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June 25, 2013

City, town discuss shared interests

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The town and city of Oneonta are taking steps toward addressing the economic future of the greater community — together.

The town of Oneonta’s recent comprehensive plan survey provided some grist to discuss shared interests with the city, particularly economic development, according to Mayor Dick Miller.

The mayor has invited the town of Oneonta to collaborate on a website, some water services and economic development, among other avenues. Topics have been reviewed at recent meetings of each municipality.

Town Supervisor Robert Wood responded to the mayor’s June 7 letter with mixed reactions. But Wood’s June 13 reply included an invitation to next month’s Oneonta Town Board meeting to make a presentation regarding economic development, and talks have started about a website and telephone notification system.

The town of Oneonta, which surrounds the city of Oneonta, has a population of about 5,230, according to the 2010 census. Most commercial and residential development in the area in the last several decades has been in the town.

The city has a population of about 13,900, the census said. It features a small urban core with a historic Main Street, surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The city is home to A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital and Hartwick College. The SUNY Oneonta campus is partially located in the city.

Miller has advocated a merger and increased shared services as ways the municipalities can save money and improve services. Meanwhile, it would be extremely difficult to find any member of the town board who is in favor of a merger.

Last spring, Miller proposed that a joint city-town committee study merger options, but no such panel was formed. In his recent letter, Miller said he was surprised that in the town’s recent comprehensive plan survey, only 58 percent of those responding opposed a merger.

However, in May, 56 percent of Oneonta town residents responding to a Zogby survey opposed the idea of a merger with the city.

“I am not naive enough to think that there will be any immediate steps taken in support of the idea,” Miller wrote.

Wood replied that Councilman Scott Gravelin, chairman of the town’s committee that was examining implications of a merger, would have a report at the board’s next meeting.

Miller said, based on dissatisfaction shown in the survey regarding economic development, the town and city “have a real opportunity to work aggressively together.”

“Growing the local private sector economy is the key to the stable provision of services by both city and town governments and enhancing the quality of life for all of us,” Miller wrote. “We need more and more highly paying jobs. Whether the jobs are in the city or town makes little difference. Their impact is felt regionally.”

Miller suggested four “simple steps” to begin a joint effort. Below are some suggestions and Wood’s response:

• The town and city allocate $50,000 annually to fund marketing/promotion and economic development with a professional person and by establishing an “Oneonta Development Corp.” or similar entity.

Wood said the town board, which discussed Miller’s letter June 12, would “be supportive of funding such a position or organization under certain circumstances.” The board invited Miller to attend its meeting at 7:30 p.m. July 10 to present details. 

“I would like to meet with you prior to that date to talk about our concerns and assist in the formulation of the presentation and the possible combinations of ideas that will benefit all of us,” Wood wrote.

Miller said a group has been formed to work on a regional strategy and explore opportunities, and he suggested the town appoint someone “as a formal commitment to working together on this important subject.” Miller said he convened the informal group in January and it includes representatives from government, business, economic agencies and the community.

The town board has appointed Councilman David Jones, Wood said.

• Miller also addressed the issue of water services on Southside Oneonta, which is in the town.

“The lack of public water continues to inhibit more growth on Southside, which is in the entire region’s interest,’’ Miller wrote.

The town board voted to approach Otsego County to be its co-funding source and will be pursuing that plan, Wood replied.

“We remain open to the idea of purchasing water from the city for the district, but only if we can demonstrate an economic advantage to town taxpayers,” Wood wrote. “As we put our financial package together and make presentations to the public, we will include the city to a larger extent.”

The town seeks support from the county to create a water district in the Southside, state Route 23, business district. The corridor is about 2.5 miles long and has about 85 businesses that have more than 1,500 employees. All the businesses are using well water, according to a town document. 

Southside has sewer service.

The Administration Committee of the Otsego County Board of Representatives in October rejected a proposal by the town to co-fund a water district on Southside. The town is preparing another request.

• Miller suggested that the city and town consolidate websites. Each municipality would have links for information, but the home page would be for the community and be “marketing-oriented.” He estimated the town’s cost at $2,500.

“We will be happy to continue this conversation,” Wood said. However, the town board had concerns about “the general populations’ frequent inability to determine the difference between the city and the town.”

Wood said the town board voted to accept the city’s proposal to be on the city’s contract for global telephone communications services for $500.

Miller said he was very pleased with the town’s response. Discussions are underway about the website and the global communications telephone system, he said, and the town’s support toward the county-wide economic group to address economic development also is “very positive.”