With races in only four city wards on Election Day, the eight candidates talked about economic development, the proposed city charter and student and family housing, among other issues at a candidates' forum Wednesday.
Barbara Ann Heegan and Larry Malone are vying for a Second Ward seat. Incumbent Madolyn Palmer is being challenged by Dan Rorick in the Fifth Ward. Mike Naples and Russ Southard are facing off in the Sixth Ward. Barry Holden and Stanley "Chip" Holmes are locked in a race in the Eighth Ward. The candidates debated at a League of Women Voters of the Oneonta Area forum at SUNY Oneonta.
One the issue of economic development, Heegan said the city should encourage "walkability" as a way to enhance the city and improve property values.
She also said she was in favor of "green" businesses.
Malone said he felt small business growth is a key to Oneonta's future economy and said it was unrealistic to expect a large corporation to suddenly set up shop in or near the city.
Palmer, who has been on the Common Council for about a year, said the city needs to keep store fronts from being empty.
"We need to fill those buildings up. We can't have vacant windows," she said.
Rorick said he supports lowering property taxes to stimulate economic growth and also said he would rather see small business grow, rather than a corporation suddenly arriving.
Naples said he would follow the lead of the city of Rochester and lodge fees for various service against properties owned by tax-exempt non-profit groups. Several candidates noted that about half the properties in the city are tax-exempt.
"It's something to bring revenue back in," Naples said.
Southard said the city should look to develop the railyards.
However, Naples said he wasn't sure the city would be in a position to provide water and sewer to the area for new businesses. He also said that although a proposes wood-burning power plant in the city had pros and cons, some residents were too quick shut down that project.
Holden said the city should do more to cater to baseball tourists, some of whom he said found little to do downtown.
"We have to get downtown developed. They are coming up here with money. Let's take if from them," he said.
On the issue of student versus family housing, Palmer said the council is aware of the problems.
The council wants students to be in safe housing, she said.
But she also said she doesn't think the city can tell a property owner what they can or can't do with their properties.
Palmer said she is also concerned about vacant homes that are off the tax rolls.
Southard suggested the city look at ways it can give grants to families who purchase vacated homes in tax auctions so they can fix the properties.
Holmes, who is on the city Zoning Board of Appeals, said there are efforts to try and improve the housing situation.
"A lot of houses are in rough shape," Holmes said.
He suggested the city come up with a plan to give tax breaks or rebates to people who purchase and improve properties.
All eight candidates said they supported the city charter revision, although some questioned the scope of powers to be had by the city manager.
Rorick said any expansion of authority could lead to an abuse of authority.
He said he hopes the Common Council and mayor would be willing to exert authority over the city manager.
Naples suggested the city look even further at itself and said a "professional, licensed, full-time engineer is needed. He also said city work crews have been depleted by people leaving and there are no more "tradesmen" bringing expertise to the job.
Holden said the position of city manger will pay for itself as government is streamlined.
"I think it's like taking an old, windy road and straightening it out.
Holmes said the city manager would be the ideal person to lead the effort to seek out new businesses to come to Oneonta.
He also said the council and the mayor would have to keep a tight leash on a new city manager, but he also said that during the interview process for hiring one, the city's expectations could be made clear.
Heegan cautioned city managers have an average stay of 5 to 7 years and the city needs to be prepared for that.
Malone, a member of the Charter Revision Commission, said a lot of thought was put into it and the city manager emerged as the most viable option, over going to a full-time mayor.
The future of the Oneonta Municipal Airport was also debated.
Malone said he would want to study the issue of privatization of the Oneonta Municipal Airport and suggested the area did not need airports in Sidney, Norwich and Oneonta.
"I think it come more in the category of a luxury than a necessity," Malone said.
Malone said he recognizes the benefit of it, but noted that not many Oneonta residents are private flyers.
Palmer said she is against privatization.
Rorick said he thought selling the airport could be a good thing.
Naples questioned how much money the city invests in the airport and said he is in favor of getting selling the airport to a private business.
Southard said his "gut feeling" would be to privatize it.
"I am not so sure the taxpayers are getting a benefit out of it," he said.
Holden and Holmes said they had no positions on the airport.