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Fulton’s dredging to be re-bid in 2015

Pictured is a dredge operated by Groh Dredging and Marine Construction pulling silt from Lake Neatwahwanta in late August. Colin Hogan photo
Pictured is a dredge operated by Groh Dredging and Marine Construction pulling silt from Lake Neatwahwanta in late August.
Colin Hogan photo

By Colin Hogan
After only a couple months in the water, Fulton’s dredging efforts removed more than 20,000 cubic yards of silt from Lake Neatahwanta in 2014.
The city began dredging its portion of the 750-acre lake, which it shares with the Town of Granby, in late September after awarding the project to Illinois-based Groh Dredging and Marine Construction.
Local officials believe that by dredging silt from the lake, which has been closed to swimming and other recreational activities for years due to a high concentration of blue-green algae, they can restore the flow of the freshwater springs that feed it and help mitigate the algae’s growth.
In the two months of dredging Groh did during the fall, workers removed more than 20,000 cubic yards of silt, which comprised nearly two of the six outlined grids the city plans to clear, according to Mayor Ron Woodward Sr.
“The pretty much completed the first two grids we mapped out,” Woodward said. “We’re permitted to clear out six of them. They’re about 300-by-300-feet each.”
Woodward said that high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the silt have also been contributing factors in the algae’s growth. He said the 20,000 square feet of silt that has already been removed was tested and showed high concentrations of both chemicals, and samples from the water where the dredging occurred are now showing the chemicals in lower concentrations.
“That leads me, at least, to believe that what we are doing is lowering the nitrogen and phosphorus,” Woodward said.
As of November 30, Groh had completed the work it was contracted to do. Now, the Lake Neatahwanta Revitalization Corporation — which administers Fulton’s portion of the project  — will have to put the dredging out for bid again to begin the next phase in 2015.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits dredging in the lake during fish spawning season, which it defines as April 1 through July 15. Woodward said Fulton will probably put the next phase of the project out for bid in late June in hopes of starting right after the end of spawning season.
Fulton and Granby have each received $200,000 in state funds for their dredging efforts, as well as numerous donations from the community. The city’s “One Yard at a Time for $12.89” campaign, in which residents are asked to contribute a minimum donation of $12.89 — the cost to dredge one cubic yard — has proven to be a successful fundraiser for the endeavor.
“We’re getting there. We’re always getting donations in. We get a lot of small ones, and they all help. More than that, though, they show the level of public interest,” Woodward said.
Woodward expects that, with the dredging currently done for the season, donations will be coming in slower, but he still believes people are interested in contributing to the next round.
“Of course this time of year (donations) will slow down. It seems to be best when you can actually see the dredge out there working,” Woodward said. “We had a tremendous amount of sight-seers down there (during the fall) watching them work. I spoke with a lot of them and they all seemed very happy to see something being done.”

Valley News 2014 Year in Review

A look back on some of the biggest stories the Valley News reported in 2014

Lake Neatahwanta dredging begins
After decades of dormancy, 2014 became the year officials in both Fulton and Granby put plans to revitalize Lake Neatahwanta into action.
Like dozens of other upstate New York lakes, the former recreational haven has fallen victim to high levels of cynobacteria, better known as blue-green algae. Local officials say that between eight and 12 feet of silt built up around the lake’s basin over the years, blocking the freshwater springs that feed it. By dredging that silt, they say they can restore the water’s flow rate and temperature to prior levels in order to mitigate the algae’s growth.
Although both municipalities’ lake committees received equal amounts of state funding to start dredging, they each chose different approaches. Fulton, which has already begun, brought in a contractor from Illinois and began pulling silt from the lake in late August. Granby opted to have its own dredging barge built, which arrived in October and will be operated by volunteers. The machine is currently garaged for the winter, but town officials say they plan to start using it was soon as possible this coming year. Pending weather conditions, they hope to begin some of the work prior to the start of fish spawning season, April 1 through July 15, during which time the state Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits dredging.
Both municipalities hope to continue to fund their dredging efforts through community donations. The committee overseeing Granby’s efforts has coordinated with several local business to keep donation jars available. Fulton’s committee has found success with its “One Yard at a Time for $12.89” campaign, in which residents are asked to make a minimum contribution of $12.89 — the cost of dredging one cubic yard — toward the project.
Fulton and Granby have both received permits from the DEC allowing them to continue dredging for up to 10 years.
Fulton grapples with fiscal stress
After the state comptroller’s office announced that Fulton was suffering from moderate fiscal stress in late 2013, city officials said they hoped 2014 would be the year the city confronted its financial woes.
At the request of the common council and Mayor Ron Woodward Sr., the state’s financial restructuring board for local governments conducted a comprehensive review of Fulton’s finances and, in July, issued a series of recommendations for the city. Topping the list was that the city develop and implement more shared services with the county and other local municipal governments, like the towns of Volney and Granby.
The restructuring board’s report also said the city should continue working to restore the former Nestle plant to “shovel ready” status for future investors. The site has already attracted the interest of supermarket chain ALDI Inc. However, in its current state, the site would need a lot of work before it could be developed.
While progress on that site has been stagnant, two other Fulton industrial facilities announced small expansions later in the year. In December, city officials gave the green light for Universal Metal Works to add 20,000 square feet to its facility, about half of which will be used by the company to streamline its processes. The other half will be leased to neighboring plastics manufacturer Davis-Standard, which is relocating some of its New Jersey operations to Fulton.
The restructuring board also noted that Fulton’s police and fire department costs run significantly higher than the average for other upstate New York cities — an issue that would carry over to the city’s budget hearings in December.
Fulton adopts $15.7 million budget
In December, an evening of lively debate accompanied the adoption of Fulton’s $15.7 million budget for 2015.
Despite an overall increase in spending, city officials maintained the same property tax rate from 2014 of $19.662 per $1,000 of assessed value. The budget reflected spending cuts across several departments, and eliminated more than $200,000 in personnel costs by consolidating positions and re-hiring retirees on a part-time basis.
However, city officials still took heat from some concerned residents over police and fire department spending. The constant refrain among three critics of the budget that night was that a city Fulton’s size shouldn’t need 35-person police and fire departments, and could get by with around 24 people in each.
City officials disagreed that the departments could get by with only 24 officers. Others attending the budget hearing voiced their support for the size of the police and fire departments, citing an increase of crime over the years. Despite one critic’s request that the common council table the budget and look for further public safety cuts, the council unanimously adopted the budget that night.
Teenagers sentenced for Granby stabbing death, burglary
Three area teenagers were sentenced in December for a February murder and burglary, in Granby.
The victim, Anthony Miller, had previously provided a home for one of the teenagers, Glenwood Carr Jr., 16, and his father when the Carrs found themselves homeless.
Carr, who claimed Miller owed him money, pitched the idea of stealing money from Miller’s mobile home to his friends Michael Celi, 17, of Baldwinsville, and Zachary Scott, 19, of Van Buren.
When the boys arrived at Miller’s home in Granby, Celi fatally stabbed Miller, and the teenagers collected cash and marijuana from his home. Carr and Celi were sentenced to 17-and-a-half years to life and 20 years in prison, respectively, for murder. Scott was sentenced to 18-and-a-half years with five years of post-release supervision for burglary.
School district absorbs Fulton Public Library
Continued cuts in city funding since 2007 left the Fulton Public Library struggling to keep its doors open in 2014. Over that time, the library’s annual funding from the city fell from $210,000 to $50,000.
In March, library officials went to the Fulton City School District Board of Education, proposing that the facility become school district public library, wherein it would draw its financial support from the school district’s tax base, rather than just the city’s.
FCSD Superintendent Bill Lynch said at the time that the school district wouldn’t be taking over the library’s operations, and that this arrangement merely leaves the school district as a “middleman” for the library’s finances, collecting the tax revenue and turning it over the library board.
Only positive comments on the library proposition were voiced during the school district’s budget hearing in early May, and on May 20, FSCD voters approved the measure 766 to 288.
The library officially became a district-wide entity in July.
FCSD approves more capital projects
Fulton City School District voters approved a $4.4 million capital project in 2014 to upgrade two elementary schools as the district continued work on its $8.8 million 2012 capital project of upgrades on two separate elementary schools.
The district board of education approved an increase of more than $2 million in its budget for 2014-15, a move that also restored four teaching positions that were previously cut.
Earlier in 2014, a mix of veterans and incumbents were elected to the FCSD Board of Education, with incumbents David Cordone and Barbara Hubbard and newcomers Robert Briggs and Timothy Crandell being elected to terms.
Teen’s life meets tragic end days before graduation
Tragedy struck the community on June 17 when 18-year-old Dylan Blair of Fulton was killed in a car accident.
It was just before 5 p.m. that day when the soon-to-graduate G. Ray Bodley High School senior was in a head-on collision with another vehicle on state Route 3 in Granby. He was pronounced dead at the scene, just 11 days before he was to receive his diploma.
Blair’s death sent a shockwave through the community. His classmates quickly organized their own memorial ceremony to honor him, which was held two days after his death.
Blair’s tragic end loomed heavily during the 2014 GRB graduation ceremony, where hundreds in the audience gave a standing ovation when his name was called out. Family and friends of Blair accepted the diploma on his behalf, and speakers throughout the ceremony shared remarks on the beloved young man.
During the summer, multiple benefits were held to help Blair’s family meet their funeral costs. After one held at the Fulton Polish Home in September, friends of the family said they hope to establish a scholarship fund in Blair’s name for future GRB graduates.
Fulton woman’s gratitude for first responders reaches White House
After losing everything but her life to a house fire in June 2013, Fulton’s Beverly Belton resolved to devote herself to honoring our nation’s first responders.
On the day of the fire, Belton had just settled in for a bath when Fulton Police Officers Michael Blasczienski and Brian Dumas kicked in the door to rescue her. She wasn’t even aware there was a fire.
Following months of advocacy with local state and federal representatives, the 72-year-old woman felt like she hadn’t gotten very far. A bill for a National First Responders Day that she supported, which was co-sponsored by Congressman Dan Maffei, D-Onondaga, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, but continued to languish in committee reviews.
It felt like all hope was lost until June 1, 2014, when Belton got a big surprise from her mail carrier. It was an envelope from The White House, and it contained a proclamation from President Barak Obama establishing a time period for honoring all first responders in the United States.
In September, a special event was held at the Fulton Municipal Building to honor Belton’s achievement. The event was attended by representatives from local, state and federal offices, as well as a number of local first responders.
CCC celebrates 20 years in Fulton, new arts partnership
It was a banner year for Cayuga Community College’s Fulton campus.
In 2014, the college marked its 20th anniversary in the Fulton community, and rounded out the year by announcing a merger with the CNY Arts Center.
The school, which currently has approximately 1,100 students enrolled, began in 1994 by offering liberal arts classes in rented classrooms in downtown Fulton. After a couple moves, it settled in its current location within River Glen Plaza in 2012.
On April 23, local dignitaries joined the college’s administrators, faculty and staff in a big anniversary celebration, during which CCC Interim President Greg DeCinque said he would like to rely on community partnerships and collaborations to make the campus a cultural, community and fitness education center.
A few months later, the CNY Arts Center in Fulton announced that it had established a new partnership with CCC, and would be relocating its operations to the CCC Fulton campus. Officials on both sides of the merger said it would help “bring the community to the college.”
After moving into the new location in early December, CNY Arts Center Director Nancy Fox said the center was benefiting greatly from the college’s facilities, and announced a slew of new and revived events it plans to host this year.
Katko ousts Maffei, county elects family court judge
Republican candidate John Katko topped Democratic incumbent Congressman Dan Maffei in November in the race to represent New York’s 24th Congressional District. Katko won by 103,800 to 71,042, defeating Maffei in Oswego County, as well as the rest of the counties in the district.
During the campaign, Katko promised to use his seat in Congress to address student loans, deregulate small business, and enhance the dredging of the Port of Oswego to increase traffic.
James Eby was elected in November to be the second Oswego County Family Court Judge, a new position recently created by the state legislature.
Eby, a Republican, won the election 16,254 to 10,786 against Democrat Lou Anne Rucynski Coleman.
Carol Wood remains found, Heidi Allen search reopens
Two prominent missing person cases in Oswego County again came to the forefront in 2014, with officials finding the car and remains of one missing woman, while alleged new suspects emerged in the case of a different missing woman.
In mid-June, local law enforcement officials pulled the wreckage of the car driven by 30-year-old Carol Wood the night she disappeared after leaving an Oswego bar.
Wood disappeared Aug. 4, 1996 and had not been seen since. Her remains were found in the car, pulled from the Oswego River in Fulton. An autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death.
In the case of the 1994 disappearance of New Haven teenager Heidi Allen, newly discovered evidence led to a legal battle over the conviction of Gary Thibodeau, the man currently serving time for Allen’s kidnapping.
The search for Allen reopened over the summer after new allegations surfaced that people other than Thibodeau have admitted multiple times being involved in the kidnapping. Search and rescue teams looked through wooded areas in Mexico, though they found no sign of the missing woman.

Police make “numerous arrests” through sobriety checkpoint

The Fulton Police Department, along with members of the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department, state police and SUNY Oswego Campus Police are cracking down on drunk driving this holiday season with some very successful sobriety checkpoints and patrols.
On Saturday December 20, 2014 the agencies conducted a sobriety checkpoint, which was immediately followed by active roving DWI patrols. Fulton police say the goal of the multi-agency checkpoint was to identify and arrest impaired drivers and other observed crimes or traffic violations, as well as raise public awareness about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
According to Fulton police, “numerous defendants” were arrested or ticketed during the checkpoint and patrols for several different charges, including:
*Aggravated unlicensed operation in the second degree (class A misdemeanor) and four counts of unrestrained child (infraction) for having four children under the age of eight in the vehicle who were not restrained in a proper car or booster seat.
*Unlawful possession of marijuana (violation)
*Reckless endangerment in the second degree (Class A misdemeanor), reckless driving (misdemeanor), failure to comply (infraction) and several other traffic infractions for failing to stop at the checkpoint, which led to a low speed pursuit.
*Driving while intoxicated (Class A misdemeanor) and speed in zone (infraction).
The checkpoint was funded by a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, administered by the Oswego County Stop DWI Program.
Fulton police announced Tuesday they are planning another multi-agency checkpoint prior to the New Year’s holiday.

Granby residents concerned about proposed Hannibal mine

By Ryan Franklin

Several Granby residents expressed their concern with a proposed gravel pit in Hannibal that would sit on the border between the two towns during the town board meeting Wednesday.
Virginia Messerschmidt of county Route 8 said the gravel pit, which C.J. Ferlito Aggregate is seeking a 20-year permit for and would sit on the Hannibal side of Harris Hill Road, would lead to numerous problems for Granby residents.
Messerschmidt focused on the heavy truck traffic that would result from the mine, saying that it would lead to destruction of town roads and a burden on Granby taxpayers for their repair, a decrease in property values from the noise and dust, well water draining or contamination, and an increase in the already hazardous intersection of county Route 8 and Harris Hill Road.
“I’ve lived on this corner since 1980,” Messerschmidt said, “and have witnessed many, many accidents.”
Pointing to the gravel pit already on county Route 85, Messerschmidt said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which would oversee the new pit, has done a poor job of enforcing regulations.
“It would appear the DEC is lax in enforcing their own permits,” Messerschmidt said, citing numerous complaints from county Route 85 residents that trucks at that pit did not follow dust or time limits.
As part of the presentation, Messerschmidt requested that the board write a formal letter to the Town of Hannibal Planning Board opposing the pit, request a study from the Department of Transportation about the safety of heavy trucks on the proposed roads, and post signs for weight limits on Granby roads to discourage trucks from using them.
Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said that he had already requested the Mexico DOT office perform a safety study on the intersection of county Route 8 and Harris Hill, which he called “a deathtrap.”
Williamson also said that he attended Hannibal’s public hearing for the proposal and expressed that Granby did not want the pit to be approved, and that if it was, Hannibal should include in their stipulations to the DEC that the trucks should not be allowed to travel on Granby roads.
“Granby wants nothing to do with this permit,” Williamson said. “There is no reason they should have to travel on our portion of Harris Hill Road.”
Williamson promised the board would write a formal letter to the Town of Hannibal asking for the pit not to be approved. A public hearing extension to decide on the permit is scheduled in Hannibal for January 8.
The board also discussed a notification from the DEC that the 85 Riccelli Mine Pit was being allowed to increase its pond size from 32.1 to 46.6 acres. The board said they would request a bond to ensure Syracuse Sand & Gravel would have to repair or reimburse residents whose wells were damaged if that occurred.
A $45,000 transfer from the town’s general fund was approved to begin the Environmental Design Phase for the establishment of Water Service Area 6A, which would survey the roads for soil borings and other preparations. The resolution was made for the town to loan the money rather than a bank so that the interest rate required by law would be as low as possible, at .18 percent. 

Marcy A. Leroux Craven

12-20 Craven OBMarcy A. Leroux Craven, 64, of Fulton and formerly of Middleburgh, Fla., departed this life unexpectedly on Saturday, Dec. 13. She was born May 19, 1950 in Tupper Lake, the daughter of the late Maynard and Iona Leroux. Marcy was a 1968 graduate of J.C.B. High School in Phoenix and had once been employed by Western Electric in Syracuse. In April 1970, she married Bruce Hall in Tupper Lake. While Bruce was in the Navy, she experienced military life as they traveled to Guam, where they were both champion archers, Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and Jacksonville, Fla., where she had worked at NAS Jacksonville Naval base for several years. Marcy will be remembered for her joy of cooking, passion for horses and NASCAR as well as out fishing her brother-in-law. Her family was very close and shared great love for one another. She will be missed and thought of every day for the remainder of their lives and she will always have a spot reserved at the table for card night. Marcy is survived by her sons, Scott and Kevin Hall; sisters, Callie (Bruce) Benware and Laurie Leroux; brother, Gary (Vicki) Leroux; granddaughter, Alyssa Hall; nieces, Stacy (Buster) Hall and Nicole (Jason) Mace; great-nieces and nephews, Montana Hall, Cameron Hall, Cayleb Hall, Curtis Mace and Morgane Mace. A service was heldThursday, December 18 at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. There were no calling hours. Burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery will be private in the spring.

Years of reserves depletion lead to tough tax hike in Schroeppel

By Colin Hogan

Schroeppel residents are facing a steep hike in the town’s property taxes in 2015, which some town officials are saying is the consequence of years of balancing the budget with fund reserves.

The $2,437,528 spending plan for 2015 will rely on $961,510 in anticipated non-property tax revenues, with the remaining $1,476,018 to be raised from the town’s tax levy. In previous years, the town used its reserves to help offset the tax levy, but officials say this year there simply aren’t enough reserves left to use, leaving a heavier burden on the taxpayers.

According to Deputy Town Supervisor and town board member Steve Hutchins, prior administrations used up more than $1.7 million in reserves to balance the town’s budget over the last five years. Now, he says, without any reserves left, the taxpayers will have to shoulder the burden themselves.

“(Property owners) are going to see a tax bill in January they’re not going to like,” said Hutchins. “The past administration spent every penny of reserves to keep taxes level. Now that there’s no reserves, guess where taxes have to go? Up.”

Hutchins, who assumed office this year, said he is “appalled” by how previous town leaders continued to deplete the reserves without making necessary tax increases, leaving the tax rate “artificially low.” He said tax increases could have been nominal and much more manageable for the taxpayer if they had been done responsibly over time.

According to the budget, Schroeppel’s tax rates for 2015 will be $3.0688 per $1,000 of assessed value for properties within the Village of Phoenix and $5.1566 per $1,000 for properties outside of the village. Those represent a more-than-30 percent jump in rates compared to 2014, when they were $2.2543 and $3.8630, respectively.

The average property owner in Schroeppel could see his or her town taxes go up anywhere from $75 to $250 as a result of the rate change, Hutchins estimated. A home assessed at $100,000 would see roughly a $130 increase, he said.

Hutchins said, in spite of their need to use reserves, town officials had actually lowered tax rates in 2012 and 2013, leaving a larger gap to close in 2015.

While the impending tax increase will keep the town operating, it won’t solve its reserves problem. Hutchins said the new revenue will cover the basic costs of operating the town, but most likely won’t add to the reserves. New York state recommends municipalities maintain reserves equal to about 10 percent of their budget.

“The budget we passed is bare bones. It’s the cost of running the town,” Hutchins said. “Those are the costs of having a highway department that plows our roads, and to keep the lights on in the town hall, and to have things like a community services program. This is what we need to budget just to have those basic things.”

This year, the town hired a new comptroller, Robert Peters, who has helped with the budgeting process. Hutchins said, with Peters on board, he hopes the town will begin formulating a plan to begin adding to its reserve funds again.

“We hired a new comptroller who is very good at what he does,” Hutchins said. “We’ll be working with him over the next 12 months and, yes, we will determine a plan to put reserves back in the budget.”

The 2015 spending plan doesn’t come without cuts, either. Hutchins said more than $200,000 in services and programs were eliminated from next year’s budget. After the board held several meetings with department heads, Hutchins said some items they intended to fund next year — such as $25,000 for bathrooms in a park, a used crusher for the highway department estimated at another $25,000 and funds for additional personnel in the community services department — all had to get turned down.

While Hutchins knows the hike will be unpopular with residents, he said he and the rest of the board are willing to take “a political hit” for making the necessary adjustments.

“Realizing there was no fiscally responsible way the town could provide the minimum level of services and programs within the 2 percent cap (on tax levies, mandated by the state) and maintain current levels of vital services and programs expected by the community, taking a political hit for exceeding the 2 percent cap is the price this board is willing to take in the adoption of the 2015 budget,” Hutchins said.

Teens convicted in Granby man’s murder sentenced

Staff Report

Three central New York teenagers were sentenced to more than a decade in prison each in Oswego County Court Monday for their roles in a February burglary and murder in Granby.

Glenwood Carr Jr., 16, of Lysander, and Michael Celi, 17, of Baldwinsville, were sentenced on a single count each of second-degree murder, and Zachary Scott, 19, of Van Buren, was sentenced on a count of first-degree burglary after the three broke into the trailer of Anthony Miller on Feb. 3 and fatally stabbed him for money and marijuana.

Glenwood Carr Jr.
Glenwood Carr Jr.

Carr was sentenced to a period of 17-and-a-half years to life in prison, Celi was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and Scott was sentenced to 18-and-a-half years in prison, with five years of post-release supervision.

According to District Attorney Greg Oakes, the idea to burglarize Miller’s mobile home began with Carr, who claimed Miller owed him and his family money. Oakes said Celi immediately jumped on the idea and took ownership of the plan, providing Carr and Scott with ski masks. He also armed himself with a knife and armed Scott with a metal pipe.

Miller’s older sister, Lulia Brown, wrote a letter about how the events affected her life, which Oakes read aloud in court before the three teenagers were sentenced.

“My brother Tony would’ve given the shirt off his back if someone was in need. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve to die,” she said in the letter.

Brown said that Miller housed Carr and his father when they were homeless.

“He was like a son to Tony,” she said about Carr, “and this is the thanks my brother gets.”

Brown said all three of the teenagers were “friends of Tony’s, if you want to call them friends.”

Brown said in her letter that Miller had diabetes, and was too weak to defend himself from three teenagers.

“Zachary Scott: I say to you that you are a follower. You attacked a man that trusted you and allowed you into his home. I thank you for ‘manning up’ and accepting your plea deal,” she wrote.

Brown also said she knew Carr had a troubled past with absent parents, but she knew he “masterminded the whole, hideous thing.”

“I blame you for your stupidity. You knew it wasn’t right what you did,” she wrote. “Do yourself a favor and get an education in prison. Make something of yourself other than a menace to society.”

Brown then addressed Celi in her letter.

“Michael Celi: I say to you that I want to say I hate you, but I won’t stoop so low,” she wrote. “I hope your stay in prison is rough. I hope someone manhandles you like you did to my brother.”

Brown wrote about her intention to appear at Carr and Celi’s parole hearings in the coming years to argue that they should not be let out of prison.

Zachary Scott
Zachary Scott

At Scott’s sentencing, Judge Donald Todd admonished him for not using any leadership skills to stop the two younger defendants.

“He could have exercised some form of leadership over the two younger defendants,” he said. “They are young men, but they darn well know the difference between right and wrong.”

Scott’s attorney, Joseph Rodak, said Scott reflects on his actions “each day and wonders what he could have done differently.”

Scott told Todd that he wanted to “come home a better person.”

“You knew it was wrong, you knew it was stupid, when you realized Mr. Miller was home, nobody should have entered,” Todd said before handing down his sentence.

When Carr was sentenced, Oakes argued that the crime “began with Mr. Carr.”

“Murder was a consequence they anticipated,” he said, noting how the teenagers wouldn’t have arrived at the home with weapons and ski masks if they didn’t consider the possibility that Miller might be home.

“My client wishes he could take it back. From day one he has been remorseful,” said Carr’s attorney, Timothy Kirwan. “He did have a troubled life and mental health issues.”

Carr said he would live with the night’s events for the rest of his life.

“I’m sure you’re sorry, and I know you didn’t mean for it to happen, but you were involved in a crime that was wrong and dangerous. You came up with this idea because you believed this man owed you, your father and your uncle some money,” Todd said. “You owed him a hell of a lot more than he may have owed your family.”

Michael Celi
Michael Celi

At Celi’s sentencing, Oakes advocated for the full sentence offered in the plea deal of 21 years to life in prison.

“I get no joy or satisfaction from this request, but I am asking the court to impose the full sentence,” he said. “This whole thing is tragic because of the death and the three young men who threw away their lives.”

Oakes said Celi “fully anticipated this could go wrong in the way that it did.”

According to Oakes, when Carr and Scott both showed reluctance upon the realization that Miller was at his home, Celi demanded they go through with the burglary because he had already paid for the gas money to reach the trailer.

According to court documents, Celi attacked Miller with a hammer until the head of the tool fell off before stabbing him three times.

Stab wounds were “deliberate, these were intentional and these were meant to cause harm,” Oakes said. “He mouths the words of being sorry, he mouths the words of contrition, but I don’t know how serious they are.”

Oakes called into question how sincerely sorry all three of the teenagers were, considering reports that they stepped over Miller’s body as he lay on the ground, dying or dead, to grab items to steal.

“Mr. Celi shows a high risk of violent recidivism,” Oakes said.

Celi’s attorney, Anthony DiMartino, said Celi had taken responsibility for his actions when he pleaded guilty.

“My client has an alcohol usage problem,” he said. “Does that mean he’s not remorseful? It means he has a problem.”

Todd said he didn’t believe any potential alcoholism played a role in the murder.

“You were drinking, but I’ve never seen a bottle of beer break into a house,” he said.

Ultimately, Todd sentenced Celi to 20 years to life in prison instead of the maximum sentence of 21 years to life.

“I’m going to give you the one year off. I’m going to give you that chance,” he said. “It’s easy to lock up someone based on who they are now. I’m going to give you a chance to convince the parole board in 20 years that you’ve changed.”

Legislators pass 2015 county budget

Staff Report

The Oswego County Legislature passed the 2015 budget Thursday night, approving an almost $197 million spending plan with a 1.15 percent increase in property taxes — a far smaller hike than the legislature initially planned.

The county budget will be $196,850,567, which is $305,040 less than the 2014 budget and $700,000 less than the tentative budget for 2015.

The budget includes a tax levy of approximately $53.8 million with a tax rate of $7.49 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The levy in the draft budget released in October was $55.4 million and the rate was $7.72 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“I want to thank both caucuses. It wasn’t easy on either side of the aisle,” said Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner, R-New Haven. “Nobody wants to increase taxes. It’s a lot of better than where we started.”

“Unfortunately it had to be a slight increase. It was a good budget. There’s some things we’re pretty proud of,” added Gardner.

“I’m never happy with any tax increase,” said Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal.

The budget passed without support from the Democratic legislators.

“I’ll be voting no on this budget,” said Minority Leader Michael Kunzwiler, D-Oswego, adding that many of his ideas for cutting the budget were rejected.

“There’s too many unknowns in this budget. It’s projected revenue we don’t know we have. I hope they’re right,” said Kunzwiler, referring to the idea that revenue from the nuclear plants could fluctuate due to ongoing litigation.

Members of the public expressed their concerns to the legislature regarding the budget in a hearing prior to the vote.

“I want to say that we in the libraries have a passion for teaching and service. Most of our salaries are below poverty level. We can’t cut anything. The expenses keep climbing. I’d like to encourage you to visits your libraries. See where your money is going,” said Beth Ripka.

Ed Taverni, a former teacher, was not happy with the way he has seen the county develop since moving here in 1977.

“Year after year services are taken away,” Taverni said. “I see our roads and public health getting worse. It’s putting everybody in a terrible situation,” said Taverni.

Wilbur said one of the merits of next year’s budget was that it did not rely significantly on the fund balance.

“We have a plan where we’re not relying on that. In next year’s budget it will be even less,” said Wilbur.

According to Church, the fund balance will be approximately $20 million, or equal to 10 percent of the budget, which could be put toward infrastructure projects and emergencies.

One of the primary concerns with the budget was the ongoing tax litigation with the nuclear plants. Payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) agreements with both the Entergy and Exelon nuclear plants have expired, placing both facilities back on the tax rolls.

The county is in litigation with both facilities, prompting an increase in legal fees in the county budget.

The county also budgeted an extra $400,000 for housing local jail inmates at jails in other counties due to overcrowding at the Oswego County Correctional Facility.

The final budget was also reduced by $700,000 in part due to a reduction in public assistance as a result of declining demand since August and new disability funds from the federal government, according to county officials.

Legislators also cut $109,000 budgeted for gas and oil to reflect the decrease in the price of gasoline.

Legislator Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, made a motion to cut $33,500 of fringe benefits that the legislators receive including mileage reimbursement and Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that legislators receive to pay for minor medical expenses.

“There’s $48,000 worth of fringe services that should come out. What are we going to give up?” Castiglia asked.

Legislator Shawn Doyle, R-Pulaski, defended the mileage reimbursement saying that the county has been paying compensation to legislators since the 1840s.

“I don’t know any part-time job that gets $14,000 in benefits,” said Castiglia said of the FSA.

Doyle replied that since no more legislators are able to receive health insurance, “I think it’s fair the only remaining people that have it.”

The motion failed to pass the legislature, as did a motion to eliminate the FSAs.

Kunzwiler added that he suggested that the county study its airport and staff to look for areas to cut, while Legislator Amy Tresidder, D-Oswego, suggested the county look to downsize the legislature to save money.

Legislator Doug Malone, D-Oswego Town, made a motion to eliminate all unfilled positions.

“We hired 21 people. I was in the legislature the year we voted to layoff 80,” said Malone, whose motion failed.

Church explained that he doesn’t believe that there are a lot of open positions. He pointed out that some positions fall under state and federal mandates, such as correction officers.

“That’s not good management,” Church said, explaining that it doesn’t take into consideration the nature of the positions and the services that they provide to the public.

“We have a very deliberate process on every position on whether to refill a position or not,” Church added, explaining that when a position becomes vacant, it usually takes at least four months to fill.

According to Church, the county has saved $2.1 million in that fashion.