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

November 7, 2012

Council hears complaints on safety, redistricting

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — Complaints about the realignment of two wards and concerns over public safety and police ranks prompted some heated discussions Tuesday night at the Common Council meeting in City Hall.

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller reviewed budget worksheets for this and next year, pointing out that projected deficits for both years have been reduced but still must be considered in the long-term planning for the city’s fiscal welfare. The earlier projected 2012 deficit of $1,061,226 has been reduced to $118,646 in part because of sales tax revenues, he said.

The 2013 deficit originally was projected at $1,118,853 and has been trimmed to $959,442, Miller said, and he provided council members with options to reduce the shortfall further to $428,942.

The plan didn’t suggest layoffs, which Miller favored avoiding, but did recommend removing two vacant police officer positions and two vacant posts in the Department of Public Works for a total savings of $253,000 and reducing the mayor and council member salaries by $16,000.

Several council members objected to removing police officers for public safety reasons.

Maureen Hennessy, council member of the First Ward, also objected to cutting the members pay because in the nine years she has served, members have received one $100 increase.

Miller said the recommended cut of $16,000 included reductions of $7,000 for the mayor’s salary and a $1,500 cut per council member. Pay reductions were considered in part because the city this year hired a manager and responsibilities and work loads are expected to change.

The mayor earns about $19,000 annually, city officials said, and council members earn $7,000.

The proposed budget will be distributed next week as required by the City Charter, a week before being laid on the table at the council meeting of Nov. 20. A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 27, and the plan is scheduled for adoption Dec. 4.

The mayor said the council would have another workshop on redistricting and tentatively set it for 6 p.m. Nov. 20, before the next Common Council meeting.

Madolyn Palmer, council member of the Fifth Ward, and Chip Holmes, member representing the Eighth Ward, objected to the proposed revised map, prompting the scheduling of another workshop to review realigned wards in a plan developed by a specially appointed Redistricting Commission.

The proposed map doesn’t clearly define where residents live in some areas, the two council members said.

“I don’t think any of us understand it,’’ Palmer said.

Palmer said she was “swamped’’ with calls Tuesday from constituents who were concerned they would be reassigned to the Eighth Ward after spending their lives in the Fifth Ward. The 64 percent of students in the newly drawn Fifth Ward also was an issue, she said.

Holmes was critical about the proposal being considered.

“The Fifth Ward and the Eighth Ward are destroyed,’’ he said. Holmes said he favored the proposed map that was drawn from “scratch,’’ instead of adjusting existing ward lines.

The Redistricting Commission looked at six or seven versions of realigned wards as it worked to adjust district populations to comply with 2010 census figures.

No major objections or concerns were raised when the Redistricting Commission presented the plan at a Common Council meeting last month or during a public hearing Monday night. Holmes said he didn’t attend the hearing Monday to avoid creating a political environment.

Miller said the commission moved forward with the public hearing based the results of its previous presentation to the council, and he stressed the need to share comments at the workshop.

“If you have views on this, I want you to come to the meeting,’’ Miller said.