Fulton finds success selling off Nestle parcels, ALDI coming to town
After foreclosing on the property in early spring, 2015 became the year Fulton was finally able to do something about the dilapidated former Nestle complex.
Following the foreclosure, the city divided the 24-acre primary site into multiple parcels, three of which it sold off over the course of the year.
Former Nestle Building #30 on Fay Street was purchased by the Liverpool-based company Spring Storage Park for $90,000, along with an adjoining parcel with a parking lot on South Fourth Street for $10,000. Gary E. Spring, the company’s owner, said the properties would be used as a warehouse and a U-Haul rental location.
In November, global supermarket chain ALDI, Inc. agreed to purchase a significant portion of the property for $450,000, contingent upon the city carrying out the demolition of the existing structures and making other needed improvements to the site.
Fulton has contracted with Infinity Enterprises to do the demolition work and asbestos removal for the entire remaining site at no charge. Infinity will, instead, receive the rights to all salvageable materials.
The contract with ALDI stipulates that the site must be “build ready” no later than July 1, 2016. Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said he hoped to begin the demolition in December.
According to Woodward, in addition to putting the properties back on the tax rolls, the sales have covered the cost of back-taxes owed on the complex.
Entergy annnounces closure of FitzPatrick
Following months of speculation and ominous public comments from officials, Entergy, the owner and operator of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Facility in Scriba, announced its intention in November to close the 40-year old power plant which employs more than 600 full-time workers.
Lawmakers and state and federal officials worked feverishly to prevent the shuttering of the FitzPatrick facility and a large-scale grassroots community campaign to “Save Fitz” was organized, but efforts ultimately fell short, with Entergy officials repeatedly confirming the failure of all parties to make meaningful progress.
Entergy has claimed the FitzPatrick plant is unprofitable and going ahead with a scheduled refueling of the reactor would not make long-term fiscal sense. Without that infusion of nuclear fuel, the plant is likely to cease operations in late 2016 or early 2017.
Officials have valued the total economic impact of FitzPatrick on the region approaching $500 million annually. The plant contributes millions per year in tax revenue to the coffers of Oswego County, the town of Scriba and the Mexico School District and the announcement sent shockwaves through the county, sending budget-makers scrambling.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, Congressman John Katko and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer were among the most outspoken proponents of keeping FitzPatrick operational, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to work with Entergy in hopes of forging a deal to stave off closure.
A massive rally featuring elected officials, community and labor leaders, friends and supporters of the FitzPatrick family gathered in Scriba in October, urging Entergy to reconsider its decision, and the county Industrial Development Agency launched a media blitz to raise awareness and put pressure on Entergy.
Despite all these efforts, Entergy remained steadfast in its commitment to decommission FitzPatrick. That process will likely be lengthy, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and workers will continue to operate the plant as normal according to NRC regulations.
Dredging of Lake Neatahwanta continues
Lake cleanup committees in both Fulton and Granby oversaw dredging efforts that local officials say are bringing Lake Neatahwanta closer to revitalization.
Fulton’s Lake Neatahwanta Revitalization Corporation, using a hired contractor, removed about 10,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake in 2015 — half as much as the 20,000 cubic yards it had cleared during the 2014 campaign.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr., who hoped to see enough progress to re-open Stevenson Beach this year, said the decrease in sediment removed this year was largely due to funding constraints holding the project back.
Rather than hire a contractor like Fulton, Granby’s Lake Neatahwanta Reclamation Committee opted to purchase its own dredging equipment and conduct the work with volunteers. Chairman Ed Williamson said there were about 15 people trained to use the equipment in 2015, and there are plans to train even more in 2016.Both organizations are expecting to receive a $100,000 grant to continue their efforts in 2016, according to Woodward and Williamson. They will also continue their community fundraising campaigns.
Local officials believe the 750-acre lake can once again be a valuable recreational resource for the greater Fulton area. The water was deemed unsafe by state and county health officials nearly three decades ago due to a high presence of blue-green algae, but officials believe removing built-up sediment will open the flow of freshwater springs that feed the lake and mitigate the algae’s growth.
Fulton’s public housing goes non-profit
A $24 million endeavor to upgrade the Pathfinder Courts apartment facilities began in 2015 and brought with it a major change to their operations.
The apartments were built as state-sponsored public housing in late 1960s and early ’70s under the Fulton Housing Authority (FHA). 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 said this left them with no meaningful funding opportunities to make capital improvements to the aging properties over the years. In 2015, as they approached the end of those facilities’ 50-year mortgages, the housing authority decided to 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 them under a low-income housing model.
Along with the transition, officials announced upgrades to the buildings to the tune of $16 million. Those include new facades, repairing hazardous sidewalks, fixing drainage issues, providing outdoor lighting that meets safety guidelines, a new security system, upgraded fire alarm systems, better electrical service to buildings, new roofs and siding, better insulation, updated kitchen and bathrooms, and new furnaces and water heaters. The project will also do away with any asbestos-based materials within the facilities.
When adding in the cost of relocating residents for the construction period, asbestos removal, legal and bank fees, and other miscellaneous costs, officials estimated about $24 million would be spent on the endeavor, most of which is being pooled together from several state and federal resources.
Officials have estimated that only about $1.5 million of the cost would have to borrowed by Pathfinder Courts.
Under the not-for-profit model, the City of Fulton is no longer obligated to make Pathfinder Courts whole if it can’t meet its financial obligations.
Batstone performs on NBC’s The Voice
A young Fulton singer finally got his big break in 2015 when he appeared on NBC’s The Voice and advanced beyond the blind audition.
Josh Batstone was featured on the March 1 program in a 30-second clip singing “Amnesia” by Australian pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer. The clip then showed celebrity coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton vying to have the 18-year-old singer on their teams, with Batstone ultimately choosing Levine.
While his tenure on the show didn’t last the full season, downloads of his blind audition piece were quickly made available on iTunes for $1.29.
Batstone told the Valley News afterwards that “the coolest feeling ever” was seeing himself on the iTunes charts.
New president takes reigns at CCC
Following a search that lasted more than a year, Cayuga Community College announced in June that Brian M. Durant would come on board as the school’s president.
Durant, who at the time had been vice president for Academic and Student Affairs at SUNY Adirondack, officially began his position in August.
Durant replaced interim President Dr. Gregory DeCinque, who had served since November 2013. Durant said he felt the size of the college, the appeal of the location and the “modality” for students were attractive aspects of the job that drew him to the position. He said his primary goals for his first year to were to continue to build to college’s programs and local partnerships.
Since finding itself in a budget hole in 2013, CCC has gradually climbed back into fiscal solvency, and Durant’s tenure comes at a critical time for the college, as it seeks to modernize its facilities, curriculum and reputation.
At a board of trustees meeting in April, Finance Committee Chairman Joseph Runkle declared the college’s finances to be “in good shape” going into the 2015-16 budget year, a far cry from the financial exigency the college faced in 2013.
State funds help Centro avoid local service cuts
Faced with a $5 million budget gap, the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority (Centro) narrowly avoided having to cut back services in Oswego County thanks to some last-minute additional funding from the state.
With flat revenues from state operating funds but increased expenses over the last six years, Centro was looking to stay afloat by slashing services throughout central New York. In Fulton, the company was planning to reduce the number of trips between the East and West sides of town each day, and possibly cut the Saturday service to Syracuse altogether.
At a Fulton community forum held by Centro officials in March, residents expressed serious concerns with the proposed cuts, many of which revolved around the notion that they would prevent seniors from leaving their homes.
On April 1, however, state lawmakers made a surprise announcement that an extra $25 million had been allocated for upstate transit systems in the state budget passed early that morning, which helped Centro close its gap.
Fulton adopts nearly $16M budget for 2016
The Fulton Common Council unanimously approved the city’s 2016 budget in December, which will increase property taxes 4.34 percent.
The budget calls for total expenditures of $15,971,674, a $261,091 increase from 2015. The city anticipates collecting $9.38 million in non-property tax revenue, up about $64,500 from the $9.32 million expected in 2015. Based on current property assessments, the city will need to collect $6,659,884 in property taxes to fund operations in 2016, which is an increase of $195,232 from this past year.
Over the course of three budget workshops, the council agreed to almost $400,000 in spending cuts, which brought a 10 percent tax hike that was initially proposed down to the approved 4.34 percent increase. Still, the increase was high enough to warrant an override of New York’s property tax cap.
The 4.34 percent increase works out to be $20.51 per $1,000 of assessed value. Taxpayers will be billed an additional $0.85 per $1,000 of assessment from the 2015 rate of $19.66 per $1,000.
The increase will amount to about $85 more per year on a property valued at $100,000, or $68 on an $80,000 property, which is closer to the city’s average, officials said.
FCSD begins search for new superintendent
In September, Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch announced that he would retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year, and the district began its process for finding his replacement.
Since that time, the board of education has brought on a consultant to assist in the hiring process, and collected input through an online survey to find out what community members are looking for in their next superintendent. The board also met with several groups of stakeholders, including but a parents’ group, community leaders, the teachers’ association, the administrators’ association, office staff and student groups. Board President David Cordone said that each of those groups would also provide two representatives to sit on an interview team that will get to meet with candidates and provide the board with an advisory opinion.
Candidate interviews were slated to begin in December, and Cordone was hopeful that the board would be able to announce the new superintendent in January 2016.
Lynch, 62, has served as the district’s superintendent since 2005.
County opts to close CHHA
The emergence of numerous, authorized alternatives to Oswego County’s Certified Home Healthcare Agency (CHHA), coupled with the program’s low enrollment and lack of state funding, ultimately led to its closure in the fall of 2015.
According to county Administrator Phil Church, the end of partial reimbursement from the state resulted in the agency no longer being cost-effective.
Church also said the rise of abundance in other home health care services, which usually offered better salaries than what CHHA offered its nurses, sparked an inability of the program to retain its workers.
As of Oct. 16, the county said CHHA would no longer be admitting new patients, citing services offered by Oswego Health, the Visiting Nurse Association of Central New York and the Rochester-based HCR home care as alternatives.
Donations keep One-Stop center open
Due to the ending of several federal funding streams, the county’s One-Stop Center – a job training facility – faced a $100,000 shortfall in the upcoming budgetary year that could have led to its closure.
Although the initiative was designed to be a one-time deal, county legislators offered to match up to $50,000 with money from the county’s unexpended fund balance if the same was donated privately in order to keep the center operating for at least another year.
Officials announced late in 2015 that the private donations did reach $50,000, prompting the county to donate a matching amount, thereby closing One-Stop’s budgetary shortfall.
Legislators have said they hoped the initiative would inspire businesses to continue to donate to the center, which provides various certification courses and other types of training to county residents looking for gainful employment.
Fulton man killed in stabbing
An early-morning stabbing at an October party in Hannibal resulted in the death of a Fulton man while his alleged attacker remains behind bars, charged with manslaughter.
Markee Cathcart, 19, of Phoenix, was charged in connection with the death of 23-year-old Sean Leonard of Fulton. Police allege an altercation occurred between the two men on October 24, which resulted in Leonard receiving a fatal stab wound to his torso.
Cathcart was arraigned in Hannibal town court and pleaded not guilty to killing Leonard. In his deposition, Cathcart said Leonard was intoxicated and started the fight, during which Cathcart inadvertently stabbed Leonard with a knife.
State police, along with emergency medical personnel, responded to a 911 call at the Kellogg Road residence in Hannibal where a stabbing was reported. Once on the scene, attempts to resuscitate Leonard failed and he was pronounced dead at Oswego Hospital.
Cathcart is still being held at the Oswego County Correctional facility on $50,000 bail or $100,000 bond, awaiting a grand jury hearing.
Land bank to help tackle blighted properties in county
Oswego County voted to create the Oswego County Land Bank Corporation earlier this year, which will allow vacant and foreclosed properties to be refurbished once the county’s application is approved by the state.
Created by New York state in 2011, land banks are incorporated bodies with strict guidelines imposed on them by the state that are meant to revitalize neighborhoods’ property values by purchasing and amending blighted buildings.
A finite number of land banks are permitted by the state, and must be approved via an application process.
Strict guidelines are imposed on the land banks regarding their operations, transparency and composition of their board of directors, which is set to include banking officials, legislators and people already invested in revitalizing the county’s housing stock if the state approves the creation of the Oswego County land bank.
EEE claims life of Oswego County resident
An unidentified Albion resident suffered a fatal diagnosis of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in early October, despite the county’s efforts to contain the infected mosquitoes.
Oswego County Health Committee Chairman Jack Proud, R-Mexico, said the county was investigating the possibility of adopting a regional approach to controlling infested mosquito populations in the future.
He said the county sprayed areas where EEE was found – typically Toad Harbor – as often as the state permitted.
Jiancheng Huang, the county’s Public Health director, repeatedly emphasized the need for county residents to take precautions – specifically by wearing long sleeves, utilizing bug spray and other precautionary measures – when outside.
Szatanek convicted of murdering teen
Steven Szatanek, 33, of Baldwinsville, was convicted Dec. 4 of killing Anna-Rose Shove, a 17-year-old girl visiting Brennan’s Beach in Richland with her family.
The jury deliberated a mere three hours following the two-week trial, ultimately finding Szatanek guilty of second-degree murder, a class A-I felony, for intentionally drowning Shove in Lake Ontario on Aug. 10, 2014.
Szatanek’s DNA was found under Shove’s fingernails, who was discovered floating in the lake with several facial injuries the prosecution argued Szatanek inflicted when he drowned her.
Defense attorney Paul Carey insisted the injuries could have been inflicted post-mortem and Szatanek’s DNA could have been transmitted through a hug.
Szatanek himself took the stand during one of the last days of the trial, admitting to sinking Shove’s purse in the lake, burying some of her other items while taking others, though he adamantly denied any involvement in her death. His sentence will not be handed down until February.
Deputy cleared in Constantia shooting
David Schwalm, 58, died May 8 after he reportedly pointed a loaded shotgun at a deputy who was responding to a check-the-welfare call at Schwalm’s address.
Mark Walton, a deputy of the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office, responded with other law enforcement officials to Schwalm’s home in Constantia after Schwalm reportedly called the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office expressing a desire to injure himself and possibly others.
Following more than an hour of failed phone negotiations, Schwalm reportedly left his residence with a garbage bag, a shovel and a shotgun. Once outside, he reportedly crossed paths with Walton and pointed the loaded weapon at the deputy, refusing to drop the weapon when ordered.
Walton fired five rounds from his service-issue rifle, hitting Schwalm a total of three times and inflicting injuries that later killed him.
The District Attorney’s Office as well as the sheriff’s department and state police investigated the incident. Evidence was presented to a grand jury, but no indictment was ever filed, as the jury decided criminal charges were not warranted.
State denies parole for Alan Jones
Parole was denied in June for Alan Jones, the local man convicted of killing his stepsister in 2009.
Jones was initially found guilty of second-degree murder for strangling 11-year-old Erin Maxwell with a rope. That verdict was later reduced to second-degree manslaughter. He has been serving a five- to 15-year sentence at the Wallkill State Correctional Facility.
Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes strongly opposed any release for Jones, calling his actions “horrific” and in a letter to the state parole board, said Jones was “undeserving of your mercy.”
Jones was also denied parole in 2013, with the parole board saying his release was “incompatible with public safety and welfare.”
He will again appear before the parole board in 2017.
Former Minetto fire chief pleads guilty to larceny
The chief of the Minetto Fire Department escaped jail time in August after it was discovered he stole or misused nearly $22,000 of department funds.
Joseph Smegelsky Jr., 35, pleaded guilty to petit larceny, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and two years’ probation by Minetto Justice Kenneth Auyer. According to District Attorney Gregory Oakes, Smegelsky also reimbursed the department for improper purchases and cashed checks.
Among the charges leveled at Smegelsky were using a department credit card to purchase a firearm, machine parts and gasoline for personal use. Once the allegations became public, Smegelsky “fully cooperated” with the investigation, said Oakes.
Smegelsky was initially charged with grand larceny following accusations of financial impropriety by the state Comptroller’s Office. His continued employment at the Oswego City Fire Department drew controversy, but officials said there were no plans to change his status with the department.
Minetto couple convicted of grand larceny
David and Morgan Tetro, the Minetto husband and wife accused of swindling more than $100,000 from an elderly woman in their care, were both handed state prison sentences in October, convicted of grand larceny and fraud.
The Tetros claimed the money – taken from the estate of 87-year-old Irene Dennison – was simply the result of Dennison’s generosity. Prosecutors disagreed, saying the couple took advantage of the situation to line their pockets.
During the three-week trial, attorneys sparred over the admissibility of evidence and statements made by the Tetros. The prosecution pointed to David Tetro’s sizable gambling losses and Morgan Tetro’s proclivities for luxury fashion purchases as an “appetite for greed.”
The pair was ultimately convicted of grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing and other charges. It took the jury less than three hours to render a verdict of “guilty on all counts.”
Judge Walter Hafner sentenced David Tetro to 6 1/3 to 19 years in state prison. Morgan Tetro received a term of 7 1/3 to 23 years in state prison.
Scriba man charged with manslaughter in toddler’s death
A Scriba man was charged in the February death of a toddler in his care, accused of shaking and throwing the two-year-old boy after losing control of his anger.
Edward Lewis, 21, faces charges of first-degree manslaughter, assault and endangering the welfare of a child as his court proceedings continue. Lewis was dating the boy’s mother and caring for Jeremiah Jones when the incident occurred.
Lewis initially denied to police using physical force against the boy but after nearly six hours of questions, he admitted his “anger just got the better” and his attempts to discipline Jones ended with throwing the boy to the ground where his head “bounced like a ball.”
Lawyers for Lewis have challenged the statements in the police report, as Lewis’ apparent confession came while Lewis was not under arrest and no lawyer was present.
Lewis is currently remanded to the Oswego County Correctional Facility – where he’s been since Feb. 7 – on $100,000 cash or $200,000 bail bond.
Scriba board passes controversial law in response to Barry’s DWI arrest
Town board members in Scriba took the unusual and highly controversial action of passing a local law changing the position of highway superintendent from elected to appointed following the arrest of superintendent-elect Michael Barry for DWI.
Barry was charged with his third instance of driving while intoxicated in July but, according to supervisor Ken Burdick, concealed those charges from voters and town officials.
Burdick and the board maintained they could not tolerate Barry’s actions and, following an emotionally charged public hearing, unanimously approved the change to the highway superintendent position.
Under New York state statute, such a town law is subject to a mandatory public ballot referendum. Scriba officials anticipate the special election – open to all registered voters in the town – will take place in February.
Thibodeau awaits ruling on kidnapping conviction
The hearing over Gary Thibodeau’s 1995 conviction of kidnapping 18-year-old Heidi Allen started nearly a year ago, with in-court arguments ending in April but both the defense and prosecutors leaving the Oswego County Court Clerk’s Office with back-and-forth filings throughout the summer and fall.
Allen went missing from the D&W Convenience Store in New Haven on April 3, 1994. Thibodeau was convicted without physical or DNA evidence but on a mix of eyewitness testimony and two jailhouse informants who testified he claimed to have knowledge of the crime.
But over the last several years, multiple individuals have claimed three other men made incriminating statements about kidnapping, killing or disposing of Allen, who at one point in the years leading up to her disappearance gave information related to drug use in the county to the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office.
The three new possible suspects — Roger Breckenridge, Michael Bohrer and James Steen — are all convicted criminals, but they deny any knowledge or involvement in the Allen case.
The defense tried establishing that Allen could have been killed because her status as an informant may have been made public when a sheriff’s office ID card was lost more than a year before she went missing.
The defense team, led by federal public defender Lisa Peebles, also tried to establish that the history of Michael Bohrer — who has multiple convictions of violent crimes against women — could peg him as a potential culprit in Allen’s kidnapping.
But Judge Daniel King recently agreed with District Attorney Greg Oakes that Bohrer’s prior crimes, which occurred nearly 30 years ago outside of New York, do not link him to the Allen case whatsoever.
King’s November ruling rejected multiple defense requests to hear testimony from at least 10 new witnesses, effectively ending the hearing.
King said in November he would “soon issue” a ruling, but as of press time, no decision on Thibodeau’s conviction had been released.
Thibodeau is serving 25 years to life in state prison.
Allen has never been found.