By Matthew Reitz
Fulton residents can expect to begin seeing a $2 increase in their monthly garbage fees this spring.
A quiet public hearing on the fee increase preceded the Common Council meeting on Tuesday night. A few residents showed up to voice their opinions, but seemed content with the explanation given by Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. and the Common Council.
City officials said they were cornered into raising the fees by an increase in the county’s rates.
“If it was up to me, we would lower it $2 per month,” Woodward said, “but it is what it is.”
First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon said the county keeps “double dipping” with local taxpayers.
“The county is hurting, and they keep passing it on to the municipalities,” said Kenyon. “It’s the same taxpayers that just keep paying.”
Members of the council noted that after the $2 monthly increase, the costs for Fulton residents will still be markedly lower than those in the City of Oswego and other area municipalities. Oswego residents pay significantly more at $71.11 per quarter than residents of Fulton will pay after the increase ($51 per quarter), councilors said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the $2 per month increase. It will go into effect May 1.
The council also unanimously approved a series of food truck permits for Indian Point and Bullhead Point, which included Shannon’s Hotdogs, Dingo’s Lakeside Ice Cream and Tricky Dick’s Roadside Grill. Woodward noted that the vendors would still need to go through criminal background checks to be granted a license.
The council also transferred $9,000 for demolition funds that Woodward said had initially been “transferred out of the wrong account.”
“This is just putting it back,” Woodward noted.
By Colin Hogan
A $24 million endeavor to upgrade the Pathfinder Courts apartment facilities, which will do away with their public housing status but will keep them in the low-income rental range, is now slated to move forward this summer.
The apartments, which were established as state-sponsored public housing in late 1960s and early ’70s under the Fulton Housing Authority (FHA), currently include a 50-unit senior housing complex and 60 family housing units. When they were first established, FHA’s operating expenses were, in part, funded by state subsidies for public housing authorities. In the late 1990s, though, the state discontinued those subsidies, leaving FHA to operate solely on its rental income.
FHA officials say, over the years, this has left them with no meaningful funding opportunities to make capital improvements to the aging properties. As they now approach the end of those facilities’ 50-year mortgages, the housing authority will turn the properties over to a new not-for-profit entity, consisting of the same staff and administration who currently run the properties, which will operate the facilities under a low-income housing model.
“At this point, with all that needs to be done, we decided that we had to privatize,” said FHA Executive Director David Fontecchio.
Fontecchio said this will change how tenants’ rents are determined. Currently, tenants pay no more than 33.3 percent of their income toward rent, which includes utilities. On average, the housing authority collects about $342 per unit each month under that arrangement. As a low-income housing facility under the new not-for-profit agency, rates will be established individually based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) low-income rent guidelines, he said.
Among the many improvements planned to the facilities is incorporating some handicap-accessible units, which the properties currently do not have. Fontecchio said, because apartments meeting those specifications require more space, the total unit count will be reduced. He said the buildings are currently filled to about 60 percent capacity, so having fewer units in the end won’t affect any of the tenants.
The project will also include upgrades to the buildings’ façades, and the removal of asbestos-based materials throughout the facilities.
Other improvements include repairing hazardous sidewalks, fixing drainage issues, providing outdoor lighting that meets safety guidelines, a new security system, upgraded fire alarm systems, improve electrical service to buildings, new roofs and siding, better insulation, updated kitchens and bathrooms, new furnaces and water heaters, added carpeting and an upgraded playground.
“We’re basically going to make them like new housing — as new as new can be when working with an existing footprint,” said Bruce Levine of 3d Development Group, a Buffalo-based development firm that specializes in public housing, which has been coordinating the endeavor since it first came up a couple years ago.
Levine said the total construction cost is expected to be over $16 million. When adding in the cost of relocating residents for the construction period, asbestos removal, legal and bank fees, and other miscellaneous costs associated with the endeavor, Fontecchio estimated a total of $24 million. In spite of the steep price tag, though, Fontecchio said Pathfinder Courts will probably only end up borrowing about $1.5 million of that.
The biggest portions of money for the project will come from the federal government and the state’s Public Housing Modernization Program, Fontecchio said, with several other funding sources supplementing it, as well.
Levine said, when all is said and done, he expects he’ll have lined up seven different sources of funds.
“New York state is kicking in a considerable amount of money through various pots of money it has — Public Housing Modernization, Homes for Working Families, public housing tax credits, we’re even getting money from the Department of Justice settlement with the big banks,” Levine said. “So we’re getting money from all sorts of different sources.”
Both Fontecchio and Levine are hoping to have all the funding arrangements finalized by the beginning of May. Residents in buildings that are to be worked on would then be relocated to other apartments on the campus during construction. Fontecchio estimated that residents could expect to be in their temporary locations for about six months before being moved back into their finished buildings.
In all, Levine estimated a construction period of 24-28 months.
Fontecchio said he has requested that Levine’s contractor use Oswego County-based subcontractors for the project in order to pump the money being used into the local economy.
As public housing, the Pathfinder Courts buildings were exempt from local taxes. Under the new arrangement, they will continue to operate without a local tax obligation through a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city. That agreement will also apply to the other local taxing agencies — Fulton City School District and Oswego County — according to Fulton City Clerk/Chamberlain Dan O’Brien. O’Brien noted, however, that Pathfinder Courts has always paid, and will continue to pay local taxes on its land.
When asked of the possibility of the new agency opting to charge market rates for the apartments in the future, rather than a low-income model, Fontecchio said an agreement is in place with the federal government that would ensure these apartments stay at low-income rates for at least the next 30 years.
By Colin Hogan
After an audit by the state comptroller’s office recently called Fulton Junior High School’s reporting of violent and disruptive incidents into question, district administrators laid out their side of the story in a presentation for parents Monday.
The audit was performed on the state Education Department’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) system for schools, and used Fulton Junior High as one of seven test schools. Once released, the report revealed several incidents from the 2011-12 year that school officials either failed to report, or misclassified in their reporting to the state. Auditors say, had that information been properly reported, the school might have been classified “potentially persistently dangerous.”
The report shows that Fulton reported 289 incidents that year, but auditors say they found 368 incidents that should have been considered reportable under VADIR.
During the special meeting in the junior high school cafeteria Monday evening — which was mostly attended by local media and school board members — administrators presented specifics on how the state’s system for reporting violent and disruptive incidents works, how the district handles such events, and some examples of incidents that auditors said should have been reported differently.
Superintendent Bill Lynch opened the meeting by emphasizing the district’s commitment to maintaining safe schools.
“First of all, I want you to know that we take student safety, staff safety, visitor safety in our schools extremely seriously. We’ve also taken the audit conducted by the comptroller’s office of our (2011-12 VADIR system) very seriously,” Lynch said.
Lynch said the school is focused on “providing a safe and secure learning environment,” and that the district is “fortunate we have a very supportive and caring and responsive staff for our students.”
The VADIR system breaks down violent and disruptive incidents into 28 categories and subcategories for schools to classify such events when reporting them to the state. Those categories are then weighted differently so that a formula may be used to determine how safe the school environment is. Very serious incidents, such as “Homicide” or “Forcible Sex Offenses” carry the highest weight, while things like “Use, Possession, or Sale of Drugs or Alcohol” and “Other Disruptive Incidents” are weighted less.
In their responses to the comptroller’s office, local media and parents, administrators acknowledged that, in some instances, the school could have followed the VADIR guidelines for reporting more closely. However, they’re also quick to point out that they “strongly disagree” with some of the system’s classifications.
On Monday, Lynch shared an example in which one male student “pantsed” another male student (i.e. pulled down the other’s pants in public) while the two were fooling around. The auditors felt that and similar incidents should have been reported through VADIR as “Sex Offenses.”
Lynch said administrators thoroughly investigated those incidents and felt they were “clearly inappropriate” and warranted action. However, he said “we did not view those as a sexual offense. We viewed those as demeaning, intimidating, harassing behavior” and applied the appropriate consequences for that kind of incident.
Still, he conceded that the district should have been reporting incidents the state’s way.
“They are probably right, in terms of how the definition is written by New York state. We have to adhere to that, so we will say that we were wrong for that. But to call that a sexual incident, I think, misportrays the situation,” Lynch said.
Administrators also emphasized the school’s use of progressive disciplinary measures and the PBIS system (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — a U.S. Department of Education-supported approach to behavioral expectations in schools.)
One of the biggest issues administrators had with the audit, according to Lynch and junior high school Principal Ryan Lanigan, was that the auditors’ tabulations only took into account the initial filing of a referral by a teacher or staff member, and not the administration’s follow-up investigations, which often resulted in new understandings of what happened.
Lanigan previously described the school’s process for investigating those referrals as such:
“Whenever a referral is written (by a teacher or staff member), we have a process that we go through. That referral is brought to the main office where myself or the assistant principal read the referral and follow due process. We meet with the student. We meet with other students who may be able to shed light on what’s occurred. A lot of times, that changes our understanding of what’s happened, and we may find that it wasn’t quite the offense it sounded like at first. We take everything into account before we decide what the consequence is,” said Lanigan.
Student Support Systems Director Geri Geitner said, by not taking into account the follow-ups to these incidents, the VADIR system only gives a “narrow” assessment of what the culture inside the school is like.
“VADIR, at its best, is a narrow focus on school climate because it only focuses on the negative incidents and the aversive consequences, instead of focusing on the overall climate of the school, the laying of the foundation of expectations and, most importantly, the interventions that follow behavior incidents in school settings. So it really omits that piece which we feel is most critical,” Geitner said.
An open question and answer period followed the 40-minute presentation, which yielded no questions from parents.
Administrators said representatives from the state Education Department will visit the junior high school on February 11 to review the school’s reporting practices and make their own recommendations.
Fulton City School District’s two back-to-back capital projects remain on schedule, with the 2012 endeavor likely to wrap up this spring, according to district officials.
With the exception of work around the entrance way at Fairgrieve Elementary, and few last-minute punch list items, the $8.8 million 2012 project is “pretty well wrapped up,” facilities director Jerry Seguin recently told the board of education.
Major components of that project include the replacement of the stage curtain, lighting and rigging at the Education Center; a partial roof replacement at G. Ray Bodley High School; technology upgrades and new computer facilities at both Fairgrieve and Volney elementary schools; security upgrades, asbestos abatement, ceiling tile/grid replacement, removal of classroom lockers and new ductwork/relief fans at Fairgrieve; and a partial roof replacement at Volney.
Seguin said the entrance way work that remains at Fairgrieve is the installation of some ceramic tile and the display cases that are placed near the entrance. He said the tile should arrive in time for workers to install it over the February break, and the display cases should be set for installation in March.
“We were hoping to get that started over Christmas break, but had some delays in getting the materials. The plan is to start installing them during the February break,” Seguin said. “We’ll get everything wrapped up as much as we can during the break so we can close that up and then put those cabinets in during second shift.”
When the referendum on the project was passed in December 2012, district officials anticipated it would be completed by spring of 2015. Seguin said that projection should hold true.
The $4.4 million 2014 project — which includes roof replacements at Granby and Lanigan elementary schools, a gym floor replacement at Lanigan, a new athletic storage building and the replacement of locks on classrooms and offices across the district — is also moving mostly according to schedule, Seguin said.
The replacement of the Lanigan gym floor and the new athletic storage building have both been completed, Seguin said, and the plans for the roof replacements are currently being reviewed by the state education department.
“The roof projects are still pending SED approval, but that’s expected at this point. We’re still on the original timeline. If that keeps up, we should be done with the roofs over the summer,” Seguin said.
Superintendent Bill Lynch said he anticipates SED will finish its review of the plans sometime in early February.
The installation of the new locks throughout all schools, however, is lagging behind a bit.
Seguin said the bids for the lock replacements are in and “look good” but are still in the process of being reviewed.
“We’re a little behind on the installation of lock sets. We thought we would be able to get those in earlier, but we’ll start working on them during second shift. It still looks like we’re going to be able to do all of that before school’s over, but it’s going to be tight, because there’s probably a 10 to 12-week lag time once they order the materials,” he said.
As they work on replacing the locks, Seguin said they may find some doors need to be upgraded or replaced. Still, he said the lock replacement looks like it may end up costing about 3 percent less than the original estimate stated.
State aid is covering about 96 percent of each project’s costs, with the district relying on capital reserves to fund about 3 percent, and the remaining 1 percent coming out of the tax levy.
The property at the heart of so much sentiment, and controversy, in Fulton will be put before a judge to possibly finalize foreclosure next month.
The site of the former Nestle plant on the corner of Fourth and Fay streets, which closed in 2003 as the nation’s oldest chocolate factory, is currently in foreclosure, and must be settled before the matter goes before a New York State Supreme Court judge on Feb. 19.
“Right now, we’re in the process of tax foreclosure. The last day to settle that before it goes to the (state) Supreme Court is February 19,” Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said. “Then, if we take it, we’ll be able to take some action on that site.”
Recently, the dilapidated site has become particularly burdensome to the city, not just as an eye sore, but financially as well. Not only has the city been unable to collect taxes on the property — it also has to pony up the site’s school and county tax obligations.
“The way it works is that the county does tax foreclosures for all the towns and villages, but not the two cities. From a financial standpoint, how that hurts us is if someone doesn’t pay their taxes, we not only don’t get their money, we have to pay the delinquent’s school and county taxes, as well,” said Woodward.
Woodward said grocery store chain ALDI Inc. is still interested in using part of the site, approximately two acres of the 38-acre complex, to establish a store. The first order of business, though, would be removing the remaining asbestos and demolishing the site’s structures.
When the state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments handed down recommendations on Fulton’s fiscal stress last July, it said up to $250,000 may be available to help the city with costs associated with demolishing and clearing the Nestle site for a new business. In order for the city to take any action on those steps, though, it first has to acquire the property.
“If we take it, then we have to figure out if we can get the money from the state. The restructuring board won’t make money available until we own it, because they won’t do that sort of thing if the owner is a private individual. (The restructuring board) was very interested in seeing that site developed,” Woodward said.
However, Woodward believes the city would still most likely have to pay out-of-pocket for some of the demolition costs, saying the restructuring board’s grant “would go a long way to help, but won’t cover everything.”
Nonetheless, the mayor said some form of action will be taken on the dormant site next month.
“I can say that in February, something will move forward with this building,” Woodward said.
The site is currently owned by Carbonstead LLC of Phoenix. Attempts to reach Carbonstead and its owner, Edward Palmer, for comment were unsuccessful.
The city of Fulton adopted its $15.7 million 2015 budget Tuesday, but not without some conflicting input from city taxpayers.
City officials heard more than an hour and 20 minutes of input from taxpayers in a public hearing Tuesday, including one who repeatedly beseeched the common council to table their vote on the spending plan and make further cuts to public safety.
The budget reflects $15,710,583 in city spending for next year, up $114,395 from this year’s $15,596,188. The city anticipates non-property tax revenues will total $9,324,102 next year, with another $6,464,816 to be generated in property taxes, which city officials can be achieved by maintaining the current tax rate of $19.662 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said prior to Tuesday’s budget hearing that the city was able to balance the budget without a tax increase largely through personnel changes. By consolidating positions, and re-hiring staff who are retiring this year as part-timers, the city is spending about $200,000 less on personnel than it did last year, without any layoffs, Woodward said.
The city has also cut spending in several departments, including Parks and Recreation. Resident and planning commission member Dennis Merlino, who had previously requested that the city maintain its current appropriations for the parks, said Tuesday he understands those reductions had to be made.
“I see now that it just wasn’t practical or possible,” Merlino told the mayor and council. “But I am thrilled with the budget you have come up with – no tax increase.”
Merlino said it’s now up to the residents to pick up the slack as volunteers where the city has been forced to cut back.
“I would ask the people to step up and do their part. It’s time for each person to volunteer to do something that will help the city,” he said.
Merlino’s praise was matched by that of former city councilor Bob Weston, the first to speak at the hearing, who drew comparisons between Fulton’s and the city of Oswego’s budget to illustrate how efficient he felt Fulton’s is. Weston pointed out that, while Oswego has 55 percent more population, it’s budget is almost three-times as much as Fulton’s.
“I think you’ve done an excellent job on the budget. It was a difficult time. I know with all the retirements we’ve lost a lot of good people, we’ve had to make a lot of changes… all in all I think you’ve done a good job of controlling (spending) and making the cost-efficient operation of the city possible,” Weston said.
But others in attendance said there are still cuts that should be made, namely, in public safety. After praising city officials for “holding the line” on property taxes, Mark Aldasch, chairman of the Fulton Republican Committee, admonished them for not confronting what he called “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
“I’ve got to be fair, you held the line (on taxes), but let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The 800-pound gorilla in the room in public safety,” Aldasch said
Aldasch called cuts that had been mentioned for the police department, such as scaling back the number of patrol vehicles and having officers pay their own cell phone bills, “small potatoes,” saying that the only cuts that would have a significant impact would be reducing the size of the police and fire forces. He drew a comparison using the city of Oneida, which he says has a similar population, but only about 24 officers each in its police and fire departments, compared to Fulton’s 35.
Aldasch repeatedly asked the council to table its vote on the budget until it could do some research on how Oneida manages its expenses.
“I’m asking you to table this budget… Take some time and take a field trip to Oneida… Go to our ‘sister city’ and see what they’re doing differently that you’re not doing here, because the ‘same old same old’ isn’t cutting it,” Aldasch said.
Aldasch continued: “You know the 800-pound gorilla is there and you won’t look at it. You won’t look it in the eye and address the issue. I understand that there’s contracts coming up, contract negotiations you have to negotiate in good faith. Look at Oneida. That’s your comparable… they’re doing it with half. They’re not in this position.
“It’s no offense to firemen or policemen. I appreciate everything they do and I’m thankful for them. But I’m saying that if another city can do it, (Fulton can)… You have to make the tough decision, you have to do more. I’m asking you on behalf of the taxpayers. Be a hero. Fall on the sword if you have to, that’s your job.”
After about 22 minutes of Aldasch’s comments, in which he called the council and mayor “a bunch of wimps” for not making more public safety cuts, Woodward accused him of belaboring the issue for a political gain, insinuating Aldasch has intentions to run for mayor. Woodward said tabling the budget that night would be impractical, and that Aldasch is “bright enough to know that we’re not going to settle a contract before Dec. 31.”
Aldasch denied the accusation, and reiterated his desire to leave Fulton if he were able to sell his house.
“I want to move! I don’t want to stay here!,” he shouted, before saying that the council and mayor aren’t looking out for the interest of the public.
The escalation was abruptly stopped by Merlino, who yelled from the back of the room “as a member of the public, I implore the council to take the vote tonight.”
The need to confront public safety spending was a constant refrain among other speakers, too. Attorney Salvatore Lanza questioned the need for 35 firefighters and 35 police officers in a city Fulton’s size.
“I think we could get by in Fulton with 24 or 25 police officers,” Lanza said. “Eight officers a shift. Two police cars on the east side, two cars on the west side — there’s four. During the day you’re going to need an investigator and maybe a deputy investigator, they’re working on cases to solve them — there’s six. Certainly they’re downstairs next to that window. There doesn’t have to be a police officer at the window… Most police departments you call 911 and they say ‘the officer will meet you at the police department.'”
Woodward later noted that a staff of 24 officers with eight on per shift, three shifts per day, doesn’t take into account weekend, vacation or sick day coverage.
Oswego County Legislator and Fulton resident Frank Castiglia Jr. asked the council to consider closing the west side fire station and selling to building to get it back on the tax rolls. It was later pointed out that the station is the only one with a big enough bay to house Engine No. 1. That door was custom fit after the manufacturer mistakenly made the truck larger than the city had requested. The modifications to the door were done at the company’s expense, Woodward noted.
Castiglia also suggested small cuts in other departments, but ultimately praised the city for keeping taxes level and for making tough decisions in drafting the spending plan.
“Whenever you have a zero percent tax increase, it’s a good budget,” Castiglia said.
The council unanimously adopted the budget immediately after the public hearing was concluded.
State Street United Methodist Church will be holding its Christmas Bazaar and Auction, along with a cafe lunch on Saturday, Dec. 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a live auction at 2 p.m. One of the items featured in the auction will be this quilt that was sewn at Robin’s Nest Quilt Shop by participants in the Oswego Industries life program. The quilt was originally made and raffled off to benefit Friends of Fulton Parks. The winner, Ann King, gave it to her friend Janet Sellars, who then donated it to State Street church for its auction. The church is located at 357 State St., Fulton.
Following months of anticipation and preparation, the CNY Arts Center Friday formally celebrated the opening of its new location within Cayuga Community College’s Fulton campus.
Representatives from both organizations gathered for ribbon cutting at the campus Friday morning to officially commemorate the new partnership, which leaders from both sides say will be mutually beneficial.
“The exciting thing about this is that we’ve entered into a partnership for collaboration,” said CNY Arts Center Director Nancy Fox. “Their space, for us, is an expansion from our current space, and will help us offer more to our artists. And we bring the accoutrements of theater and galleries and all that we do, so hopefully that can enhance opportunities for their students, too.”
Fox said having the arts center on campus will help CCC achieve one of it’s own goals: “to bring the community to the college.”
“This will be another reason for people who might not normally visit the college to go and see all they have to offer,” Fox said. “(The college) made a determination that they wanted to really bring in the community aspect, and that’s our promise to them — to bring the community to the college. Our hope is that the people who have been patronizing the arts center will also get involved with the college.”
Other key things Fox said the center gains from the new partnership are a more visible spot in the community, better access to its facilities and parking for visitors.
While the arts center remains grateful for its last space, which was provided by the State Street United Methodist Church in Fulton, Fox said the new facilities provide an environment that will help both accommodate, and recruit, more artists.
“Our last space was wonderful, and we were very grateful to have it,” Fox said. “They (the church) really gave us a chance to grow, but with all we’ve been able to do, we started to outgrow that space. And State Street (UMC) is such an icon in the community and doing big things, so they really needed the space back, too.”
The first CNY Arts Center endeavor to debut in the new facilities will be its upcoming Kids Onstage production of “Wizard of Oz,” which Fox said is one of the bigger events the organization coordinates each year.
“Kids Onstage is our biggest program,” Fox said. “We have 35 kids in the production for the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ which is huge, and everyone’s excited about this new opportunity.”
Following that show, which runs the weekend of Dec. 12, the center will begin working on its spring program. Fox said the center has lots of interesting endeavors on tap for early 2015, which include cabarets, open mic nights, the family-oriented “Snow Day” event, classes and galley exhibits.
“We’re going to be able to both do more programs, and improve the programs we have been doing,” Fox said. “The new location will enable us to accommodate some programs that just didn’t work out at the previous space. There’s just tremendous potential in all of this.”
In addition to the gallery space at the CCC location, CNY Arts Center will continue operating its Arts in the HeArt Gallery in downtown Fulton.
To keep up on what’s happening at both locations, Fox said people should regularly visit the center’s website, www.cnyartscenter.com.
“We’re unique in that we are a multi-arts organization — writing, visual, performances — so to really keep track of what we have going on in all of those different aspects, people can go to the website, which we are going to try to keep up-to-date with everything we’re doing,” Fox said.