COOPERSTOWN — A county administrator position might not pay for itself immediately, but the job would benefit Otsego County in the long run, supporters of the position told members of the public Tuesday, Nov. 19, at an information session at the Otsego County Courthouse.
Members of the county’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee spoke at the session, which was moderated by Liane Hirabayashi of the Cooperstown chapter of the League of Women Voters. About 15 people were in the audience at the Cooperstown session, but a third were other Otsego County Representatives, and several more were LWV officials. A similar session was held in Oneonta last week.
IGA Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon, said she understands the new position is controversial and not universally popular.
“I did just have the same conversation with my dad last week,” she said, “and he was not a convert, just so you know.”
However, Kennedy, who caucuses with the board’s Republicans, and her four committee members — three Democrats and a Republican — said they are united on the position, forging a consensus during a two-year process of reviewing Otsego County government.
The group considered writing a county charter to allow an election for a county executive, but settled on the idea of hiring an administrator after studying the other forms of county government in New York.
The IGA committee surveyed the county’s department heads, interviewed officials from other counties, and worked with the county attorney and personnel director to draft a job listing for the administrator, which would be a termed position that needs to be renewed every two years when a new board is sworn in.
The administrator would serve as the county’s day-to-day manager, the chief budget officer and the liaison with the public and with other governmental officials. According to county law, the position can not diminish the powers of the county representatives.
Kennedy thanked Hirabayashi and the LWV for hosting the forum on the 100th anniversary of the league forming in New York. Hirabayashi said she was there to moderate and not take a position on the position, but LWV officials disclosed that the Oneonta LWV chapter first advocated for a county manager in 1990.
Almost three decades later, the position seems likely to be approved. Supporters said they believe they have the votes to approve the position, which will have an annual salary of about $100,000 and cost about $50,000 more in benefits. About half of that amount is in the county’s 2020 budget, because the committee members anticipate a six-month job search.
A handful of people questioned the committee members Tuesday, and the cost of the position was one subject mentioned several times.
Board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, who was a member of the audience, said the position will save the county money, because the representatives can work from a position of “being in charge, rather than being in crisis.”
Supporters of the position said having a full-time person looking over county affairs will allow for greater efficiency in solving budget problems, looking for grant money, running daily operations and facilitating long-term planning.
Rep. Pete Oberacker, R-Decatur, Maryland, Westford, Worcester, said he believes hiring an administrator will allow him to focus on serving his four towns. Oberacker is also chair of the Public Works Committee, and he said he worries about the small amount of time part-time legislators have to deal with major issues.
“I am one of those people who get excited about what could potentially go right (with the position),” he said.
There will also be a public hearing about the position, which would be created via Local Law C of 2019. The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, in the county board room at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown. The law is expected to be voted on the same day, during the board’s December meeting.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.