COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County government will include a county administrator beginning in 2020, after the position was approved by the Board of Representatives at its monthly meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 197 Main St.
The local law to create the position passed with 11 of the 14 representatives voting for it. Kathy Clark, R-Laurens and Otego, and Keith McCarty, R-Richfield and Springfield, voted against it. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, an opponent of the position, was not at the meeting. The weighted vote was 4,860 for, 929 against and 439 absent.
The vote came at the end of the board's meeting, which included a 30-minute public hearing about the position, which was created after a two-year study by the board's Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
However, the position was not universally popular, with several members or the board and the public decrying it.
"It is striking to me that the people who have the most experience (on the board) are the ones against the change," Clark said.
Clark, the former board chair, who is retiring after eight years as a representative, gave a passionate speech about the success of the county's Board of Representatives during her term of leadership, as well as before and after. She said she has doubts about the county's ability to get the right person for the position, and that the wrong person would lead to the county having a disaster on its hands. She also said she thinks the board members should give up part of their salaries to fund the position.
McCarty said he thought the 14 current members of the board were as talented as he had ever worked with, so he wondered why they felt they needed help.
"You people are underestimating yourselves," he said.
"I really feel like this is a mistake," he continued.
The board debated the position for about 30 minutes with most of the members explaining their views on the position. A couple, Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield and Roseboom, and IGA Committee Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon, said they changed their opinion in favor of an administrator after going through the process of studying county governments in New York.
Bliss said he shares Clark's concerns about getting the right person. He also said it is important to use the correct terminology for the position, noting it will be an administrator, not a manager or executive. He said the workload for the representatives will change, but not decrease.
Other supporters of the position said it will help the representatives to look at the bigger picture of running the county and setting policy, rather than getting bogged down in the daily minutia of running an organization with more than 100 employees and a $119 million budget.
"It is not a binary choice," Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, said. "It is a question of can we do better."
Eight people spoke at the public hearing about the position, with five against it and three in support of it.
The position is projected to have a salary of about $100,000 with an addition $50,000 going to benefits. About half of that money is budgeted for 2020, as the position is expected to be filled mid-year after a six-month job search. The administrator will answer to the Board of Representatives rather than take power from them. The position is designed so the administrator will be the chief budget officer, the daily supervisor for county affairs and point person on long-term planning, helping the county with grant finding and project organization.
The board also passed the 2020 budget, with only Clark voting against it. She said she would not vote for the budget if it still contained the money for the administrator position.
The 2020 budget has a total appropriation of about $119 million up from about $116 million in 2019. The new budget projects revenues of about $107 million, leaving a shortfall of $12.1 million to be collected via an increase in the tax levy. That shortfall is up about $436,000 from 2019. The levy will increase by 3.7%, which will keep it under the state-mandated tax cap, according to Assistant Treasurer Andrew Crisman.
Board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, said he wanted to praise County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who has been an active participant in the budget process despite being on a nine-month deployment in Africa with his Army Reserve unit, the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion.
Ruffles attended the budget meetings via a video link.
"He was always with us, and he was always prepared," Koutnik said.