Category Archives: Fulton News

School districts ponder veterans exemption

By Ashley M. Casey

Although the March 1 deadline to grant a partial property tax exemption to wartime veterans has passed, local school boards are mulling the decision for 2015.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a law in December 2013 giving school districts the same power as municipalities to authorize a property tax reduction of at least 15 percent to district residents who served in the armed forces during a time of war.

The Fulton City School District board of education first discussed the issue at its Feb. 11 meeting.

Director of Finance Kathy Nichols and Superintendent Bill Lynch told board members that based on data from Oswego County, veterans or their spouses own 774 parcels of land in the Fulton district.

Under the new law, $13,851,354 could be exempt from the district’s assessed value if the board authorizes the veterans’ exemption.

“We had received notification (of the law) in early February,” Fulton board president David Cordone said. “There wasn’t a lot of time for us to investigate … the majority of the board felt we didn’t have enough information to vote for the March 1 deadline.”

If boards did not pas a resolution to grant the exemption by the March 1 deadline, they can consider the matter again next year.

Cordone said the Fulton board decided to gather more data in order to “be prepared to vote next year.”

“It’s up for discussion, but we need community input,” said Erin Hess, president of the Hannibal school board. “It’s really not so much for the board to decide — it’s up to the community.”

Hess echoed a concern that Fulton board member Christine Plath voiced in February.

“The only big question about it is the exemption gets picked up by other taxpayers, so it’s up for debate,” Hess said.

In February, Plath told her fellow board members she didn’t “see how certain households (in the Fulton district) can handle an increase in the tax rate.”

“It is going to be an impact (on the other taxpayers),” Mexico school board president Jim Emery said.

“With, for example, the STAR program, the state reimburses the districts. With this … it leaves it up to the district to shift the cost to other taxpayers. It puts the school board in an unenviable position.”

Emery said Mexico and other rural, lower-income districts would have a harder time distributing the cost of the veterans’ exemption to other taxpayers.

Across the state, school board members seem to have their reservations as well.

According the New York State School Boards Association, 69 percent of board members in an informal poll opposed the veterans’ exemption.

“School board members strongly support our veterans, but they believe that reimbursement for the veteran’s exemption should be covered by the state rather than by other local taxpayers,” school boards association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a press release.

“The law as is presents school boards with a dilemma,” Kremer said. “If they adopt the exemption, that would increase taxes for other taxpayers in their district. If they do not adopt the exemption, they could be viewed as not being supportive of veterans.”

In Oswego County, several municipalities have authorized a similar property tax reduction for Cold War veterans.

In 2009, the county legislature passed “Cold War Veterans Property Tax Exemption Act,” which granted a basic 15 percent reduction to veterans. Combat veterans receive an additional 10 percent exemption, and those with service-related disabilities receive even more.

Donna Kestner, director of the Oswego County Veterans Service Agency, said the following municipalities granted exemptions to Cold War vets: city of Fulton, Amboy, Minetto, Oswego Town, Palermo, Parish, Sandy Creek, Schroeppel, Volney and Williamstown. The city of Oswego and Scriba have not approved the exemption.

“I think it’s excellent,” Kestner said of the potential exemption from school districts. “I’d love to see our vets get school tax exemptions.”

Kestner said she could not make it to the Fulton board meeting Feb. 11 but thought the Fulton board was “in full support of the veterans, and I appreciate that.”

“Some places, they’re not as supportive as they are here,” she said.

Salon specialist, cancer survivor, gives back to others fighting cancer

Oswego County Opportunities’ Cancer Services Program Partnership has a new community partner to help clients whom are diagnosed with cancer.

Liz Lucas, an ovarian cancer survivor, wants to help others that are faced with a cancer diagnosis and the treatment side effects.

“I will help anyone I can regardless of their type of cancer!  I want to give something back now after my journey with cancer,” said Lucas.

Lucas, a salon specialist at Hair We Are on 201 Academy St., Fulton, is volunteering her specialties and offering free hair cuts, make up applications; including how to draw on eyebrows and eyelashes during chemotherapy treatments, wig fitting and/or finding wigs online.

“I have learned so much throughout my journey and I know how challenging every day can be during cancer treatment.  I want our community to know that I am there for them and I am willing to assist them with anyway I can,” says Lucas.

OCO’s Cancer Services Program is funded by the New York State Department of Health and the Susan G Komen of CNY Foundation and offers free cancer screenings including clinical breast exams, mammograms, pap/pelvic exams and colon cancer screenings for community members that do not have health insurance and are between the ages of 40-64.

In addition the program offers diagnostic services and has a treatment program for men and women that are diagnosed with breast, cervical, colon or prostate cancer.

“I am ecstatic to continue to increase the resources we have available to our community and applaud Liz for her efforts to share her experience with others,” said Cancer Services Program Coordinator, Carolyn Handville.  “Feeling good about yourself and being confident is a key component when fighting this disease and I cannot thank Liz enough for offering her services to others.”

For more information on the many cancer screenings available through the Cancer Services Program Partnership, or to make an appointment, contact Carolyn Handville at 592-0830.  Don’t wait, early detection saves lives!

Helping senior citizens to be fed

Oswego County Opportunities’ Nutrition Services is asking Oswego County residents to be a part of its annual March for Meals campaign by being a part of the many events that they will be hosting during the month of March.

OCO’s annual March for Meals campaign helps to raise the awareness of senior hunger in Oswego County and serves as a fundraiser to help support the agency’s Home Delivered Meal Service.

To celebrate their March for Meals Campaign, OCO Nutrition Services has planned the following community events:

** Wednesday, March 19 (today), Fundraiser from 4 to 9 p.m., at the Bake Shop Eatery, 3281 Main St, Mexico. A total of 15 percent of all proceeds will be donated to OCO’s Nutrition Services to support the Meals on Wheels program.

** Wednesday, March 19 (today), Mayors For Meals Day. To raise awareness and to encourage action at the local level, Oswego County dignitaries will participate in the campaign by delivering meals to homebound seniors or by serving meals at one of OCO’s eight senior Dining and Activity Centers.

** Date to be announced, Pinewood Derby, at the Sandy Creek Dining and Activity Center from 11 a.m. to noon. Judy Parker, center manager, has invited special guests and local dignitaries to build and race pinewood derby “meal delivery vans” to see which guest can deliver the meals the fastest on the derby track.

Lunch will be served at the center after the race. Reservations are requested. For more information and to make reservations contact Judy Parker at 298-5020 or via e-mail at jparker@oco.org

** Meals on Wheels Collection Vans.  Look for donation boxes shaped as delivery vans at senior centers and in local places of business for the month of March. All donations will be used to support Meals on Wheels participants and to provide special events at OCO’s Senior Dining and Activity Centers.

“In this tough economy, the food and human contact we provide to seniors in this community is needed more than ever,” said Bridget Dolbear, program services coordinator with OCO Nutrition Services..

“We need community members to come out and support our March For Meals events. Their support will help us continue feeding senior citizens in our community.  Our clients are counting on us. We can’t let them down,” she said.

The Meals On Wheels Association of America created the March For Meals campaign in 2002 to raise awareness about senior hunger.

‘We Are Meals On Wheels, so no senior goes hungry’ is the continuing slogan for the campaign. Senior citizens across the country go hungry every day and one in seven seniors is threatened by hunger.

The older population is increasing at a staggering high rate with an increase of more than 20 million senior citizens from this decade alone. The goal of Nutrition Services and other Meals on Wheels programs is to end senior hunger by 2020 and you can help.

The OCO’s Meals on Wheels program delivers around 1,000 meals each day to homebound seniors. There are no un-served areas in the county.

Typically, the Meals on Wheels driver is the only person that the homebound participants see for days at a time.

“Our participants have said that it makes them feel better to have someone check on them and they enjoy the conversations as much as the meals,” said Distribution Supervisor Allen Wert.

While the program does have nine paid employee routes, Wert said it is the volunteers that are the driving force behind the Meals on Wheels program.

“We have 19 volunteer routes for our home delivered meals. Our program relies heavily on the assistance we receive from our volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them,” said Wert.

If anyone is interested in delivering meals or helping out at one of our Dining and Activity Centers please call us at 598-4712, we would love to hear from you.”

In addition to the Meals on Wheels program, OCO Nutrition Services has eight senior Dining and Activity Centers located in Constantia, Fulton, Hannibal, Mexico, Oswego, Parish, Phoenix and Sandy Creek. The centers feed about 100 senior citizens daily and offer fun activities and friendly conversations.

Dolbear said updates on OCO’s March for Meals campaign as well as photos from the events and activities at OCO’s Dining and Activity Centers would be on the agency’s Facebook page at OCO Senior Centers.  “I encourage community members to like us on Facebook.  Our goal is to have 300 likes by the end of March!”

For more information on the March for Meals campaign and to learn how you can help put an end to senior hunger, contact Bridget Dolbear at OCO Senior Nutrition Services, 598-4712, ext. 1813 or via e-mail at bdolbear@oco.org.

 

Legislature chairman gives State of the County speech

Oswego County Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner, R-New Haven, gave his State of the County speech to the legislature March 13.

Here is what he said:

“Good afternoon and welcome!

And to our first term legislators, Roy Reehil (Dist. 5), Richard Kline (Dist. 12), Steven Walpole (Dist. 14), Marie Schadt (Dist. 19) and Frank Castiglia Jr. (Dist. 25) a renewed message of welcome that comes with my encouragement to accept and approach your new-found responsibilities in a patient and thoughtful manner.

It has been just over 10 years now that I have served in this body and slightly more than 10 months since I first accepted the responsibility as your chairman. As I look around the room today, only three other legislators were here with me in 2004, Legislators Kunzwiler, Malone and Proud.

But while the faces have changed dramatically in those 10 years, many of our goals and objectives have not. Unfortunately neither have the various issues that continue to prevent us from fully reaching those goals.

Like most of you, from the very first day that I decided to run for public office, one of my guiding principles has been to always be a careful steward of the taxpayers’ dollars. With respect to that as an overarching goal, I would say that we, collectively, for however long you have personally been a part of this team, have succeeded.

Not only have we managed to hold the county tax rate down but we have actually reduced the rate from $9.60/1000 in 2004 to $7.22/1000 in 2014, a 25 percent decrease over that period.

This has required a lot of hard work and many tough decisions, but through good management and strategic planning we have been able to continue to provide most of the services that our taxpayers demand.

This has been and will continue to be a very difficult task. One that needs careful and thoughtful deliberation as we attempt to strike a balance between keeping the county tax rate down and providing the types and levels of services that our constituents believe are essential to maintaining the quality of life that we all enjoy here in Oswego County.

As we have clearly seen over this last decade, the challenges before us can be overcome only through a bi-partisan and coordinated effort, one that reaches beyond the 25 of us deliberating here today. To be successful we will need to continue to rely on the expertise of our management team and each and every one of our dedicated and skilled employees who have chosen public service as their calling.

On behalf of the taxpayers of Oswego County, I would like to thank all of them for their hard work and continued support.

So, where are we today and where do we want to be tomorrow?

2013, in general, while plagued with challenges, was a productive year for us. We settled several labor agreements and without any new capital expense, we added six new solar projects that should save us over $20,000 a year.

Through a very difficult project that required a lot of patience and cooperation from the public and our employees alike, we eliminated some environmental concerns while re-configuring our Social Services facility and certain processes within the building to create a safer and more efficient work environment there.

We used less of our reserves to keep county taxes down and, through a very professional and unbiased vacancy review process we have been able to avoid the typical knee-jerk solution of cutting jobs to resolve budget shortfalls. In fact, our process of carefully examining the need for services as we consider filling vacancies, netted us a savings of over $2.2 million dollars last year.

But more remains to be done…..

In 2014, working together as a bi-partisan group that understands the complex and diverse needs associated with running an effective and efficient county government, we have the opportunity to explore several issues that remain unaddressed.

For example, while we have made great strides in our efforts to make our fleet of buildings more energy efficient, which by the way has saved our taxpayers over $80,000 in 2 years, we have yet to address the Public Safety Center, our largest energy user and one ripe with opportunities for savings.

We have also identified our internal phone and communications network as desperately in need of modernization.

We know that in many cases, simple changes in the way that we are now required to provide services, our space needs have also changed and we will look carefully at how we can meet those varied needs as we move forward.

Our records center is a good example of this. As our mandates to provide services increases so does the volume of records that need to be maintained, some of which we are required to keep forever.  Our small records center, on the site of the old jail property, is at its capacity and with the pending demolition of the jail building we should be considering our ability to meet our records retention needs at the current site or at another location.

We have a nice piece of riverfront property and perhaps there is a higher and better use for the property that would put it back on the tax rolls.

Part of our responsibility, as the highest level of local government in our jurisdiction, is to work with all of our constituent partners, public and private, to help make our area a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Sometimes this can be accomplished through policy initiatives, like setting goals and objectives for how we would like to see our communities grow, or which natural, cultural or historic resources we would like to see protected as that happens.

Sometimes our role is to lead by example and demonstrate to others that there are better and more efficient ways to do things.

For example, the consolidation and sharing of services. The county has demonstrated this time and again over the years as town dumps were closed and replaced by a county wide state-of-the-art solid waste system, local health offices merged into a county health system, weights and measures services were consolidated, the list goes on but in every case, services that used to be provided by local governments are now provided in a more cost effective manner by a centralized county department or office.

Other counties have seen police and fire departments merge and even here in Oswego County we have witnessed the great efforts of the residents of the Village of Altmar, who recognized that it was not cost effective to continue to have multiple layers of government providing duplication of services over small areas and now, while the Village still has its identity as a place, the cost of local government in that area has been reduced.

I believe that there are opportunities for us to all work together to help make it less expensive to live and do business in Oswego County and if we share that as a common goal without as much focus on geographic boundaries and territories, we will be successful.

I also believe that there are times that we, as a county, can take measures that not only make good business sense for us internally but that also result in great potential for growth in our business sector and enhanced quality of life for our residents.

With regard to enhancing the potential for business growth, the availability of broadband is essential in today’s global marketplace and much of our county has suffered for years from this deficiency.

You will have the opportunity to consider a game-changing initiative, a project that will not only resolve our internal communications needs but one that will eventually bring affordable high-speed broadband service throughout  the county as a result of the base that will be laid to service our government operational needs.

This project, which by-the-way, requires no new expenditures, will position us well ahead of other county governments in NY with respect to the types and levels of communications services that will be available to us.   This project, if approved, will save us tens of thousands of dollars every year during its initial term and nearly ½ a million each year after that. .

As Oswego County becomes more widely known around the world through the multi-media efforts of the tourism and public information office, we need to be able to demonstrate to our visitors, whether they are here for business or pleasure that we have everything they need should they decide to make this place their home.

To that end, we can continue our efforts to be among the best at what we do and continue to work with our local businesses and communities to enhance the quality of life here in Oswego County, but without some relief from the growing list of unfunded State and Federal mandates all of our efforts and sacrifices will be for naught.

If we are going to be successful in our goal of keeping property tax stabilization as one of our top priorities in 2014 and if, we want to do that in a way that minimizes our reliance on reserve funds, we need relief from the requirement of providing state and federal programs without sufficient state and federal dollars to do so.

Over 80 percent of our 2014 County budget is spent on these unfunded programs. Every single property tax dollar and about 1/2 of all of the sales tax dollars that we collect is dedicated to providing services that someone else has decided is beneficial to our citizens.

If we have to pay for these services, then we should get to decide what services we will offer to best benefit our constituents.  If that is not an option, then the people who mandated these programs should also have to pay for them.

If the State of NY took over four of its own programs, Medicaid, Preschool Special Education, Indigent Defense and Safety Net, the average taxpayer in Oswego County would see their county tax bill reduced by about $500.

No discussion of state imposed hardships would be complete without mentioning that again, last year, this legislature decided to override the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap. Many municipalities across the state were forced to do this as well as they nearly all face expenses that are beyond their ability to control on a local level.

Our reasons are slightly more complicated than that and somewhat unique to our county because the state formula, under the tax cap program, still does not address the uncertain tax status of the nuclear plants.

The override was a mechanism that we could use to shield our taxpayers from an uncertain state audit process that could have resulted in an unnecessary penalty, potentially costing Oswego County taxpayers millions of dollars.  A risk we cannot and will not take.

In an effort to take a proactive and bi-partisan approach to the various issues that we are faced with, 2014 is my intent to task  the Legislature’s standing committees, with working with our department heads to explore opportunities that could lead to more efficient ways to utilize the taxpayer’s dollar both internally and in partnership with our constituent communities.

I am open and will remain open to suggestions from legislators regarding any issue they feel should be addressed. Again, all I ask is that the objective makes good operational sense and has a positive benefit to the taxpayer.

I would like to thank our county employees and department heads for a job well done. We need to I assure you, we know how hard you work and appreciate your dedication to your job and the people of this county. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Legislature for your efforts and cooperation during these difficult economic times.

In closing, I would like to re-emphasize that I am confident in the ability of this legislature, the county’s employees, and department heads. I am confident that together we can accomplish our task of providing the people of Oswego County with an efficient, friendly and effective government.

Our challenges are great and we will control spending. Let’s make the hard decisions this year so we can continue to stabilize taxes for years to come. We owe it to our constituents.

I thank you all for the opportunity and the honor to serve as your chairman and I look forward to a positive and productive 2014.

 

BOCES students get real-world experience

Learning did not stop at the classroom door for one group of nine BOCES students.

Morningstar Care Center granted a group of nine licensed practical nursing students an opportunity to take their knowledge out of the classroom and relate it to real-world scenarios.

Recently, these students were able to observe and learn from registered nurses at the care center.

“We are mentoring these students in an effort to foster their growth as nurses and broaden their variety of hands on experience by exposing them to a wide array of acute care experiences encompassed in short term rehabilitation and long term care patients,” says Kelly Totman, a regisered nurse at Morningstar.

“We as a healthcare facility believe these students are the future of nursing,” she said.

The learning didn’t stop with the students.

“Students bring a lot of energy to the table and provide a great opportunity for our own staff to interact and teach others about their work,” said Joseph Murabito, care center owner.

“There is no better way to learn than to teach someone else what you know,” he said, noting he gets a lot out of personally interacting with the students.

The family owned business offers an array of medical services including IV therapy, negative pressure wound treatment and care for people with complicated conditions, providing a unique experience for the students.

Murabito and the staff are looking forward to another opportunity like this in the future.

St. Baldrick’s event March 30 in Oswego

The Oswego County Legislature proclaimed March as St. Baldrick’s Month in Oswego County at its monthly meeting.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation works to raise awareness and funding to support childhood cancer research and fellowship. So far this year, more than 170 Oswego County men, women and children have volunteered to shave their heads and raise money to support this cause.

They include the Oswego Minor Hockey Association, Oswego County Sheriff’s Department, the Oswego Firefighters Association, and many other groups and individuals from throughout Central New York.

Last year, their efforts brought in more than $93,000 and this year the goal has been set at $100,000.

Come to the Lake Ontario Conference and Event Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego on Sunday, March 30 to join the drive as the SUNY Oswego athletic department sponsors the 8th annual Oswego St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser. For more information or to volunteer, call 1-800-899-BALD, or contact Dan Witmer at daniel.witmer@oswego.edu. 

Judges named for business plan contest

The panel of judges has been secured for The Next Great Idea 2014 Oswego County Business Plan Competition, said Austin Wheelock, economic development specialist for Operation Oswego County and co-chair of Next Great Idea.

“The Next Great Idea is the result of business and community leaders joining together to launch a competition that encourages entrepreneurs to commit to new business development in Oswego County and offers a $25,000 prize to help make a dream come true,” Wheelock said.

Judges for the event are Jeff Grimshaw of the SUNY Oswego Office of Business and Community Relations; Adam Gagas of Breakwall Asset Management; Kimberly Steele of the Steele Law Firm; Shane Broadwell of the Broadwell Hospitality Group; John Sharkey IV of Universal Metal; Sue Witmer of Cayuga Community College Fulton Campus; Mike Quenville of Pathfinder Bank; John Fitzgibbons, owner of the Fitzgibbons Agency; Atom Avery, local entrepreneur and owner of Avery Rental Properties & The Beacon Hotel; and Laurie O’Brien, owner of Port City Café & Red Sun Fire Roasting Co.

Judges were selected based on their local business knowledge and expertise in the fields of operations, management, financing, and entrepreneurship.

The first phase of the 2014 NGI Competition is underway and the deadline for submitting business concept proposals is April 11.

The entire competition will consist of three phases that will require semi-finalists selected from the first phase to develop full business plans and, in the third phase, finalists will make their “pitch” in person to the panel of judges.

This panel will determine which proposals will be selected to enter the subsequent phases culminating in the winner being chosen and honored at a luncheon Nov. 13.

Ideas that are not selected will receive written feedback from the judges of how to improve their proposals for the future.

The event web site, www.oswegocounty.org/NGI, includes an overview of the event, a competition timeline, guidelines, details on the $25,000 prize, sponsors, partners and contact information. In addition, the $25,000 can potentially be leveraged to borrow up to $250,000 in partnership with local banks, the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency, the cities of Oswego and Fulton community development offices, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Fulton wrestling prepares for next season

By Rob Tetro

James Bailey and Travis Kemp recently wrestled their final matches in Fulton red and green.

As they move on to the next phases of their lives, they do so while having left their marks on the Fulton Wrestling Program.

Both athletes were four-year wrestlers for the Red Raiders. Varsity wrestling coach Chris Stalker said Bailey and Kemp were great leaders who taught their teammates the importance of hard work, dedication and determination.

As these athletes move toward life beyond high school, Stalker hopes they do so while having learned that hard work pays off. He also hopes Kemp and Bailey move on with the ability to understand what it means to be a part of a successful team — that success isn’t just a part of individual efforts, but rather it’s understanding just how much a team can accomplish when they work together.

While the Red Raiders begin preparing for the 2014-15 season, they do so having been able to get many younger wrestlers some experience at the varsity level this past season.

However, Stalker feels James Bailey’s example could be felt for years to come.

As a junior, Bailey didn’t have as much as success as he hoped he would. Despite the disappointment, Bailey worked hard over the offseason and continued to display his impressive work ethic throughout the season.

The end result was a very successful season, including solid performances in Sectional and State meets.

Stalker said his younger wrestlers know what it takes to succeed at a high level because Bailey led by example and had the success to show for it.

Looking ahead to next season, Stalker is excited about some of the younger athletes making their way up the ranks of the Fulton Wrestling Program.

He said this past season, his team had ninth-grader Travis Race qualify for the State Meet and 11th-grader Mitch Woodworth had a solid performance at the State meet.

Stalker expects these two athletes to serve as key leadership figures next season. He looks forward to seeing these two  lead by example like Bailey and Kemp did with the hopes that they too, will succeed while encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.