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October 2, 2013

Mayor: City manager Long is 'doing fine'

Officials say executive was wise addition

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A parks master plan, grants to support infrastructure and development and an economic plan for downtown are among projects fostered by Oneonta’s first city manager.

Year No. 1 has just finished for Michael Long, 57, who joined the city Oct. 1, 2012, at a salary of $115,000.

The Common Council hired Long to fill a position created in the City Charter, which was approved by voters in November 2011 and took effect Jan. 1, 2012. Before the change, the mayor and council members, who serve on committees, were involved in the mechanics of city business.

Adding the executive position and hiring Long have benefited the city, according to the mayor and a Common Council member.

Long’s formal review by the council will be in December, Mayor Dick Miller said Monday.

But indications are that the city is on-track with an executive manager handling day-to-day operations, which allows elected representatives more time to spend on policy, Miller said. Long requested and has been given informal reviews in April and September, Miller said.

“He is doing fine,” Miller said. “We’re all working to make sure his contributions in the city are being maximized — we’re confident we’re on the right track.”

Long has brought skills developed in other municipalities plus a passion for planning that has benefited the city through the completed parks master plan and development of an economic plan for downtown.

In August, state officials announced that nine projects in Otsego County, mostly in the town and city of Oneonta, won $1.9 million in state funding.

The city projects included the Wilber Park bathhouse restoration at $241,000; the Catella Well No. 1 Pump House reconstruction and well expansion project at $242,000; the Latte Lounge expansion at $41,000; and a housing acquisition and rehabilitation project in the city, which will work with Housing Visions organization under a $400,000 grant. Also, $200,000 in funding was awarded to Otsego County Micro-Enterprise Grants, including three downtown Oneonta projects.

The city’s awards signal a benefit of having a city manager, Miller said, and though not all credit goes to the city manager, Long played a major role in the city’s success. The Catella Well No. 1 project wouldn’t have been funded if Long hadn’t been involved, the mayor said.

A year ago, Long was new to Oneonta’s budget process. On Tuesday night, the mayor announced that the council will continue working on the 2014 budget, which has a greater-than-projected deficit gap of $1.6 million.

The city manager, with help from the director of finance, is required to present a budget to be approved by the eight-member Common Council.

Oneonta faces budget hurdles, including the governor’s 2 percent cap on property taxes, though the city fiscally is ahead of many other municipalities across the state, said Long, who attributed the status to work by mayor and council on the city’s five-year plan.

In the past couple of years, the city has spent a lot on capital projects, such as reconstruction of Spruce Street, Long said, and whether that level of spending can be maintained is a question to be answered.

“We’re just starting to get into the budget process,” Long said Monday.

Long said challenges ahead, in addition to the annual budget, include working toward long-term financial stability and implementing projects funded by the grants awarded this year.

“We’re going to be very busy,” Long said. “We have a lot of really positive things going on.”

Miller said the addition of a city manager has been a big change for the city, a process that will continue into the months and years ahead.

Organization of city departments and their cooperation have been good results of having a city manager, said Common Council member David Rissberger of the Third Ward, and the matching of city needs and grant resources also was a benefit to Oneonta.

Rissberger agreed that the city’s success in grant awards was a good indication of Long’s abilities and what he can do for the city.

Rissberger also applauded Long’s work with the housing steering committee that identified housing issues and objectives for projects, specifically opportunities with the Housing Visions program.

“He’s been meeting my expectations,” Rissberger said. “I think he’s done a very good job so far.”

Long said the position in Oneonta has been “great” and has mostly been as he expected, except for working with a municipal airport. Long praised the many volunteers who have served to the benefit of city governance and quality of life. Another local asset is the cooperation among local nonprofit organizations and community and other groups, he said.

“Oneonta’s a very friendly community. Every one has been very welcoming. Everyone has been very supportive.” Long said. “It feels like a pretty fast year.”