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.

Gerald M. Zeitlin

Gerald M. Zeitlin, 77, of Oswego died Tuesday December 9, 2014 at his home. He was born in Philadelphia, Pa. He was a graduate of Cornell University (BEE 1960), and the University of Colorado (MSEE 1969). He pursued further graduate studies in physics, astronomy, and astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley. He devoted his energies to the Open SETI Initiative. Mr. Zeitlin had held a private pilot certificate since 1981. Mr. Zeitlin served in the United States Army, where was a 1st Lieutenant. Mr. Zeitlin was predeceased by his wife Mary Louise Zeitlin in 2013. Mr. Zeitlin is survived by his sister Susan Baer of Pa., stepchildren Jennifer Kagan of Syracuse, and Eliot Kagan. Services and burial were private. The Sugar Scanlon Funeral Home, 147 W. 4th St., is in care of the arrangements

William M. DuBois

William DuBois OBWilliam M. DuBois, 70, of Phoenix, N.Y.,passed away at University Hospital, Syracuse on Thursday December 11, 2014. Born in Fulton to his late parents, Ethel (Young) and Lloyd M. DuBois on May 5, 1944, he was a graduate of Fulton High School, and attended college. Bill was a highly decorated US Army veteran, serving in Vietnam from 1965-1967. He received the Purple Heart, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation Badge. Bill also received NYS military awards as well.

Bill was later employed by The Nestle Co., Fulton, as a candy technologist, serving 27 years. Later he worked for BOCES in Liverpool for 10 years. He attended St. Stephen’s Church, Phoenix.

Bill was a member of the Phoenix Memorial Post, VFW, Post 5540; an outdoorsman; enjoyed poker games, and very active with his grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his sister Delores Dawn Lockwood in 2003.

Surviving are his loving wife of 47-plus years, Susan M. (Benjamin) DuBois; two sons Michael W. and his daughter-in-law, Nora DuBois of Baldwinsville, and Marc E. DuBois of Baldwinsville; two brothers, Gary (Ann) DuBois of Oswego, and Lloyd M. (Beverly) DuBois, Jr. of Fulton; four sisters, Syndey (Don) Wallace of Hannibal, Janice Nielson of Phoenix, Brenda (Gary) Ingersoll of Fla., and Linda Conn of Fulton; six grandchildren, Aaron DuBois, William DuBois, George DuBois, Aiden DeBois, Maegan DuBois, and Charlotte DuBois; several nieces, nephews, and cousins; friends.

Services were Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in St. Stephen’s Church, 469 Main St., Phoenix, with the Rev. Philip Brockmyre officiating. Spring burial with military honors will be in Mt. Pleasant Southside Cemetery of Volney on Co. Rt. 45.

Calling hours from 2 to 4 p.m., and 6 to 8 p.m.  Monday at the Allanson-Glanville-Tappan Funeral Home, 431 Main St., Phoenix, NY 13135

Memorials in Williams memory may be made to: V. A. Medical Center, 800 Irving Ave., Syracuse, NY 13210, or SUNY Upstate Cancer Center, 750 E. Adams St., Syracuse, NY 13210.

Ward “Bud” Shortslef, Jr.

Shortslef OBWard “Bud” Shortslef, Jr., 92, of Sterling, passed away Thursday at St. Luke Health Services in Oswego. He was born in Oswego, a son to the late Ward and Amanda (Walrath) Shortslef and was a life resident of Sterling. Ward was a graduate of Hannibal schools. He retired from Sealright in Fulton and had returned to work as a laborer at Ontario Orchards. Ward was a member of the Bluegrass Association and enjoyed farming and bluegrass music. He was predeceased by a son, Dale Shortslef; three brothers, Arthur, Menzo and Robert Shortslef and by a sister-in-law, Anna May Shortslef. He is survived by a son, Gary Shortslef on Manlius; five grandchildren, Crystal Hatten of Sterling, Dawn Delacruz of Fulton, Andrea Shortslef of Oswego, James Shortslef of Hannibal and Kristy Pritchard of Sterling; 11 great-grandchildren; two sisters, Evelyn (Eugene) Pritchard of Sterling and Theresa (Michael) Naklick of Fla.; two brothers, Neil (Hope) Shortslef of Sterling and Harold (Louise) Shortslef of Fulton as well as several nieces and nephews. Graveside services will be held in the spring at Springbrook Cemetery, Sterling. Calling are  4 to  7 p.m. Monday at Foster Funeral Home, 837 Cayuga Street, Hannibal.

Dorothy R. Blake

Dorothy R. Blake, 86, of South Hannibal, passed away Friday at Auburn Community Hospital. She was born in Jacksonville and lived most of her life in South Hannibal.  She was the widow of Robert D. Blake, who died in 2001. Dorothy was predeceased by a grandson, Scott W. Blake, Jr., who died in January 2012.

Surviving are five daughters, Linda DeMott of Phoenix, Robbin Griffin and Penny Everson both of Fulton, Becky Hatch of Ocala, Fla., and Karen Abitz of Dubuque, Iowa; four sons, Randy Blake of Lysander, Robert Blake, Jr. and L. Ray Blake both of Cato and Scott Blake of Wilmington, N.C.; a brother, George (Louise) Phelps of Beauville, N.C.; 28 grandchildren; 24 great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter as well as several nieces and nephews.

There are no calling hours. Graveside services will be held in the spring at Jacksonville Cemetery. Contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association, Syracuse, NY Office, 6390 Fly Rd., 2nd Floor, East Syracuse, NY 13057.  Foster Funeral Home, Hannibal has care of arrangements.

Dorothy M. Durfey

Durfey OBDorothy M. Durfey, 82, of Fulton died Friday December 12, 2014 in Michaud Residential Heath Services, Fulton. Mrs. Durfey was born in Oswego the daughter of the late William and Gertrude (Deno) Manwaring. Mrs. Durfey was a salesperson in the appliance department at Montgomery Wards, in Fulton. She was a member of the Fulton Woman’s Club. Mrs. Durfey is survived by her husband of 64 years Jack Durfey of Fulton, and children Richard (Elizabeth) Durfey of Oswego, Debora (William) Chapman of Ogdensburg, Patricia (John) Kulie of Windfield, Illinois, Barbara (Donald) Clonch of Hannibal, her siblings William (Barbara) Manwaring of Oswego, Barbara Fragale of Oswego, Nancy (Joe) Caza of Fulton, Diane (Adrian) Richardson of Oswego, she has 7 grandchildren Sean, Kimberly, Allison, Katielynn, Patrick, Paige, Douglas, and 8 great grandchildren. Funeral services will be conducted Thursday 11 a.m. in the Sugar Funeral Home, Fulton.  Spring burial will be in Peck Cemetery. Calling hours will be Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the funeral home 224 W. 2nd. St. Fulton

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