Looking back on 2013, it may be remembered as a staging ground of sorts on a number of significant issues. While matters such as the local economy, natural gas development, the pending sale of Otsego County’s nursing home and the war on drugs attracted much attention, little if anything was resolved on these and other issues. The Daily Star’s editorial staff identified this year’s top 10 stories as follows:
1. AREA ECONOMY WEATHERS UPS AND DOWNS
When the year began, local unemployment rates were hovering around the 10 percent mark, heralding the start of what Douglas Gulotty, interim chief executive officer of the Otsego County IDA, called “a year of gathering and rebuilding.”
Gulotty’s own role with the IDA was at the heart of one of the year’s biggest economic stories, as longtime IDA head Carolyn Lewis announced in the spring of 2013 that she would be leaving her post in August.
With Gulotty filling in and a permanent successor not yet named , the agency is poised to take on a role of even greater importance. On the heels of a November economic development summit hosted by state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, local stakeholders met in December to act on one of the summit’s recommendations and establish the IDA as the “go-to” agency for outside businesses seeking to move to the area.
Lewis’ departure coincided with news that Otsego County Tourism director Deb Taylor would also be stepping down, prompting the county to look toward privatizing its tourism promotion efforts.
This was not the only time the lines between public and private blurred in 2013. Local governments and agencies partnered with businesses on several efforts to rehabilitate the region’s economy.
One high-profile example was the restoration of the former Bresee’s building, a $6.1 million project six years in the making that finally made its debut in 2013. Klugo’s Parkview Place, a mixed-use building of retail space, offices and apartments, celebrated a ribbon cutting in October. The project was spearheaded by private developer Chip Klugo and supported by the city of Oneonta and the Otsego County Development Corp.
In Schoharie County, efforts continued to sell the former Guilford Mills manufacturing facility to a local brewing company in 2013, but the deal ultimately fell through. The prospect of holding a mortgage for the company proved too much for county officials, who chose instead to seek a leaseholder for the site.
Delaware County succeeded in luring a company specializing in call centers to set up shop in a factory building in the village of Hancock. A $600,000 state grant will help rehabilitate and furnish the vacant facility.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal in May to create tax-free zones surrounding SUNY campuses sparked speculation about how the region’s SUNY schools could take advantage of such a program.
And news of more potential developments came in December, when the state announced its annual awards for the Regional Economic Development Councils. Proposed projects include rehabilitating a defunct former water bottling plant in Harpersfield, and establishing a regional craft food and beverage center at Hartwick College.
The year brought growth to Southside in the form of a Panera Bread restaurant, which will soon be joined by a SweetFrog frozen yogurt franchise. But 2013 will also be remembered as the year that longtime Southside fixture the Neptune Diner closed its doors. Karabinis told The Daily Star on Sunday that the property has not yet been sold.
2. HEROIN, PAINKILLERS CHALLENGELOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
In January, local health care and law enforcement officials confirmed that the region was following a national trend showing increases in prescription drug addiction and abuse.
“These are medications being prescribed for legitimate reasons — at least initially — and we’re seeing more and more people getting addicted who normally wouldn’t become addicted, because the medications are so strong,” said Susan Dalesandro, director of the Otsego County Mental Health Services department, in a January interview with The Daily Star.
January also saw the sentencing of Dante Major, 36, of Hobart, to 55 years to life in prison for trafficking in heroin and oxycodone powder. Just days before Major’s sentencing, a Harpersfield man was accused of smuggling oxycodone powder out of the Covidien pharmaceutical plant in Hobart. Law enforcement officials said the arrest of Robert Willsey stemmed from the investigation into Major’s Hobart-based drug operation.
In September, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department introduced its first K-9 unit. Ozzie, a German shepherd trained to sniff out drugs, made a bust on his first day on the job.
Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond told The Daily Star that the arrest was a sign of the times.
“The problem is definitely here, and it’s expanding and getting worse,” DuMond said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would see something like that in Delaware County.”
3. OTSEGO MOVES FORWARD WITH NURSING HOME SALE
Although the Otsego County Board of Representatives had voted to sell the county-owned nursing home back in 2012, the sale seemed anything but certain at the start of the year.
In February, Acting Otsego County State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio ruled on a lawsuit filed in 2012 alleging that the board had violated public meetings law when it voted to sell the Manor.
Cerio found in favor of the union, meaning the county board would have to vote again. But this proved to be little more than a bump in the road, as the measure passed again on the second vote.
By 2014, it is likely that either VestraCare, based in Johnson City, or Focus Ventures LLC of Airmont will be operating what is now known as Otsego Manor. Both companies’ bids include commitments to keep the facility operating for at least 10 years.
4. GAS FIGHT CONTINUES
Proponents and opponents of natural gas development had to be patient in 2013, as the two central questions that define the local debate — the proposed Constitution Pipeline and the possibility of horizontal hydraulic fracturing — remained unsettled.
With natural gas development moratoriums enacted in Otego and Oneonta, and bans passed in Andes, Hartwick, Meredith and Butternuts, anti-frack activists had something to cheer about in 2013. The local decisions were bolstered by a ruling that came down in May upholding the right of towns to ban shale gas drilling.
Meanwhile, plans to construct the 122-mile Constitution Pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright limped along during 2013.
In June, planners finally completed their federal filing, making it clear that the pipeline would not follow the Interstate 88 corridor, as many had hoped, but would instead cut through privately owned lands in Schoharie, Chenango and Delaware counties.
While awaiting a response from the Federal Environmental Review Commission, the company acknowledged in late December that it may not hit its target completion date of March 2015. A FERC ruling is expected in 2014.
5. NORWICH MAN accused of murdering wife
A missing person case turned into a murder charge in 2013, as Ganesh “Remy” Ramsaran of Norwich was arrested in connection with the death of his wife, Jennifer.
Jennifer Ramsaran, 36, had gone missing in December 2012, and as the year drew to a close, the Chenango County Sheriff’s Department was still hard at work trying to determine her whereabouts.
But in February, a body was found in the town of Pharsalia, not far from where Ganesh Ramsaran said he located his wife’s phone one day after he reported her missing. By the end of February, Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting confirmed that the body was that of Jennifer Ramsaran.
On May 17, Ganesh Ramsaran was arrested at his Norwich home and charged with second-degree murder. Despite efforts by Ackerman to have Ramsaran freed on bail, the 38-year-old was remanded to the Chenango County jail, where he awaits trial, expected to begin in the spring.
6. OFFICIALS FACE CLOSE ELECTIONS, TIGHT BUDGETS
November’s county and village elections were proof positive of the aphorism that every vote counts, as several local races came down to the wire.
Despite initial optimism by Otsego County Democrats that they could break the longtime GOP majority on the board, they failed to capture the necessary seats and the Republicans in fact gained ground.
Otsego also budgeted for raises, but with a minimal increase to the budget levy — a proposal that became more controversial when the county announced it would be ending its hot-meal delivery program for seniors, citing cost as a factor.
The proposed 3.82 percent tax increase in Delaware County, which will exceed the state tax cap, proved divisive for the board and county residents, with citizens questioning everything from the use of sheriff’s vehicles to privatization of mental health services.
7. LOCAL TEACHERS, PARENTS PROTEST COMMON CORE
Area schools got their first look at the common core curriculum in April 2013, when students in grades 3 through 8 were given newly toughened math and English Language Arts tests.
State officials had warned that lower scores would be the norm, but local officials appeared to take the test results mostly in stride. Not everyone was so optimistic, however. In April, a Sharon Springs Central School teacher’s letter complaining about the standardized tests went viral on Facebook, calling attention to the challenges posed to both students and teachers by the new regime.
The year closed with more questions than answers about how districts will reconcile the demands of the state with the needs of students and teachers who feel constrained by the current model.
8. COOPERSTOWN HAS A YEAR OF BAD LUCK
The home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame has had its ups and downs. But 2013 was something of a perfect storm for Cooperstown.
The bad news came first in January, when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America failed to induct anyone in to the Hall for the Class of 2013.
The recorded crowd for the induction ceremony was 2,500 fans — about one-seventh of what the Hall considers an “average” attendance.
9. MOTORCYCLE TRACK DRAWS NEIGHBORS’ IRE
By the time the New York Safety Track was ready to open in the spring of 2013, it had already weathered fierce opposition from neighbors critical of the proposed motorcycle training facility.
Shortly after the track opened in May, more than 30 Harpersfield-area residents filed a lawsuit against not only the company, but also the town officials who had given the project the green light.
The lawsuit is still pending.
10. LANDLORDS MOVE TO BLOCK STUDENT APARTMENTS
Outcry turned to action in 2013 as area landlords and business owners attempted to halt the construction of a student apartment complex near the SUNY Oneonta campus.
The protests fell on deaf ears, as the Common Council recommended, and the county approved, a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal for the development. The last gasp of the opposition, a lawsuit filed in July, was settled by August; work began on the project shortly thereafter.