New Franklin Register
Articles from The New Franklin Register
By Christina Milliman
Many people local to the Mohawk, Leatherstocking, and Catskill regions know that historically this area was known for the cultivation of hops. But when? Do we know when those seemingly wild hops that now grow on our properties, in our fields, and on our mailbox posts were planted? When were Otsego and Madison Counties known for producing the “King Crop”?
In the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum are books, diaries, letters, hop rhymes, tools of the trade, and photographs that tell this story. By 1880, Otsego County hop yards grew and sold the most hops of any place in the United States. Hop yards owned by Taugers, Clarks, and Buschs in Otsego County produced a majority of the hops – 80% of the entire U.S. crop. Have you ever seen a hop cone? Picked one? Held one in your hand?
By Stuart Anderson
Just over the ridge to the west of Franklin lies the sleepy village of Otego: a post office, a firehouse, a library, and a handful of small local businesses…oh, and an enormous empty school. Faced with declining enrollments and potentially massive repair expenses, the Unatego school board opted last spring to shutter the Depression-era building and move grades K through 2 to the Unadilla elementary building this Fall.
The decision to close Otego elementary was not made in haste. A private consulting firm was hired to research steps taken by other New York school districts facing similar circumstances; the consultants held numerous public meetings to seek community input, and provided the school board with a preliminary plan. The school board then held another round of public forums, and, in the end, concluded that closing the building was financially less risky than any of the proposed alternatives, and that the educational impact on students would be manageable. Over the summer, the Otego staff packed up and moved to Unadilla, and the school board selected a few community members to make recommendations on what to do with the vacant building. With a dollop of optimism, they have been dubbed the Repurposing Committee (RC).
Otego is just one of dozens of small towns across upstate New York trying to figure out what to do with an old school building. Some towns have found new owners for their vacant schools: private industry, senior citizen housing, new business incubators, arts centers. Other towns have had less pleasant outcomes: vandalism, boarded-up windows, dilapidated eyesores that blight entire communities. Fending off decay is critical—these old buildings are poorly insulated, and if left unheated through just one or two winters, they literally start falling down. Fending off decay is also expensive, many tens of thousands of dollars per year, and school districts faced with financially strapped property taxpayers and razor-thin budgets frequently find it impossible to justify spending money to heat and maintain an empty structure. Demolition can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars as well. So the derelicts haunt Main Streets for years, sometimes decades. Immediate needs trump long-term planning, and with each passing season, the probability of a good outcome shrinks a little more.
The Otego RC faces a tough row to hoe. The decay clock is already ticking. Many in the community who opposed the closing remain irate and vocal, and some have made it clear that, in the selection of a repurposing strategy, they have a powerful tool at their disposal: zoning. Any proposal from the RC will have to satisfy both the school board and the Village of Otego Zoning Board. Some members of village government have pulled no punches explaining what they don’t want to see in downtown Otego: no low-income housing (which would “bring in too much crime”), and no senior housing. At a presentation by the RC to the Otego Town Board on October 11, RC member and local entrepreneur Buzz Hesse said, “If the building is converted to elderly housing, our EMS staff is going to be overwhelmed.” Town Supervisor Joe Hurlburt suggested that EMS overload is nearing anyhow: “If something like senior housing did happen, we’d probably have to make a contract with CMT [Cooperstown Medical Transport] to get a substation.…it’s not the cost of equipment, it’s the manpower is the issue….someday it may go to that anyway.”
When EMS overload was brought up again, Town Planning Board member Mark Dye remarked, “The demographics on this township….it’s getting older twice as fast as the average. We’re exporting our young people, we’re accumulating old people, and we’re cheaping out on taking care of them.”
The meeting between the RC and the Town Board rambled on for over an hour. Much attention was paid to the disposition of land around the school. Different potential developers will likely have different needs, but the consensus in the room was that the town and/or village should retain title to as much of the property as possible. Unatego School Board President Jim Salisbury said, “We need to know if the village and/or town will accept ownership of vacant land that is not transferred to the new owner.”
Unatego Superintendent Dr. Dave Richards reported that about $1 million in bonded debt from the 1998 renovation remains on the books, so any payment the district might receive must go to pay down that debt. He also said that the District is not interested in retaining ownership of the building (for example, leasing some or all of the facility to a third party) because of the maintenance costs (heating, roof repairs, septic system) and heating expense.
RC chairman Ken Olson said that the committee is “…trying to stay within the parameters of the village and town comprehensive plans.” The committee hopes to have a Request for Proposals ready for release in the spring, which will outline the uses and conditions that the school board will employ to evaluate developers’ proposals. Dr. Richards pointed out that an RFP is not mandated to be a “highest bidder” competition; the school board can accept a proposal based on criteria other than simply the sale price. Dan Wilber, Town Code Enforcement Officer, said that the building is fully sprinklered and alarmed, which would support a wide variety of occupancies, including residential and commercial uses.
Buzz Hesse proposed that if an appropriate buyer cannot be found, the building should be quickly razed; some of the architectural details could be salvaged for construction of a memorial monument, and the cost of demolition could be covered by a special school tax levy spreading the expense over a few years. The size of such a levy is still being investigated.
In conversation after the meeting, school board member Dick Downey related that another potential use for Otego Elementary might be as an emergency shelter/ preparedness storage/response staging facility funded and operated in conjunction with FEMA. With floods and hurricanes increasing in frequency and severity, demands for emergency aid are rising, as is the need for temporary shelter. Downey has initiated some inquiries.
By Brian Brock
For many years now, the Town of Franklin has annually violated New York Town Law by the board not auditing the town books (Section 62) and by the supervisor not releasing the end-of-year accounting (Section 29(10)). How could their malfeasance bring trouble down on our town? Possibilities include ineligibility for state assistance and lowered credit ratings.
Economic stresses on local governments and school districts are estimated by the Office of the State Comptroller. By stress, the OSC means the ability of an organization to raise enough money to pay its budgetary obligations, now or in the future.
Estimates of current fiscal stress are based on numbers in the annual financial reports (Annual Update Documents or AUD), which are used to calculate component factors such as fund balance, operating deficit, cash position, short-term debt, personnel costs, and debt service. Estimates of future susceptibility to stress are based on trends in population, age distribution, poverty rates, property values, employment base, state/federal aid, tax limits, and sales tax. Both rate the stress on a scale from zero to one hundred, with zero being the least stress. Continue reading…
By Brian Brock
After having read in the spring issue of this newspaper about the 2014 audit of the Town of Franklin financial operations by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), you might have wondered how it could be the first time that you learned of this critique. Arguably, this is because the town board did what it could to keep this report from the citizens — legally and then some.
Now Report 2014M-32 can be inspected at the town hall during office hours. (It had been lost in the files.) The OSC is more accommodating. Anytime, this audit can be read at your leisure, printed, or downloaded for free at: https://goo.gl/nYBygL.
This audit of the fiscal year 2012 was extended into 2013 and then published in 2014. After reviewing a draft of this report, the town board responded with a letter to the OSC in April of 2014. After the report was published, the town board placed a copy in the town files and placed the required notice in the back of The Walton Reporter in May. After reviewing the final report, the town board submitted the required Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to the OSC in July. In all this time, there is no written record of this audit being discussed in the public meetings of the town board. Unfortunately, video-recording of the monthly meetings did not begin until later in December 2014. Continue reading…
By Robert Lamb
We are what we experience throughout our lives. Reading has inspired me to do the things I have done and to live a lifestyle outside of mainstream society.
Much of my early inspiration came from the National Geographic magazine. Unlike many young boys, I devoured stories about the wilderness for the content, not the nude natives. One article described life in Siberia and featured a rugged fifty year-old living a sustenance lifestyle. Another described the end of gold mining in Alaska due to low prices and the Second World War. There were articles about the caribou herds and huge salmon runs, and bears, lots of bears. Black bears and giant brown bears inhabit Alaska’s great lands. Monstrous man-killing polar bears stalk villages in the north.
Film also influenced my life decisions. In the sixties, theaters would show fillers between the main features. These short film clips of Alaska and its people had a profound effect on my young psyche. I began to view society as something to take in small doses. I once read a time study of modern man’s lifestyle. A man with a family of three would work ten years to provide food for them. Twenty years to provide a home, etc., etc. I vowed to break out of that mold. I decided early on to become a homesteader. Like the early settlers, I would take a barren piece of land and build a home and life for my family.
After graduating high school in 1975 with a young bride and first child, I was devastated to learn Alaska no longer offered land for homesteading. The program had ended a year earlier. After the birth of my second child, their mother left. With custody of two children, the prospect of ever seeing the land I dreamed so much about seemed remote.
As fate would have it, I met a beautiful young woman who shared my vision of a simple lifestyle. We purchased fifteen wooded acres on the edge of the Catskill Mountains. We started out in an old office trailer and with my two children and our six-month-old son, we began our lives as urban homesteaders. We put in gardens and raised animals. We had cows and pigs, chickens and turkeys. We hunted and fished. Meanwhile, we had to keep jobs. Unlike homesteading in Alaska, here in New York we have to pay taxes for the privilege of owning land. We needed autos to get to work, and of course we needed insurance on the cars and property. So many demands on a man’s time can leave little time to enjoy it all. I have no regrets about my choices. I am proud to have never used fossil fuels to heat my home. I still cut my own firewood.
As the years went by and the kids moved out on their own, I was suddenly floored with the desire to follow some of my earlier dreams. I applied for a job in Denali, Alaska, and that is how Alaska became my mistress. While working there allowed me to see Alaska, it was not enough; I had to experience Alaska. I wanted to feel it, smell it and revel in its wildness. I wanted a piece of it for my own. I purchased five acres near Indian River from the state, and my best friend Jared helped me build a cabin with views of Denali, the tallest mountain on the North American continent. I felt I had finally come home. Home to something I had only ever read about. The land was fifty miles from the nearest phone, yet still I felt the need to get further away from civilization.
So my friend Jared and I bought another piece of wilderness heaven.
President Roosevelt set aside five thousand square miles of wilderness around Prince William Sound called the Chugach National Forest. It sits among several state parks. Wilderness as God created it, with no humans for sixty miles around. It is here, surrounded by towering glacier-topped mountains and a bay full of life, that my soul feels at home. With eagles soaring overhead and bears inhabiting my dreams, I am home. The breaching Minke whales and chattering rafts of otters make the bay a natural entertainment. There are five kind of salmon, as well as halibut and rockfish. Moose and Sitka deer share the forest and tundra with the black and brown bears.
What more could a wandering spirit ask for?
Many things, I might reply.
I have yet to swim in the Arctic Ocean or raft the mighty Yukon River.
Still seeking those boyhood dreams…
By Christina Milliman
Documenting Delaware and Otsego County Farmers, Thirty Years Later
In 2015, The Farmers’ Museum acquired all of the negatives and photographs by Charles Winters taken for his book with Jean Simonelli, TOO WET TO PLOW. The book documents the story of farmers’ lives through a compilation of stories and Charlie’s memorable photo-documentation. Intimate portraits of men and women who worked together to keep a farm running, and children who helped on the farm, were shown in black and white and vivid color. For some children, the farm was a playground of sorts, for others it was a means to learn about animals, the earth and growing food, or hard work. They saw their parents put in time, twenty-four/seven. A life of work; a life without long vacations and with little break.
By Brian Brock
The New Franklin Register has been chronicling the sale of real property in Franklin for almost a decade, totaling over 350 sales. We have compiled all these by year and posted them on the Franklin Local website. This database allows us to look back at the recent history of real estate in our town.
In a typical year, there are forty or so free-market sales – averaging less than one a week. Of the 2,180 parcels in Franklin, that is a two percent turnover annually. Also, there are as many transfers and adjustments, for which no money changes hands. Generally, we do not publish those, to save space. In addition, every month there are a few sales between relatives or of foreclosed parcels, which usually do not yield a free-market price. While we publish those, they are not included in this analysis. Continue reading…