Legislature chairman gives State of the County speech

Oswego County Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner, R-New Haven, gave his State of the County speech to the legislature March 13.

Here is what he said:

“Good afternoon and welcome!

And to our first term legislators, Roy Reehil (Dist. 5), Richard Kline (Dist. 12), Steven Walpole (Dist. 14), Marie Schadt (Dist. 19) and Frank Castiglia Jr. (Dist. 25) a renewed message of welcome that comes with my encouragement to accept and approach your new-found responsibilities in a patient and thoughtful manner.

It has been just over 10 years now that I have served in this body and slightly more than 10 months since I first accepted the responsibility as your chairman. As I look around the room today, only three other legislators were here with me in 2004, Legislators Kunzwiler, Malone and Proud.

But while the faces have changed dramatically in those 10 years, many of our goals and objectives have not. Unfortunately neither have the various issues that continue to prevent us from fully reaching those goals.

Like most of you, from the very first day that I decided to run for public office, one of my guiding principles has been to always be a careful steward of the taxpayers’ dollars. With respect to that as an overarching goal, I would say that we, collectively, for however long you have personally been a part of this team, have succeeded.

Not only have we managed to hold the county tax rate down but we have actually reduced the rate from $9.60/1000 in 2004 to $7.22/1000 in 2014, a 25 percent decrease over that period.

This has required a lot of hard work and many tough decisions, but through good management and strategic planning we have been able to continue to provide most of the services that our taxpayers demand.

This has been and will continue to be a very difficult task. One that needs careful and thoughtful deliberation as we attempt to strike a balance between keeping the county tax rate down and providing the types and levels of services that our constituents believe are essential to maintaining the quality of life that we all enjoy here in Oswego County.

As we have clearly seen over this last decade, the challenges before us can be overcome only through a bi-partisan and coordinated effort, one that reaches beyond the 25 of us deliberating here today. To be successful we will need to continue to rely on the expertise of our management team and each and every one of our dedicated and skilled employees who have chosen public service as their calling.

On behalf of the taxpayers of Oswego County, I would like to thank all of them for their hard work and continued support.

So, where are we today and where do we want to be tomorrow?

2013, in general, while plagued with challenges, was a productive year for us. We settled several labor agreements and without any new capital expense, we added six new solar projects that should save us over $20,000 a year.

Through a very difficult project that required a lot of patience and cooperation from the public and our employees alike, we eliminated some environmental concerns while re-configuring our Social Services facility and certain processes within the building to create a safer and more efficient work environment there.

We used less of our reserves to keep county taxes down and, through a very professional and unbiased vacancy review process we have been able to avoid the typical knee-jerk solution of cutting jobs to resolve budget shortfalls. In fact, our process of carefully examining the need for services as we consider filling vacancies, netted us a savings of over $2.2 million dollars last year.

But more remains to be done…..

In 2014, working together as a bi-partisan group that understands the complex and diverse needs associated with running an effective and efficient county government, we have the opportunity to explore several issues that remain unaddressed.

For example, while we have made great strides in our efforts to make our fleet of buildings more energy efficient, which by the way has saved our taxpayers over $80,000 in 2 years, we have yet to address the Public Safety Center, our largest energy user and one ripe with opportunities for savings.

We have also identified our internal phone and communications network as desperately in need of modernization.

We know that in many cases, simple changes in the way that we are now required to provide services, our space needs have also changed and we will look carefully at how we can meet those varied needs as we move forward.

Our records center is a good example of this. As our mandates to provide services increases so does the volume of records that need to be maintained, some of which we are required to keep forever.  Our small records center, on the site of the old jail property, is at its capacity and with the pending demolition of the jail building we should be considering our ability to meet our records retention needs at the current site or at another location.

We have a nice piece of riverfront property and perhaps there is a higher and better use for the property that would put it back on the tax rolls.

Part of our responsibility, as the highest level of local government in our jurisdiction, is to work with all of our constituent partners, public and private, to help make our area a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Sometimes this can be accomplished through policy initiatives, like setting goals and objectives for how we would like to see our communities grow, or which natural, cultural or historic resources we would like to see protected as that happens.

Sometimes our role is to lead by example and demonstrate to others that there are better and more efficient ways to do things.

For example, the consolidation and sharing of services. The county has demonstrated this time and again over the years as town dumps were closed and replaced by a county wide state-of-the-art solid waste system, local health offices merged into a county health system, weights and measures services were consolidated, the list goes on but in every case, services that used to be provided by local governments are now provided in a more cost effective manner by a centralized county department or office.

Other counties have seen police and fire departments merge and even here in Oswego County we have witnessed the great efforts of the residents of the Village of Altmar, who recognized that it was not cost effective to continue to have multiple layers of government providing duplication of services over small areas and now, while the Village still has its identity as a place, the cost of local government in that area has been reduced.

I believe that there are opportunities for us to all work together to help make it less expensive to live and do business in Oswego County and if we share that as a common goal without as much focus on geographic boundaries and territories, we will be successful.

I also believe that there are times that we, as a county, can take measures that not only make good business sense for us internally but that also result in great potential for growth in our business sector and enhanced quality of life for our residents.

With regard to enhancing the potential for business growth, the availability of broadband is essential in today’s global marketplace and much of our county has suffered for years from this deficiency.

You will have the opportunity to consider a game-changing initiative, a project that will not only resolve our internal communications needs but one that will eventually bring affordable high-speed broadband service throughout  the county as a result of the base that will be laid to service our government operational needs.

This project, which by-the-way, requires no new expenditures, will position us well ahead of other county governments in NY with respect to the types and levels of communications services that will be available to us.   This project, if approved, will save us tens of thousands of dollars every year during its initial term and nearly ½ a million each year after that. .

As Oswego County becomes more widely known around the world through the multi-media efforts of the tourism and public information office, we need to be able to demonstrate to our visitors, whether they are here for business or pleasure that we have everything they need should they decide to make this place their home.

To that end, we can continue our efforts to be among the best at what we do and continue to work with our local businesses and communities to enhance the quality of life here in Oswego County, but without some relief from the growing list of unfunded State and Federal mandates all of our efforts and sacrifices will be for naught.

If we are going to be successful in our goal of keeping property tax stabilization as one of our top priorities in 2014 and if, we want to do that in a way that minimizes our reliance on reserve funds, we need relief from the requirement of providing state and federal programs without sufficient state and federal dollars to do so.

Over 80 percent of our 2014 County budget is spent on these unfunded programs. Every single property tax dollar and about 1/2 of all of the sales tax dollars that we collect is dedicated to providing services that someone else has decided is beneficial to our citizens.

If we have to pay for these services, then we should get to decide what services we will offer to best benefit our constituents.  If that is not an option, then the people who mandated these programs should also have to pay for them.

If the State of NY took over four of its own programs, Medicaid, Preschool Special Education, Indigent Defense and Safety Net, the average taxpayer in Oswego County would see their county tax bill reduced by about $500.

No discussion of state imposed hardships would be complete without mentioning that again, last year, this legislature decided to override the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap. Many municipalities across the state were forced to do this as well as they nearly all face expenses that are beyond their ability to control on a local level.

Our reasons are slightly more complicated than that and somewhat unique to our county because the state formula, under the tax cap program, still does not address the uncertain tax status of the nuclear plants.

The override was a mechanism that we could use to shield our taxpayers from an uncertain state audit process that could have resulted in an unnecessary penalty, potentially costing Oswego County taxpayers millions of dollars.  A risk we cannot and will not take.

In an effort to take a proactive and bi-partisan approach to the various issues that we are faced with, 2014 is my intent to task  the Legislature’s standing committees, with working with our department heads to explore opportunities that could lead to more efficient ways to utilize the taxpayer’s dollar both internally and in partnership with our constituent communities.

I am open and will remain open to suggestions from legislators regarding any issue they feel should be addressed. Again, all I ask is that the objective makes good operational sense and has a positive benefit to the taxpayer.

I would like to thank our county employees and department heads for a job well done. We need to I assure you, we know how hard you work and appreciate your dedication to your job and the people of this county. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Legislature for your efforts and cooperation during these difficult economic times.

In closing, I would like to re-emphasize that I am confident in the ability of this legislature, the county’s employees, and department heads. I am confident that together we can accomplish our task of providing the people of Oswego County with an efficient, friendly and effective government.

Our challenges are great and we will control spending. Let’s make the hard decisions this year so we can continue to stabilize taxes for years to come. We owe it to our constituents.

I thank you all for the opportunity and the honor to serve as your chairman and I look forward to a positive and productive 2014.

 

BOCES students get real-world experience

Learning did not stop at the classroom door for one group of nine BOCES students.

Morningstar Care Center granted a group of nine licensed practical nursing students an opportunity to take their knowledge out of the classroom and relate it to real-world scenarios.

Recently, these students were able to observe and learn from registered nurses at the care center.

“We are mentoring these students in an effort to foster their growth as nurses and broaden their variety of hands on experience by exposing them to a wide array of acute care experiences encompassed in short term rehabilitation and long term care patients,” says Kelly Totman, a regisered nurse at Morningstar.

“We as a healthcare facility believe these students are the future of nursing,” she said.

The learning didn’t stop with the students.

“Students bring a lot of energy to the table and provide a great opportunity for our own staff to interact and teach others about their work,” said Joseph Murabito, care center owner.

“There is no better way to learn than to teach someone else what you know,” he said, noting he gets a lot out of personally interacting with the students.

The family owned business offers an array of medical services including IV therapy, negative pressure wound treatment and care for people with complicated conditions, providing a unique experience for the students.

Murabito and the staff are looking forward to another opportunity like this in the future.

Porky and Buddy discuss what a cat should eat

Dear Porky and Buddy,

I have been feeding my new kitten, Ebenezer, regular dry and canned kitten food and he seems to be doing OK, but I keep reading the ingredient lists and they are, to be honest, sort of gross.

I mean, “chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal liver flavor, pyridoxine hydrochloride.”

What’s that all about? So I am considering switching him to a home cooked diet with real ingredients that I can actually pronounce. What do you think?

Scott

Dear Scott,

Our thanks to you for being so attentive to Ebenezer’s diet.  (But whatever happened to cats named Fluffy?)

Anyway, we consulted with some of our human friends at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (Know that they can be a little long-winded sometimes but they are very interesting and they know their stuff!)

Here is what we learned.

Cats are “obligate carnivores,” which means that they are strict carnivores, and rely on nutrients in animal tissue to meet their specific nutritional requirements.

In their natural habitat, cats are hunters and consume prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates.

Cats also require more than a dozen nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids, some of which are not necessarily present in the correct amounts in home cooked diets.

The important thing to remember about these nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals, is that Ebenezer needs the right amount of these nutrients, but no more.

It is possible to have “too much of a good thing” when it comes to vitamins and minerals; the use of supplements not only is unnecessary when you are using a commercially formulated cat food, but also can be potentially dangerous to your pet’s health.

Cats are neither small dogs nor people. Because of their unique metabolism, what might be good for you might be detrimental to Ebenezer.

A high-quality cat food assures an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals in his diet in the right proportions; supplements should never be used without a veterinarian’s approval.

Making your own cat food is a difficult and time-consuming process. Also, the nutrients in the formula may not be available in the right quantities and proportions to be beneficial to Ebenezer.

Talk to your own vet about this, but we suspect he will recommend that you use a commercial nutritionally balanced product. There are recipes available for home-cooked cat food, but, please, don’t go on the Internet looking for them.

If your vet is supportive, ask him for a recipe formulated by veterinarians certified in animal nutrition.

Or better yet, choose a kitten food diet recommended by your vet, ignore the ingredient list, and go buy more toys for Ebenezer. He wants toys more than he wants tuna casserole. (Actually, we all do.)

Speaking of cat food — Could you donate some dry Purina cat or kitten food to the Humane Society? We use a lot of it for our foster cats.

You could just drop it off any time is our outer office at 265 W. First St., Oswego, or call us at 207-1070 and we will make arrangements. Thanks!

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.

Our office is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego. Phone is 207-1070. Email is ochscontact@hotmail.com. Website is www.oswegohumane.org.

St. Baldrick’s event March 30 in Oswego

The Oswego County Legislature proclaimed March as St. Baldrick’s Month in Oswego County at its monthly meeting.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation works to raise awareness and funding to support childhood cancer research and fellowship. So far this year, more than 170 Oswego County men, women and children have volunteered to shave their heads and raise money to support this cause.

They include the Oswego Minor Hockey Association, Oswego County Sheriff’s Department, the Oswego Firefighters Association, and many other groups and individuals from throughout Central New York.

Last year, their efforts brought in more than $93,000 and this year the goal has been set at $100,000.

Come to the Lake Ontario Conference and Event Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego on Sunday, March 30 to join the drive as the SUNY Oswego athletic department sponsors the 8th annual Oswego St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser. For more information or to volunteer, call 1-800-899-BALD, or contact Dan Witmer at daniel.witmer@oswego.edu. 

Judges named for business plan contest

The panel of judges has been secured for The Next Great Idea 2014 Oswego County Business Plan Competition, said Austin Wheelock, economic development specialist for Operation Oswego County and co-chair of Next Great Idea.

“The Next Great Idea is the result of business and community leaders joining together to launch a competition that encourages entrepreneurs to commit to new business development in Oswego County and offers a $25,000 prize to help make a dream come true,” Wheelock said.

Judges for the event are Jeff Grimshaw of the SUNY Oswego Office of Business and Community Relations; Adam Gagas of Breakwall Asset Management; Kimberly Steele of the Steele Law Firm; Shane Broadwell of the Broadwell Hospitality Group; John Sharkey IV of Universal Metal; Sue Witmer of Cayuga Community College Fulton Campus; Mike Quenville of Pathfinder Bank; John Fitzgibbons, owner of the Fitzgibbons Agency; Atom Avery, local entrepreneur and owner of Avery Rental Properties & The Beacon Hotel; and Laurie O’Brien, owner of Port City Café & Red Sun Fire Roasting Co.

Judges were selected based on their local business knowledge and expertise in the fields of operations, management, financing, and entrepreneurship.

The first phase of the 2014 NGI Competition is underway and the deadline for submitting business concept proposals is April 11.

The entire competition will consist of three phases that will require semi-finalists selected from the first phase to develop full business plans and, in the third phase, finalists will make their “pitch” in person to the panel of judges.

This panel will determine which proposals will be selected to enter the subsequent phases culminating in the winner being chosen and honored at a luncheon Nov. 13.

Ideas that are not selected will receive written feedback from the judges of how to improve their proposals for the future.

The event web site, www.oswegocounty.org/NGI, includes an overview of the event, a competition timeline, guidelines, details on the $25,000 prize, sponsors, partners and contact information. In addition, the $25,000 can potentially be leveraged to borrow up to $250,000 in partnership with local banks, the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency, the cities of Oswego and Fulton community development offices, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

SUNY Oswego students invited to participate in War of 1812 writing contest

SUNY Oswego students are invited to participate in the War of 1812 research paper competition in conjunction with the fourth annual Oswego War of 1812 Symposium Friday, April 4 to Sunday, April 6.

The symposium will be held at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego.

The contest involves SUNY Oswego students writing and presenting their findings on any aspect of the War of 1812. All SUNY Oswego students are welcome to participate.

Students interested in competing must follow the requirements for the contest. The topic of the paper must be on some aspect of the War of 1812. There is no length requirement for the papers, but they must be able to be presented for at least 10 minutes.

All papers must be submitted by Monday, March 24 and several papers will be chosen to be presented Friday evening, April 4 at the symposium. Students whose papers are chosen to be presented at the symposium will have the chance to win up to $150.

SUNY Oswego students who register with Richard Weyhing of the History Department a week prior, will have the registration fee covered to the symposium.

“Students are the future of our history. It’s superb the history department at SUNY Oswego took a leadership role in making Oswego a heritage tourism destination by engaging in cooperative programming with other community organizations,” said Paul Lear, superintendent of Fort Ontario State Historic Site and chair of the Oswego War of 1812 Steering Committee.

“While the action at the new Lake Ontario Conference Center during the 1812 Symposium won’t approach that at the Carrier Dome during basketball season, students and other attendees will rub elbows with the legends of history and be at center court for their often intense differences of opinions on the activities and actions of the armies, navies, and individuals who fought in our own backyard.”

Richard Weyhing, an assistant professor of history at SUNY Oswego, is coordinating the contest with SUNY Oswego students.

“This is going to be a great event that brings together SUNY Oswego students, the local community, and a slate of outside scholars to explore Oswego’s and New York’s place within the broader history of the War of 1812,” he said.

For more information regarding the contest or to submit your paper, please contact Weyhing at Richard.weyhing@oswego.edu

Hot air balloon fest coming to Oswego County

A hot air balloon festival is coming to Oswego County in June.

Hot air balloons will take to the skies over the Sandy Creek Fairgrounds June 6, 7 and 8 at the Oswego County Balloon Festival. The event opens at 3 p.m. Friday, June 6, and closes with music by Frostbit Blue Sunday night, June 8.

There also will be plenty of action on solid ground with music, a petting zoo, crafts and vendors.

At least 10 hot balloons in a variety of styles are scheduled to fly, with balloon launches Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday morning, and Saturday and Sunday nights, weather permitting. After the sun sets Saturday evening, spectators will be treated to the sight of glimmering hot air balloons in flight during the “balloon glow” from 9 to 10 p.m.

The event is being organized by All Over Events of Pulaski, NY.

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