By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — When Otsego County voters went to the polls four years ago, it was a certainty that the election would crown a new county treasurer.
On Tuesday, the same two candidates in the 2009 contest, incumbent Dan Crowell, a Democrat, and Republican-backed Edward Keator Jr., face each other again.
This time, the race is infused with fresh drama, ignited when Crowell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, announced he would not seek re-election. But he switched gears after Democrats realized they could not get his name off the ballot and his would-be successor, Russ Bachman, failed to withstand GOP scrutiny of his nominating petitions.
After Keator was defeated by Crowell in 2009, he was appointed the treasurer of the Village of Cooperstown. This year, he didn’t materialize as the GOP’s anointed candidate until after Crowell initially attempted to take himself out of the race. Since then, county Republicans have tried to paint Crowell as being insincere about his commitment to the elected office and insinuated that he will vacate the office again in 2014 and appoint Bachman once again as acting treasurer.
The Democrats have argued that it’s unseemly for the Republicans to make an issue out Crowell’s commitment to his military obligations and contend his performance as treasurer has been stellar.
In an interview, Crowell pointed to what he said was his success in refinancing the bond for the Otsego Manor nursing home, a move that saved $1.6 million in finance costs. Another highlight of his tenure, he said, was restructuring the health plan for county employees, an action that also yielded significant savings. He also touted his efforts to involve managers of county agencies in what he called an ongoing attempt to make county government as efficient as possible.
Last year, after Crowell produced documentation to show that the county’s multi-million-dollar subsidy to the Otsego Manor was destined to spiral even higher, the county board decided to try to privatize the 174-bed facility. A local development corporation was formed to handle that task, and proposals from an array of health care companies are under consideration.
Crowell said that, in hindsight, there could have been stronger focus by county officials in reducing costs at the Manor. But with reductions in the reimbursement rates for federal health care programs and rising pension and benefit obligations, the facility was destined to become unsustainable for the county.
“The state government is pushing municipalities out of this business,” he said. “The thing is that in New York state, the municipalities are dealing with too much baggage put on them in terms of how Medicaid and Medicare are administered. It’s too much for us to overcome.”
Looking forward, Crowell said, if voters give him a second term, he will work to make county government more “pro-active,” and less “reactive.”
“The next four years are going to offer us an opportunity to really rethink and potentially restructure how we do what we do,” the Middlefield resident said.
Keator is familiar with the workings of the county treasurer’s office. He worked there from 2007 to 2009 as an assistant to then-Treasurer Myrna Thane. In 2009, he had a disagreement with Thane, resigned and ended up beating her in the Republican primary before losing to Crowell that November.
In an interview, Keator said: “I am running for this office because I believe there needs to be a change and there needs to be stability in that office. “
Keator said he has had more than 30 years of experience working in the financial world, including a stint at an accounting firm.
“I have an understanding of how that office works and the budget process and the importance of interactions with other departments,” he said.
If elected, he said, he plans to take a desk for at least one day a week in the open work area of the treasurer’s office, located on the ground floor of the county office building in Cooperstown, to show his staff that he is part of the team and to build employee morale.
Keator said he had been concerned with the Manor’s finances while working in the treasurer’s office under Thane. However, he said, at that time, the Manor’s then-administrator, Ed Marchi, was only required to produce financial reports for the county board’s Manor Committee and did not supply them to the treasurer’s office.
Keator said he believes county officials took too long to get on top of the Manor’s deteriorating financial condition.
“If they had known this, say, three years ago, it would have given them time to come up with a plan,” he said. “They wouldn’t have had to do this rush-rush, let’s get rid of this. It would have given them time.”
Keator called Crowell’s performance as treasurer “adequate,” while accusing the incumbent of being less than prudent with the fund balance, and planning to take about $2.5 million of it to balance the proposed budget being offered for 2014.
Crowell’s budget plan, which is expected to be reviewed by county representatives in the coming weeks, calls for a property tax increase of less than 1 percent, well under the state’s current tax cap, which for 2014 is set at 1.66 percent.
Keator questioned Crowell’s intentions on keeping the office and suggested the incumbent is only running again in order to engineer Bachman’s reappointment as the acting treasurer.
“The stories keep changing even when he (Crowell) is back in the mix,” Keator said. “What story do you want the residents of Otsego County to actually believe? He is all over the charts with what’s going on.”
Crowell denied claims that he is only running again to line up Bachman as his replacement, and said he will serve out the full four-year term if re-elected. He said if he is redeployed by the Army, he said it will likely to be for only three to six months, less than the roughly eight months he was away from the office in 2013.