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.

Hilton resigns from Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce

By Ashley M. Casey

Beth Hilton abruptly resigned her position as executive director of the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce effective April 29. The board of directors has appointed Nate Emmons as interim executive director.

Emmons, of Oswego, previously served as the Chamber’s operations coordinator until about two months ago. He and his wife, Lisa, own the Mother Earth Baby boutique in Oswego.

Emmons could not provide any details about Hilton’s sudden resignation. Hilton had served as executive director since 2009.

“I don’t know the circumstances around it. I wasn’t made privy to anything surrounding her departure,” Emmons told The Valley News.

Emmons said he left his previous job with the Chamber two months ago to focus on opening a second location of Mother Earth Baby in Watertown.

Now that the store’s second location is running smoothly, the board of directors contacted him to take Hilton’s place while they search for a permanent executive director. Emmons could not provide a timeline or any details on the board’s search.

“I enjoy the Chamber. I believe in the Chamber’s mission and the board thought I could advance that mission. I’ll try to make that happen,” Emmons said. “I’m here to do the absolute best job I can for the Chamber, its members and the community. I can’t be concerned with anything else right now.”

The Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce recently moved to 106 W. Utica St. in Oswego and also has an office at 12 Canalview Mall in Fulton.

Before becoming chamber executive director, Hilton taught a class for University of Phoenix, was general manager of Tanger Factory Outlets, marketing director for the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce and director of sales and marketing for the Wisp Mountain Resort/Hotel.

County Envirothon results

By Ashley M. Casey

Pulaski High School has won the Oswego County Envirothon. The competition was held Thursday at Jellystone Park in Mexico.

Envirothon Coordinator Erica Schreiner said Pulaski came in first place with 435 points. The team’s best subject was aquatics.

Last year’s winner, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown High School, came in second with a score of 422 points. Oswego High School’s “A” team came in third with 406 points.

Pulaski was originally going to field two teams, but only one participated in the competition.

Jamie Hefti is Pulaski’s Envirothon adviser.

As for the weather?

“We didn’t get rained on,” Schreiner said.

County Envirothon takes to the woods Thursday

By Ashley M. Casey

Bring your boots: rain or shine, young nature enthusiasts will be facing off tomorrow at the Oswego County Envirothon, held at Jellystone Park in Mexico.

Since 1991, the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District has sponsored the county’s Envirothon, a hands-on test of high school students’ knowledge of forestry, aquatics, soils, wildlife and current environmental issues.

The county winner goes on to the New York state competition. Last year’s county champion, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, came in 11th of 49 teams at the state Envirothon.

“(Envirothon) encourages students to be more in tune with the environment and the natural resources in the county,” said Erica Schreiner, district educator of the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District and Envirothon Coordinator.

The competition consists of five 30-minute exams with 25 questions, plus a video presentation submitted prior to the event.

Teams of five students must properly identify trees, analyze soil and perform other tasks to demonstrate their environmental knowledge. Schools can send two teams of five with up to two alternates.

Local experts in each field create a new test for each subject each year. This year, the Oswego County branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension is covering the current issue of sustainable local agriculture.

Schreiner said Envirothon is an outdoorsy outlet to keep students engaged.

“It sparks their interest in something and gives them something to belong to,” she said. “It’s a great hands-on event.”

Some Envirothon participants pursue the interest after high school.

“A lot of them do go on to ESF (SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) at Syracuse and other environmental colleges,” Schreiner said.

Jamie Hefti, adviser of two Envirothon teams at Pulaski, said one of his graduating senior “stars” will study biology at Harvard University and another is headed to Clarkson University for environmental engineering.

He said the competition’s individual focus helps prepares students for college, especially the oral video presentation.

“It’s so self-directed. It’s on them,” Hefti said. “When I watched them prepare for the oral part of it, I think it’s the most truly applicable skill for preparing for college that there is in high school.”

Hefti said he has a study area in his classroom for students to visit and borrow materials when they have a free period during the day. The students each become an “expert” on one of the subjects and coach each other.

“It’s really an awesome thing to observe,” he said.

Roxane Thormann and her husband, Rich, led the APW team to a surprise victory last year. The Thormanns volunteered to coach APW’s Envirothon team after their daughter’s beloved science teacher retired. Roxane Thormann said she and her husband, who are not teachers, faced a “big learning curve” in coaching the kids in environmental science.

“We were awestruck,” Thormann said of the 2013 win, which was APW’s first Oswego County Envirothon victory. “We didn’t have any idea we had it in us. (The team was) just flabbergasted.”

Catherine Celeste and Billie Jo Peterson are the co-advisers of the environmental club at Oswego High School The club is open to students in grades seven through 12, so it provides a “feeder group” of middle schoolers preparing for the high school Envirothon team.

“I have a lot of younger kids … getting some of the preparation long before they have a chance to compete in it,” Celeste said.

In addition to the Envirothon, Oswego’s environmental club focuses on eco-tourism, fundraising and cleaning up around the district.

“We hope, bottom line, that there’s a better appreciation for nature, and we want our students to be better earth stewards,” Celeste said. “Every year they’re going to Envirothon, I know they’re learning something they didn’t know before.”

She said her students have worked hard to prepare for Envirothon.

“I’m proud that we can get students who put the time in,” she said.

Missing from tomorrow’s competition is ten-time consecutive winner G. Ray Bodley High School. The Fulton school is not fielding a team this year. Bodley last won in 2012, but was ousted last year by APW.

“Due to new duties and responsibilities, I relinquished the helm and it just didn’t transfer well for the students,” former GRB Envirothon adviser Dan Mainville told The Valley News in an email. “Sadly there just wasn’t enough interest this year. Maybe next year.”

“We will definitely miss them, but it opens up opportunities for other schools to win,” Schreiner said of Bodley’s absence from the competition.

“It opens the door a little bit for us,” Celeste said. “My students are a little more motivated now because they feel they can be more competitive.”

“There’s always someone to replace Fulton,” Thormann said. “I’m sure there’s someone who wants to knock us off the pedestal. All the teams are tough.”

Fulton school board approves budget

By Ashley M. Casey

The Fulton City School District Board of Education approved the fourth and final draft of the 2014-2015 district budget at its April 23 meeting.

The final budget totals $67,357,685, up 3.22 percent from the 2013-14 budget of $65,259,100.

The proposed tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — is $20,142,125, a 1 percent increase from the previous year’s budget. Actual tax rates will be calculated in the summer.

Not included in the total budget amount is a $60,000 proposition to buy two vehicles.

If the proposed budget is defeated twice by voters, the district goes to a contingency budget of $66,871,685. The tax levy would be $19,942,698, the 2013-14 amount.

The contingency budget would remove $30,000 in equipment and would eliminate the restoration of $25,000 to the athletic program, three elementary teaching positions, and the proposed $35,000 for an elementary mental health clinician.

Other business

• Director of Instructional Assessment Betsy Conners said the district is applying for several STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) grants for the middle and high school grades.

One such grant would allow seventh- and eighth-grade teachers to participate in a three-day professional development opportunity through BOCES in August. Conners said the interdisciplinary approach of STEM is becoming increasingly important to skilled jobs. The district will hear back about the grant in May.

• Director of Student Support Programs Geri Geitner introduced a “school within a school” model for alternative education students at G. Ray Bodley High School.

Currently, about 85 high school students participate in an alternative program at the Education Center. This would allow alternative students to take elective classes at GRB but maintain their current flexible scheduling and “safety net” of support services in a “pod” or partial wing at the high school.

The program would move four full-time and a handful of part-time alternative teaching positions to GRB. Geitner and GRB principal Donna Parkhurst are aiming to start the new program in September.

“It’s going to take a lot of coordination and individual planning if we move to this model,” Geitner said. “We want to replicate all the components that we believe are effective — and that students are telling us are effective — (and) offer them a broader range of opportunities.”

• Director of Facilities, Operations and Transportation Jerry Seguin updated the board on the 2012 capital project’s progress.

He said crews worked “fast and furious” through the April break to update IT infrastructure and clean power systems at Volney and Fairgrieve elementary schools, as well as asbestos abatement at Fairgrieve and the Education Center.

The district has received state Education Department approval for the replacement of the gym floor at Lanigan Elementary School, part of the 2014-15 capital project. The project will be bid out in May and the renovation will take place over the summer.

The replacement of locksets across the district will extend into the fall of 2014.

Seguin said other summer projects include the replacement of the Volney and GRB roofs, renovations of the Education Center’s auditorium and gym ceiling, and renovations in Volney and Fairgrieve classrooms.

• The board also voted to pass the BOCES administrative budget, which is tentatively calculated at $6,408,434. The school board voted three members to the BOCES board for three-year terms: Eric Behling of the Mexico district, John Shelmidine of Sandy Creek and William “Dave” White of Oswego.

Coming up

• Petitions for school board and library board candidates are due to the district office by April 30.

• The public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. May 7 at the Junior High School.

• The next regular school board meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 13 at the Education Center.

• The budget vote, school board election and library proposition vote will be held May 20 at the elementary schools.

Fulton ups fines for rental violations

By Ashley M. Casey

Fulton landlords will have to be a little more diligent in caring for their properties.

The Fulton Common Council amended the law concerning housing maintenance and rental permits to include steeper fines for property owners who skip out on inspections and a $500 fee to renew a revoked rental permit.

“It adds fees to multiple inspections and ‘no-shows’ to help offset our costs and entice owners to come into compliance in a more timely manner,” Brace Tallents of the code enforcement office told The Valley News. “We think that the $500 per unit fee will provide some incentive to the owners to pay a little more attention to their properties.”

The law amends the City Charter’s Subsection C 152(J), “Housing maintenance; rental permits.” The fee for a rental permit is $30 per unit, which includes one code inspection and one follow-up re-inspection to correct any code violations.

That fee doubles to $60 for a second re-inspection, and increases by $30 for each subsequent re-inspection, up to $180 for a sixth re-inspection. If a unit is occupied, the cutoff is the third re-inspection and the code enforcement officer files charges against the property owner.

There are also cancellation and “no-show” fees: $25 if the owner fails to appear within 15 minutes of a scheduled inspection, $25 if the owner cancels within 24 hours of the inspection and $35 for a second cancellation.

“This is not going to hurt landlords that take care of their properties,” Fourth Ward Councilor Jim Myers said. “This is basically recouping our costs for landlords that don’t fix up their properties in a timely manner.”

Fulton resident Dennis Merlino asked the council about “checks and balances” in terms of this amendment’s financial incentive to the city.

“What mechanisms does the city have in place to prevent this from being abused?” Merlino asked.

Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said the fees mainly act as a deterrent to delinquent landlords and the city spends a lot of time in court battling with such property owners.

“We’re not going to waste our time … on people who don’t want to do simple housing maintenance,” Woodward said.

Tallents said property owners usually have 30 days to correct code violations. Woodward said landlords who are making improvements or need more time to correct violations can apply for an administrative hearing through the code enforcement office without incurring extra penalties.

 

2 Fulton grocers oppose plan for new Aldi store

By Ashley M. Casey

Despite the dissent of two local grocers, the city of Fulton is going forward with Aldi’s plan to build a 17,651-square-foot grocery store on the former Nestlé site.

If all goes as planned, the Nestlé buildings will be demolished by the end of June and construction of the Aldi store will begin in July with an anticipated opening in December. Continue reading

Fulton school board delays approving budget

By Ashley M. Casey

The 2014-15 Fulton City School District budget will have to wait another few weeks before board approval.

Superintendent Bill Lynch and Director of Finance Kathy Nichols presented drafts three and four at the board’s April 8 meeting, and the board is expected to accept the fourth draft at the April 23 meeting.

According to this fourth draft, the budget will total $67,357,685, up 3.22 percent from the 2013-14 year’s $65,259,100. Continue reading

Future of Fulton Public Library rests on May 20 vote

By Ashley M. Casey

Voters in the Fulton City School District will have two decisions to make concerning the fate of the Fulton Public Library in the May 20 election: how it’s funded and who runs it.

The library is putting forth two propositions for next month’s elections. One would make  the library a school district library — solely funded by a tax that the district collects, eliminating the city of Fulton’s responsibility. The other puts the election of the board of trustees up to the voters as well. Currently, the city appoints trustees to the board. Continue reading