Oswego County budget approved

The Oswego County Legislature adopted the 2014 county budget Thursday night by a vote of 17 to 8.

Three Republican legislators joined the five Democrats in voting against the spending plan. Those voting ‘no’ were Michael Kunzwiler, Amy Tresidder and Jacob Mulcahey, Democrats from Oswego; Douglas Malone, D-Oswego Town; Daniel Farfaglia, D-Fulton; Margaret Kastler, R-Lacona; Shawn Doyle, R-Pulaski; and Daniel Chalifoux, R-Minetto.

The legislature approved amendments totaling about $177,000 before adopting the final budget. The final budget totals about $197 million.

The tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — increased $17,894 with the amendments. The tax rate will be $7.19 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared to $7.10 per $1,000 in 2013.

Legislators also approved a pilot project brought to them by District Attorney Gregory Oakes to spend $26,000 to hire an outside lawyer to handle all of the county’s appeals of felony convictions. Currently, one of the assistant district attorneys in the county DA’s office handles the appeals. Oakes said if this lawyer instead spends all her time on prosecuting felony cases in county court, cases will be able to move through the system at a quicker pace, alleviating the amount of time defendants are spending in the county jail.

Oakes said this could lead to fewer people in the county jail at any one time. Sheriff Reuel Todd has had problems for the last three years with overcrowding and has had to send inmates to other jails at a huge expense to Oswego County.

2 dead in Palermo car crash

Two people have died in a two-car crash on State Route 3 in Palermo, the Oswego County Sheriff’s office said Thursday.

The crash occurred at about 8 a.m. today, Dec. 12. Deputies said a 1998 Buick occupied by three people was northbound on Route 3. The operator lost control of the vehicle and drove into the path of a southbound 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer. The collision caused the deaths of two passengers of the Buick and injury to the operator.

The driver of the Chevrolet was treated and released at the scene. The driver of the Buick was transported to University Hospital in Syracuse for treatment. Names of all involved being held pending notifications of the families.

Members of teh state police, Palermo Fire Department, Mexico Fire Department and McFee and Menter ambulances assisted at the scene. The investigation is continuing.

Public hearing Thursday Dec. 12 on proposed 2014 county budget

By Debra J. Groom

A public hearing on the 2014 Oswego County budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in Oswego.

The proposed 2014 spending plan $196.8 million. The tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — is $42.6 million, the same as in 2013.

This means most people in the county would pay about 9 cents more per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2014.

For a house assessed at $70,000, that would be an additional $6.30 for the year.

The rate would be $7.19 per $1,000, compared to $7.10 per $1,000 in 2013.

The county Legislature’s Personnel and Finance committee approved the budget Dec. 3.

No one on the committee made any comments or suggestions for changes in the budget or cuts that could be made during that meeting.

After the public hearing, the full Legislature can  make cuts or additions to the budget. The Legislature may vote to adopt the budget thta night.

The budget portion of the meeting is at 7 p.m. in the legislative chambers in the county office building.

Earlier in the day, at 2 p.m., the legislature will have the first part of its regular monthly meeting and will tackle other issues such as:

1) Vote on whether to ban the state of New York from using the county seal, name or letterhead for any purpose associated with the SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act was enacted in January to strengthen gun laws in the state by requiring universal background checks to buy guns and increasing penalties for people using illegal guns. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the law “imposes the toughest assault weapons ban in the country.”

The law has been unpopular in many parts of the state, including Oswego County.

Many lawful gun owners, including sportsmen and hunters, believe the law infringes on their rights to own guns.

Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus said he voted in November for a resolution banning the state from using county seals in his SAFE Act promotions.

“I voted for, and the (state) Clerks Association unanimously passed, a resolution opposed to the use of county seals regarding the SAFE Act,” Backus said.

“Quite honestly, it’s another example of how flawed this law is that the governor shoved through the legislature,” Backus said. “It was advertised to have no financial impact on counties and that has been proven to be false.”

Part of the law allows a list of a county’s gunowners names to be released to the public unless the gunowners fill out a form opting out.

This is costing counties money — namely about $26,144 in Oswego County, Backus said.

“That figure covers shifting staff time to cover pistol permits, additional staff hours, and increased supply costs,” Backus said. “Those numbers correlate with a 60 percent increase in pistol permit transactions as compared with 2012. Background checks alone are up over 112 percent.

“As you can see, the SAFE Act most certain has a local cost that was not anticpated and has been largely dismissed by the governor,” Backus said.

A television report recently stated some counties are trying to get the state to reimburse them for these costs.

Reports in other media say the state wants to use county seals in letters to pistol permit holders concerning the permit recertificaion process.

But counties have nothing to do with recertification — the new law has turned this duty over to the State Police.

2) Vote on a resolution to impose a dog quarantine in the county through April so dogs do not run loose and harass or attack deer in the wild.

3) Vote on contracts with two firms dealing with collecting appraisal information used in the tax certiorari court proceeding with Entergy for the James FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant.

The two firms are George Sansoucy LLC and Cost Plus Consulting LLC.

Dead waterfowl found along Oswego County’s Lake Ontario shoreline

Type E botulism has again struck the eastern basin of Lake Ontario this fall resulting in sizeable mortality in migrating waterbirds.

Reports from the public and field investigations by DEC crews indicate at least 200-300 common loons have washed ashore along northern Oswego County and Jefferson County shorelines.

The loon deaths were all attributable to type E botulism. Long-tailed ducks, grebes and gulls also have been found.

A mortality event involving this many loons has not been seen on Lake Ontario since 2006.

Type E botulism is caused by a bacterial toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, a widespread bacterium in the sediments of the Great Lakes.

Certain environmental conditions cause this strain of Clostridium to produce a toxin that can spread through the food web of the lakes. First documented in waterbirds from Lake Michigan in the 1960s, type E botulism was recorded irregularly for three decades in the lower Great Lakes.

Since the late 1990s, however, type E botulism in birds has become an annual event in one or more of the Great Lakes resulting in very large kills in some years.

Two non-native species, round gobies and quagga mussels, appear to play a key role in this change of pattern. Botulinum toxin, generated in the vicinity of mussel beds, possibly in rotting mats of algae, is picked up by the filter-feeding mussels.

The mussels are the preferred food of the round goby, a small bottom-dwelling fish that is very sensitive to the toxin.  Intoxicated gobies in turn become easy prey for diving waterbirds, such as loons, grebes, and some duck species.

The remains of gobies are the most common component in the stomach contents found in botulism-killed diving birds. Since the emergence of this new disease system, thousands of birds have perished annually.

To date in 2013, all known botulism mortality in diving birds in New York has been confined to the eastern basin of Lake Ontario.

Bird carcasses did not wash ashore until late October, the majority arriving in the last two weeks. In past years, mortality events have not occurred much later than the third week of November therefore DEC biologists do not anticipate much additional mortality, although carcasses may continue to wash ashore for a while longer.

The public is encouraged to report dead birds to the regional DEC offices.  Carcasses contain small amounts of toxin and pose some threat to animals that feed on them.

DEC has removed carcasses from portions of state-owned shoreline. Shoreline residents are encouraged to bury carcasses if feasible.

To report dead birds found in Jefferson County, contact the DEC at 785-2263; to report birds found in Oswego or Cayuga counties, contact the DEC at (607) 753-3095, extension 247.

Public hearing Dec. 11 on proposed new water district in Hannibal

A public hearing is scheduled for today (Dec. 11) at the Hannibal town hall concerning a proposed new water district.

Hannibal Supervisor Ronald Greenleaf said the town recently submitted an application for funding for a water district.

Town officials have been notified the town is eligible for money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Before funding will be committed, a final application must be submitted.

The estimated funding includes a grant of $697,000 and a loan of $760,000 at 2.75 percent for this $1,457,000 project.

As part of the project, the town must hold a public hearing to explain the project and projected user costs, as well as to obtain input from you whether to proceed or not.

Greenleaf said about 75 properties are involved in the project.

It would connect the two ends of Stock Road that already have water and would provide wter to Sixty-Six Road south of Route 104 to Dunham Road.

He said the cost to property owners would be about $638 a year for 38 years in addition to water usage.

He said it isn’t known yet if this cost would include the hookup of the water line to the house.

All of these properties now are on wells, Greenleaf said.

Sometimes in dry summers, the wells will go dry, he said.

“There is a need” for water in these areas, he said.

Phoenix varsity wrestlers ready to begin season

The Phoenix varsity wrestling team comes into the season looking to fill the voids left behind by Nick Tighe and Rowdy Prior.

In fact, Coach Gene Mills suggests that in many ways, this season will be a rebuilding year, which is uncharted territory for Mills and the Firebirds.

The Firebirds inexperienced team is striving to learn and develop one match at a time. However, Mills is allowing only so much cushioning for his young team. He hopes his wrestlers show significant individual and team development by mid- to late January.

Mills is quick to mention that this season’s team might be one of the most inexperienced teams that he’s coached at Phoenix.

The Firebirds return only two junior and senior starters from last year’s team, which means a lot will be expected of lone senior Jason Nipper, junior Derrick Button and sophomores Brad Dietz, Will Hilliard and Tim Gandino.

However, Phoenix does feature many younger wrestlers with an abundance of potential. “(Our younger kids) need to find out where we are and where we need to go to get where we want to be”, Mills said.

When practice began in early November, Mills expected his wrestlers to show up in decent physical condition. In fact, it is a known fact the wrestlers will be physically tested from the first day of practice.

Mills felt the physical conditioning of his team was questionable at best during the first few days of practice. However, this is a bit of an issue that coaches have come to expect over the years. Wrestlers always get to work knowing that their physical conditioning will develop more and more as December approaches. Mills feels his team’s physical conditioning has improved greatly since early November.

The Firebirds practice for two hours every day, working hard on many skills development drills which tend to develop their bodies’ abilities at a solid pace.

Mills has yet to name captains for the upcoming season. He said his captains are expected to be impressive individuals socially, academically and athletically regardless of what grade a wrestler may be in.

Those named as captains may not necessarily be the best wrestlers on the team, but are the individuals who show the most initiative towards being a role model socially and in the classroom as well as within the sport of wrestling itself.

Phoenix looks forward to the opportunity to take part in the challenging dual tournaments awaiting them. The Firebirds will be a little banged up during their dual meets but they expect to be fully recovered and even more competitive by early to mid-January.

Returning Sectional Place Winners Brad Dietz, Tim Gandino and Will Hilliard are expected to be a major strength for Phoenix this season. Dietz, Gandino and Hilliard clearly have what it takes to step up and be leadership figures for the Firebirds. Their guidance will be key in the development of the many hardworking younger wrestlers Phoenix will feature this season. Mills suggests with the right leadership, his younger wrestlers could begin to see their hard work pay off during the second half of the season.

View from the Assembly — let’s fix the tax code

It is widely understood that New York state is a high-tax state.

New York state citizens are acutely aware of this fact. It is hardly surprising then that the governor, being the politician that he is, has appointed not one, but two, commissions to examine how to reform New York’s tax system.

The first commission he appointed, with the Orwellian name, “New York State Tax Reform and Fairness Commission,” released its report last month. Notwithstanding its name, the report contains some good ideas on how New York should reform its tax structure.

The report begins by acknowledging we are a high-tax state.  In the 2012-13 fiscal year, state and local governments levied about $146 billion in taxes.

Of that $146 billion, $64 billion is attributable to state taxes and the remaining $82 billion came from local tax collections.

Of the $82 billion raised in local taxes, $49 billion was raised through property taxes.

Although the report raises the issue of local taxes, the majority of its suggested changes deal with reforming our state’s tax system, not our local tax systems.

First, the report acknowledges the state’s use and sales tax system is antiquated and needs to be modernized. I agree with this conclusion.

At the very least, we need to simplify the system. I have heard from many small businesses about how difficult it is for them to understand exactly on what they need to collect sales tax.

For example, if you sell bagels, you do not charge sales tax on plain bagels, but if you toast it, slice it and put butter on it, then you must charge sales tax.

There are all sorts of inane examples along these lines that businesses encounter on a regular basis. The report states the structure is “unduly complex” and makes “voluntary compliance more difficult, increasing the cost of doing business in the state and creates financial risk for vendors who ‘get it wrong’ and adds to the government’s tax administration costs.”

If nothing else, in the upcoming legislative session, we should make revenue neutral changes to our sales tax system to take out much of the complexity that has arisen over the years.

Second, the report also acknowledges our state’s estate tax has not kept pace with changes made to federal estate tax laws.

As characteristic of our high-tax reputation, New York is one of only 17 states that has an estate tax. Moreover, there are only two states that have estate tax exemption amounts lower than New York’s $1 million amount.

I was pleased the report notes New York’s estate tax may be a factor in taxpayer migration from New York to states without an estate tax.

In Central New York, we have seen many change their residency to Florida (a state without an estate tax) in effort to avoid NY’s estate tax.

It is hard enough competing with Florida on the basis of the weather. We shouldn’t also be giving people an economic incentive to move there.

To try to alleviate this problem, the commission recommends in its report to raise New York’s exemption from $1 million to $3 million.

This is a start.  However, I would rather see us eliminate our estate tax entirely or, at the very least, match the exemption amount to the federal amount which is $5.25 million.

Third, the commission recommends an accelerated phase out of the 18-a surcharge. This surcharge is a 2 percent assessment on electric, gas, water and steam utilities.

Like all taxes on businesses, they are passed on to the consumers. This assessment is no different. It places an additional burden on New York families and businesses because we already pay high utility bills notwithstanding our taxes.

In last year’s budget, the legislature and governor agreed to phase out this charge over a three-and-a-half-year period. As mentioned, the commission recommends phasing this out more quickly because it has such a detrimental effect, particularly on businesses.

I agree and indeed sponsor legislation to fully repeal this surcharge.

The commission also recommends many other changes to our state’s tax code. Some of its other recommendations I agree with, some I do not.

However, I am pleased at least there is some focus being brought to what is a primary economic problem in our state.

As mentioned above, the governor also has appointed a second commission to look at our state’s tax system.

Apparently, this second commission is supposed to focus on coming up with proposals to relieve New Yorkers from our high property tax burden.

I look forward to seeing its proposals and hope that they will be broad based.

Solutions will have to get at the reasons why we have high property taxes in this state and not simply shift the burden of our taxes from one group of citizens to another.

I will provide an update once their report becomes available.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, 13069, by email at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling 598-5185.

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