hired Hans Arnold as a solid waste consultant.
MOSA has a $9.5 million debt and $12.5 million in reserves. It is Arnold’s suggestion to use the reserve to retire this debt. This would open the door for a new service agreement and could fundamentally change the way solid waste is handled in Otsego County. It is Arnold’s suggestion that the county issue a Request for Proposal to operate the transfer stations and retain the user fee to maintain and upgrade facilities.
There is a projected loss of $1.1 million in sales tax revenue compared to 2008. Department heads were asked to make budget cuts of 5 to 10 percent. To date, this effort has removed $900,000 from the budget to offset the shortfall in sales tax.
This was difficult but necessary and included items that we should do, wanted to do, and needed to do. It is clear from the decrease in sales tax revenue that Otsego County residents have decreased their household spending. County government must do the same.
Otsego County and the Civil Service Employees Association have been involved in protracted labor negotiations. Make no mistake. The county has wonderful employees who deserve full compensation for the many services they provide.
Otsego County has offered a 3 percent annual raise retroactive to 2007 accompanied by excellent health care and retirement benefits. Salary and benefit increases are paid by the taxpayers of Otsego County. It is essential to balance the demands of the union with the pocketbooks of the taxpayers. We believe the offer is fair to both groups. Given the financial condition of the county, to offer more would be fiscally irresponsible. I would like to address the issue of a county manager. It will not happen on my watch. The Board of Representatives is directly responsible to the voters.
Two years ago, the budget process was deeply flawed. The voters did not hesitate to show their displeasure, and the composition of the Board of Representatives was changed.
That’s the way it should be. Government should be is accountable directly to the voters.
However, county government should learn from its mistakes. For this reason I would like to see Otsego County appoint a budget officer.
The county treasurer would be responsible for collecting the taxes and paying the bills. The budget officer and the Board of Representatives would chart the present and future financial course of Otsego County.
The members of the Otsego County Board of Representatives work hard, and I would like to express my appreciation and thanks. We do not always agree. In disagreement there is opportunity for discussion, compromise and understanding. I would like to thank the voters of Otsego County and my district. It is a privilege to represent you.
To write for “My turn,” contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 432-1000, ext. 214.