County taps intern's expertise to cope with fiscal crisis

Contributed Jared Nepa gives the valedictorian speech at the Unatego graduation ceremony for the class of 2016.

Jared Nepa’s internships with Otsego County have never been typical, but this summer is a county government story no one anticipated: one of the most important people helping Otsego find ways to survive a crash in its 2020 revenues is a three-year intern from Otego.

“I am a little lucky,” Nepa told The Daily Star during a phone interview Friday, May 29. “My college doesn’t usually offer money for internships for graduating seniors, but this year, because of everything that has been going on, they did offer them, even for telecommuting work. It’s only three months, but it is something.”

Nepa is a 2016 Unatego Central School graduate and recent graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton with a degree in economics. He has interned with the county since his sophomore year of college, thanks in part to high school physics tutoring Nepa gave to a Unatego classmate and friend, Cassidy Frazier, daughter of County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla.

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles has thanked Frazier for recommending Nepa repeatedly in meetings over the years. Ruffles said Nepa’s volunteer efforts at the beginning of the crisis helped create sliding models to estimate various levels of revenue losses and the effects of mitigation measures.

The numbers have been grim. Otsego County gets 55% of its revenue from sales tax and state aid. The state aid is still an unknown piece of information, but baseline suggestions start at 20% to 30% reductions. Tax revenue is down about 30% in the first month of the “On Pause” executive order, and the summer tourism season has mostly been canceled, leading to a baseline projection of a loss of more than $12 million in revenues.

In response, the county has taken many extreme measures, including laying off 59 people in 51 full- and part-time positions, a hiring freeze, canceling projects and budget cuts across almost all departments.

With each lamented decision, the models show the savings against the deficits. The gravity of it weighs on Nepa and his boss, he said.

“He hates to be that (guy),” Nepa said. “I know he was upset. He has to be the one that acknowledges to everybody that there are reasons they have to make these difficult decisions. That’s not easy.”

The pandemic has taxed Nepa and his family in more ways than work. He said they were quarantined last week after he started showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Nepa turned 22 on Sunday, May 24, had a virtual college graduation ceremony and had a chest X-ray to look at his lungs. Antibody tests had been inconclusive, he said, for him and his father. His sister and mother have tests pending.

“I have COVID-like symptoms, but I really don’t feel that bad,” he said. “I have had some lung problems. But the testing has not said anything. It’s really confusing.

“My family has been doing all the social distancing,” he said. “My mom said she has had some symptoms, but I don’t know if she’s just being anxious.”

Still, Nepa is never far away from another piece of information that might help him help Otsego County, if only by presenting more accurate news, good or bad.

After the summer and the pandemic end, Nepa said he is interested in getting his master’s degree in social work.

“Economics and social work, that’s quite a combination,” he said.

In previous summers with the county, Nepa helped officials overhaul their software by switching to Munis and worked on tax auctions. When Ruffles’ unit in the National Guard deployed to Africa for almost all of 2019, Nepa took on extra work, coming in during winter break to help ease the transition.

“And then this summer,” he said, “it has definitely been like being thrown into a world on fire.”

 Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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