Hannibal, Granby to consider merging town courts

By Matthew Reitz

matt@fultonvalleynews.com

Town officials in Hannibal and Granby are mulling a court merger that could potentially save each town money on justices and other costs associated with the judicial system.

Hannibal Town Board Member Gary Thompson, who proposed the measure last week after months of research, said the merger could cut court spending in half. Thompson said he is “vigorously looking for ways to cut costs,” and after attending training over the summer, he thought a court merger could be a viable option. After receiving positive feedback from local officials on the town, county, and state level, Thompson said he ramped up his efforts.

Thompson said the proposed merger was a “plan of a different kind” that could help both towns save money, and could even reduce expenses for the county government by consolidating inmate transportation costs and DA court dates. He noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently promised funding for municipalities that consolidate services, as well.

“This move will not just save money for Hannibal, our neighbors in Granby will save money and it doesn’t stop there,” Thompson said. “It will save the county money, as well.”

The “best part” of the proposal is that it would go to public referendum in November, leaving the voters of Hannibal and Granby to decide, according to Thompson.

“I think giving the people a chance to vote on cost-saving ideas is the best thing for the people,” he said.

Consolidating the courts makes sense, Thompson said. Combined, Hannibal and Granby have four judges and two clerks who serve a combined population of just over 12,000 people. The six elected and appointed positions are a waste of taxpayer money and a duplication of services, according to Thompson. He said the idea will also “streamline efficiency for all involved.”

Under the proposed plan, the number of justices would be reduced to two, and both towns would be served by a single court clerk. Not only will the plan cut back on salaries, but also pensions, training, and contractual spending, Thompson said. Each town would have its own judge, but would split the cost of the clerk’s salary, according to Thompson.

Hannibal and Granby would each continue to keep revenue from fines and forfeitures separate, Thompson said.

Town Justice Jack Beckwith said, to his understanding, a study would have to be carried out by an “unbiased accounting firm” to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Beckwith said a formal analysis has to be performed so voters are educated before a referendum is conducted.

Thompson, however, said the towns didn’t need a formal independent audit on the financial implications, but said he is working on determining exact figures on the savings.

Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said he’s been in contact with Thompson, and he’s interested in the proposal and how it could save the Granby taxpayers money. Williamson said any measure that can save Granby taxpayers money is worth exploring.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Williamson said.

Williamson said he can’t speak for the Granby town board, which would have to authorize the plan, but he will be presenting the proposal to the board at an upcoming workshop.

The proposed merger mirrors a measure adopted in 2003 by the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway, located in Orleans County.  Thompson said he had spoken with local officials in those towns, and they said the consolidation has been successful.

A public hearing regarding the merger will be held at the February 18 Hannibal town board meeting.

City officials discuss grant writing position

By Matthew Reitz

editor@fultonvalleynews.com

FULTON—Some local officials and residents are encouraging the city of Fulton to look into employing someone to write grants and seek state and federal funds to help the city, but others say creating a full-time position doesn’t make sense.

Fulton resident Dennis Merlino asked the Common Council in its meeting Tuesday to consider pursuing grant funding to help cover the costs of the city’s efforts to redevelop vacant properties.

Merlino said as the city continues to redevelop sites, “cash-flow problems” are predictable, and asked how officials would acquire the money necessary to keep growing. He said he hoped members of the council and the mayor would consider using a professional grant writer for some situations.

Mayor Ron Woodward Sr., who felt establishing a full-time grant writer position didn’t make sense for the city, said Fulton already receives a number of grants people may not be aware of.

“A lot of people think Fulton doesn’t get any grants, but we get tons of grants,” Woodward said.

Woodward named several projects the city received grant funding for in recent years, including the trail at Indian Point, the dredging of Lake Neatahwanta, and the replacement of the Phillips Street Bridge. He said there’s not a grant for every project the city wants to take on, but officials do go after the funds it can when they’re available.

“If we see a grant that we think will help us, and we have a shot at it, we get someone to write it,” Woodward said.

Many grants may provide a portion of a given project’s costs, but when the city doesn’t have—or isn’t willing to spend—the matching funds that are often required, it’s a waste of time to write a grant, Woodward said.

Fulton is presently working on several grants, according to Woodward. He said the Community Development Agency is currently pursuing an Environmental Protection Agency grant for the lake, and the fire department is working on several of its own grant applications.

Woodward said he would consider hiring a grant writer by contract if the need presented itself, but the city can’t afford to take on the health and retirement benefits for a full-time position. He said he wasn’t “in favor of adding anymore positions” at the moment, because the city can’t afford it.

“If we hired somebody it would be a contract job,” Woodward said. “I wouldn’t put them on the payroll and pay them health insurance, retirement and all that stuff.”

Fourth Ward Councilor Jim Myers said he had been in contact with a grant writer, and will introduce her to the council if both parties are interested. Myers said “some of the grants have administrative money” in them that can help pay for the costs of grant writing services.

The county will also be offering a grant writing seminar aimed at offering training and assistance to municipalities like Fulton, according to Oswego County Legislator Frank Castiglia Jr., who attended the meeting.

Hannibal holds public hearings on fracking, housing foundations

By Matthew Reitz

matt@fultonvalleynews.com

 

HANNIBAL TOWN—Town of Hannibal officials held public hearings Wednesday night regarding hydraulic fracturing and foundations for manufactured housing, which led to the formation of a committee that will recommend revisions to the town’s zoning and local laws.

Town Supervisor Ron Greenleaf opened the hearing on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, by saying “New York state has a ban on all high-pressure fracking,” and added that a couple towns have fought the drilling practice in the Southern Tier.

Hydraulic fracturing entails spaying high volumes of chemically-infused water deep into shale formations in order to extract pockets of natural gas.

Greenleaf said the towns of Dryden and Avon both took action to oppose fracking, and “did an outstanding job” using their comprehensive plans and zoning laws to outlaw the practice.

Hannibal resident Gregory Stupp, Sr. said he feared the Department of Environmental Conservation would not adequately regulate safety procedures, and added that gas industry lobbyists often write their own regulations and the DEC helps to implement them. Groundwater contamination was another concern Stupp raised.

“Once your groundwater is contaminated, that’s it, that’s your water” Stupp said. “They cannot clean the water. They’re not going to have a company come in that can clean that water—once it’s contaminated, you’re done.”

Stupp also talked about several of the chemicals involved in the fracking process, and discussed the process the town would need to use to stop gas companies from moving into the town if the state’s ban is lifted.

“I know that you can’t put a ban on fracking,” Stupp said. “It won’t stand up in court, but what we can do as a community—with the officials that we have here—is we can make a regulation through the comprehensive plan and through our zoning that will make it not practical for any company to come into our area.”

The town could follow Dryden’s lead by “implementing what they have word for word,” according to Stupp.

Larry Flint, another Hannibal resident, spoke at length about many of the dangerous chemicals he said were involved in the fracking process. The chemicals used in high pressure fracking, such as ethylene glycol, methylene, sulfuric acid and others, can make their way back up to the surface, according to Flint.

Flint said he agreed with much of what Stupp said, but added that the town’s “comprehensive plan states the number-one priority is to protect the town’s groundwater,” which he said was the only source of water most residents have for drinking, cooking and bathing.

“Hydraulic fracking consumes high volumes of water,” Flint said, adding that the wastewater cannot be treated at normal water treatment facilities in the area. Flint concluded by asking the town board to “ban fracking throughout Hannibal” to protect its “valuable water sources,” and land.

Greenleaf said he agreed with both Stupp and Flint, but said the proper way to ban or impede fracking is through zoning laws. He suggested forming a committee to update the zoning laws.

Manufactured housing hearing

Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Newton began the public hearing on manufactured housing foundations. Newton said the town’s current laws allow for manufactured houses to be installed on a gravel pad, which is not permitted by the state of New York. He suggested slight changes in the language of the town’s zoning laws to reflect the state’s standards.

“I have to go by the most restrictive law, which is the state,” Newton said. “So that’s what I have to use whether we change our zoning or not, but it’s so much easier if we just change our wording.”

Manufactured homes must be installed on a concrete pad or piers, and must meet the manufacturer’s installation instructions, Newton said. If the manufacturer’s recommendations are not available, engineered drawings must be acquired. The law applies to new and used homes, but current installations will not be required to alter their foundations, according to Newton.

Resident Lee McMillen asked what good the town’s codes were if the state could just override them. McMillen said he owned a mobile home for 40 years “sitting on a couple of cement blocks” with no pad that is “doing just fine.”

“This is just another way of driving these poor people out even to a poorer place yet,” McMillen said.

The board unanimously passed the changes to manufactured home foundations, and appointed a committee to review the town’s local and zoning laws and their enforcement procedures.

The committee will include Newton, board member Rick Shoults, and residents Larry Flint and Kelly LaRock.

Fulton making a push to unload tax-foreclosed properties

By Matthew Reitz

matt@fultonvalleynews.com

FULTON—Fulton officials are attempting to purge the city of the nearly 70 tax-foreclosed properties it has acquired in recent years, and will look to strengthen nuisance abatement laws to discourage negligent landlords from operating in the city.

On Tuesday, members of the Common Council were given a list of properties in each of their wards to determine the best course of action for the 69 parcels currently owned by the city. Councilors will assess the properties and determine whether they should be renovated and sold, demolished, or sold in their current condition.

“Some of these we rehab, some of them we sell through real estate as-is, and some of them—the fixer-uppers, the handy-man ones we talk about—we don’t put them through real estate,” Woodward said.

Woodward said the city will generate requests for proposals for many of the “fixer-uppers” that have been acquired, selling them to contractors and developers to repair, rather than put them up for sale through a real estate agency.

“Some of them are going to go for eight grand, 10 grand—you sell them cheap,” Woodward said. “The goal is to get as many of them back on the (tax) roll as we can.”

Woodward said from a financial standpoint, it’s in the best interest of the city to get rid of the properties. He noted that currently the school district, the city of Fulton and Oswego County aren’t getting any tax dollars from the properties.

Members of the Common Council will go through each property with a checklist to determine what is needed to get the properties sellable and up to code, such as a new roof, plumbing or other similar improvements. After the buildings have been inspected, the city will establish what needs to be done within one year of the bid opening, and a minimum bid will be determined for each property, according to Woodward.

“They’re going to get the house cheap,” Woodward said.

The largest number of tax-foreclosed properties can be found in the sixth and second wards, with several in the fourth and fifth wards, as well. The first ward has only a handful of properties acquired by the city through tax foreclosure, and none are found in the third ward.   

Sixth Ward Councilor Larry Macner, who represents the area with the highest number of tax-foreclosed properties, is also looking to strengthen the city’s regulations regarding “fines on slumlords,” commonly called nuisance abatement laws.

“You’ve got good landlords and you’ve got the bad landlords, and I think we really need to start working on nuisance abatement,” Macner said. “Like shortening the times, the numbers of convictions and arrests, and so on so forth, where we can force the landlord to evict (and) raise the fines.”

The city needs to work on legislation that will “teach the slumlords that we’re not going to put up with their stuff,” but that “won’t hurt the good landlords,” Macner said.

Woodward said the city has “made some headway there,” but there is still more that can be done. In 2014, the city enacted steeper fines for property owners who chose to skip inspections and a $500 fee to renew revoked rental permits.

Macner said the city has its “share of great landlords,” but needs a deterrent to stop absentee landlords and others who don’t keep up their properties or screen tenants.

The city could again look into raising the minimum and maximum fine structures for landlords who abuse the system, according to Woodward. Creating more harsh penalties and “hitting (the landlords) in the wallet” are the only ways to discourage unwanted behaviors, according to Council President Tom Kenyon.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Common Council authorized the mayor to execute the first two sales of tax-foreclosed properties in 2016. A property located at 502 Union Street and another at the corner of Fay Street and South Fifth Street were sold to Sullivan and Breckenridge for $2,000, and the property located at 507 Fay Street was sold to Barry Ostrander, who owns the adjoining property at 505 Fay Street, for $1,500.

Fulton leaders skeptical of governor’s ‘ambitious’ plan

By Matthew Reitz

matt@fultonvalleynews.com

 

FULTON — City officials want to know more details on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $143.5 billion state budget before they get too optimistic about how it could impact Fulton, but they say they’re ready to take advantage of programs laid out in his State of the State address, if they can help the city.

Cuomo’s plan directs more than $40 billion into upstate New York over the next several years for economic development programs, improving infrastructure and reducing poverty. He announced plans to “grow momentum in upstate New York” with a “record $20 billion economic development program” that includes $300 million in tax cuts for small businesses, and a $22 billion contribution to upstate “roads, bridges, broadband and other infrastructure” over the next five years.

Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said he watched some of the governor’s address, and said many of the proposals were “pretty much” what he’s heard from the governor in the past. Woodward said he thought the small business tax cuts were “a good idea,” but added that “the devil is in the details” and it’s unclear if or how much they will help in the city of Fulton.

Workers’ compensation reform may be a better way to help out businesses in the state, Woodward said. He said the cost of workers compensation in New York is among the highest in the nation, and those costs were a contributing factor when Birdseye and Nestle left Fulton and moved out of state.

“I think workers’ comp reform would go a long way to bring business back to the state of New York,” Woodward said.

Fulton will likely try to go after some of the infrastructure funds Cuomo announced, Woodward said. He said the city has already received funding for the replacement of the Phillips Street Bridge, but officials will seek additional funding in the coming years for repairs to the North 6th Street and Oneida Street bridges.

Cuomo also proposed $250 million to assist local governments “in rebuilding water and sewer infrastructure,” a measure Woodward said could “absolutely” help the city.

“Our infrastructure is old and we’re always doing upgrades to the treatment plant,” Woodward said.

Common Council President Tom Kenyon said he’d like to see the city hire a grant writer—or work with the county to share the costs of one—to help pursue some of the available state funds. Kenyon said local officials “need to start going to Albany” and pursuing more assistance from state and federal leaders.

“I never see Fulton getting anything,” Kenyon said. “There are grants out there that we need, but we’re not asking for it.”

The governor also proposed a Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition aimed at rewarding local governments that “take real steps to make living and working in New York state more affordable.” The competition challenges counties, cities, towns and villages to develop consolidation action plans that will “yield significant and permanent property tax reductions.”

Woodward said the city would “certainly” be willing to look into consolidating some services, and mentioned working with the county on property tax foreclosures as one possibility. He noted that consolidating services was one of the key recommendations for Fulton made by the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments in 2014.

The city already has many inter-municipal agreements and shared services, but Woodward said the state is only looking for new agreements. Woodward also noted that both sides would have to agree to share services, and Fulton officials can’t accomplish any consolidation on their own.

Woodward said the governor “makes a good point” about property taxes being high, but added that there are no alternatives given “other than turning all the cities into metropolitan governments.”

“The county could take over the Fulton Police Department, but the problem is I’m not sure you’d save money because they’d have to hire a bunch of people,” Woodward said. “There are really no details on how you would do that and who can do it.”

One thing Woodward commended the governor on was his efforts to change campaign finance laws and make other ethical reforms. Cuomo called for closing loopholes in campaign donation amounts, limiting outside income for legislators and adopting a voluntary public campaign finance system. The governor also proposed limiting contributions to political parties for non-campaign activities, which his office said “serve as a backdoor for big money to influence political races.”

Woodward said he would “love to see” campaign finance reform, adding that it is “something that is long, long overdue.”  

Making Great Bear even greater

Grant funds will help group make key repairs to eroded trail connection

By Colin Hogan

editor@fultonvalleynews.com

VOLNEY—This year, Friends of Great Bear — the nonprofit group that holds stewardship of the more-than-500-acre nature preserve just south of Fulton — will be moving forward with plans to repair and upgrade a key trail connection on the site, which those involved say will create a better hiking experience for visitors.

Earlier this month, the Oswego County Community Foundation announced that, among this year’s other grantees, Friends of Great Bear would be receiving $3,500 to put toward the repair of an eroded hillside trail connection that provides access to some of the preserve’s more interesting riverside attractions, such as the old Oswego Towpath and the historic Guard Lock #2.

Because of the access it provides, the hillside path in question is frequented by hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, skiers and snowshoers who traverse the preserve’s trails, and has grown increasingly hazardous over time as weather conditions exacerbated the erosion.

“There’s been a lot of washout due to weather conditions, and the erosion has been making it hard for people to get up and down that area,” Drosse said.

After doing some remedial work on the eroded hillside, Friends of Great Bear will build a limestone staircase down the slope to link the trails. Drosse said the limestone will not only be more durable than a wooden staircase, but will also match the nearby historic lock, which is also made of limestone.

“A lot of people like to go down there to visit the lock, so we thought the look of the limestone stairway would make a nice complement to the lock,” Drosse said.

Drosse said his organization was “very pleased” to be awarded the $3,500 OCCF grant, which should cover about two-thirds of the project. Other funds and in-kind contributions will be coming from Friends of Great Bear, itself, and the Town of Volney, Drosse said.

The organization has been working with Fox Creek Landscaping on plans for the project, Drosse said. He hopes work can begin this spring.

Doug Kierst, director of Cayuga County Soil & Water Conservation District, and John DeHollander, director of Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District, look over and discuss the eroded hillside connection between the towpath and adjoining hilltop trail.
Doug Kierst, director of Cayuga County Soil & Water Conservation District, and John DeHollander, director of Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District, look over and discuss the eroded hillside connection between the towpath and adjoining hilltop trail.
Hikers from the Onondaga chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club make their way up the eroded hillside trail connection at Great Bear. Friends of Great Bear, the nonprofit group that supports the nature preserve, plans to repair the trail connection this year with funds from the Oswego County Community Foundation.
Hikers from the Onondaga chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club make their way up the eroded hillside trail connection at Great Bear. Friends of Great Bear, the nonprofit group that supports the nature preserve, plans to repair the trail connection this year with funds from the Oswego County Community Foundation.

Officials still finalizing timetable for Phoenix water project

By Matthew Reitz

matt@fultonvalleynews.com

 

PHOENIX—Plans to transition the village of Phoenix to an outside water supplier are nearing completion, but county health officials involved say the village has needed some additional time to address specific aspects of the proposal before the health department can give its authorization.

Representatives from the Oswego County Health Department met with Phoenix officials earlier this month to set a timetable and come to an agreement on specific plans for the project. Environmental Program Manager Natalie Roy said the two parties “made a lot of progress at the meeting” and the health department agreed to give the village “more time to do further engineering prior to the construction.”

At the meeting, a full engineering review of the most recent set of plans—which involve tying into the Metropolitan Water Board (MWB) as a new water source—was done, according to Roy. She said there were “several things” that the village would have to address, such as putting fencing around pump stations and doing a hydraulic analysis.

“There are some more details that need to be put in the plans for us to be able to approve them,” Roy said.

Earlier this month, Phoenix Mayor Ryan Wood said the village and health department were “going back and forth” on “little details” in the project drawings, but health department officials quickly took issue with that statement, saying there is still “significant work” that needs to be done.

“We did make progress and we’re all working in the same direction,” Roy said. “We’re happy with the results of the meeting. They’re just going to need some more time to get things done.”

Roy said she couldn’t share details on the tentatively agreed-upon timetable for the project until she speaks with the Board of Health. The Board of Health will not meet until February 5, according to Roy.

Wood has said he hopes the project will be completed sometime in the spring, but it’s unclear if that timetable will pan out.

Village officials have sought outside sources of funding for the project, according to Wood, and they recently received news that they would not be awarded a $600,000 grant they had pursued. A hardship loan is the next best option, Wood said, and the village will seek a 30-year, zero-interest loan to fund the project. He said the village will have to move forward with the project with or without outside funding.

Problems with the two drinking wells that currently serve the village were identified by the Oswego County Health Department as early as 2011.

Testing on the wells done in recent years has found the wells are susceptible to ground water infiltration that leaves them at risk for pesticide, metal and nitrite contamination. The wells have also been marked as having a high-risk for contamination from petroleum products, bacteria, protozoa, viruses, cations/anions, halogenated solvents, and other industrial organics due to land use activities nearby.

Multiple attempts to reach Wood for further comment were unsuccessful as of press time Monday.

Construction underway on county’s solar farm

Construction workers for SolarCity have begun installing solar panels on the 2.59mW solar farm west of the Bristol Hill Landfill at the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation facilities on state Route 3 in Volney. Installing the panels is one of the final steps before the system can be turned on and begin generating electricity for Oswego County government-owned facilities.
Construction workers for SolarCity have begun installing solar panels on the 2.59mW solar farm west of the Bristol Hill Landfill at the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation facilities on state Route 3 in Volney. Installing the panels is one of the final steps before the system can be turned on and begin generating electricity for Oswego County government-owned facilities.

Solar farms that officials say will provide Oswego County with a renewable, less expensive source of electricity for at least 20 years are under construction in Volney and Scriba, and are expected to be completed in early 2016.
Earlier this year, the county and California-based company SolarCity agreed to terms on a contract that will provide the county government with electricity for its facilities at a discounted rate for 20 years. According to county officials, the plan guarantees savings without putting any additional stress on county taxpayers.
“It’s supposed to save the county a lot of money for electricity through the grid,” Oswego County Legislature Vice Chairwoman Linda Lockwood said.
Lockwood said the project started late “because of paperwork,” but as soon as the panels are installed—and it appears the company is ready to begin that step—the site will quickly be sourcing power.
The solar farms—which are located at the county’s highway garage on state Route 104 in the Town of Scriba and west of the Bristol Hill Landfill at the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation facilities on state Route 3 in Volney—are part of an effort by the county to become more financially and energy efficient, county officials have said.
In September, the Volney Planning Board approved the site plan for the large solar power system, submitted by SolarCity on behalf of the county, which will feature thousands of individual panels covering approximately 155,000 square feet of county-owned land. In Scriba, a smaller, but similar project will take up about 78,000 square feet.
The 2.59mW farm in Volney and the 1.28mW farm in Scriba are expected to save the county $355,897 in 2017, with increasing savings in subsequent years reaching beyond $400,000, according to local officials. Projections from the county and SolarCity set the average yearly savings between $400,000 and $430,000.
Oswego County and SolarCity came to an agreement on a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to cover the final five years of the lease. Oswego County Industrial Development Agency CEO L. Mike Treadwell said New York state real property tax law provides a 100 percent property tax exemption for the first 15 years of the lease.
“We closed on it back in November from an IDA perspective,” Treadwell said. “We basically mirrored the PILOT the state would provide through the state incentive for solar.”
Treadwell said the PILOT agreement in Volney calls for a payment of $2,000 per year, and in Scriba the payment is only $1,000 per year because that project is about half the size. SolarCity will still be responsible for any special district taxes such as sewer, water or lighting, according to county officials. There is no tax agreement in place after the initial 20 years, and Treadwell said anything beyond that has to be renegotiated. After the 20-year lease is up, one of two things will happen, he said.
“If that equipment is removed, there’s no PILOT agreement, and if it stays post-20 years, then it would be subject to assessment,” Treadwell said. “The dirt beneath the solar panels belongs to the county, but the PILOT only applies to the installation and the equipment associated with it.”
The county will have the opportunity to renew the terms of the lease for two five-year periods following the 20-year term, and whenever the agreement is terminated, SolarCity will be responsible for dismantling the system.
During the planning phase, representatives from SolarCity expected the Volney installation to take anywhere from six to eight weeks, with two to three weeks of excavation and foundation work. The company said the two projects would employ around 30 temporary construction workers, and local officials have said there will be three permanent maintenance jobs at the Volney site along with two more in Scriba.
In terms of maintenance, SolarCity is responsible for maintaining the property and the facility. Representatives said the company would construct a fence as part of the project, and will be responsible for the upkeep of the panels, fence and any mowing that needs to be done at the site.

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