By Colin Hogan
Fulton officials revealed the city’s $15.7 million proposed 2015 budget Tuesday which, in spite of an increase in spending, holds the line on property taxes.
City spending for 2015 would total $15,710,583, according to the proposed budget — up $114,395 from this year’s $15,596,188 in appropriations. General fund revenues would total $9,324,102 — up $140,669 from $9,183,433 in 2014 — with $6,464,816 to be raised from the property tax levy, which city officials say would be achieved at the same tax rate as 2014 of $19.662 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said the biggest factor in establishing a balanced budget has been reducing personnel. In all, he said the city will be spending over $200,000 less than it did this year on personnel.
“Most of our way of balancing the budget was in personnel,” Woodward said. “We had some retirements that we didn’t fill, or where the person has come back to work part time.”
For example, after public works commissioner Dan O’Brien was appointed to replace retiring city clerk/chamberlain Jim Laboda, the city chose not to seek a new public works commissioner, and instead promoted one of the department’s supervisors to lead it. That eliminated one position in the public works department without any layoffs.
The city is also saving money on personnel by re-hiring some of the full time employees who are retiring this year, such as the personnel director, deputy clerk and dog warden, as part-timers. Woodward said this cuts the costs of those positions roughly in half, with less being paid in salaries and insurance, and without the expense of retirement contributions.
“In New York state if a person retires, they can come back and work on a part time basis as long as they don’t earn more than $30,000 a year. Of course, when these people retire, they’ve got a lot of years in and are making a higher wage. If you bring them back on a part time basis to fill the full time positions, you pay half the salary, you’re not paying retirement, you’re not paying as much insurance and, because the salary is less, the amount of Social Security the city has to match is less.”
Employee benefits and retirements continue to be a growing burden in the budget. Next year, the city will spend $3,119,687 in medical insurance costs — an increase of $265,932 from this year. That comes alongside a $317,119 increase in fire and police retirement costs, from $1,230,597 to $1,474,134, and an increase of $84,384 in other state retirement contributions, from $243,102 to $299,737.
Last year, Fulton spent 9.68 percent of its budget on employee retirement costs. In 2015, that will grow to 11.29 percent, the budget shows.
Should the budget be adopted as is, spending on the fire department would decrease about 3.5 percent, from $3,017,868 to $2,913,451. The police budget would also shrink from $3,194,850 to $3,144,095, or 1.4 percent. Woodward said both departments are operating with less personnel, but noted that scenario can often increase the amount of overtime being paid.
City water appropriations would total $1,403,437, down $4,621 from 2014. Meanwhile, revenues are expected to reach $1,290,280, down $43,000 from 2014, leaving a difference $113,157 to be paid out of fund balances.
Sewer expenses would total $1,898,590, down $66,572 from this year, while revenues are expected to total $1,807,190, up $93,400 from this year, leaving $91,400 to be paid out of fund balances.
By Colin Hogan
Plastics and rubber manufacturer Davis-Standard will be expanding its operations in Fulton — a change expected to bring some new jobs to the economically struggling city.
According to a release posted on the company’s website, Davis-Standard will be relocating “manufacturing operations from Bridgewater, New Jersey to Fulton, New York,” where it currently has a facility on North First Street.
To accommodate the new operations, Davis-Standard will be leasing space from the adjacent Universal Metal Works facility, which is also in the process of expanding.
On Monday, the City of Fulton Planning Commission granted UMW site plan approval to undergo a 20,000-square-foot addition on the south end of its 33,000-square-foot facility. Documents filed with the city show that about half of that space would be used by UMW to streamline its spray painting, assembly and manufacturing process, while the other half would be leased to Davis-Standard for the relocation of its blown film operations.
“They had a very good site plan. We deferred to Brace (Tallents, of Fulton’s code enforcement office) and he said it was a very thorough plan and couldn’t find any problem with it,” said Dennis Merlino of the planning commission.
Merlino said the planning commission has been working closely with Universal Metal Works President John Sharkey III and Vice President John Sharkey IV on the plans for the project, which is now expected to move forward promptly. On Nov. 10, the Sharkeys told the planning commission that they already have a lease and deposit from Davis-Standard, and that they would like to have the expansion completed by July 2015.
According to the special use permit application filed with the city, between five and 10 new jobs would be created locally by Davis-Standard moving its New Jersey operations to Fulton. Merlino said the planning commission has been told that future job growth is likely, as well.
“I, personally, am thrilled that they are expanding in Fulton. I think this is just the kind of thing Fulton needs most right now,” Merlino said.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said the expansions are a good sign that businesses are still interested in operating in Fulton.
“I’m very excited about it. This shows there are still people interested in Fulton,” Woodward said, “and it’s going to create some jobs and bring some jobs here, which is what we need.”
Calls to leadership at both UMW and Davis-Standard’s Fulton facility were unreturned as of press time Thursday, but in the news release, Davis-Standard Vice President of Global Operations Allen Lee said the relocation will help the company’s manufacturing operations become more efficient.
“Having the largest, most focused global manufacturing footprint in the industry will ensure that we continue to deliver our brand of world-class products and support to our customers around the world,” Lee stated.
By Nicole Shue
The John Wells Pratt House Museum in Fulton will soon lose one of its most beloved employees to retirement. Alec Seymour, head of maintenance at the historic house, has decided to pass on the hammer.
“It’s hard to let go. I’ve seen this place blossom and come alive,” said Seymour.
Seymour began doing maintenance on the house in the mid 1980s.
“I haven’t left since,” quipped Seymour, noting that with a house of its size, there is always a long to-do list.
Seymour moved to Fulton in 1966. He spent four years with the Air Force, and 34 years with a local telephone company. If you’ve visited the Pratt House in the last decade, Seymour was most likely your tour guide. Many Fultonians know him as man who collects antique telephones. He loves answering questions about his extensive collection, especially from students on his tours.
“Things like pay booths are a thing of the past,” said Seymour. “I have elementary kids visit that have never seen a rotary phone. That’s hard to imagine.”
Although his days of painting and scraping the old house are over, Seymour still plans to give tours “until they kick me out.”
Seymour enjoys seeing the relics that people bring in. When the house first opened to the public, just about any old treasure was accepted. Now the Pratt House primarily features objects with ties to Fulton.
“I always ask people questions about their items when things come in,” said Seymour. “There is so much to learn, and so many things still out there stowed away.”
Hundreds of old black and white photos have been donated to the Pratt House over the years. The problem is that most of the subjects in these photographs are unidentified.
“In the olden days people didn’t move as frequently,” said Seymour. “Now, pieces of Fulton are all around the country.”
Seymour recommends that everyone identify their old family photos by writing names and dates on the back. This is especially helpful when people come in with genealogy questions.
In addition to being a paid employee of the Pratt House, Seymour is also the exhibit chairman. Every year after the Parade of Trees, Seymour builds and changes the two downstairs displays. In the coming year, first responders and all things miniature will be featured.
“I like seeing the displays come together and tell a story,” said Seymour. “The Pratt House highlights what I think is impressive about the area. The house has a lot to give everyone. Fulton has a gem here.”
Seymour said that what really keeps the house going are the volunteers. Friends of History has over 200 members, with 30 regular volunteers. Every item that comes through the house is given a number and recorded. When an item moves from room to room, it has to be documented. Volunteers who do these tasks sit on the accession committee.
The Pratt House is currently looking for volunteers to help answer the phones, write letters, direct tours and do outdoor upkeep. The museum is open Wednesday to Friday.
Sue Lane, director of the Pratt House, said that in 2015, she is also looking to increase membership and member participation.
By Colin Hogan
A dense crowd of local children eagerly greeted Santa Claus upon his arrival in front of city hall Thursday for the 11th annual Fulton Tree Lighting Jubilee.
Coordinated each year by the city and run by teams of volunteers and sponsors, the event serves as Fulton’s official Christmas season kick-off with Santa, himself, on hand to flip the big switch.
“It’s really great to see all these kids here, and for them to be able to see Santa,” said city councilor Tom Kenyon. “This is the kind of thing we as the city need to keep going each year, because it’s so important. When you see these kids’ eyeballs light up when Santa arrives, it’s worth it.”
Before Santa’s arrival at 7 p.m., visitors filled both the parish house at All Saints Episcopal Church, where they were able to make all sorts of arts and crafts as part of “Santa’s Workshop,” and the city’s community room, where a full slate of local musicians provided live entertainment up until the lighting. Performers included Robin Whiting, Kathy Lowmaster, Rachel Salvetti, Aliana DeMott, Classic Touch Barbershop Quartet, Briana Simmons, Gina Holsopple, Allison Parker, Joshua Bastone, Stacia DeMott, the Bridge Church Worship Team, Jordan Van Bouden and Clarissa Traub.
“This has turned out to be such a good, positive night for everyone,” said city councilor Norman “Jay” Foster. “You can see all these kids having a good time, we’ve had some really great entertainment going on. We’re very blessed today.”
After he lighted the tree, the crowd followed Santa back to the community room, where families patiently waited in line for a photo with the jolly couple, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and several of Santa’s helpers.
Fulton Parks and Recreation Superintendent Barry Ostrander said, while this year’s turnout was lower than previous years’, the event still drew a “good-sized” crowd that was “very manageable” and filled with satisfied children. He noted that the event received less publicity this year than it had previously.
“We’re probably missing a good one-third of the crowd we normally get,” Ostrander said, “but if you look at this line here, it doesn’t seem like there are any less pictures with Santa being taken this year.”
Ostrander praised the many volunteers, sponsoring businesses and groups that had a hand in the event.
“This is all run by volunteers and local businesses, and we couldn’t do it without them,” Ostrander said.
By Nicole Shue
A Fulton native recently won the chance of a lifetime, which spared him the trouble of having to do his Christmas shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
Lucas Sachel got the best deal of all this holiday shopping season — free presents for everyone on his Christmas list.
Sachel, who today lives north of Buffalo, sells FiOS TV and Internet for Verizon Wireless. Through his employer, he recently earned a shopping spree in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The contest was based on employees’ sales for one quarter. Those with the highest sales in the district were flown to Minneapolis for the shopping extravaganza. Sachel was among 12 Verizon employees chosen for the trip, out of nearly 700 sales representatives in his district.
After spending a night at the world famous Mall of America, Sachel was brought to what looked like an abandoned warehouse. Inside, the warehouse was filled with every item you could imagine, from electronics to name brand jewelry.
Sachel was given a map and 15 minutes to scope out the warehouse. Each Verizon employee developed his or her own route. Sachel planned to hit the gaming systems first, followed by the jewelry counter for his girlfriend Beth.
Contestants were given only a few rules. Each person was given 90 seconds to go up and down the aisles, and the chance to grab one of each item per aisle bay. Some of the more popular items were placed multiple times throughout the warehouse. At the end of 90 seconds, the contestant could keep whatever was thrown in the cart. However, any item that fell out of the cart could not be claimed.
Sachel described the 90 seconds as a free for all. He grabbed items frantically from the left to the right side of the aisle, picking up whatever he could get his hands on.
“I honestly don’t remember half of what I grabbed, it was all a blur,” Sachel said.
His grab-and-go strategy paid off. His haul included an Xbox One, one 32-inch and one 19-inch television, Tiffany & Co. jewelry, a Dyson cordless vacuum, Beats headphones, a 3D Blue-ray player, a smoker, a skillet, a mixer, Rachel Ray cookware, and a Ninja Mega kitchen system.
In Sachel’s estimation, his swag totaled over $5,000.
“If I was in better shape I might have done even better,” quipped Sachel. “The only thing I would do differently is maybe snatch another television, but that’s just me being greedy.”
Sachel still cannot fathom that he soon will be the owner of these shiny new items. He said UPS is scheduled to deliver the prizes this week.
The John Wells Pratt House, one of Fulton’s most revered historic sites and the home of countless archived local relics, is recovering from extensive water damage after a pipe recently burst inside.
Leaders of Friends of History in Fulton, which runs the museum, say they believe the pipe bust sometime Saturday, Nov. 22, and the flooding was discovered the following Monday.
According to Pratt House Director Sue Lane, a valve in the building’s water heater that governs how much water to send throughout the system malfunctioned, over-pressurizing the pipes and radiators on the upper floors to the point that some burst.
“We basically had a swimming pool on half of the second floor,” she said.
But it could have been a lot worse, Lane is quick to point out. The flooding was discovered Monday by the museum’s cleaning lady, who had actually come in a day early to do her work.
“It’s like these things happen for a reason. The lady who does our cleaning wasn’t scheduled to come in, but came in anyway, and she was the one who caught it,” Lane said. “She saw the ceilings and the walls running with water, so she called me right away. When I got there I started calling everybody and their brother to come get started with mops, buckets, shop vacs or whatever we could use.”
After volunteers got the situation under control, professionals were brought in to begin the cleaning and recovery process.
The flooding has left several rooms in need of serious restoration. Walls, ceilings and floors throughout the museum, including those in the exhibit rooms, will need to be completely removed, cleaned inside, and replaced. In such an old historic building, Lane is certain it will be a complicated process that requires special workmanship and attention to detail.
“It’s hard because, we don’t want to change anything, but we have so much that needs to be replaced now. We have ceilings that need to be redone, walls that need to be stripped down and put back up, all the wood floors upstairs are going to have to be pulled up and replaced because they’re completely ruined,” Lane said, “so we’re going to need find a special carpenter who’s worked with old houses and knows how these things need to be done.”
Among the hundreds of items damaged are relics from Fulton’s old factories, antiquated newspaper clippings, photographs and volumes of historic documents, to name only some. The water also damaged an entire room full of historic clothing items, which FOH is working with a Syracuse-based dry cleaner to have restored.
However, in a seemingly miraculous stroke of good luck, none of the flooding reached the rooms that currently house the 18 decorated Christmas trees on display for the organization’s annual Parade of Trees. Lane said this year’s event, which will continue to run in spite of the damages, marks the most trees the museum has ever had on display.
“The one bright note is that the water didn’t touch any of the trees for the Parade of Trees, and we were able to do enough cleaning that it won’t interfere with that,” Lane said. “It was kind of like Mrs. Pratt put her hand out and said ‘you can ruin this side of the house, but not this side.'”
Despite the mess, FOH leaders are still counting their blessings that there wasn’t more damage.
“I keep saying, while it’s certainly bad, it could have been a lot worse,” Lane said.
The Parade of Trees continues until Friday. Lane said she plans to wait until it’s finished to begin holding fundraisers or other events to help with the restoration.
“With all that’s happened, we’re trying to make the Parade of Trees a priority. The organizations that do the trees have done such a wonderful job, and this is the most we’ve ever had. So even though all this is going on, we certainly don’t want to take away from all of their hard work. We’re going to be positively focused on the Parade of Trees for now, then get focused on the house.”
The museum can be found on S. First Street in Fulton, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 15 years.