School district unveils technology investment plans

By Matthew Reitz

Fulton school officials are finalizing their plan to begin investing the $4 million the district is set to receive through the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act.
In January 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the state to invest $2 billion in its schools through the Smart Schools Bond Act to improve facilities and help students graduate with the necessary skills they need to secure jobs today’s economy. New York voters approved the act through a statewide referendum in November 2014.
As part of the Smart Schools Bond Act, FCSD was awarded $3.97 million, which can be used to improve the district’s technology infrastructure, purchase devices for instruction and make facilities upgrades.
FCSD Director of Technology Stephanie Maturo said there are specific things the funding can be used for, such as wiring, switch equipment, devices for instructional technology, wireless access technologies and firewalling equipment.
The plan has been posted on the district’s website for the public to view for over 30 days, and the district held a public hearing before a recent board meeting, which did not provide any additional input.
The first phase of the investment plan includes the addition of wireless access points at buildings throughout the district, student laptops and tablet devices, carts for the devices, the replacement of nearly 200 personal computers that are over five years old and a new core switch.
“It replaces our core switch, which is really the brains of our network,” Maturo said. “All of the buildings connect into this device at the high school, and then from there we go out to the public Internet. We call it the core switch because it really is at the core of the network.”
The plan will also bring devices to the public library for children and adults, Lynch said, because “there’s a theme that this should have a community component to it.”
Lynch said there is “no limit at this point in time as to when the money has to be spent,” and the district will look to use the money to make improvements to infrastructure and instructional technology as needed.
The estimated cost for the first phase is about $595,000, and would leave a little less than $3.4 million for future investment. Nearly 60 percent of the funds from the first phase will go toward devices for classroom use, which includes $210,000 for student laptops, $130,000 for personal computer replacements and $45,000 for tablet devices.
The preliminary plan called for about $560,000 in spending, but recently added switch modules, batteries and a Laser Pro Engraving Printer raised costs to about $595,000, according to Maturo. The switch modules will provide “back end support” for wireless access and the batteries would allow the district to remain “up and running” in the event of a power outage.
Maturo and Lynch said they would like to have a resolution to approve the plan at the Dec. 12 meeting, which would then be submitted to a state review panel for final authorization before the district can begin purchasing and implementing the technology.
“What we’re hoping is that, if the state is fairly quick in their approval process, we’ll be able to start implementing this equipment in late spring and over the summer months,” Maturo said. “That’s our goal.”
Lynch said a second phase is already being discussed, in which the district will need to do some wiring to “enhance the wireless density” in the buildings.
The second phase is packaged as a separate plan because anything considered infrastructure has to be approved by architects and engineers, according to Lynch. That will be a slower process, so it has been separated from the user devices, he said.
“We’re trying to chunk these out to very manageable units,” Lynch said.
A preliminary plan for the second phase is likely to be unveiled at the January board meeting, according to Lynch.

Forum for third ward residents tonight

Discussion will focus on concerns over drug use in neighborhood

On Monday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m., there will be an open forum for all residents of Fulton’s third ward in the Mayor’s Conference Room at the Fulton Municipal Building. City officials will be on hand to field residents’ concerns over drug use in the neighborhood. The discussion will include information on how residents can deal with difficult situations regarding their neighbors and suspected drug use, and police protocols for confronting such situations.

Public hearing scheduled for Volney town budget

By Matthew Reitz

The Volney Town Board will hold a public hearing next week on its proposed 2016 budget, which Town Supervisor Dennis Lockwood said will look very similar to this year’s spending plan.
Lockwood said there were no substantial increases or decreases in the proposed budget, but the tax rate was likely to inch upward about “two pennies” per $1,000 of assessed value.
“Nothing really has changed significantly,” Lockwood said.
The total tax rate this year was $4.61 per $1,000 of assessed value. The largest portion of that was the town’s highway department at $2.84 per $1,000. The town’s general fund and fire district rates this year were $0.74 per $1,000 and $1.03 per $1,000, respectively.
The tax rate is expected to remain the same for the general fund, with the highway department and fire district likely to increase by 1 cent each. However, tax rates for 2016 will not be finalized until they are set by the county in December, Lockwood said.
“When the county gets done it could change our numbers some,” Lockwood said.
The town’s expenses for 2016 are estimated to total $1,935,559, including $1,182,050 for the highway department and $753,509 for the town’s general fund. The town anticipates collecting about $844,000 in non-property tax revenue to help cover the expenses, and plans to use about $130,000 of unexpended funds as well, Lockwood said.
The amount to be raised by taxes is approximately $961,000, he said.
The total assessed value of all property for the town’s general and highway taxes is $267,489,957, which is slightly down from last year, according to Lockwood. He said the value went down because the town lost several homes that haven’t been rebuilt yet, not due to an overall trend in the town’s property values.
The town’s fire district, which has its own tax levy, is looking to raise $336,803 through property taxes at a rate of $1.04 per $1,000 of assessment, or about 1 cent more than it was in 2015.
In October, the town board adopted a local law to override the state’s property tax cap as a precaution, but Lockwood said that override might not be necessary. Town officials were concerned they would need the override due to several water districts being established throughout the town, which increase the amount of money collected by the local government, even though there’s not a significant increase in property taxes, he said.
Although taxes have remained relatively stable in Volney, the town has overridden the state’s tax cap each year since it was implemented in 2012. Lockwood said if the water districts currently being established are not finished this year, the town is likely to stay under the cap.
A special budget hearing has been scheduled for November 19 at 5 p.m. to take public comments, with the regular meeting taking place immediately afterwards.

Granby adopts 2016 budget

By Matthew Reitz

Granby officials adopted the town’s $1.47 million 2016 budget following an uneventful public hearing Tuesday.
Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said the 2016 tax rate is likely to remain the same as this year’s, which was $2.46 per $1,000 of assessed value, plus $1.87 per $1,000 for the fire district. Williamson does not expect there will be any increase on property owners’ tax bills, but official rates will be set by the county by December 1.
“I think it’s a good budget to operate the town in a responsible manner,” Williamson said. “It’s a tight budget.”
The town’s total expenses for 2016, including the highway department, are estimated at $1.47 million. The general fund expenditures are estimated to decrease from $624,201 in 2015, to the $602,497 projected for the coming year, the spending plan shows.
A 0.4 percent increase has been proposed in the highway department’s tax levy, which Williamson said would mostly be used for road repairs.
Deputy Town Supervisor John Snow said, even with the increase, the tax rate would hopefully stay the same due to higher assessment values throughout the town. The town’s taxable values have gone up consistently, which allows it to “add a little bit to the levy without changing the tax rate,” according to Snow.
One of the most significant changes in the budget was the lowering of the Highway Superintendent’s base salary, Snow said, which will now include a “built-in a stipend” if the superintendent declines to sign up for health insurance.
Williamson said the $8,500 stipend would bring the total compensation for the position above its current value, but hopefully save the town money.
The highway department has enough fund balance to deal with any winter storms that might come along, according to Snow. However, he cautioned that the department needed to keep a close eye on spending until the town’s CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funds are received from the state.
Williamson said there was a “slight increase” in salaries for some appointed positions, but not for any elected officials. Employees in appointed positions will receive a 2 percent raise, with the exception of members of the planning board and zoning board of appeals.
Snow said salaries and other employee compensation is the town’s largest expense at over $800,000 per year.
In past years, the town needed to use as much as 25 percent of its existing fund balance to offset spending, but that number is much lower this year — about 2 percent, according to Snow.
Williamson also stressed that the town was “debt free” and had the second-lowest property tax rate in the county last year.
The town will move forward into 2016 in “good shape” financially, according to Williamson, and will be focusing on several projects, including two new water service areas, improvements at the town offices and, potentially, a town park.

Fulton community pays tribute to its veterans

By Colin Hogan

Members of the community lined the street in front of the Veterans Memorial Park in Fulton Wednesday morning to pay tribute to those who have served in the military, with many speakers emphasizing the importance of carrying veterans’ stories on through the generations.
In his opening prayer, Fr. Moritz Fuchs, a World War II veteran and former bodyguard to the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials, remarked on the “conveniences and comforts that previously weren’t available, even to kings, that are now commonplace in our culture,” and the debt we owe our veterans for preserving those benefits for us.
Fuchs said our society is at the point of a cultural change where our apathy could cost us what we hold most dear.
“We need to admit that a lack of knowledge, or a lack of vigilance, or a lack of commitment on our part may have us losing our great heritage of freedom,” Fuchs said.
While there was no specific theme for the ceremony, several speakers took the opportunity to stress the importance of educating younger generations on the sacrifices made by veterans in the past.
Gary Visconti of the Fulton Veterans Council, after sharing some stories about his comrades-in-arms, said the knowledge they hold from their life experiences is one of society’s most valuable assets.
“We need to know about these accounts of our history that a lot of these seasoned veterans know and can share with us,” Visconti said.
County legislators Dan Farfaglia, D-Fulton, and Jim Karasek, R-Granby, spoke along similar lines, stressing the need for young people to hear veterans’ accounts, with Karasek bringing his grandchildren to the lectern to emphasize his point, and Farfaglia offering to help any local veterans make a permanent recording of their stories.
“It’s very disheartening that (children today) do not have the opportunity provided to them to look at our history and how we got to where we are today,” Karasek said.
The speakers’ concerns don’t apply to all young people, though, as was proven by 13-year-old Kaylee Foster, who came forward to read a poem she wrote in honor of veterans.
Other speakers included Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward Sr., who asked for a moment of silence honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice; Ray Caprin of Elks Lodge #830 in Fulton, who talked about the programs his organization has to show support for those who’ve served; Ray Guyer, who spoke of his wife’s experience as a Scotland native during Nazi attacks on the United Kingdom; and John Young, the 2015 Fulton Veteran of the Year, who led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The ceremony also featured Bobbi Fowler singing the national anthem, and the Fulton VFW Honor Guard giving a three-volley salute before the playing of “Taps.”
Before the event moved from the outdoor ceremony to a luncheon at the Fulton Polish Home, those in the crowd joined hands and sang a verse of “God Bless America.”
During the luncheon, the Fulton Veterans Council formally announced Alan DeLine, a veteran of both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, as the 2016 Veteran of the Year. DeLine, who was a crime scene investigator in the service and later became an educator in that field, took a moment upon receiving his plaque to present his great-granddaughter, 7-year-old Shayla Pryor, a memento from his service days: a framed photograph of a police dog he once worked with.

Fulton begins budget process

First draft shows 10.5 percent tax rate increase
By Matthew Reitz

Members of the Fulton Common Council met this week to get their first look at the city’s proposed 2016 budget, which, in its earliest form, requires a 10.5 percent increase to the tax rate. City officials, however, cautioned that this was the first of many budget discussions, and the final draft would likely have a much lower tax hike.

City Clerk/Chamberlain Dan O’Brien unveiled the first draft of the 2016 budget, which calls for total expenditures of $16,362,995, up nearly $500,000 from the $15,710,583 estimated for 2015. The city anticipates collecting $9.3 million in non-property tax revenue, which, based on current assessments, would require just over $7 million to be collected in property taxes.

In order to raise the necessary $7 million, the tax rate would need to rise from $19.66 per $1,000 of assessed value to $21.72 per 1,000 — a 10.5 percent hike from the previous year. According to O’Brien, the increase would add an additional $206 to the property tax bill for a home valued at $100,000.

O’Brien said the budget figures wouldn’t stay where they currently are, but the first draft shows how much work the council still has to do on the spending plan.

“I’m sure you don’t want to stand at that number,” O’Brien said to the council. “It’s a lot to digest; I just wanted to make sure we knew what kind of numbers we were looking at.”

Nearly 60 percent of the city’s expenses come from the police department, fire department and medical expenses, which are each expected to increase significantly next year. Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said the council would have to take some time to go through each line of the budget to see what can be cut.

“I’ll go through them (the numbers), and when we meet again I’ll show you guys what adjustments I would recommend,” Woodward told the council.

As it stands, the city would spend nearly $8 million in employee wages, the overwhelming majority of which come from the police and fire departments. Employee wages in both departments are estimated to top $3 million in 2016.

The fire department’s budget for 2015 was $2,770,658 and is set to increase to $3,234,457 in the coming year, with $3,129,187 of that set aside for employee pay, up from $2,674,376 in 2015.

Among the largest increases in the proposed budget is the police department, which was allocated $2,450,790 million in 2015, and would increase to $3,210,064 under the initial draft of the 2016 budget. Wage expenses in the police department are anticipated to rise by over $700,000, from $2,351,712 in 2015 to $3,063,606 in 2016.

Aside from increasing expenditures, the value of taxable property in the city fell about $3.5 million in the last year, which leaves the city with about $71,000 less in property tax revenue, according to O’Brien.

The budget must be passed no later than December 15, and the council expects to meet multiple times in the coming weeks to propose changes to the budget and find a way to get next year’s tax rate closer to the current rate.

City officials will hold a second workshop Friday at 5 p.m. in the mayor’s conference room inside the Fulton Municipal Building to discuss changes to the proposal.

Macner: City got ‘a good deal’ on Nestle site cleanup

By Colin Hogan

Plans to demolish a portion of the former Nestle site worked out to be “a good deal” for Fulton, Common Council President Larry Macner said this week, after city officials decided to move forward with a contractor who will do the work for no charge.
On Tuesday, the Common Council accepted a bid from Infinity Enterprises to perform the demolition and cleanup of a 24-acre parcel within the former Nestle property at no charge, only the rights to all salvageable materials found on the site.
The parcel is bordered by S. Fourth, Fay, S. Seventh, and Burt streets, and sits across from the former Nestle Building #30, which the city recently agreed to sell.
The other bid for the project came in at over $2.7 million, or more than $3.7 million at prevailing wage rates.
“I think this is certainly a good deal for us,” Common Council President Larry Macner said. “Rather than spend millions of dollars to get that building down, we’ve found someone who just wants to take the scrap. I think that’s great.”
Councilors said Tuesday that Infinity had looked over the site and presumably found valuable materials available to make it worth the effort. Macner said the building still has a lot of steel beams and rebar that could have strong value in the salvage market.
“Those old buildings are built quite well, and it seems like there’s still some money to be made from salvaging their support structure,” Macner said.
Macner said the contractor will do the demolition to meet the specifications that prospective buyers are looking for. The site has been considered by supermarket chain ALDI, along with some other unnamed prospects, city officials said.
“I get a lot of questions from people in the community asking ‘when is ALDI coming?’ Hopefully this gets us closer to that happening,” Macner said.
Earlier this year, the city agreed to sell Building #30 to Spring Storage Park, Inc. for $100,000. That company plans to use the site for warehousing and a U-Haul business location.
On Tuesday, the council also changed the zoning classification of the Building #30 lot from a manufacturing site to a commercial one in order to accommodate the new owner’s plans.
At a council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said, in addition to alleviating the eyesore posed by the abandoned facilities, selling off Building #30, along with demolishing adjacent lots to make them more attractive to buyers, will help get these sites back on the tax rolls and generating revenue for the city.

Water district projects prompt Volney to override tax cap

By Matthew Reitz

The Volney Town Board adopted a local law to override the state’s property tax cap at a recent meeting, and scheduled a public hearing to address the town’s proposed budget.
The override addresses New York state’s tax cap law, which was established to limit the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts. Town Supervisor Dennis Lockwood said the override is needed in Volney due to the two water districts currently being established in the town. He said adding the water districts increases the amount of money collected by the town and forces them to override the cap, even though there’s not a significant increase in taxes being proposed.
Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the state Comptroller’s Office, said the tax cap is set at either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Property taxes in Volney will likely go up less than 1 percent, according to Lockwood.
“We don’t do it because we are raising taxes more than 2 percent,” Lockwood said. “When they put that tax cap through, they didn’t allow for towns like Volney that are working on water projects.”
The property taxes in Volney are expected to increase about 2 cents per $1,000 of assessment, according to Lockwood. While taxes remain relatively stable, the town has overridden the state’s tax cap each year since it was implemented in 2012. Lockwood said the budget is not finalized yet, and if the water districts currently being installed are not finished this year, the town will likely stay under the cap.
Butry said many towns have overridden the tax cap each year as a “safeguard,” in the event their budgets exceed the cap.
“You need to pass a resolution and vote on it to override the cap prior to voting on your budget,” Butry said. “If there is anything later on in the budget that needed to be added that would put them over, it would just kind of screw up the process.”
There are a number of issues that can affect the tax cap, such as capital projects, according to Butry. He said there are many variables that go into the process, and when municipalities are dealing with certain costs they’re often forced to do an override.
“The cap this year is the lowest it’s been for local governments,” Butry said. “I have a feeling this year you may see more municipalities deciding to override the cap than in prior years, but that will be something we’ll have to wait and see.”
A special budget hearing has been scheduled for November 19 at 5 p.m. to take public comments, with the regular meeting taking place immediately afterwards.

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