Category Archives: Featured Stories

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Welfare fraud program leads to 25 arrests

by Carol Thompson

Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes gave the legislature’s Strategic Planning and Government Committee an update on the new welfare prosecution program Monday morning.

County Administrator Phil Church and Barry Leemann, who was the legislature chairman at the time, approached Oakes with concerns in regard to welfare fraud cases.

“Since we’ve began this program we’ve had 25 arrests,” Oakes said.

Between October and December, there have been 11 felony arrests. As of the first of the year, there have been 14 arrests. The total number of arrests in four years is 29.

“So essentially in the last three months, we’ve got what we had four years prior,” Oakes said.

He added that the staff is building great cases. “I thank this body,” Oakes said to the committee for allowing his department the resources to do the work.

The county has recovered $57,861 since the first of the year. The amount of $48,924 has been paid to the county Department of Social Services. Approximately $5,700 is being recouped through diminished benefits and $3,182 is being paid through probation.

To read the rest of the story, subscribe to The Valley News by calling 315-598-6397

Legislators consider hiring firm to assist with employee retention

by Carol Thompson

Members of the Oswego County Health and Human Services Committee will consider a proposal from Core Skills, True Impact in the amount of $9,200 to assist with the retention of employees in the county Health Department’s nursing services.

The county has seen a significant turn over of staff, especially registered nurses. The high turnover has been attributed to a lower salary than other entities offer.

If approved, the company will conduct an employee satisfaction assessment through interviews with 22 clinical staff and five supervisors. The company will then be required to analyze the results and provide both a written and oral summary to managers and staff as well as provide 20 hours of training for specific groups with the goal of improving staff satisfaction and retention.

Only one other bid was received. SUNY Oswego submitted a proposal for $15,000.

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County encourages state to provide more significant mandate relief

by Carol Thompson

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church presented members of the legislature’s Strategic Planning and Government Committee a draft resolution asking the state to finish the job it began in April and provide more significant and sustainable mandate relief to counties.

During Monday’s meeting, Church said the resolution addresses Medicaid and state retirement.

“Using the letter that they sent to us, the state health department is only taking over the state portion of Medicaid,” Church said.

Mandates consume 82 percent of the county’s annual budget and the Medicaid mandate alone is 58 percent of the entire property tax levy.

The three-year phase out of county-paid Medicaid growth will cost the county taxpayers an additional $500,000 in 2013 and an additional $250,000 in 2014.

“Taxpayers will send one-half million dollars to Albany every week,” Church said.

To read the rest of the story, subscribe to The Valley News by calling 315-598-6397

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Tax exemptions considered for home improvement projects

by Carol Thompson

Members of the Oswego County Legislature’s Community and Consumer Affairs Committee will consider a resolution that would provide a property tax exemption to homeowners who make capital improvements to residential properties.

The committee will consider the matter during Thursday’s meeting, which is generally held Wednesday but had to be moved due to a nuclear plant drill.

According to an informational memorandum submitted by Legislator Dan Farfaglia, the resolution would bring back a program that expired several years ago, however, few residents took advantage of the program.

The proposed law would give residential homeowners the opportunity to make improvements in excess of $30,000 for a 100-percent exemption on the increase in the assessed value attributable to the reconstruction, alteration or improvements for the first year and for the following four years on a sliding scale basis.

The exemption would be limited to $80,000 in increased market value of the property.

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Legislators review ethics policy

by Carol Thompson

The Oswego County Legislature’s Strategic Planning and Government Committee reviewed a draft ethics policy that will eventually be the subject of a public hearing.

Legislator Milferd Potter said he had some concerns with the policy when it came up for discussion during Monday’s meeting.

“I think we are being a little bit tough on elected officials,” he said.

A part of the draft law prohibits legislators from taking a county job for two years.

“I don’t think we need to be more strict on this than what the state law requires,” Potter said. “I don’t think we should have a two year wait.”

Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler asked what the state law provides. The county must follow the state’s ethics code and can add more but cannot subtract from.

“I don’t think it needs to be in there,” Potter said.

County Attorney Richard Mitchell said the clause applies more to vendors.

A discussion ensued as to vendor relationships and whether anyone covered under the policy cannot do personal business with the vendor.

Legislature Chairman Fred Beardsley used Legislator Doug Malone as an example. Malone owns an automotive repair shop and if a county vendor needed a tire repaired and they were down the street from Malone’s shop,  Malone would not be able to fix the tire, Beardsley said.

Malone said he cannot tow vehicles or work for the county and spoke about work he performed more than a decade ago that he was not allowed to receive payment for because of the conflict-of-interest.

The county had also been sued in the past by a group of taxpayers who objected to the county doing business with employees who own businesses.

There was uncertainty as to how the county’s policy addressed the issue.

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Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan and the Amherst chief of police announced Friday that the body found washed ashore July 14, 1984 near Oswego was that of a teenaged girl missing from Amherst. The remains of 14-year-old Nancy Jo Scamurra, pictured, were found by a fisherman off the coast of Oswego County 28 years ago.

County sheriff’s department helps with cold case

Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan and the Amherst chief of police announced Friday that the body found washed ashore July 14, 1984 near Oswego was that of a teenaged girl missing from Amherst. The remains of 14-year-old Nancy Jo Scamurra, pictured, were found by a fisherman off the coast of Oswego County 28 years ago.

by Carol Thompson

Members of the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department assisted in identifying the body of a deceased in a decades-old case.

Undersheriff Gene Sullivan and the Amherst chief of police announced Friday that the body found washed ashore July 14, 1984 near Oswego was that of a teenaged girl missing from Amherst.

Oswego is 120 miles northeast of Amherst.

The remains of 14-year-old Nancy Jo Scamurra were found by a fisherman off the coast of Oswego County 28 years ago.

Sullivan said that when the torso was originally found, the missing girl was a center of publicity; however, officials could not make a connection because technology did not exist at the time.

At that time, the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office could only say that the preliminary autopsy report revealed that the partial body of a woman had been found and all that could be determined is that it was a white female between five to six feet tall and under age 40, according to the July 17, 1984 issue of The Valley News.

The autopsy had concluded that the death was a homicide, however, the cause of death had not been determined.

Sullivan says the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office contacted Oswego County Sheriff’s Department last year and specifically asked that they retrieve DNA from family members and relatives of the girl.

Within the last two months, officials were able to determine that DNA from the remains matched that of Scamurra.

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News of cold case stirs up emotions for one local family

by Carol Thompson

Thursday’s notice of a press conference to be held in Amherst to announce the end of a decades-old mystery connected to Oswego County left one family in wonder and suspense as they waited to hear if the news was about their own missing loved one.

The press conference was called Thursday and scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday. For Lisa Buske and her family, it was a long 24 hours.

“We called the sheriff’s but they couldn’t reveal what it (press conference) was about,” said Buske, who is the sister of Heidi Allen. Allen has been missing since April 3, 1994.

Heidi Marie Allen, 18, was working alone as a cashier at the D&W Convenience Store, located at the intersection of State Routes 104 and 104B in the Oswego County Town of New Haven when she vanished. Continue reading

Sheriff deputy shortage continues

by Carol Thompson

Oswego County sheriff’s deputies continue to be in shortage and low pay is a contributing factor.

Currently, there is one opening while another  deputy is expected to leave at the end of next month. Another deputy will be leaving in September and at least two will be gone at the first of the year, according to Sheriff Reuel “Mo” Todd.

“I can’t blame them,” Todd said of the deputies leaving. “We still don’t make the pay that they make in the police departments or nuclear plants.”

The union representing the deputies is currently in contract negotiations with the county, Todd said.

The starting salary for a deputy, as of 2011, is $18.93 per hour.

“It’s not as good as other agencies yet,” Todd said of the salary.

It costs the county $40,000 to $50,000 to train a deputy, Todd noted.  The investment can be short-lived if a deputy leaves for a better paying position within another agency.

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