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Reports from the Editor

A “Utility Player” Among Planners

Otsego County Planning Director Terry Bliss

by PCJ Editor Wayne Senville, reporting from Otsego County, New York

Terry Bliss is a "utility player" among planners. Just like baseballs' utility fielders, Bliss is called on to play all sorts of roles on the field of planning.

In many ways, that's not an uncommon position for planning directors in rural counties like Otsego County, New York (population 62,000). But for Bliss, it's a truly appropriate position, since he works in Cooperstown, New York, home town of baseball in America.

I met Bliss in his office not far from downtown Cooperstown -- and across the road from a herd of Cooperstown Holsteins. Fortunately, Bliss is also a baseball fan, and his comfortable office is chock-full of memorabilia (don't blame Bliss for the baseball card above-- I take full responsibility!). He regularly gets to seven or eight games out-of-town each year, usually preferring the atmosphere and reduced price tag of minor league parks.

At the end of the road from the Otsego County planning offices
Just around the corner from the Otsego County, New York, planning office.

When I asked Biss what sort of work the Otsego County Planning Department was involved with, he rattled of a long and varied list:

-- technical assistance (such as zoning & comp plans) to the 34 municipalites.
-- grant writing.
-- training sessions for planning commissioners.
-- staffing the County planning board's monthly project review meetings.
-- environmental review work under New York's SEQRA law.
-- working with municipalities on hazard mitigation plans.
-- grant writing
-- overseeing a countywide housing needs assessment.
-- working with a local agricultural land trust
-- administering the County's transportation services programs.
-- grant writing
-- preparing a telecommunications plan for the county.
-- working on solid waste planning issues.

Bus used in Otsego County
Planning directors need to deal with lots of different things in rural counties. One of Terry Bliss' jobs is administering the County's transportation services programs.

You might have noticed the words "grant writing" more than once. I was hoping to catch your eye -- and emphasize the fact that a good part of what the Otsego County Planning Department is involved with depends on access to grants.

Bliss told me there's no single comprehensive plan document for the County. Instead there are various pieces focusing on a diverse range of issues, driven in good measure by what grants are available for.

Is this the best way to do planning in rural counties? On the one hand, availability of funds for specific issues may well be an indicator that those issues have signficance. On the other, can a county develop a comprehensive planning and land use strategy in this piecemeal sort of way?

note: I don't have space in this post to give you a look at the town of Cooperstown -- a place I hadn't visited since high school (more than a few years ago!). More on this later today.