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January 4, 2014

County reps brace for busy year

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Otsego County lawmakers are expected to tackle a menu of new issues in 2014 — such as figuring how to make their agencies more efficient — and finish some projects long in the making.

Among initiatives remaining on the front burner are the efforts to sell the 174-bed Otsego Manor public nursing home, make a clean break from the regional trash authority known as MOSA and install an upgraded $3 million emergency telecommunications system for police, firefighters and other first responders.

“You’ve got to finish what you started,” said Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, a member of the Otsego County Healthcare Facilities Corp., the local development corporation created for the specific task of marketing and selling the Manor.

In an effort to ensure taxpayers are getting the most bang for the buck out of county agencies, the chairwoman of the county’s Board of Representatives, Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, has reconstituted the dormant Government Efficiency Committee.

She tapped one of the board’s newest members, Rep. Rick Hulse Jr., R-Fly Creek, to be its chairman.

Clark said if there are opportunities to eliminate duplication of services or to collaborate and pool resources with nearby counties, Otsego County ought to be exploring them.

The panel, she said, “will be charged with examining the way in which we deliver services to our constituents, and seeking the most efficient manner to do it.”

Along the way, the committee will look to find ways to make county government more user-friendly by looking to institute “one-stop shopping” rather than having different agencies administer similar if not identical tasks, she said.

Any bureaucracy, she said, has a tendency to become complacent and carry out its mission in the same way it has been for years “because that’s the way it’s always done,” Clark said.

Cutting county jobs, Clark said, “is not the objective of the committee.”

Also assigned to the committee are Lindberg, the first county official to ring the warning bell on what others later agreed was the deteriorating financial position of the Otsego Manor, and freshman Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta. Like Hulse, Gelbsman is also a businessman.

Clark said she was excited by what she called the high motivation level of the new representatives, including Reps. Ed Lentz, D-New Lisbon, and Janet Hurley-Quackenbush, R-town of Oneonta.

The variety of skills the new representatives bring to the county board, she said, will help it wrestle with the many complex challenges before the county at a time when resources are scare and the state has shown no sign of offering relief for unfunded mandates.

“They are all really enthusiastic,” she said.

At the county board’s first board meeting of the new year this week, Clark was re-installed as chairman while Rep. Ed Frazier Jr., R-Unadilla, was elected vice-chairman, a position previously filled by Democrat Rich Murphy of the town of Oneonta. Murphy did not seek re-election last fall.

Lentz and Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, both said they will urge that the county tune-up its job creation and economic development efforts in order to attract more young people to the region and give those already here a reason to stay.

Coincidentally, an annual survey by Atlas Van Lines, released this week, found that New York was once again high on the list of states with more people moving to other states than are arriving from other states. New York was second highest in the nation with 59 percent of the moving company’s business in New York involving customers leaving the state.

Powers, a farmer, said he questions the county’s current economic development model and believes there should be greater emphasis in nurturing its potential in the agriculture sector. He suggested the county spawn businesses that could follow in the footsteps of Chobani, the yogurt company located just across the Unadilla River from South Edmeston in Chenango County.

Frazier, in a statement, also stressed the need to do more to create jobs and spark economic activity.

Lentz suggested that the county develop an energy policy.

“The days of inexpensive energy are over,” said Lentz, a patent lawyer who also farms his land.

Citing the flooding devastation that took place in upstate New York in 2011 — when nearby Schoharie and Greene counties were especially hard-hit — Lentz said it would behoove the county to identify ways to safeguard itself from adverse weather events.

Leading the local development corporation created to privatize the Manor is Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-city of Oneonta. The Manor sale is no longer in the hands of the county board, she noted. Stuligross said she hopes that the nursing home sale will be completed before the end of this year.

A veteran of six years with the county board, Stuligross said she is hoping the panel will develop a vision, then act on a strategic plan for improving opportunities for county residents.

“So far, the board has been reactive, when we need to be proactive,” Stuligross said. “Right now, we’re putting out fires.”