Haag: Partnerships, targeted development required

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The Daily Sentinel asked a series of questions for Common Council candidates in the city of Oneida. Each candidate was given 700 words to respond. The following are the answers from Ward 1 Democratic candidate Sara Haag.

Haag is a lifelong resident of Oneida with experience as a college professor, a nonprofit director, a social worker and an administrator. Haag has called the city to partner with local nonprofits and other agencies on important issues facing the city. She’s also an advocate for conflict resolution to address chronic housing issues and seek resolution between landlords, tenants, and neighbors, she said.

What do you feel is the most pressing matter facing the city of Oneida at the moment and what can be done?

Several months ago, I would have told you I felt the most pressing matters were crime and illegal drug use. While those issues are still very important and a big part of my platform, one cannot ignore the impact of the pandemic in our collective lives. I believe pandemic financial stress and poverty is a pressing matter due to how the pandemic has changed our lives and the financial “ripples” of it.

Even those with a lot of resources have talked about how the pandemic has negatively impacted their revenue abilities, including things like supply chain issues for small businesses.

I suspect that the pandemic has negatively impacted most if not all Oneida residents and their families. While the city cannot control all factors and fix all things, I think the council can choose to approach policy decisions, partnerships, and activities in a manner of asking “What are people going through right now,” and being more attuned and sensitive to it.

The state of Oneida’s downtown area has been a hot-button topic for years. Ideally, how would you improve downtown Oneida?

Strategic economic revitalization. When businesses thrive, families do too. I think that downtown is beginning to go through a rebirth. We have some wonderful businesses that have opened here and it’s a strong start.

Some attractive downtown “anchors” would help create a hub of things to do here.

I would love to see us work to bring in a satellite branch of a college, northside child care, support the schools more, bring in unique businesses to attract local college students, utilize the gem that the Kallet theater is for more events, imagine the empty areas of the flats for recreation — sports or concert type recreational opportunities, and improving the stock of available good housing by working with landlords.

The vision needs to include the whole city and not just downtown, though. We need exciting activities and reasons as draws to get commuters driving through Oneida’s south side and coming down Main Street to spend their dollars and spend some time here.

What would you do or what would you focus on if elected/re-elected in the coming year? Is there something pressing you think needs addressed?

A more transparent approach to city matters is a start. I’ll focus on representation of the needs of Ward 1 residents and improving communication between representatives and the public, promoting diversity.

Everyone needs a voice in this community. Engagement with constituents and keeping the public informed feels urgent to me.

Overall, it seems like a lot of residents may not be aware who their elected representatives are, and so perhaps they don’t know when there are council hearings and events until after the fact. I want to work to change disconnection between city hall and the people, because we should be for the people.

What can be done to keep people in New York and more specifically, Oneida?

My husband and I have both built our professional careers here — him in technology and cybersecurity, and I in nonprofit administration and higher education. We have been blessed to have called this area home a long time.

When my daughter was young, we decided to buy our home in Oneida in Ward 1. I remember when we looked at our house it just felt ‘right.’

We chose the area because of the ‘small town’ south-side sense of belonging and community that I have always noticed here, even as a kid. I do think that for many if they cannot find the professional opportunity here in New York, they wilI move away. I know a lot of grandparents that wish their grandkids’ families would settle back here.

So the question is, how to
provide an attractive choice to stay here in New York? I think we have to improve access to all kinds of employment, good housing, and overall improve our local quality of life in many small but collectively significant ways. Residents need to feel that they can make a living here and that the cost of living doesn’t take their whole paycheck.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit everyone hard. While we’re starting down a road to recovery, what do you think can be done to help people recover, whether socially or economically?

I see it as impacting mental health and economic realities for many.

For vulnerable individuals and families that were struggling before, the pandemic has probably pushed them over the edge into disaster and survival mode. I would like to see the city leverage the resources we have. For example, we have lot of great area nonprofits in this area with social missions. Let’s work with them to support their efforts in reaching people who need it the most. There doesn’t need to be a cost to the taxpayers to help in the community – it’s about partnership and looking at what resources we have.

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