The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

July 9, 2011

'Change' is the byword for city, region, state

Daily Star

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Regardless of the outlook at the federal level, and separate from the glimmer of promise for New York state, we're sure to see changes in the "who" and "how" of handling our local challenges in the year ahead.

The performance of our federal government could hardly be more depressing. Whether it be Bush or Obama, it is not solely the president's fault. Nor can the blame be laid strictly at the front doors of the Senate or House. Nevertheless, there is little if any positive, collective action on the economic front.

We see a continuing lack of consensus in Washington on meaningful plans to stimulate the economy, with unemployment, with the budget deficit, or with the national debt. We seem not to have come to grips with a new harsh reality: our country is no longer the world's dominant driver of financial conditions. Sadly, we are already preoccupied with a presidential campaign that will dominate the news and decision-making over the next 16 months. Partisan politics will prevail. (To my own mind, it would help greatly to have a six-year, single-term presidency, which, of course, isn't on the horizon.)

Regardless of your perspective on various outcomes, one has to be impressed by the number of things our own state's governor has been able to accomplish working with what has been, in recent times, a dysfunctional legislative process. Major gains have been realized on the state level and, if Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not lose his compass, we can expect more in the future.

New York state, like the nation, can no longer afford the size of its government. It can not continue trying to do the same with less. Instead, federal and state governments must eliminate entire areas of governmental activity that are not essential.

The state legislature must stop passing special-interest laws that only add cost in a myriad of indirect ways and don't generate economic activity. The state bureaucracy itself must stop adding new rules and regulations, as exemplified by the DOT's recently imposed and silly parade restrictions. Cuomo, and his ability to work with the state senate and assembly, offers hope.

Locally, important changes are in the wind. There will be many new members of the Otsego County Board of Representatives. We will also see at least five new members of the Oneonta Common Council.

While the Oneonta town board has formally expressed its lack of interest in merging with the city, its members have expressed a willingness to discuss shared services. Such sharing already takes place with fire and emergency management services, and water and sewer services, reducing costs for all who participate. Additional costs are avoided by the town's highway department and the city's department of public works by sharing equipment and working collaboratively.

Former Oneonta aldermen Bill Shue and Al Colone are pressing the city and town to work together on economic development. Informal conversations have taken place about other sharing opportunities. As rental properties and commercial activities expand in the town, it will have to address increasing problems similar to those we deal with in the city of Oneonta.

I believe that a merger is inevitable and that we would gain greater benefits by moving on it now, rather than waiting for the crisis down the road that will make it a necessity. In the meantime, the city will vigorously pursue shared-services discussions and we hope the town government will initiate them as well.

The final area of potential change is a new city charter. Called for in the city's comprehensive plan adopted in 2007, developed by a commission established by Mayor John Nader and continued during my first year and a half in office, the draft document is a major step forward and should be adopted after revision.

The effort of the commission has been extraordinary, and it will be working to make final changes and communicate the elements and value of the new charter before it goes to the voters in November.

There are a few fundamentals that make this charter important. First, the charter clarifies blurred lines of authority and accountability among the Common Council, mayor and professional administration.

Second, the establishment of a full-time professional city manager, to whom department heads would report and be accountable, will save the city money, lead to quicker and better decisions, and provide better service to the city's taxpayers. That has been the experience in every other community in New York state that has a city manager.

Third, the council and mayor will be able to spend more of their time on policy, legislation and decisions about allocation of resources.

Finally, over the years a number of boards and commissions have been established and were either given responsibilities that are duplicative of the council's and the city administration's, or have been frustrated by a lack of authority. The advisory nature of some of these groups (if they need to exist at all) will be clarified.

The commission has put great effort and diligence into the details of the document, which has been reduced from 55 to 29 pages. I urge the entire community to work with the commission as it finalizes the draft of the document to be presented Sept. 1, and I strongly encourage voters to approve it in November.

Miller is mayor of the city of Oneonta.