Schumer visits, urges federal aid for municipalities

Greg Klein | The Daily Star U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks Wednesday, July 15, in front of Doubleday Field in Cooperstown as, from left, Otsego County Board Chair Dave Bliss, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh look on.

COOPERSTOWN — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer visited Wednesday, July 8, using Doubleday Field as a backdrop to tell the story of struggling municipalities and imploring the Senate to pass a new stimulus package with direct aid to local governments.

“I am here to say we need to bring help to our localities and we need to bring it quickly,” Schumer said.

“Whether its Cooperstown or Oneonta or larger cities like Utica, my father’s hometown, we need real help,” he continued. “The only place that can really help the localities, and the state, is the federal government.”

Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, Otsego County Board Chair Dave Bliss and Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles joined Schumer, the Senate minority leader for the Democrats.

The two mayors are Democrats and the two county officials are Republicans, leading Schumer to joke he had bipartisan approval. He also listened as the four local officials told him of their budget woes, which combined between village, city and county are projected to be more than $15 million in lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic.

Bliss laughed at Schumer’s joke, but he told the senator about Otsego County’s woes and thanked him for advocating for direct aid to municipalities, highlighting issues with the state being slow to reimburse or pass along funds.

Bliss said the county’s liquidity got so low last week that it had just $79,000 in the bank — down from a typical $12 million in reserves. He told Schumer about Otsego’s projections for $12 million in lost revenue, mostly from lost sales taxes, bed taxes and state aid. Bliss said Otsego would have to double its property tax levy next year if it wanted to make up for the lost revenue.

“It is not a spending problem. It is a revenue problem,” Bliss said.

Tillapaugh detailed the severe blows to Cooperstown’s tourism season, including the cancellation of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend and the cancellation of the Cooperstown Dreams Park and Doubleday Field baseball seasons.

“If it were a baseball game, we’d be in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, and no tying runs in the offing,” she said, “but we’re still a team and we’re still at bat, and the village did what it could with its finances early on.”

Tillapaugh said the village Board of Trustees has been doing everything it can to help local businesses, including passing a resolution last month to waive parking fees in the Doubleday Field lot on Fridays, “but these actions won’t be enough,” she said.

Herzig said he appreciated Schumer continuing to push for a solution to the problem in Washington.

“I know you are a busy guy and you have a lot on your plate,” he told Schumer, “but for you to be putting aside the time and coming out here to draw attention to this matter means a great deal to the people who live in our small cities, our smaller villages and our smaller hamlets.”

The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the $3.5 trillion Heroes Act in May, but the Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has refused to take action on it. However, a spike in coronavirus cases in the Sun Belt has forced some states to pull back their reopening plans, and the possibility of a Senate bill has been raised again.

“It is a very strong and good generous package. It has passed the House of Representatives,” Schumer said. “And I am urging, and I urge everyone, to urge the U.S. Senate to do the same thing.

“Leader McConnell has not been particularly friendly to this, even though his home state of Kentucky is hurting,” he continued.

New York ‘s budget has been in limbo since May, in part because of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desire to wait for the possibility of federal aid.

Ruffles told Schumer county workers are in limbo, waiting to see if there will be reimbursement money for them to work. He said New York needs an advocate for the local aid and was glad it had one in Schumer.

“Your work on this is huge,” he said, “and we all appreciate it so much.”

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

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