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March 21, 2013

Oneonta requires vision for the future

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The Daily Star

---- — Tuesday night, in his first State of the City Address, Michael Long, Oneonta’s first city manager, provided a thorough and workmanlike assessment of the financial present and future.

Compared with most other cities in New York state, Oneonta seems to be doing pretty well.

“There are 61 cities in the state of New York and nine of them are financially stable at this time,” he said. “The rest of them are not. Oneonta is one of the few financially stable communities.”

That sounds pretty good, but as Long pointed out, the city’s relatively rosy financial situation is the result of a rainy-day fund built up in past years.

“It’s the past history in terms of the stewardship that the past administration had put into effect,” Long said. “They have reduced the expenses and maintained active revenues, so their expenditures did not exceed their revenue. They were able to balance the books.”

All well and good, but according to forecasts Long provided, keeping up a surplus in the future will be challenging, to say the least.

This year, Oneonta is expected to run a deficit of $532,917. In 2014, that number goes up to $1,498,953. In 2015, it’s $2,548,752, then $2,548,752 in 2016, and $1,507,833 in 2017.

“There are a couple things you can do,” Long said. “One, you can raise revenues or, two, you can cut expenses or, three, you can do one of each. … Maybe we don’t need to raise additional revenues.”

Not exactly rocket science to anyone who has tried to balance a budget, whether it’s a household or a business. Congress has the same problem. Does it raise taxes (revenue) or eliminate programs (cut expenses) or both?

How well Long is able to obtain state grants and procure other revenue will largely determine whether he will be worth the $115,000 Oneonta is paying him.

While the true state of the city encompasses far more than balancing the budget, it is clear from Long’s professionally detailed work that his priority is making certain Oneonta remains solvent without having to drain the surplus he has inherited.

“It was a great representation, in terms of a summary of where the city is and the long-term challenges,’’ said Larry Malone, Second Ward council member and chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.

So, we appear to have been given a valuable peek into the city’s ledgers, but what we don’t yet know is what those numbers will mean in regard to what Oneonta is willing to invest in order to improve the lives of its citizens.

The answer to that question is ultimately what will determine the true state of the city.