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