Opportunity came knocking Oneonta’s way in January 1978 in the form of filling a large vacant lot on Academy Street with a senior citizen retirement center. Oneonta embraced the idea but in the end, the developer had a change of heart. The dividing issue was over property taxes.
Ever since the old Oneonta Junior High School closed on Academy Street after June 1976 and the two school buildings had been torn down, a vacant lot had been created, destined for some kind of development. On that site today are the Academy Arms and James F. Lettis apartment complexes.
What was then called the Wyoming Conference of the United Methodist Church approached the city of Oneonta with a plan for a three-building multimillion dollar senior citizen complex on that empty lot. Included in the plan were about 100 jobs, to stimulate the local economy by about $150,000 a month. The Wyoming Conference made it clear that the property could not be taxable by the city, or else they might look elsewhere.
Mayor James Lettis and city assessor Calvert Bailey discussed the matter. Lettis said the proposed center “should be taxed like any other private development property.” Most of the city’s Common Council agreed, as reported Saturday, Jan. 28.
The Daily Star conducted an informal, unscientific poll Jan. 30, with names selected from the city’s telephone directory. Out of 30 people contacted, 17 felt the proposed retirement complex should be taxed.
S. Lowell Barnes, executive director of the Methodist Homes for the Aging in the Wyoming Conference said: “We’re trying to bring new industry to the city. We will also be providing a needed service to 150 older citizens.”
Barnes added that if the tax is levied, “it could influence our organization not to build in the city because of the possible ramifications it could have on our other facilities.” The Methodist Homes for the Aging paid no taxes on similar facilities in an area covering northeast Pennsylvania and New York’s Southern Tier.