All posts by Ashley M. Casey

Ashley M. Casey is the assistant editor of The Valley News. Previously, she was the associate editor of Today's CNY Woman magazine. She has also written for The Finger Lakes Vacationer. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 with a degree in communications and Spanish.

Fulton Common Council hears concerns about city’s “moderate fiscal stress”

By Ashley M. Casey

Three people spoke during the Fulton Common Council public forum Dec. 3 to express their concerns about the state Comptroller’s recent audit of the city of Fulton.

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli deemed Fulton in “moderate fiscal stress” after the city’s available fund balance dropped 84 percent.

“As CEO, the mayor’s managing the city well. The council’s making good budget decisions. The chamberlain’s handling the money well,” said Dennis Merlino. “I can’t imagine there’s anything else to cut.”

Merlino asked if the state would be willing to accept budget cuts on state mandates, but Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr.  explained the bulk of Fulton’s budget covers benefits for city employees.

He said in 1986, such costs comprised 40 percent of the city’s budget; today, they make up 70 percent.

“The lucrative laws for public employees that the state has put into place have got to change,” Woodward said.

He added he would ask the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments if there are any legislative solutions, but said state leaders are out of touch with the financial challenges small cities such as Fulton are facing.

“They mean well, but I don’t think the people who sit at the top really know what’s going on,” Woodward said. He said he and the council are striving to improve Fulton’s situation, adding, “That’s why we ran. That’s why we live here.”

Woodward said other cities are facing similar issues, such as Oswego, Owego and Syracuse.

Josephine Farrell said she had written a letter to the state suggesting improvements for local budget cuts, but received no response. She asked the mayor if the comptroller’s recommendations were of any value to the city.

“Were they anything you couldn’t have come up with on your own?” she asked.

The mayor said no.

Woodward said the state suggested that city offices shut off their computers at night to save on energy costs, which the city already does.

Fulton may be eligible to apply for grants or loans of up to $5 million through the Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program as part of the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments assistance.

The newly elected 25th District county legislator, Frank Castiglia Jr., said he was wary of the possibility of accepting money from the state.

“It’s okay to dance with the devil and listen to what the devil tells you during the dance, but if you let the devil take you home, then you’re in trouble,” Castiglia said. “I know the council wants to save the city, but what’s it going to cost the taxpayers?”

Woodward said the Financial Restructuring Board’s review process would take six months, and the incoming Common Council would vote on the state’s recommendations.

Ethics Committee appointees

In accordance with a New York state mandate, the Common Council has created an ethics committee of five members.

Donald Ross, Josephine Farrell, Charles Marks, Dena Michaels and Dennis Merlino were appointed to the ethics committee.

Third Ward councilor Peter Franco spearheaded the yearlong committee development process.

“These were the best (people) to start it off,” Franco said after the meeting. “They’re upstanding citizens, pillars of the community and involved in the community.”

The Common Council and the ethics committee have drafted an ethics document based on a state model. The committee will meet periodically. Meeting dates have yet to be determined.

“They will entertain complaints about any (city) employees, elected officials, appointed officials,” Franco said. “They will investigate the complaint, find out if it’s valid, and recommend remedies for that.

The committee members will serve staggered terms of one to three years to keep “continuity of members,” Franco said.

Woodward called the ethics committee “wonderful,” and several councilors expressed their gratitude to the appointees for taking the time to devote to the new committee.

Also on the agenda

The council approved a Resolution of Respect for late Valley News publisher Vince Caravan. “The Mayor and members of this Common Council share a deep sense of loss with the family of the late Vincent R. Caravan and do, with the deepest regret, take official notice of the loss of this very special man,” the resolution read.

The mayor declared 2013 as Tree Growth and Care Year, and the council approved the decision to apply for grants from the DEC for tree maintenance and pest prevention.

 

Fulton pediatrician honored by Upstate Medical University

By Ashley M. Casey

For the fifth time since 1973, Fulton pediatrician Dr. Stuart Trust has been named “Pediatrician of the Year” by Upstate Medical University.

Pediatricians who display competence, concern for their patients and an enthusiasm for teaching are eligible for nomination.

“I’m honored,” Dr. Trust said. “It’s wonderful to be recognized by your peers. It just gives me more reason, more motivation to continue and to improve what I do.”

Dr. Trust, whose practice is located in Canalview Mall, has been a doctor for 39 years.

He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and worked in a pharmacy for seven years. He attended Long Island University, Columbia University and Des Moines University in Iowa for medical school. Dr. Trust also served in the military.

“Being in the Army was very good experience for the rigors of medical school, internships, residency and my current life,” Dr. Trust said.

After medical school, Dr. Trust came to Syracuse in 1971 to train under Dr. Frank Oski, who was considered the local “god of pediatricians.”

When a teaching job fell through in 1974, Dr. Trust planned to spend only one year in private practice in Fulton. Nearly four decades later, that “year” isn’t over yet.

Dr. Trust says he “never will retire” and plans to continue practicing as long as his health permits. He said he is “eternally grateful” for his years of private practice in Fulton, and for the many friends and patients he has met here.

“I love the kids,” he said, adding that pediatrics is “more fun and games” than it is “heartache and tragedy.”

“When things are in that small percentage (of tragedy), what keeps you going is knowing that you didn’t cause it, and you can help minimize suffering,” Dr. Trust said.

He admitted it is very hard to cope with losing a young patient.

“I’m the world’s worst coper. I cry. I don’t sleep,” Dr. Trust said. “You try to remain professional and supportive, but we’re all human, aren’t we?”

Thankfully for Dr. Trust, the happier times have outnumbered the sad ones in Fulton.

“I’m so blessed to be able to do what I do,” he said.

Agencies work to help pregnant women quit smoking

By Ashley M. Casey

Integrated Community Planning of Oswego County, Inc., is teaming up with agencies across the county to help pregnant women quit smoking.

The campaign is part of the 38th annual Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

Using funds from its Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Community Health Award, ICP is contributing to smoking cessation efforts coordinated by Oswego County Opportunities, the SUNY Oswego Communications Department, the Oswego County Health Department and local health providers.

Helping pregnant women stop smoking has “been a target of ours for a very long time,” said Ellen Holst, senior director for health and nutrition at OCO.

“Any way we can help pregnant women understand how to help themselves is something we want to strive for,” Holst added.

According to the 2010-2013 Oswego County Community Health Assessment, more than 28 percent of pregnant women in Oswego County smoke. Among pregnant women who receive Medicaid, that number jumps to 75 percent.

Local data from WIC reported that 11 percent of breastfeeding mothers and 35 percent of postpartum mothers in the county continue to smoke.

Twenty-one percent of pregnant women in Oswego County have been exposed to secondhand smoke.

The Center for Disease Control outlines several risks of smoking while pregnant, or being exposed to secondhand smoke:

Increased risk of miscarriage

Problems with the placenta

Premature birth and low birth weight

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Increased risk of birth defects such as cleft palate

“Efforts to help smokers quit and keep even the youngest kids from starting to smoke will continue to have a major impact on the health of New York State now and in the future,” ICPs Executive Director Christina Wilson said in a press release. “We hope all smokers take advantage of the resources available today for the Great American Smokeout and give quitting a chance.”

Smokers who want to quit can visit smokefree.gov for smoking cessation resources. Call 343-2344 or email at info.icpoc@gmail.com to find out more about ICP’s programs for pregnant and parenting smokers.

State finds Fulton in moderate fiscal stress

By Ashley M. Casey

The depletion of Fulton’s available fund balance has brought the city under moderate fiscal stress, according to a new audit from the New York state comptroller.

According to a release from Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the city’s fund balance fell to $136,068 at the end of 2012, down 84 percent from $841,747 in 2010.

Mayor Ronald L. Woodward Sr. attributed the fiscal stress to the poor economy, rising employee costs and declining property values.

“We’re doing our best,” Woodward said.

In an effort to cut costs, the city of Fulton has reduced its workforce by 10 percent in the last three years. Fulton has also reduced aid to the local library and ended ambulance contracts. These measures have saved the city about $800,000 since 2010.

“We’re not squandering money,” Woodward said. “We don’t even have a full-time attorney.” The mayor said he has been prosecuting most of the claims in code court himself.

“There’s only so much you can cut and still plow the roads,” the mayor added.

Fulton has applied to the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments to aid in the process of solving the city’s financial woes. The FRB will closely review the city’s finances and make recommendations for generating revenue and cutting costs. The board may also be able to make grants or loans of up to $5 million through the Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program.

City officials have reviewed the comptroller’s audit and have agreed to take corrective action. The full report is available at osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/cities/2013/fulton.pdf.

 

Heroin use on the rise in Oswego County

By Ashley M. Casey

Heroin accounts for the majority of Oswego County’s drug cases, according to the county district attorney’s office.

“It has skyrocketed. It is out of control,” said Jeff Kinney, an investigator for the DA. Kinney retired as a lieutenant from the Fulton City Police Department. “It’s a complete switch from last year,” he added. Previously, most of the county’s drug offenses involved crack cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

Kinney cited many reasons for the increase in heroin abuse within the county.

“The potency of heroin in the last decade or so has increased, so you don’t have to inject as much,” he said. Kinney said heroin is cheaper and more widely available than other drugs.

Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan said that heroin used to be a “boutique drug,” available only to those who could afford expensive narcotics.

“Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, heroin was really expensive and really hard to get,” Sullivan said. “You just didn’t see it around here.”

Kinney also pointed to the recent painkiller addiction epidemic as a catalyst for heroin’s popularity. Heroin, like highly addictive painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, is an opiate drug.

David Guyer, resource coordinator for Oswego County’s Drug Treatment Court, made the prescription-street connection as well. He said some doctors may prescribe opioid painkillers “too liberally.”

“The addiction starts out as a legitimate opiate prescription from a doctor, or (the addict) takes someone else’s,” Guyer said.

He said people might sell excess pills, or teenagers might raid their parents’ medicine cabinet. Once the pills run out, heroin is a cheaper alternative for a similar high.

A study from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that prescription opiate addicts aged 12 to 49 are 19 times more likely than others in their age group to become addicted to heroin.

Guyer also said people with “unaddressed mental health reasons” may use illegal drugs such as heroin to self-medicate. “The heroin makes them feel better,” he said.

People of all types can become heroin users. Kinney said he could see no pattern in the demographics of heroin addicts involved in the cases he’s worked on.

“Based on our experience, it’s crossing all aspects of life. Race doesn’t matter. Occupation doesn’t matter,” Kinney said. “I think the trend is younger people are using it, but we know of older people using it too.”

Guyer said while the heroin cases he oversees are also a mix, there is somewhat of a socioeconomic pattern.

“Generally, I would say the people I deal with are of lower socioeconomic status,” he said. “However, I’ve seen people that come from more means that (use as well).”

A recent Post-Standard article reported that Onondaga County has already attributed 20 deaths to heroin overdose in 2013. That number is up tenfold from four years ago.

As of June 2013, no heroin deaths had been reported in Oswego County.

Kinney said he did not have figures on how many heroin overdoses Oswego County may have seen this year.

“Sometimes law enforcement isn’t called, and it’s found out later it was an opiate overdose,” he said.

Sullivan said that the heroin problem in Onondaga County has had a “ripple effect” on Oswego County. He said that people travel back and forth to Syracuse more often than they did in previous generations, and they may be bringing new drug trends back with them.

“For us, it almost ends up like a preview (of) things to be aware of,” Sullivan said. He added that this has made Oswego County law enforcement more “proactive” in tackling the county’s drug cases.

As for what can be done about the county’s growing heroin problem, there are many resources in place for addicts.

“From our perspective, we try through the drug court program … (to) divert more people into treatment,” Guyer said. He added that law enforcement officials have been “very supportive” of this plan.

“Flipped” math classroom a hit in Fulton

By Ashley M. Casey

Two Fulton Junior High School math teachers presented on their new system to teach seventh- and eighth-graders math at the Nov. 12 school board meeting.

Todd Parks and Pamela McHenry explained the concept of the “flipped” classroom, in which students complete guided note worksheets with video tutorials at home and then do assignments in class, where the teacher is there to assist.

Since last year, the two teachers have been using the online calendar Tockify and the website Sophia.org to create the video tutorials. They found inspiration from other teachers’ video tutorials on YouTube, SchoolTube and TeacherTube.

“I love it because students can go at their own pace, so a student who gets it like that can move on, and others can rewind it and watch it again,” McHenry said.

The “flipped” system also has been beneficial to students who have been absent or who participate in alternative education programs.

Junior High principal Ryan Lanigan said the program was working to “meet the diverse needs of the 21st-century student.”

A handful of students and parents gave their testimonial of the flipped classroom as well.

“I’m liking this (system),” said eighth-grader Alex Stoutenger. “You can print out your homework if you didn’t get a copy in class.”

“He’s a type-A personality like me, so that organization is very important,” said Alex’s mother, Angela. “When you have a busy lifestyle as we have, it makes it easier to go at your own pace … It builds your self-confidence.”

School board member Rosemary Occhino, who is a former educator, said she was “so impressed” with the flipped classroom concept.

“You are truly creating students that are college- and career-ready,” she said. “I can’t imagine the magnitude of the excitement of the seventh- and eighth-graders.”

Parks and McHenry said they plan to expand the concept and are working with teachers from other subjects.

3 schools on LAP list

Executive Director of Instruction and Assessment Betsy Conners shared with the board the district’s plan to improve three schools that are on the Local Assistance Plan.

These schools — the Junior High School and Lanigan and Fairgrieve elementaries  — are in good standing with the state, but are in danger of losing that standing if they do not improve academic achievement and  other areas.

Conners said the building teams from each school completed an extensive self-assessment to determine the areas of concern.

The district followed a rubric of five of the state’s “6 Tenets of Effective Schools:” school leader practices and decisions, curriculum development and support, teacher practices and decisions, student social and emotional developmental health, and family and community engagement.

The final tenet deals only with the district level of organization and was not relevant to the LAP discussion.

The district is working with consultant Pete Backus and Oswego BOCES Special Education School Improvement Specialist Tracy Mosher to get the three schools back on track.

Much of the schools’ issues involved students with disabilities, and Conners said that was “just a symptom of a bigger problem.”

Throughout October and November, the district has observed 115 classes and is seeking the school board’s approval of the DSRDRT and the plan to improve the issues identified. The board is set to adopt the plan Nov. 26.

The district seeks to provide more professional development and instructional support, including a new math instructional specialist. Administrators will also meet with the LAP schools monthly to gauge their progress.

Although it was not identified by the state as a LAP school, the district will examine G. Ray Bodley High School’s standing as well.

“We will be, in December, taking our high school through this process, not because they’re on a LAP, but because of the graduation rates,” Conners added.

Other items

Energy report: Representatives from Siemens Industry, Inc. presented their findings for the 2012-2013 energy performance report. Overall, the district saved $274,527 in energy costs by replacing lighting systems, reducing overnight energy use and installing solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of every school building except G. Ray Bodley High School. The only school that did not exceed Siemens’ guaranteed energy savings was the Junior High School, and the district and Siemens will examine how they can reduce energy usage there.

thy Nichols reviewed the results of the district’s external audit for the previous and current school years.

Last year, pool revenue was not being turned in with the deposit, but the district has determined to leave the “honor system” of a sign-in sheet and money drop box in place despite the minimal risk of losing money.

The district also discontinued a “meal deal” policy in which students who bought a certain number of lunches could get one free.

This year, the district is looking into internal control self-assessments, keeping an eye on the school lunch fund (which lost money last year in part due to a student boycott) and streamlining the employee salary notification process.

Alternative school: Oswego BOCES’ middle school alternative education program is relocating to the Erie Street school. The program will occupy four rooms on the middle floor.

“It’s a nice, old building. It’s got a lot of charm,” said Superintendent William Lynch. “The classrooms are spacious.”

He said other county districts who send students to this program — such as Phoenix, Hannibal, Oswego, Mexico and Central Square — find Fulton’s central location convenient.

BOE appreciation: Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared the week of Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 to be School Board Recognition Week. Lynch said that week fell between Fulton board meetings, so he chose to recognize the board at the Nov. 12 meeting. Board members received cards and gifts from students and school administrators.

Policy updates: Lynch also read updates to the district’s Accident Prevention, Hygiene Precautions and Procedures, and Emergency Plans and School Safety policies. The changes were largely stylistic and included references to community members and not just students and school employees.

Coming up

Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, and three of his Assembly colleagues will host an informational forum on state education reform 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at Baker High School in Baldwinsville.

Three panels — teachers, administrators and parents — will address Barclay and fellow Assembly members Robert Oaks, R-Macedon; Gary Finch, R-Springport; and Ed Ra and Al Graf, two Long

Island Republicans. Community members who wish to speak may bring 10 copies of written testimony to share with the forum.

Lynch said he plans to submit testimony on the Fulton City School District’s behalf.

The next regular school board meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 at Lanigan Elementary School.

Fulton vets run for veterans awareness

By Ashley M. Casey
For Fulton resident Matias Garcia and his friends, Veterans Day is more than just a day off.

The four men — all veterans of various branches of the United States’ armed forces — decided to commemorate their service and their colleagues’ with a run from Oswego to Fulton for the second year in a row.

Matias, an Army veteran who served in on the front lines in Afghanistan, joined Tomas Garcia and Victor Garcia (no relation, both Marines) and Derek Shue, Navy, in carrying an American flag for the roughly 11-mile run.

He said it was Tomas’s idea to run to raise awareness for Oswego County veterans.

“A lot of people drove by, slowed down, took pictures and cheered us on,” he said of the public’s response on the day of the run.

Matias, a 2005 graduate of G. Ray Bodley High School, joined the Army in December 2008. After training at Fort Benning, Ga. and time in Vicenza, Italy, he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

“For me, I kept the fight over in Afghanistan,” Matias said of his reasons for joining the Army. “I didn’t want another 9/11.”

He grew close with his fellow “Sky Soldiers,” as the 173rd is nicknamed.

“It was always about your buddies to the left and to the right of you. Politics aside … when a bullet comes flying by,” he said.

Matias remained in the service for three years before returning home to Fulton. He said his family and friends have always been supportive of his military and civilian careers.

As for reentering civilian life, Matias said a soldier’s life is stressful, no matter where he or she is stationed.

“They didn’t necessarily have to deploy to struggle (with coming back),” he said, “Once that structure’s gone, you need something to keep you busy.”

Matias said he sought veterans resources within the county.

“The VA office in Fulton helped me get back on my feet and work,” he said.

He has considered reenlisting, but for now he is attending classes at Cayuga Community College thanks to the G.I. Bill. He wants to pursue a career in either criminal justice or the medical field, to bring back the “rush” that he misses from being in the Army.

“The only skill I was taught was to engage in combat,” he said. If he reenlists, he said he would want to choose a different field so he could bring home some marketable skills.

A former wrestler for GRB, Matias has been volunteering with his alma mater’s wrestling coaches.

As for the run, Matias and his friends garnered support on social media and plan to repeat the experience for many Veterans Days to come.

“We’re going to keep doing it until our legs fall off,” Matias said.

1 person injured in early morning Fulton blaze

A fire on West First Street South displaced 14 Fulton residents early Thursday morning.

One person was taken to the hospital by Menter Ambulance.

Crews from Fulton, Volney, Granby, Cody, Mexico and Oswego town responded to the blaze at 63 W. First St. South at 1:17 a.m.

Fulton Fire Captain David Eiffe said there was “very extensive damage to both floors in the house,” which contained four apartment units.

“The Red Cross is tending to the people who were displaced,” Eiffe said, adding  the Red Cross was putting the residents up in local hotels.

The Fulton police and fire departments are still looking into the cause of the fire.

“The investigation is ongoing as we speak,” Eiffe said.