Click here or on the ad above to reach the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development website


To reach the Odessa Government Page, click here or on the logo below.


For your convenience, we have installed the link below to make donations to this website easier. Now you can utilize your PayPal account or your credit card.


Our Primary Pages


Wine & Tourism


We also have a Business Card Page. Click here.


Click on the ad below to go to the Schuyler County Transit website.


Click on the logo above to visit the website for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County


To reach the Odessa Government Page, click here or on the logo below.






602 N. Franklin St.
Watkins Glen, NY


Your Peace of Mind Dealer

League sets Candidates Night for Oct. 22

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 11 -- The League of Women Voters of Schuyler County is hosting a candidates night on Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium.

It will begin at 7 p.m., and all are welcome.

Candidates for all levels of elected offices, from U.S. Congress to town positions, have been invited to attend.

Candidates for county offices will be given the opportunity to speak and answer questions from the audience.

SCCUDD awarded federal 5-year grant

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct.10 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) has received a federal Drug Free Community Grant that will bring $125,000 into the county each year for the next five years.

“The grant will be used by the coalition to reduce the impact of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana usage by Schuyler County youth,” Schuyler County Public Health Director Marcia Kasprzyk said.
The county Public Health Department is the lead agency for the grant.

SCCUDD was one of only 12 organizations in New York to receive 2014 funding from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Nationally, 197 grants were awarded.

Kasprzyk said SCCUDD’s work will focus on changes to decrease community tolerance of underage substance use and to reduce access to alcohol and drugs.

A recent survey of all 7th- through 12th-graders in Schuyler County showed use of alcohol and drugs to be above the national average in every grade.

“The average age of first use was 11,” SCCUDD President Mel Schroeder said. “The effects of underage drug and alcohol use can be life-changing scholastically, legally and physically. We need to work as a community to do all we can to minimize these negative effects that could change our kids’ futures.”

The mission of SCCUDD is to prevent, reduce and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities and implementing environmental strategies.

The coalition is composed of agencies, institutions and concerned community members working together toward the common goals of SCCUDD.

Anyone interested in becoming involved with SCCUDD should go to to learn more.

Vickio picks up GOP Committee backing

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 24, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Republican Committee has unanimously voted to endorse Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio, a Democrat, as its candidate in the November 4th election for the office of Schuyler County Treasurer.

The post opened with the Aug. 1 resignation of Gary Whyman.

According to GOP Chairman Phil Barnes, “In the short time that she has been Deputy, Harriett is already making noticeable and sound fiscal changes in the operation of the Treasurer’s office.”

Barnes said the recent endorsement is the first time in memory that the party has chosen to back a Democrat for a countywide office.

“While we would have preferred to endorse a Republican for this key position," he said, "ultimately the party felt that qualifications and abilities trumped politics. We unanimously agreed that Ms. Vickio is the best candidate for Treasurer and that she will bring much needed reform to that office.”

The Treasurer’s office has come under fire in past years by the County’s independent auditing firm and the Legislature and has recently undergone a review by the NYS Comptroller’s office.

Vickio is running against former Treasurer Margaret Starbuck, who will appear on the Democrat, Conservative and Independent lines. In addition to being on the Republican line, Vickio will be on the Listening Party line, too.

Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (File photo)

Law targets invasive species

O’Mara-Lifton legislation signed by Cuomo; eyes prevention

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Sept. 2 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF-125th District) designed to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and statewide.

The new law (S.7851-B/A.9619-B) will require boaters to take reasonable precautions when launching their boats. It directs the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop rules and regulations for boaters to take precautions to prevent the spread of invasive species, such as removing all visible plants and animals from, or washing, draining and drying both motorized and non-motorized watercraft and related gear when entering and leaving a launch site.

“Individual boaters are the front line of defense against the spread of invasive species, and this new initiative offers a straightforward approach asking all boaters to do their part to help protect waterways, regional tourism economies and local jobs,” said O’Mara, a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

“Taking every possible step to stop the spread of destructive invasive species before they take hold is the most cost-effective and common-sense approach to combat this severe threat to the environment and economy of the Finger Lakes and other waterways statewide. I, together with numerous regional leaders, know firsthand how difficult it’s been trying to eradicate hydrilla from Cayuga Lake in Tompkins County. Greater awareness, education and prevention are the best solutions.”

Some estimates have pegged the annual cost of invasive species to the national economy at $120 billion a year.

Similar efforts are being undertaken across the country and major outdoor outfitters such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro are helping educate boaters on clean, drain and dry procedures to prevent the spread of invasive species from one body of water to another.

Following is a link to the Governor's announcement:

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Protester Alderson opts for jail

READING CENTER, Aug. 21 -- Jeremy Alderson chose jail over a fine or community service Wednesday and was thus sentenced by Reading Town Justice Raymond Berry to 15 days in the Schuyler County lockup.

Alderson was found guilty in the Reading court months ago, but the case was delayed by appeals, first to Schuyler County Court and then to the state Court of Appeals, which earlier this summer rejected the effort.

Alderson had been arrested on Sept. 6, 2012, during a protest at the Crestwood (then Inergy) gate alongside Rt. 14 just south of the 14A overpass. The protest was one of many that have been held in opposition to the Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in depleted salt caverns. The plan has long been under consideration by the state.

Alderson faces sentencing on a second trespass charge in Town of Dix Court, where Justice Alan Gregory found him guilty following a trial in mid-June. That charge stemmed from a June 28, 2013 arrest at the same gate. Alderson will face a choice there, too: pay a $250 fine and $125 surcharge or face another jail term. He is due to appear in that court again on Sept. 10.

Wednesday's hearing carried what Alderson attorney Gerald Kinchy called an "unusual offer" for a trespass case. The District Attorney's office, represented by Law Intern Seamus P. Donnelly, gave Alderson options beyond a fine or imprisonment. It offered 120 hours of community service or participation for 15 weekends in a Sheriff's Office work program.

Either service option, if taken, "would have defeated the purpose of what Jeremy wanted to do," said Kinchy -- which was to make a statement of civil disobedience. Several other protesters had chosen jail in previous, related trespass cases.

Alderson declined all options except jail, and in the end told Justice Berry that despite the circumstances, he would remember the judge "fondly." Responded Berry: "That's something I rarely hear." And upon turning Alderson over to deputies, the judge told the defendant "Good luck."

Before departing, though, Alderson asked that the court convey to the jail that the defendant is a proponent of Jewish Vegetarianism in the hope that his jail diet could be shaped to accommodate him. He presented letters from two rabbis who, he said, were attesting to his dietary regimen.

Alderson was led by deputies to an office off the hallway in the town building that houses the court. They then took him outside, handcuffed, as a dozen or so supporters repeatedly yelled "Thank you, Jeremy" and applauded him. He was then transported to jail.

Afterward, Alderson had his son distribute to supporters an email, written by Alderson. It was sent an hour after the sentencing.

"If you're reading this, I'm in jail," it said.

"I'm not asking anyone to keep a vigil for me, because I don't think they're particularly effective. I do hope, though, that people will circulate the press release summarizing my report on the WGFD (another email, asserting that the Watkins Glen Fire Department is not prepared to fight a catastrophic fire at the Crestwood storage facility, should the storage plan be approved and if such an accident were to occur). I'd like it if it could be distributed to businesses and others in Watkins Glen.

"I sent copies to all of our Schuyler County legislators. So far, I've even gotten two responses, one from Phil Barnes, who seems genuinely interested, and one from Barbara Halpin, who wrote, "Please take me off your mailing list." It would be nice if people could write to our legislators -- their e-mail addresses are on the Schuyler County website -- and to Watkins Mayor Mark Swinnerton (who is opposed to the Crestwood project) and let them know that you want these safety concerns taken seriously.

"Lastly, I have another court date coming up before Judge Gregory in the town of Dix court, at 7:00 p.m. on September 10th. At that time, I will be sentenced for my second trespassing conviction related to Crestwood. You never know, I may just have such a good time in Hotel Schuyler that I'll want to go back, but it's never been my intention to go to jail twice. So for the second time around I plan on paying the fine, and I could use some help with that. There's a 'Donate Now' button on the No Frack Almanac website (which he publishes): ( If you can spare a few bucks, I'd appreciate it, and anything left over I'll pass on to the general defense fund for the next wave of civil disobedience."

Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson confers with his attorney, Gerald Kinchy, before sentencing; Alderson and his wife share a moment before he is led away by deputies.

Glen board opposes LPG plan

3 trustees vote against Crestwood project; 2 abstain

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 19 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night finally voted on Crestwood's plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in depleted salt caverns north of the village -- and opposed it by a narrow margin.

The vote was 3-0, a bare majority that brought the deciding vote from Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who has been clearly against the project for months.

Joining him in passing the resolution were trustees Scott Gibson, who crafted the document, and Kevin Smith -- both of whom said they had been "on the fence" regarding the issue until finally siding with the resolution's sentiment that tourism -- an economic driver in the village -- held sway over a plan that meant only 8 to 10 jobs while creating increased truck traffic and no clear upside.

Abstaining were trustees Paul Clifford and Tony Fraboni, each of whom made it clear they don't favor the project. Clifford, however, felt his abstention was necessary "to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest" in that he works for a Crestwood competitor, the Cargill salt firm. Fraboni said he didn't think board opposition would have any effect on the state's decision for or against the storage plan, and that it would "only polarize" residents of the village. "I don't like the position of being stuck in the middle," he said.

The resolution read in part: "Resolved, in keeping with the majority opinion of the local Village community, the Village of Watkins Glen Board respectfully requests that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation withhold approval of any plan for mass storage of LPG adjacent to or under Seneca Lake and exercise its power in identifying a more appropriate location for any such storage site."

Gibson said that while he had been vacillating for the past few months, his position solidified while he wrote the lengthy resolution -- which focused in large part on the importance of tourism to the village and its future. "I looked at it from an economic standpoint," he said, with an eye toward "untapped resources" that "we can take advantage of ... and get more money into the area." With an expected increase in truck traffic generated by the project, he said, he had to ask: "Is this .. appropriate for our area and its direction? No."

Smith said he had also been on the fence until "it came to me": He had to vote the way his constituents wanted. And, he said, voting against the plan "is what they want." Even though the project would be outside the village, the village would feel its impact, he said, adding: "This is about us, not the county as a whole, and not (the Town of) Reading."

Swinnerton, in introducing the resolution as an add-on to the agenda, said he would "like to see the board pass it," but first needed a motion to bring it to the floor. Gibson made the motion, and Smith seconded. The mayor said in reaction to Fraboni that "I think our opinions do matter" and that "it's why we ran for office: to speak for the people of the village."

Clifford said that while he was abstaining -- a move suggested before the vote by meeting attendee David Crea, a Crestwood employee -- "I have a personal opinion" on the storage plan, which "is not the direction we want to go ... It comes down to math." He said the project's 8 to 10 promised jobs "are not worth" possible negative consequences.

After Gibson and Smith had supported the resolution, and after Clifford and Fraboni had abstained, Swinnerton said "it comes down to me. I vote in favor of the resolution."

That prompted applause from a small audience of five project opponents.

Photos in text:

From top: Mayor Mark Swinnerton; abstaining trustees Tony Fraboni (left) and Paul Clifford; and trustee Kevin Smith.

From left: Legislators Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp at Monday's meeting.

LPG storage opponents renew their pleas to Legislature

DEC announces 'issues conference' on Crestwood plan

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 12 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night heard a string of people opposed to the proposed storage of LPG gas in salt caverns alongside Seneca Lake, a group buoyed by an announcement from the New York State Department of Conservation of an "issues conference" that could lead to "an adjudicatory hearing" on the project.

The Legislature listened to the speakers but took no action despite pleas from the majority of them that it "step back," rescind its June resolution favoring the storage plan, and "start over" with an open mind and with an open ear to the opponents' objections.

The DEC announcement was in a press release read by Chairman Dennis Fagan to the audience of 30-plus people on hand for the Legislature's regular monthly meeting. Much larger turnouts had been present at the past two months' meetings as protesters organized, marched and heckled legislators. By contrast, this session was the soul of civility.

Opponents speaking Monday responded to the DEC news by declaring it "huge," but one project supporter, Crestwood employee David Crea, suggested it was just another delaying tactic to carry Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision on the project past the November elections. There has been speculation Cuomo is delaying a decision on the political hot potato until he is safely re-elected.

The speakers

Among Monday's opponents was retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie, who presented legislators with copies of an "Independent High-Level Quantitative Risk Analysis" he conducted of the storage proposal -- a study that measured rail transportation, truck transportation and salt cavern risks. He concluded that:

"Rail transport events are scored a very low likelihood at 3%, but risk reduction efforts should be considered because of possibly extreme consequences. Truck transport events are scored a low likelihood at 8-10%, but are an unacceptable risk because of extreme consequences. Salt cavern storage events are scored a medium likelihood at 35%, and are an unacceptable risk because of extremely serious consequences ...

"In aggregate, the likelihood for a liquefied petroleum gas disaster of serious or extremely serious consequences within the county in the next 25 years is scored at more than 40%. From the perspective of community safety based on this analysis, the Crestwood proposal carries an unacceptable risk of serious or extremely serious consequences. Because risk mitigation efforts in salt cavern storage have thus far proven unsuccessful in significantly reducing the frequency of serious and extremely serious incidents, an alternative plan should be considered."

Sylvia Fox, a Town of Reading resident who has been instrumental in the storage-plan protests, asked in a prepared statement: "Why should Schuyler County residents take all the risk for the gain, the profit, of a Texas-based corporation?" She also attacked the Legislature's "unacceptable handling of this obviously controversial issue," concluding with this plea to legislators: "I am asking you, once again, and I will continue to ask: Please revoke this very flawed resolution tonight."

Paul and Mary Ann Wehrung of Burdett said they are "concerned homeowners" recommending that the legislators "stop, step back ... and revote on this." Said Paul: "It's too serious to let it go the way it's been going. Start again." Added Mary Ann: "I think you acted very hastily."

Richard Ballard of Montour Falls said he moved here because of "the beauty ... but had I known the beauty, the water and the air would be put at risk by misguided people, I would have considered moving elsewhere."

The press release

The DEC press release, while both touted and denigrated by attendees, was explained by County Administator Tim O'Hearn: "This doesn't set new public hearings. It is an administrative hearing where groups can petition for party status in order to participate."

The press release read as follows: "Based on extensive public interest regarding a proposal to construct and operate an underground facility for storage and distribution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the Town of Reading, Schuyler County, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced that an issues conference will be scheduled through DEC's Office of Hearings to determine if there are any significant and substantive issues that require an adjudicatory hearing.

"Participation in the issues conference would involve DEC staff, the applicant, and any individual or group that has filed a petition for party status. The schedule for the issues conference, as well as for the filing of petitions for party status, will be set by an administrative law judge in the near future.

"Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC, c/o Inergy Midstream LLC (now Crestwood), has proposed to construct and operate a new underground LPG storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane and butane on a portion of a 576-acre site located on NYS Routes 14 and 14A west of Seneca Lake in the Town of Reading.

"The storage facility would utilize existing caverns in the Syracuse salt formation created by US Salt and its predecessors' salt production operations.

"DEC will not grant a permit unless it can be demonstrated that the permit is in compliance with all legal requirements and that the proposed activity can be done safely in New York State."

In other business, the Legislature:

-- Acknowledged the appointment of Harriett Vickio as deputy county treasurer in the wake of the resignation of treasurer Gary Whyman and the advancement of Lisa Snyder from deputy treasurer to acting county treasurer. Snyder appointed Vickio -- previously the county's Director of Purchasing -- as her deputy. Vickio, in turn, announced she will seek the treasurer's post in the November election to fill out the final year of Whyman's term.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislator Tom Gifford listens to statement by Sylvia Fox; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislature chair Dennis Fagan; and LPG project supporter David Crea.

Vickio announces candidacy for Treasurer

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 9 -- Schuyler County Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio Friday announced her intent to run for the office of County Treasurer.

In announcing her candidacy, Vickio said: “The office of Treasurer is a critical position within County government and it is imperative that the next Treasurer have the knowledge and skills to ensure financial stability for Schuyler County. I feel that my background both in the public and private sector makes me uniquely qualified to fulfill the significant obligations of this office.”

Vickio, who was appointed Deputy County Treasurer -- effective Aug. 4th -- by Acting Treasurer Lisa Snyder following the resignation of Treasurer Gary Whyman, has served as the County’s Director of Purchasing for the past six years. Prior to that she was employed by Dresser Rand, first in government finance and later in private sector purchasing.

“As Purchasing Director," Vickio said, "I have led efforts to better utilize our financial software as well as streamline procurement and accounting processes county-wide. I am proud to have played a role in correcting many of the deficiencies that have been consistently cited by independent auditors over the past several years.”

Vickio acknowledged the pressures that the Treasurer’s office has been under the past several years. “While the auditor’s reports have consistently pointed out material weaknesses and deficiencies for many years," she said, "I feel that former Treasurer Whyman has instituted a number of corrective action items that simply need strong leadership to fully implement. It is my firm belief that there will be continued efficiencies identified and implemented, correcting many of these longstanding and well-documented problems.”

Vickio is a lifelong resident of Schuyler County. She currently serves as Vice President of Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to Schuyler County residents in times of emergency. She and her husband Tony reside in the Town of Dix and are the parents of two grown children, Mark and Beth.

Vickio, a registered Democrat, is planning to run as an Independent candidate and will also seek other party endorsements. She said she will be releasing her campaign platform in the coming weeks and welcomes all input from Schuyler County residents.

Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (Photo provided)

Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton listens as retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie addresses the issue of LPG storage.

Glen board talks LPG storage again, but fails to act again

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 5 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board once again Monday night discussed the proposed Crestwood LPG storage project alongside Seneca Lake, and once again failed to vote on its sentiment regarding the project.

This time, trustee Scott Gibson was absent, on vacation. Last meeting, both Mayor Mark Swinnerton and trustee Paul Clifford were absent. The time before that, it was trustee Kevin Smith who was missing.

Swinnerton has said he wants the entire board present for a vote -- and explained Monday that now he is trying to arrange a time when the board can visit a Crestwood storage facility in Bath to better understand the company's position.

And yet, while the board seems to be trying to cross all of its T's and dot all of its I's on the matter before voting, a majority has made it clear it does not favor the project. Swinnerton came out months ago against it, Gibson has expressed opposition, and Clifford -- as he did Monday -- says he sees no benefit to counterbalance the potential risk of the project.

The board heard Monday from four people regarding the project. Only one of them was in favor of it.

Retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie -- who has urged caution in considering the project -- spoke to his experience in safety studies and the expectation that an accident of some significance will eventually occur here as well, based on past performance in the propane industry.

6th District County Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese said she has visited 170 households in her campaign and that opposition to the project was expressed at almost every one. "I haven't found any Silent Majority supporting it," she said, adding to the board: "You are the heart of the county. I think the governor should know how the heart of the county feels. I urge you to take a stand for the village. I'd like to see some action on behalf of the people."

Reading resident Gita Devi said the project is "not going to bring in revenue" and "could negatively impact or destroy" the area wine industry and tourism. "Take a stand against this."

Crestwood employee and outspoken project supporter David Crea urged the board to follow through with its tour of the Bath facility, and to consider that almost any project in life brings with it risks. Despite "an orchestrated effort to get the board to take a stand against LPG storage," he said, "I urge you to make an effort to learn more."

Which, Swinnerton replied, the board intends to do.

The board also:

--Discussed the village policy toward removing trees after Jo Ann and Jack Considine of 222 Third Street complained that a tree on their property had been removed by the village DPW without their knowledge or wishes while they were away in July at their son's wedding in Calforinia. Swinnerton said the board would present its reasons for the removal in writing to the Considines, but agreed that "probably there are some things we could do better, with communication at the top of the list. ... We'll look at the policy to see if it needs to be updated. We feel your pain." While the cause of the tree's removal was not explained, the mayor noted that there was "a very good reason for taking this one."

Photos in text:

From top: Trustee Paul Clifford listens; speakers Angeline Franzese and David Crea.

Wineries urge Cuomo to deny Gas Storage Facility permit

The following information was obtained from various sources.

ALBANY, July 31 -- More than a dozen Finger Lakes winery and vineyard owners, along with other business owners, visited Albany Wednesday to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to protect the region’s growing wine industry and thriving tourism by denying permission for a proposed gas storage facility in the Town of Reading, north of Watkins Glen.

The winery owners held a news conference at which several of them spoke, trying to pressure the governor to reject the plan, should the Department of Environmental Conservation approve it. Some Schuyler County politicians believe the DEC has already given its blessing for the plan, but that Cuomo is waiting until after elections in November to give final approval.

However, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in a statement that the proposed facility's permit won't be approved until the agency's review is finalized -- and that it "remains pending while DEC staff continues to review the public comments submitted on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement during the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act process."

She said the DEC has no deadline. It has been studying the matter for three years.

The winery owners' appeals included one from Doug Hazlitt, a sixth-generation Finger Lakes vintner and owner of Hazlitt 1852 Winery in Hector.

“Governor Cuomo (right) has been a great supporter of New York’s wineries and the Finger Lakes," he said, "but this proposed gas facility threatens our future growth and place as the Napa of the Northeast. We need Governor Cuomo’s support now to protect the health of our region and the very things that make it great – the local businesses, renowned wine, and our way of life.”

The wineries are part of the opposition to Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream’s proposal to use old abandoned salt caverns along Seneca Lake to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. The proposal, say the project's opponents, has generated opposition from more than 200 businesses, 10 municipalities and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region who are concerned about the threat it might pose to one of the state’s largest supplies of drinking water, the local economy, and the area’s wine and tourism industry.

“There is widespread opposition throughout the Finger Lakes to this dangerous proposal – it crosses political affiliation and views, with a clear understanding of what is at stake,” said Seneca County Legislator Steve Churchill. “Hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents don’t want their health and drinking water jeopardized or their way of life trampled on by the hazardous over-industrialization this Texas-based corporation would bring to the Finger Lakes. Governor Cuomo should stand with the people of the Finger Lakes by denying permits for this facility, and he would be remembered as a hero for preserving the jobs and economic growth already occurring in the heart of New York.”

Bill Gautreaux, Crestwood's president of liquids and crude, said the caverns' geology is conducive to LPG storage.

"Our Finger Lakes project will provide significant consumer benefits without jeopardizing the health and welfare of the communities in which we operate and our employees live," he said in a statement.

Governor Cuomo highlighted the success of the wine industry at his 2013 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, near the location of the proposed gas storage facility.

“We buy our grapes from the shores of Seneca Lake, and the dozens of wineries in the area are opposed to this gas facility because it threatens our local businesses and economy," said Will Ouweleen, co-owner of the O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards. “This is a regional issue that endangers the jobs our businesses have provided for local families and residents for generations.”

The region has become so widely known for its winemaking that vintners from outside of the area have begun to invest in the area as well.

“Due to the hard work of so many of our local wineries who have toiled in the Finger Lakes for generations, the area has become an international hotspot for quality wine and has experienced increasing investment,” said Michael Warren Thomas, host of Rochester radio show The Grapevine. "That is why the region has garnered attention from winemakers as far as Napa and Germany.”

“There is no justification for jeopardizing the Finger Lakes’ place as an international destination for world-class agritourism,” said Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars. “There is no propane shortage, and we have worked too hard to get where we are now. We won't let the Finger Lakes region become the sacrifice zone for the gas industry and risk losing everything.”

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

No vote yet on LPG storage

WATKINS GLEN, July 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night -- with two of its members absent, including Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- failed to vote on whether to support or oppose the proposed Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of the village.

Swinnnerton had earlier said that if all members of the board were present, they might finally weigh in -- as other governments in the region have -- on the desirability or lack thereof regarding the Crestwood plan. The Schuyler County Legislature has supported it, while various other governmental units in counties bordering Seneca Lake have opposed it.

But the matter wasn't ignored Monday. There was more discussion on the topic, with two women, Barb Cook of Watkins Glen and Syliva Fox of the Town of Reading, urging the board to come out against the storage plan.

Said Cook, referring to the campaign by Swinnerton, Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith three years ago when they ran for the Village Board: "Three gentlemen came to my house and asked me to vote for them. I'm asking each of them to vote for my lake, my little town ... please vote no."

And Fox distributed a handout to those board members present -- Gibson, Smith and Tony Fraboni -- containing a list of "14 reasons based on fact why you should oppose LPG storage." The "facts" dealt with the Crestwood-proclaimed safety of the project, with truck traffic, with the potential effect of the project on drinking water, with industrialization, with a "propane glut," with a lack of emergency preparedness, and with other related items.

"Hold firm," she told the trustees, "and say this is not what our town wants to be."

Both women said after the meeting that they had attended with the understanding that a vote might be forthcoming that night. But with Swinnerton tied up in a business meeting in Owego and Paul Clifford in Ohio, there was barely a majority on hand for the meeting.

Gibson did comment on the subject, though, noting that the board is being careful in arriving at a decision because it will be made on behalf "of the entire community. It's not easy. We all have our opinions."

He added: "The more I talk about this, the more I'm convinced it's not what is economically best for us. Why are we looking to obtain more risk ... on behalf of what? There is no tangible benefit to the community." The storage plan, he concluded, "is not compatible" with the area's burgeoning wine industry.

However, the vote -- whenever it occurs -- will neither green-light nor block the project. Approval or denial will be decided at the state level.

In other business, the board:

--Approved a request by Watkins Glen Promotions to hold the 21st annual Grand Prix Festival in the village on Friday, Sept. 5, with Franklin Street closed from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. This year's featured car will be the MG.

--Gave conditional approval, contingent on the signing of the application form, for the Italian American Festival to run from Aug. 1-3. The festival will be held, as always, at Clute Park, with a parade on Saturday, Aug. 2 along Decatur and Fourth Streets.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Village Board member Kevin Smith at Monday's meeting.

Whyman quits treasurer's post; special election needed

WATKINS GLEN, July 21 -- Gary Whyman on Monday submitted his resignation as Schuyler County Treasurer, effective Aug. 1. He attributed the decision to "family issues."

The move, in the third year of his first four-year term as treasurer, means a special election will be held in November to fill the unexpired portion of the term. In the interim, Whyman will be succeeded by either a gubernatorial appointee or by Deputy Treasurer Lisa Snyder.

In either case, said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the person who assumes the job will have to run and win in November in order to continue in it.

O'Hearn said he learned early Monday afternoon about Whyman's decision, and said he would be meeting with the staff of the Treasurer's office on Tuesday to discuss "the succession and the continuity of office."

Whyman, who won election in 2011 and assumed office on Jan. 1, 2012, said in an email that the "family issue" involves a death in the family. He said he would be staying in the area, and continuing to serve the Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that helps county residents with emergency needs.

His letter of resignation as County Treasurer follows:

"There comes a time for everyone when family events occur that bring about a change of life focus. I have recently endured such an event… and it has, and is still changing my focus.

"Because of this change in focus, I am officially tendering my resignation, effective August 1st, 2014, from the position of Schuyler County Treasurer.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been exceptionally patient and understanding during my tenure here. I also want to express my great pride in the teams I have worked with and the forward strides we have made, and improvements that have been put in place for the future of Schuyler County.

"I wish you all the very best in your future ventures."

Photo in text: Gary Whyman (File photo)

LPG storage protesters march up Watkins Glen's Franklin Street from Seneca Harbor Park to the Schuyler County Courthouse.

Legislature won't rescind; protesters heckle Fagan

WATKINS GLEN, July 15 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night turned back an effort to rescind its June 9th vote favoring the Crestwood LPG gas storage plan, and in the process triggered an angry response by protesters waiting outside the County Building. The crowd had gathered there after a rally of more than 300 people at Seneca Harbor Park and a march up Franklin Street.

The vote was 5-3, with Michael Lausell -- who introduced the rescindment measure -- Barb Halpin and Van Harp voting in favor. Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislators Tom Gifford, Stewart Field, Phil Barnes and Jim Howell voted against it.

After the meeting, as the legislators were leaving, the crowd outside peppered Fagan with shouts of "Shame on You! Shame on You!" and "Fagan Must Go! Fagan Must Go!" as he made his way from the building to the parking lot and his car. According to witness accounts, he was first accosted by one angry man who was soon joined by a swarm of protesters -- one of whom grabbed Fagan's shirt sleeve. A couple of men with cooler heads interceded, and a deputy escorted the Chairman clear of the crowd. When he reached his car, a small group of protesters were still hurling epithets, and he turned to engage one man in a brief debate before saying, "I can sleep at night." He then entered his car and drove away.

Legislator Harp (pictured at right) -- who had voted in favor of the June resolution but this time voted for it to be rescinded -- also encountered some resistance. Witnesses said he was surrounded by three or four people in the lot, and that one shoved him before he shoved back and then broke clear. One observer, noting Harp's career as an FBI agent, said the protester's shove "wasn't very smart."

Legislator Gifford was accosted by one woman, but intercession by a local minister freed him to go to his car without further incident.

Where last month's meeting had attracted about 250 people, nearly 200 of whom were admitted to an alternate meeting site -- the second-floor courtroom in the County Building -- the meeting this time was held in the small, first-floor legislative chambers, which holds about 40 spectators at the maximum.

In those tight quarters, legislators heard a number of arguments in favor of rescinding the June resolution. Those comments, Lausell said later, prompted his proposal to rescind. After he made a motion along those lines, there was silence for several seconds before Harp seconded the motion. Harp later said he did so because he was impressed by the "excellent points this evening, articulated well," and because he thinks the county's emergency preparedness plan "needs to be vetted. I think we should hold on a little bit longer."

The Crestwood plan calls for the storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of Watkins Glen, on the west side of Seneca Lake.

Halpin, who had opposed the June resolution, spoke in favor of rescinding it, and voted accordingly. But Howell (pictured at right), who opposed the June resolution, voted against rescinding it -- explaining later that he was "tired of the personal attacks from the Gas Free Seneca camp" against Fagan and other legislators."It's time to move forward," he said. "I hope the personal attacks will end, and that this will bring the community back together."

Several in the audience said it was obvious by the outpouring of support at the June meeting and at Monday's rally -- which featured speeches and songs in support of the natural beauty of the region and the perceived dangers of industrialization -- that the legislators were not heeding their constituents. Legislator Gifford said his constituents supported the June move, prompting one wag in the audience to ask which constituents he was referring to, considering he only received a couple of dozen votes in the last election, which he lost to Howell. Gifford remains on the Legislature this year in the final year of a term that predated the ongoing, phased-in redistricting process.

Speakers in support of rescinding included Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell, retired Methodist pastor Gary Judson -- who read part of a five-page list of demands prepared by the Concerned Citizens of Schuyler County (its entirety can be read by clicking here) -- and former Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie (pictured below), who read a lengthy statement regarding his experiences in developing safety procedures. Those led Cayuga Medical Center to be ranked in 2010 by Consumer Reports, he said, as "the safest hospital -- large or small -- in New York State."

"In the case of LPG storage," he said, "it's no secret that significant safety concerns continue to be raised by many county residents and some outside experts. I am no expert in liquid propane, but I am an expert in the design and management of safety practices. I submit that your duty as legislators, in watching over the life and health of God's creatures in this county, is the same as that of the leaders ... at NASA, at Cayuga Medical Center and at Schuyler Hospital.

"As every one of those organizations -- and now GM -- has learned, it's not a question of balancing safety issues against economics, politics, car sales, or the country's need for fossil fuel or nuclear power. Somehow those other priorities just don't seem to matter after a disaster. Our highest duty is to listen to, support, and validate those who raise safety concerns, even if that costs time or money. Then, if -- God forbid -- a crash or explosion ever does occur and that liability suit is brought, sound safety practice is our best defense, individually and collectively

"I'm not suggesting a Cuomo-style moratorium for years and years. But last month I came here to respectfully request that you approve Mr. Lausell's timely resolution to work on safety before the horse is out of the barn. It's still not too late to do that. Please rescind Mr. Fagan's premature resolution until the ethical and safety concerns which have been legitimately raised can be calmly aired and equitably resolved to everyone's reasonable satisfaction."

He added later -- after Lausell (pictured at right) had mentioned, as an example of unexpected disasters, the Ithaca tragedy involving a tractor trailer carrying a load of cars that crashed into a restaurant, killing an employee inside -- that "there are failures that will happen" in the storage of LPG, "and of a magnitude potentially significantly greater" than the Ithaca accident.

But the legislative majority didn't seem to agree with his conclusion. After the vote, Hector resident Marie Fitzsimmons asked the legislators: "What would it take to convince you" of the rightness of the protesters' arguments?. She was told by Legislator Barnes: "You're talking to the wrong group. We have no say in the process. You need to go to Albany. The paperwork is on the governor's desk." (It is the contention of Fagan and others that the Department of Environmental Conservation has already given its blessing to the cavern plan, and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is holding an announcement until after the November elections for political purposes. Gas Free Seneca's Campbell has disputed that, saying DEC officials have informed him the process is still ongoing and that no determination has been made.)

Before the session ended, a woman aligned with the protesters invited Fagan and other legislators to meet with and speak to the group waiting outside. "They're a kind and friendly group," she said.


Other notes:

-- After the Legislature session and the heckling and shoving that followed, a speaker addressing the remaining protesters said that Barnes, running for re-election this fall, is unopposed, and that someone should enter the race against him. Several people in the crowd shouted out that he does have an opponent: former Legislature Chair Angeline Franzese (pictured at right) -- who was on hand and managed to turn the event into a stump speech. She was met with warmth and encouragement.

--The rally at Seneca Harbor Park featured an adult-led singing group of school children called New York Children Against Fracking. Part of their lyrics:

Don't store your gas in the old salt mine,
Crack our land on the old fault line,
Methane in our water and our local wine
Has such a bitter taste,
God what an awful waste.

Seneca Lake it is clear and clean,
The skies are blue and the hills are green,
Prettiest place that you've ever seen,
And we wanna keep it that way,
That's what the children say.

--Rally speeches included one by biologist, author and veteran protester Sandra Steingraber, who tested the audience by asking: "What would you do for this lake? We're the ones who have to make that decision inside our own hearts." And area resident Kate LaMoreaux (pictured at right) said the June resolution was "a serious mistake in leadership." She called on legislators "to truly represent your people."

--Michael Warren Thomas, a Rochester radio personality, told the rally audience -- and later the Legislature -- that Seneca Lake is attracting world-class winemakers like Paul Hobbs, who is developing a vineyard in the Burdett area, thus enhancing the region's reputation. "There are 60 million people within a day's drive of here," he said, adding: "Investors are coming ... but not if we industrialize Watkins Glen. It will take just one accident" related to the LPG storage to curb the growing momentum in the winery and tourism industry.

--Emcee at the rally was Margie Rodgers, one of the Seneca 12 arrested in a protest outside the Crestwood facility off Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen in March of 2013.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan (white beard) engages a protester in debate before leaving; Legislators Van Harp and Jim Howell; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislator Michael Lausell addresses crowd after the meeting; Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese; and rally speaker Kate LaMoreaux.

Rally speaker, biologist and author Sandra Steingraber.

Paula Fitzsimmons prepares a sign at the rally.

Left: One of many signs at the rally. Right: Legislator Phil Barnes.

Members of the Hazlitt family at the rally. Tina Hazlitt, at the microphone, said the Legislature had "overlooked the fact that our economy is based on tourism and agriculture," and that the LPG storage plan risks "hundreds if not thousands of jobs" and "everything (the Hazlitts) have worked for since 1852. Save our lake."

Schuyler among the counties in line
for emergency preparedness grants

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, July 10 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says that each of the counties he represents as part of New York’s 58th Senate District are included in a package of $185 million in state and federal homeland security and emergency preparedness grants announced Wednesday at the Capitol.

The grants are targeted to support critical infrastructure projects, as well as to enhance county-level emergency preparedness and response functions.

“These timely and important homeland security and emergency preparedness grants will make a great difference to counties and local first responders across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions,” said O’Mara. “Emergency preparedness, response and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”

According to state officials, the funding is being made available by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG). The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) administers the programs working closely with local agencies.

O’Mara highlighted the following:

-- as part of a $9 million total allocation for the Public Safety Answering Point Grant Program (PSAP), which covers improvements and enhancements to merge 911-styled public safety answering systems, and funds the implementation of new technologies that facilitate data sharing, greater operating efficiencies and regional consolidation, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($487,869), Tompkins ($500,000), and Yates ($473,600);

-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the PSAP Sustainment Grant Program to provide reimbursement to counties for operating expenses, Yates County will receive $81,667;

-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the Hazardous Materials Grant Program, which fosters a regional approach to building and sustaining Hazardous Materials (HazMat) response capabilities by helping meet the costs of equipment maintenance, the acquisition of advanced equipment and technology and cutting-edge training programs, Schuyler County (the lead agency in a regional partnership covering Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties) will receive $106,000. Seneca County (the lead agency in a regional partnership that includes Yates County) will receive $110,000; and

-- as part of a $7.6 million total allocation for the Emergency Management Performance Grant program, which supports local emergency management planning, staffing, training activities and equipment purchases, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($38,523), Schuyler ($11,922), Steuben ($42,358), Tompkins ($43,329), and Yates ($14,566).

Village Board stand expected soon on LPG storage plan

WATKINS GLEN, July 8 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night heard from a vineyard project manager and a Schuyler County legislator opposed to Crestwood's LPG storage plan north of the village -- presentations that might serve as a prelude to a board stand on the issue.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton said he expects a board vote for or against the proposal -- a project that would use salt caverns for storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas -- in the near future, and possibly at the next board meeting, set for July 21. The timing of the vote, he said, will depend on full board attendance. One member, Kevin Smith, was absent while on vacation Monday, but Swinnerton said he expects Smith back for the next session.

One of the speakers Monday was David Hobbs, project manager of a developing vineyard along Route 414 in the Burdett area owned by his brother Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach. It is on a 68-acre section of land, 45 of which are being devoted to use as a vineyard expected to produce its first wine next year. The other speaker was Legislator Michael Lausell, outspoken in recent months regarding the safety of the village in the event of a rail accident involving LPG transport.

Lausell recapped the recent move by the Legislature in backing the storage plan in a 5-3 vote, and his concern that there is not a sufficient emergency plan in place should disaster strike with an explosion or if railcars might tumble into the gorge should the rail trestle there fail. In case of a disaster, he said, "the village would be most directly affected ... although it would be bad for everyone in the county."

The plan, first proposed by Inergy, a firm later merged into the Crestwood operation, has been under consideration by the State Department of Environmental Conservation for an extended period of time. Speculation -- voiced by both Crestwood and project opponents -- has the decision being announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the fall, after elections. Opposition has been voiced locally by Gas Free Seneca and varous business leaders. The Village Board has been visited by several opponents in recent months.

Hobbs, who said he convinced his brother -- who has vast vineyard holdings in California and Argentina -- to come here and start the vineyard, called this period "the tipping point in the Finger Lakes." It is a time, he said, to send a message that approval of the storage plan will undercut further development of the wine industry "and the culinary arts, and be detrimental to Watkins Glen and Schuyler County."

His and Lausell's remarks were warmly received by the Village Board, with trustee Paul Clifford questioning the benefit of the project, which would provide just 10 new jobs, but doubting suggestions that the U.S. Salt plant would shut down without it. "I have a hard time seeing that happening," he said, since the plant "has been sold four times in the past 20 years" and continues to operate.

Trustee Tony Fraboni said the board has delayed a vote until now in order to gather input from residents. "The more information we can take in," he said, "the better decision we can make when the time comes" to vote.

Swinnerton added that the "first priority is the village residents and what's best for them," and trustee Scott Gibson said that "the majority of residents I've talked to are concerned or don't want" the storage project. Only "a handful are gung-ho" for it, he said.

Swinnerton said afterward that the board has to question "if it's something we want, whether safe or not."

Hobbs, he added, had "talked about the development of the wine industry" and how it is a key part of the tourism industry.

"We're looking at it from the perspective of the village," the mayor said, "and that means promoting tourism." The village is committed to that course, he added, with plans under way to replace the existing wastewater treatment plant along the southern shoreline with one elsewhere -- preferably along the canal -- and an intent to see the waterfront developed.

In other business, the Board:

--Heard from Streets Superintendent Don Perry and Police Chief Tom Struble that the 20 mph signs thought possibly lost in the fire last year at the Shared Services Building on South Decatur Street have been located in a storage container utilized for equipment salvaged from the building following the blaze. The signs -- designed to advertise the new speed limit on village streets under village control (not state roads like 14 and 414) -- are undamaged, Mayor Swinnerton said, and will be installed in strategic locations within the next couple of weeks.

Photo in text: David Hobbs, left, and Schuyler County Legislator Michael Lausell after leaving Monday's board session.

Cuomo at Watkins racetrack; urges 'Ultimate Road Trip'

Roadside signs highlight tourist destinations

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 29 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Saturday traveled to Watkins Glen to officially kick off the summer tourism season in New York State, and invite residents and visitors to take a road trip to experience the Empire State's spectacular attractions.

The Governor (right) unveiled a new television advertisement featuring New Yorker Robert DeNiro, which encourages New Yorkers and visitors to hit the road and take the “Ultimate Road Trip" in New York State.

Experiencing New York State via road trips, say state officials, is easier than ever before with an increased number of highway and roadway signs across New York that point travelers to the State’s I Love New York, Path Through History, and Taste NY attractions and experiences. In addition, the Governor announced the launch of a new social media campaign that features New Yorkers and visitors explaining in short video messages why they love New York.

Governor Cuomo made the announcement at the Watkins Glen International racetrack during the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen and Continental Tire 150 weekend. The Watkins Glen raceway is featured in the "Ultimate Road Trip" advertisement.

"Tourism is a major driver of jobs and economic activity in communities all across New York State, from the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls, and the beaches of Long Island, to the exciting turns of Watkins Glen International raceway," Cuomo said. "Our investment in tourism is paying off with a record-setting number of visitors coming to the Empire State, and this year we are doubling down on our efforts to promote and market all that New York has to offer. The 'I Love NY' summer tourism campaign encourages visitors to take a road trip, an experience that promises to be more enjoyable and easier than ever with the help of new signage, mobile applications and social media to guide the way."

There are now approximately 4,000 signs across New York State’s highways and roadways identifying the State’s historic and cultural attractions, world class entertainment and dining venues.

The Watkins Glen International competition is one of the many upcoming summer events all across New York State where I Love NY and Taste NY will have a presence to bring attention to summer tourism activities, attractions and locations. Other signature New York State summer events include the BassMasters Elite fishing tournament in the Finger Lakes, Saratoga Race Course Opening Day, Syracuse Nationals Car Show, 50th Annual Antique Boat Show & Auction in the Thousand Islands, Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Cooperstown and Great NYS State Fair in Syracuse.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

Board is asked to oppose gas storage plan

WATKINS GLEN, June 24 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night listened to a plea from a resident asking that it take a stand against the planned storage of LPG gas in Crestwood salt caverns north of the community.

Laura Mantius, who with husband Peter lives on West Second Street, pointed to the recent passage by the Schuyler County Legislature of a resolution in support of the storage and said she was appealing to the trustees "to pass a resolution not approving it."

She said the local fire department is not prepared to handle the "massive explosions" that the storage could create should the gas seep out and ignite, as she said it did in a Hutchinson, Kansas accident that "forced the evacuation of thousands."

She said Crestwood "executives and stockholders don't live in this town," and "only care about their profits. I'm appealing to you to protect us."

That prompted a discussion in which Mayor Mark Swinnerton reiterated his opposition to the cavern storage plan while trustee Scott Gibson said he is "on the fence." Trustee Paul Clifford (right), an employee of Cargill, said he might have to abstain, being part of the salt industry, if the matter comes to a vote. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Kevin Smith did not weigh in on the discussion.

In the meantime, Gibson will be meeting with Mrs. Mantius on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

In other business, the Board:

--Approved fireworks at Clute Park on July 4th hosted by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chemung Canal Trust Company provided the fire department signs off on the application form by 5 p.m. Thursday.

--Heard from Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, who reported that Dunkin' Donuts' wooden fence fronting its expanded parking lot will be enhanced with landscaping, and that the dumpster on the property will be surrounded by a faux-brick enclosure replacing the current chain-link one. He said he is also talking to the New York State Department of Transportation about installation of an entrance off Franklin Street at the northern end of the parking lot.

--Heard from Utilities Superintendent Mark Specchio that the Arc of Schuyler wants to move one of its Franklin Street transit stops to Decatur Street, and said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn had suggested using the circular drive in front of the Middle School as that stop, providing permission is granted by the owners who will be turning the building into senior housing.

--Heard from Trustee Kevin Smith, who wondered if DOT might install a 10-second left-turn signal on Franklin Street at 4th Street in order to increase the flow of traffic through the intersection. Specchio said he would check it out.

Photos in text: Laura Mantius at the Village Board meeting; and trustee Paul Clifford.

Alderson found guilty in 2nd trespass case

WATKINS GLEN, June 19 -- Crestwood gas-storage protester Jeremy Alderson had two dates in court Wednesday.

In the first, he appeared in Reading Town Court before Justice Raymond Berry. The appearance involved Alderson's arrest and conviction on a trespass charge stemming from a Sept. 6, 2012 protest at the Inergy (now Crestwood) gate along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.

Sentencing was deemed a possibility Wednesday, but Berry adjourned the matter to Aug. 20 while awaiting a decision on whether an appeal of Alderson's case will be cleared for a hearing at a state appeals court.

The second date was in Dix Town Court before Justice Alan Gregory two hours later. It involved an Alderson arrest on June 28, 2013 on another trespass charge at the same Inergy gate.

Wednesday night's result: Alderson was found guilty by Gregory following a nearly two-hour trial that featured testimony by a Crestwood manager and Alderson along with two Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies. Gregory set a return date of July 9 "to see where we are" regarding the appeals process in the first trespass case. It was not clear whether the Dix sentencing might occur at that time.

The standard sentence is a fine. If not paid, the defendant can be sentenced to jail time. Alderson has indicated he will go to jail if it comes to that -- that he won't pay the fine.

In announcing the verdict, Justice Gregory said first that he has "spent a lot of time in recent weeks on this case," researching it and studying case law involving trespass. "It is the opinion of the court that the defendant is guilty," he concluded.

Alderson, outside the courtroom afterward in the Town of Dix office parking lot, called the decision "a miscarriage of justice" because, he said, nobody in either trial had definitively shown that the property upon which he was arrested belonged to Inergy (or later Crestwood).

That was part of his argument when he took the stand after the prosecution had called two deputies, including arresting officer Andrew Yessman, along with Crestwood official Barry Moon. Moon, on the stand for nearly a half-hour, is the manager of a Crestwood subsidiary Finger Lakes LPG storage facility in Savona, and in charge of the storage facility planned by Crestwood north of Watkins Glen.

He described how he had given a deposition on March 8, 2013, following the arrest of the "Seneca Lake 12" group of protesters at the Route 14 site. The deposition encouraged deputies to arrest anyone protesting at the site in the future.

That led to an argument by Alderson's attorney, Gerald Kinchy of Sayre, Pa., that the owner of the property had never told the protesters they couldn't be there, and that as a result the penal code requirements for a trespass conviction had not been met.

That argument -- and the defense contention that the protest action was justified on the grounds of "imminent danger" to the community through the possible explosion of gas Crestwood plans to store in vacant salt caverns -- failed to sway the judge. The "justification defense" -- the point of appeal in the first trespass case -- was rejected by Gregory in a pretrial ruling.

The prosecution was handled by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden, who argued successfully against most defense contentions and objections as he presented his case. The only signficant latitude that Gregory granted the defense was in the testimony of Alderson, who presented a lengthy monologue that touched on the "justification defense" as he explained his reason for protesting.

Both Alderson cases have dragged on for months. Sentencing in Reading Town Court has been delayed pending first one appeal (to County Court) and then another, while the case before Gregory was first in Reading Town Court, then Cayuta Town Court, then Tyrone Town Court, and finally Dix.

Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson (top) and Atty. Gerald Kinchy after their Town of Reading appearance, and the sign at the building where the trial was held.

Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputy T.W. Day talks to some of the 250 people who gathered
at the county building.

Legislature OKs resolution
in support of LPG storage

200 pack courtroom, witness 5-3 vote

WATKINS GLEN, June 10 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night -- at an emotionally charged meeting with 200 people crammed into the county courtroom and another 60 waiting outside -- approved by a 5-3 vote a resolution supporting the plan by the Crestwood energy firm to store Liquid Petroleum Gas in salt caverns along the western shore of Seneca Lake.

The resolution also urges Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to permit the project to proceed.

Whether the move -- which drew both opposition and support from members of the audience -- has any influence on the state is debatable. Said Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell: "No, it won't, though I imagine they hope it will." Voting against the measure were Legislators Michael Lausell, Jim Howell and Barb Halpin. Legislator Van Harp, after moving to table the resolution -- an effort turned back in a 4-4 tie -- voted in favor of it.

The crowd started gathering outside the County Building long before the scheduled 6:30 meeting start, and was told that signs -- and there were a few -- would not be permitted inside the building. However, t-shirts were permitted, and represented both sides of the issue. Crestwood employees and supporters were wearing white t-shirts with the Crestwood name and symbol on them, while some of those opposed to the storage plan were wearing dark blue "Protect Hector" shirts.

Deputy T.W. Day was circulating through the crowd, warning its members to maintain order. As many as possible would be admitted to the building, they were assured. "I have my opinion" on the gas storage issue, Day told those people lined up near the entrance, "but it doesn't come into play tonight. I'm neutral. Just don't push my buttons, or I will push back. I have the legal authority."

The crowd did maintain order, and a good many more than the capacity of the courtroom were admitted. A total of 193 of the estimated 250 on hand got in, and watched the proceedings elbow to elbow in the ornate second-floor meeting site -- moved from the usual Legislative Chambers, which holds considerably fewer spectators. With the eight legislators, county attorney and clerks, the total of people in the room topped 200.

The meeting opened with a half-hour of Public Participation, and it all dealt with the storage plan -- whereby Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, previously Inergy and trying for five years to get permission for the project, would develop an LPG storage hub for the Northeast.

Gas Free Seneca's Campbell was the first to speak, saying the plan "is littered with flaws," so many that "if this was not such a serious issue, it would be laughable." He said he had been in touch with DEC Regional Permit Administrator David Bimber and been assured that no decision had been reached on the Crestwood project, contrary to what Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan has said.

(Fagan, in response later in the meeting, said he stood by his DEC sources; that a decision was made in favor of the project, and "is waiting for a green light" from the Cuomo administration. Bimber's comments, he noted, constitute "a response to be expected.")

Campbell also said that unofficial assertions that the project would enhance the sales tax totals for the county were inaccurate; that other similar facilities have not generated any, and this one won't either. "There are real risks" with the project "with little benefit to the local economy," he said.

Lou Damiani of Hector followed, saying the wine industry has worked hard to build the Finger Lakes into a significant tourist destination, and that an increase of industry could not co-exist with it in the long term. "Please do not ruin" what has been built, he said. "You can't have it both ways. Sooner or later one or the other" -- tourism or industry -- "will break."

William Olean, owner of O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards on Hemlock Lake in the western Finger Lakes, said the wineries in the region employ thousands of workers, while Crestwood is suggesting 10 jobs will be created with its project. "Tourists come to escape traffic and smog," he said. "The Finger Lakes brand hangs in the balance" with the night's vote. "You will honor or betray the trust" of the voters, he told the legislators.

Barry Moon, a local Crestwood official, said that reports of a proposed storage cavern being structurally unsafe are untrue -- a misunderstanding resulting from "sonar issues" while examining the cavern. Byron Thompson, a longtime U.S. Salt employee and longtime Watkins Glen firefighter, said he has "never seen or had concerns with gas storage. I believe in this project."

The meeting went on in that fashion, with more Crestwood representatives favoring the project, and several residents opposed to the project lamenting the possibility of disaster should there be a rail spill of LPG or an explosion related to its storage. Said one woman: "I want to live here, not get blown up maybe." She suggested that Crestwood "pay in advance with a nice big escrow account" to be drawn upon in case of disaster.

Added a physician, pointing to increased pollution resulting from increased industry: "I shake my head with disbelief that you would vote to risk the welfare of each and every one of us. Do not turn my life's work into finding clean water and clean air for my patients." The Legislature's job, she said, was "to do no harm."

An emotional exchange came between outspoken protester Jeremy Alderson and Emergency Management Office official Brian Gardner. Alderson said loudly, his voice quavering, that there is "no emergency preparedness whatsoever" in Schuyler County -- "no training and no equipment" to battle a disaster at the storage facility. He said the Legislature, "with this vote," could be incurring a liability that leads to "great lawsuits" in the future.

Gardner responded loudly and pointedly that "I disagree with everything you just said. Are there plans for that facility? No." But there are plans for the types of emergency situations that could occur, he said, just as there are plans for house fires in general. "We can't train at every house," he noted. He explained that First Responders have trained "on propane trucks. We've had flam-gas workshops, trained on transport vehicles, done scenarios. These First Responders are trained. To say they're not ready to handle something like that is totally wrong."

When it came time for the vote, most of the legislators weighed in with various arguments -- Phil Barnes saying he was speaking for the Silent Majority he represents, Halpin saying she was opposed to the resolution because "I don't have the ability to make a determination as to its appropriateness," and Howell saying he understood the arguments of both camps.

Lausell made a long speech in opposition, saying he is most concerned with the trestle that crosses the gorge and what might happen if a propane-laden rail car were to derail there, with its load carried downhill to the door of the county building itself. And he said he was concerned with the sharp turn at the north end of town that could result in a truck turnover and spill. He noted that he was also bothered by the speed with which the resolution was being handled. It was not his intention to criticize Emergency Management personnel, he added, because the responsibility for preparedness "probably lies with the Legislature."

He also raised the issue of Crestwood allegedly threatening to close the U.S. Salt plant if the storage project is not approved. "That's bullying," he said. "It creates pressure on the Legislature. I don't appreciate it. I don't think it's right, and I don't think the Legislature should put up with it." That drew sustained applause from the anti-storage faction in the audience.

Harp said he had reviewed the emergency preparedness and said it was "very adequate," with personnel "well trained to respond to an emergency." But he also said he thought the Legislature should table the resolution pending an expected annex to the Emergency Response Plan. He issued the motion soon thereafter, but it was defeated with a 4-4 tie, with Harp, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voting in favor, and Barnes, Stewart Field, Tom Gifford and Fagan against.

Fagan then held the floor at length, touching on such subjects as truck traffic (which he said would not noticeably increase, since any product shipped east would go by pipeline), the quality of the plan (which he said has been strengthened with a change in the brine pond from a single liner to a double), his alleged conflict of interest (which he denied, saying he sold his engineering firm that dealt with pipeline design and has had "absolutely no involvement in management since then"), and Crestwood's "bullying." The company, he said, is the largest taxpayer in the county, employing 130 people. If it were to close, he said without denying the threat, there "would be significant economic difficulties" in Schuyler. Besides, he noted, he had received communications from Gas Free Seneca supporters who promised "they would never shop again in Schuyler County" if the project were approved. "And that's a form of bullying," he said.

When the vote was taken, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voted no, and Gifford, Barnes, Field, Fagan and Harp voted yes. Some in the crowd chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

The Harp vote surprised many in the audience, a couple of whom asked him to explain how he could seek to table the resolution and then vote in favor. He said the matter was really geopolitical in nature; that we should strive for self-sufficiency in our energy rather than "spend all our hard-earned money" turning to the Middle East for supplies from people "who have vowed to annihilate us."

Before the meeting ended, another vote -- on a resolution offered by Lausell opposing the storage plan -- predictably went down to defeat, 6-2. Only Lausell and Howell voted in favor.

Outside afterward, the remnants of the crowd milled about, cheering Lausell as he came out of the building, and ignoring others. Fagan and Barnes exited together, and barely drew a look.

Campbell was standing nearby, talking to members of the media.

"U.S. Salt won't close," he was assuring one reporter, telling him its business is good and not likely to be abandoned. As for the significance of the evening's vote, he said, "it was a largely symbolic gesture" lost in the opposition expressed thus far by Seneca County, Yates County, the towns of Waterloo and Geneva, and the City of Geneva.

"We're creating a map" showing that opposition by governmental units around Seneca Lake, he said. When the map is "filled in, it will show how isolated Schuyler County is."

Of course, if the DEC has already determined the acceptability of the planned LPG storage, as Fagan asserts, then neither opposition nor support will really matter.

If that's so, then Monday's meeting, as full as it was of emotion, was merely an exercise -- one in futility for plan opponents.

But there was satisfaction expressed in one quarter: at Crestwood, which issued a press release about the Legislature's backing.

"I am grateful to the members of the Schuyler County Legislature for passing this resolution," it quoted Crestwood chairman, president and CEO Robert G. Phillips as saying. "As a company, we are dedicated to the safety of our employees and the communities where our employees live and work, and the Finger Lakes facility is no exception. This shovel-ready project will create jobs, support the local tax base, advance U.S. energy independence, and help make energy more affordable for consumers across New York, the Northeast and beyond.

"This resolution demonstrates that our critical energy infrastructure project does have local support, despite what our project critics might want Albany to believe," he added, noting that he hopes the Cuomo administration and the DEC act "before yet another winter heating season passes."

Photos in text:

From top: Gas Free Seneca's Joseph Campbell; Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan; Crestwood's Barry Moon; storage opponent Jeremy Alderson; Emergency Management's Brian Gardner; Legislator Van Harp; U.S. Salt's Byron Thompson; and Legislator Michael Lausell receiving a hug after the meeting.

Palmesano greets Bacalles in Albany

Special to
The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 8 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano met with his predecessor, Jim Bacalles, during a recent visit by Bacalles to Albany.

“It was a great privilege for me to welcome former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles back to the Assembly,” said Palmesano.

Palmesano noted that he and Bacalles have maintained an excellent relationship over the years.

“Not only was Jim my predecessor, but he is also my mentor and friend," Palmesano said. "I had the honor of working for Jim from 1995 to 2004, and during that time I gained a wealth of knowledge from him. Jim was a dedicated servant to the people of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region, and I want to personally thank him for his years of service to our area.”

Photo in text: Former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles, left, with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)

Mayor Mark Swinnerton makes a point at Monday's meeting.

Noise law, skate park proposal draw fire at board meeting

WATKINS GLEN, June 3 -- The new noise ordinance and the proposed move of the skateboard park drew comment and criticism at Monday night's meeting of the Watkins Glen Village Board.

Wildflower Cafe and microbrewery owner Doug Thayer (pictured below) said the Local Law regarding noise -- specifically band music -- late at night is affecting his business, which he said has contributed significantly to the economic development of downtown Watkins Glen.

He said that by adhering to the ordinance-specified 11 p.m. cutoff of music, he was in fact losing business -- and that the board should take note that his business in 2013 had a $610,000 payroll and paid $45,285 in water and electric bills, $32,000 in local property taxes, $33,000 to local firms for repairs and maintenance, $200,000 to local food and wine vendors, and $160,000 in sales tax.

Trustee Scott Gibson acknowleged Thayer's role in helping the community grow, but said the board "represents the entire community" and tried with the noise ordinance to arrive "at a happy medium" in balancing the needs of business with the wishes of residents who don't want to hear loud music late at night.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton interjected that it "is not the intent" of the ordinance -- known as Local Law No. 1 of 2014 -- to have music stop at 11 p.m., but rather to have the noise level dialed down so as not to be offensive to residents who can hear it, specifially those on the side hill not far from the business district. Gibson added that he hoped Thayer "reconsiders" his decisoin to cut off music at 11 p.m.

Discussion continued at length, with other residents weighing in in support of Thayer, and with the board stressing its support of local businesses and its hope that the noise law will "evolve" with give-and-take discussion to the point where all parties are satisifed with its parameters and application.

The Skateboard Park:

The board heard from Patricia Hastings (right) on behalf of the skateboard park located along the western end of Lakeside Park. With the village seeking proposals for the development of more than two acres of land there -- including where the skateboarding takes place -- there has been discussion about moving the skateboarders to a tennis court behind the Community Center across Fourth Street.

Hastings, a former county legislator, told the board that skaters are safer where they are now than if the facility were moved because the current park is within sight of Fourth Street, and anyone passing by can see if a skateboarding accident has resulted in injury -- and can seek help. No such line of sight protection exists with the alternate site, she said. She also said a hidden area like the tennis court is "a good place for a pervert to hang around," or for skaters to smoke.

She also questioned whether skaters will use the alternate site, or if their parents will permit it. If not, she said, there might be a return to the days when skateboarders used village streets. "Please reconsider where you are going with this," she said.

Mayor Swinnerton told her that the board is merely seeking development proposals, and that it might decide to do nothing -- in which case the skateboard park would continue where it is.

In other business:

--The board approved a two-year recycling contract with its current contractor, Arrowhead Disposal, at a cost of $2,100 per month. Similar bids were received from the Casella and Cardinal firms.

--Another season of Concerts in the Park at Lafayette Park were approved. A letter from chairperson Julie Sissel said an effort is being made to provide "a little more variety to appeal to a wider group of people and attract more tourists to the concerts and to the area." The concerts will run from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays from July 1 to August 19.

Photos in text: Doug Thayer and Patricia Hastings at Monday's board session.

Barnes, Blowers are seeking seats on County Legislature

WATKINS GLEN, June 1 -- Two candidates entered the race Saturday for seats on the Schuyler County Legislature -- one an incumbent and one a well-known newcomer.

Incumbent Legislator Phil Barnes and local community leader Carl Blowers Saturday jointly announced their candidacy for seats on the recently redistricted Legislature.

Barnes, who is completing his first term on the Legislature, is seeking the seat in the new District 6. He said he and Blowers are running as a team because of "the similarities we share."

“Carl and I share a fiscally conservative philosophy and a true desire to better our community,” said Barnes. “We are both excited about the future opportunities that present themselves and feel that we can contribute to future success."

Blowers, in outlining his reason for running, said: “Choosing to live in Schuyler County 22 years ago was one of the best decisions my wife Suzanne and I have made. Since that time I have sought to be active in leadership roles within the community and am proud of the progress this county has made in the last decade. Serving as a Legislator would be both an honor and a challenge to continue the good work that is currently being done here.”

Barnes has served four years as a Legislator and currently chairs the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the Legislature. In a press release, he said he has been "instrumental in providing increased efforts and resources to combat welfare fraud" and that he "is actively involved in the Schuyler-Yates study that has recently begun to explore opportunities between the two counties to lower the cost of government while increasing efficiencies and effectiveness."

Barnes, who retired as Undersheriff of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office after 26 years, is currently an Investigator with AMRIC Security Consultants. He is also Chairman of the local Red Cross, a member and Past President of the Watkins Montour Lions Club, and a member of the Community Services Board of Schuyler County.

Blowers is seeking an open seat in the newly formed Legislative District #5. He has long experience in private industry, retiring from Corning Incorporated as Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Materials and Process Technologies Division in 1997 after a 29-year career. After that he served as Vice Chairman and principal of Jostens Incorporated through 2004. He currently owns and operates Hawk’s View Consulting, a private consulting firm.

Blowers is involved in various community organizations and has a leadership role in several of them. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the Corning Community College Board of Trustees, Chair of the Arnot Art Museum Board of Trustees, and immediate past Chair of the Watkins Area Chamber of Commerce. He is a past member of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), a charter member of the Project Seneca Steering Committee, and a member of the Schuyler County Industiral Development Agency (SCIDA) board. He is a graduate of Bordentown Military Institute, holds a B.S. degree in Finance from Boston College, and is a graduate of the Dartmouth College Executive Management Program.

Both Barnes and Blowers say that if elected they will fight unfunded mandates, strive to control property taxes, and attempt to preserve natural resources and the area's quality of life. They said they will also promote economic development, shared services and job growth.

Said Blowers: “We will be releasing our campaign platform in the coming weeks and encourage any resident or business owner to contact us directly to share concerns, thoughts and ideas on improving Schuyler County."

The only other announced Legislature candidate thus far is Angeline Franzese, a former Legislature chair who is running in the same district as Barnes, #6, for a lone available seat.

Photos in text: Phil Barnes (top) and Carl Blowers. (File photos)

The land in question. The village is looking for development ideas.

Proposals sought on Lakeside Park Point

WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board will soon be seeking proposals for the possible development of 2.34 acres of land at Lakeside Park Point on the west end of the park and alongside the entrance to the canal.

Rick Weakland, project director for Project Seneca -- which envisions lakefront development in the coming years -- outlined the Village Board's intent in a visit Wednesday night to the Watkins Glen Planning Board.

He said the Village Board -- through the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) -- will soon issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in an attempt to solicit ideas for projects that might be undertaken on the acreage in question, with an eye toward minimal impact on the park while enhancing the park proper and its standing as a tourist and resident attraction.

The 2.34 acres used to be owned by Cargill Salt, which transferred it to the village in 1994 in return for drilling rights in the park. The parcel extends from Rt. 414 north to the lake, running alongside the canal. Part of it contains the skateboard park built several years ago.

Weakland said the project, should one develop, will be managed by SCOPED on behalf of the village and in consultation with it. He said he was addressing the Planning Board because it would be involved in site plan approval if a project is selected and pursued.

He said the process -- using RFPs -- is similar to the one utilized in the Watkins Glen Middle School project. That building, sold by the school district as it consolidates to a single campus, will be turned into apartments for the elderly, with its north end developed into a community-use gym and auditorium.

He said there are no concrete development plans for the Lakeside site yet -- that the village is seeking ideas which should be submitted by the end of June. If a project is selected out of those ideas, it could take two years before the development is completed.

In the end, Weakland told the board, "we could end up with nothing or something."

Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in a conversation after the board meeting, said the land in question is separate from the park in that it is not subject to the laws that govern the use of the park. He said if a project is selected, the board has no intention of selling the land to the developer, rather intending to lease it long-term.

In order for a sale to take place, he said, "it would have to be the deal of a lifetime."

He said he and the board envision as one possibility a "destination restaurant. It's a great location for one."

As for the skateboard park, he said that in the event of a project on the lakeside site, the skateboard equipment would be relocated to the tennis courts next to the Community Center across the road. One half of the little-used tennis courts would remain available for tennis, and the other half would be used for the skate park.

"When it was built," he said of the skate park, "we made sure its equipment was relocatable. It can be moved in a day's time."

Photos in text:

Top: Rick Weakland hands Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard a packet outlining the Village Board's plan to solicit ideas for Lakeside Park Point.

Bottom: The Planning Board's Chris Bond.

New system can issue Public Safety Alerts

Emergency Management Office adopts Ping4 Inc.’s Mobile Alert Platform, designed to keep citizens safe

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- Beginning today, the Schuyler County Emergency Management Office (SCEMO) will use Ping4 Inc.’s mobile communications solution, ping4alerts!. Users can download this free app on their Apple or Android smartphones to be instantly notified of public safety concerns.

“Using Ping4 Inc.’s technology, we are now able to notify Schuyler County’s 18,500 residents of immediate dangers and emergencies,” said Bill Kennedy, Schuyler County Emergency Management Director. “We can set an alert to the boundary of a town, road, building, or any other area, making sure people are only getting the information about events that may affect them.”

Ping4alerts! is a free iOS and Android app that uses the location-based technology inherent in today’s smartphones to deliver notifications within a highly-localized area. Using any web-browser, SCEMO can draw a shape on a map as small as a street or broadcast a message to an entire city. Ping4 Inc. delivers media alerts that can include images, custom audio, video and mobile web links. These features, coupled with the platform’s accuracy, are designed to insure public safety information is targeted, instant and relevant.

Ping4alerts! protects user anonymity and does not require users to provide any personally identifiable information such as a phone number, street address, or email address. These mobile notifications are delivered over the Internet through GPS, cellular, and available Wi-Fi networks. Citizens who download ping4alerts! will also receive NOAA’s National Weather Service advisories for severe weather. Other features include the ability to learn the location of nearby level 2 and level 3 sex offenders. Users can also establish watch locations for home, work, school, or a relative’s house to receive alerts for multiple locations.

“The value of our product is its ability to deliver time-sensitive, relevant information to users based solely on location,” said Norm Archer, VP of Marketing. “This technology provides a timely and relevant communication channel to citizens, whether they be residents or visitors, during emergency situations. The Schuyler County Emergency Management Agency is a fine example of forward-thinking and like-minded individuals who care about making their community safer.”

Citizens and visitors can download ping4alerts! by visiting the App Store or Google Play.

From left: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Tony Specchio, Senator Tom O'Mara, Annabelle Specchio and Adam Bradascio, one of the 11 Specchio grandsons, in Albany on Tuesday.
(Photo provided)

Tony Specchio inducted into
Senate Veterans' Hall of Fame

O’Mara pays tribute to Korean War vet, longtime civic leader

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 20—At a late morning ceremony in the Legislative Office Building honoring decorated and distinguished veterans from across New York State, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and his colleagues Tuesday inducted Anthony J. “Tony” Specchio, Sr., a lifelong Watkins Glen resident and a fixture in civic and veterans affairs, into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Specchio represented O’Mara’s 58th Senate District and was among approximately 60 veterans statewide joining the Hall this year. Inductees are chosen annually by state senators from within their respective legislative districts. Tuesday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the capital was held to coincide with the upcoming Memorial Day observances across the state and nation this weekend.

Specchio was accompanied at Tuesday’s ceremony by his wife, Annabelle, and one of his 11 grandsons, Adam Bradascio.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have this opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of New York State veterans like Tony Specchio,” said O’Mara. “Tony’s an outstanding citizen who’s given a lifetime of commitment to our nation, our state and the community of Watkins Glen. I’m proud to salute Tony Specchio by inducting him into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. It will be an enduring tribute.”

Specchio was nominated for the Veterans’ Hall of Fame by Brian J. O’Donnell, former president of the Watkins Glen School Board.

O’Donnell said, “Tony is a real credit to his family, his church, his community and his country. A gentle man who always puts others first, Tony is a true American patriot and I’m proud to call him my friend!”

A distinguished Korean War veteran, Specchio was drafted into the United States Army in 1953. His training included a stint at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada where he witnessed the detonation of an atomic bomb from a distance of less than 10,000 feet, thereby earning him the rare distinction of being called an “Atomic Veteran.” In 1954 he served in Korea on the combat line at the 38th Parallel as a tank driver/commander with the rank of Corporal (Acting Sergeant).

Following his discharge from the Army in 1954, Specchio returned to Watkins Glen, where he and his wife, Annabelle, raised seven children. He has served in local government and remained an active member of the community – known in particular for his dedication and devotion to veterans affairs.

Over the past six decades, he has especially become known as the driving force behind the annual Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day and Flag Day observances in Watkins Glen, and has remained active in numerous organizations, including BPOE Elks Lodge No. 1546, American Legion Post 555, the Watkins Glen Fire Department, the Watkins Glen Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). For over 20 years, he has also been the Veterans Service Representative at the VA Hospital in Bath. He also remains active as a member of St. Mary’s of the Lake Church, where he has served as an usher for nearly 50 years.

Active in local government, Specchio has served as Town of Reading Supervisor, as a member of the Schuyler County Legislature and, since 1978, on the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, where he’s been the chairman since 1986. In 1995, he retired as Superintendent of Public Works for the village of Watkins Glen.

The Senate established its online Veterans Hall of Fame in 2005. Including this year, approximately 300 veterans have been inducted. It’s designed to honor New York veterans whose service in the United States Armed Forces is accompanied by service to the community and accomplishments as a civilian, and includes veterans representing Senate districts from throughout New York State. It can be viewed through a link on the home page of O’Mara’s Senate website,

O’Mara’s previous Veterans Hall of Fame inductees have been:

-- in 2011, Philip C. Smith, a highly decorated Korean War combat veteran and well-known figure in Schuyler County government and veterans’ affairs;

-- in 2012, J. Arthur “Archie” Kieffer, a World War II combat veteran and well-known figure in Chemung County government as the Chemung County historian; and

-- in 2013, Painted Post Mayor and World War II combat veteran Roswell L. “Roz” Crozier, Jr.

Photo in text: Tony Specchio at the Seneca Lake pier. (Photo provided)

The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of CGR Tuesday morning in the Yates County Auditorium. (Photo provided)

Study starts with committee meeting

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

PENN YAN, May 16 -- The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of Center for Government Research Tuesday in the Yates County Auditorium to kick off the study of the two counties that could result in anything from sharing some services to an outright merger.

Scott Sittig, associate director of CGR, told those at the Tuesday morning meeting that feedback from stakeholders in both counties will be key to the study.

“The critical role of this committee is to have open dialogue about what is working in each county,” he said.

He said CGR staff — four were present at this meeting — will look for systems that are working well in each county as the study progresses.

To open the brief discussion, Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said there are some immediate needs in Yates County. The county is searching for a risk manager, and the Legislature recently learned that Veteran’s Services Director Earle Gleason plans to retire at the end of 2014. While legislators have begun discussing whether that office needs two full-time employees, no decisions have been made.

Yates County Chairman Timothy Dennis said, “We have small departments. Whatever we combine, we’re still going to be small.”

Sittig confirmed Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn’s assumption that part of the process will be understanding best practices between counties.

“A baseline report is like turning the light bulb on,” Sittig said.

The 18-member steering committee includes legislators and department heads from each county. CGR was chosen from a field of 11 firms that submitted proposals. The study is being funded in part with a $50,000 grant from New York State. The study should be complete in less than a year.

SOS's Vickio honored for his contributions to the community

Among area group at State Capitol tribute

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 6 -- New York State Senator Tom O’Mara welcomed senior citizen volunteers from Chemung and Schuyler counties to the State Capitol Tuesday as part of the 2014 Senior Citizens Day Celebration sponsored by the New York State Office for the Aging.

According to the Office for the Aging, Senior Citizens Day is celebrated in New York in conjunction with events across the nation during May to observe National Older Americans Month. Tuesday’s event sought to acknowledge the significant contributions made by older New Yorkers to their communities.

Local county Offices for the Aging submitted nominations. Among the 2014 honorees is Spirit of Schuyler founder and president Tony Vickio of Watkins Glen (pictured at right).

“What a great honor for all of the outstanding and meaningful service these area seniors have provided to so many of their fellow seniors throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. It’s a fitting tribute to the thousands of hours they’ve volunteered which have made such a difference in so many lives,” said O’Mara.

The following seniors were in Albany and honored as part of Tuesday’s celebration:

-- Tony Vickio: A lifelong resident of Watkins Glen and well-known throughout Schuyler County, Vickio has donated his time and talents to many community organizations and activities over the decades including the Boy Scouts of America, animal shelters and local schools. In 2002, he founded “Spirit of Schuyler” (SOS), a non-profit, emergency response organization that assists county residents with basic needs such as fuel oil, utility costs and car repairs. Vickio remains president of SOS and volunteers countless hours to promote, organize and staff the organization.

-- Donna Barto (Chemung County): Barto, of Horseheads, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. She has been volunteering since the 1970s at a variety of organizations, utilizing her skills as a retired registered nurse. She was the first woman member and a past president of the Big Flats Lions Club. She especially values volunteering and working with
the visually impaired;

-- Dale Bryant (Chemung County): With Barto, Bryant, of Elmira, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. He is active in many community organizations, including the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society, Friends of Woodlawn Cemetery and the Eldridge Park Preservation Society. He is the current President of the Chemung County Farmer’s Museum and is co-founder of the Finger Lakes Region Vintage Chevrolet Club of America;

-- Joy Perry (Chemung County): Winner of the “Chemung County Mildred Parfitt Award” in 2013, Perry has been a volunteer at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center for over 25 years, serving as President of the Arnot Auxiliary Board. She is active in many community organizations and activities including the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, the Thursday Morning Musicales and the Wednesday Morning Club.

Two senior honorees unable to attend Tuesday’s event in Albany will be recognized by their respective Offices for the Aging. They are Alise Irwin of Branchport and Lauren Snyder of Penn Yan, the latter recently selected as a "Woman of Distinction" from the 58th State Senate District. She will be honored accordingly in Albany on May 13.

Photo in text: From left: State Senator Tom O'Mara, Tony Vickio, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Assemblyman Chris Friend in Albany on May 6th. (Photo provided)

Steering Committee taps CGR for study of Yates-Schuyler

WATKINS GLEN, April 28 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee has selected CGR -- the Center for Governmental Research, Inc. -- to conduct a study of potential shared services in the two counties.

Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said the interviews of five companies among 11 that submitted proposals were completed Friday. Two days of interviews were conducted in Schuyler County and one in Yates.

CGR -- a not-for-profit firm out of Rochester -- has "tentatively accepted," O'Hearn said

CGR was the first firm interviewed, and Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, was the last. In between came Bond Schoeneck & King of New York, Florida and Kansas; Management Partners of Cincinnati, Ohio and California; and VMC Independent.

"CGR is the chosen and preferred applicant," O'Hearn said, noting that it had recently done a study for the Village of Watkins Glen into a possible consolidation of municipal police services with those of the county. It conducted a study in 2008 of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for possible operational efficiencies.

"It works strictly with governments," O'Hearn said, "and has an understanding of the scope of the project. Its fact-finding process is solid."

The Steering Committee consisted of 18 people -- the two county administrators, department heads and Legislature representatives. The administrators -- O'Hearn and Yates County's Sarah Purdy -- will next prepare resolutions for Legislature committee consideration, with an eye toward a final vote by the Legislatures themselves. The Schuyler Legislature next meets on May 12. Schuyler County, as the lead agency, will execute the contract.

The study is expected to take no more than a year, and CGR "has indicated it will be less than that," said O'Hearn. It will include focus-group meetings, a public meeting, and development of an interactive website.

The CGR proposal was for a flat $50,000, which is the amount of a state grant for the project -- 90 percent funded by the state ($45,000) with a 10 percent share ($2,500 each) by Schuyler and Yates counties. Two of the five firms, O'Hearn said, had proposals that would have cost close to $100,000 apiece.

Officials from both counties are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn

Study leads to reassessments, drop in WG school tax rate

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 23 -- The overall assessed value of property in Schuyler County is on the rise.

The Real Property Tax Office has adjusted assessment figures in the county, and overall they're going up -- an estimated 3.7 percent. That was embraced by Watkins Glen school officials as "good news," but village and county leaders counseled caution until the root causes of the increase can be analyzed.

The Watkins Glen School Board, in fact, trumpeted the increase as the cause for an abrupt turnaround in its projected tax rate. Instead of a 33-cent increase to $12.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, it says now the tax rate under its proposed budget will go down at least 11 cents, from its current $12.18 to $12.07. The budget will come to a public vote on May 20.

Said district Business Manager Gayle Sedlack: "Many will actually see a decrease in their tax bill from the prior year. An increase would be in the instance that the property was reassessed at a higher value."

Added Superintendent Tom Phillips: "This is a huge sigh of relief for governments; it distributes the cost of doing business more equitably. It's good news for the district -- and we had nothing to do with the assessments. To say we were stunned would be an understatement. We're very happy."

A more measured response came from Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who -- upon learning of the assessment value increase -- said that even without it, the Village Board's preliminary budget work has the village likely headed for a third straight year without a tax hike. He said he needs to look into the assessment situation before commenting on it. "But it should have an effect," he noted.

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn took a cautious tack, too, saying the cause of the value increase will determine how beneficial it is -- that if it is a sign of growth and physical improvement, then it will be more meaningful economically than if it's a matter of "a shift in properties." He added, though, that it is probably caused by a mixture of factors, including "the correction of inequities" and visible signs of growth -- such as in Bruce Nelson's WaterWorks condo project on Salt Point Road in Watkins Glen, or in improvements to Franklin Street properties with the addition of several upscale apartment units.

Without such investments in the growth of a community, he said, simple assessment adjustments to reflect market conditions can lead to "50-50" situations where tax-rate drops are countered by property assessment increases.

In other words, a decrease in the tax rate doesn't always mean a decrease in taxes.

Meanwhile, the view of homeowners whose assessments rise might be a bit jaundiced -- and there are a lot of properties where that is happening.

In the Watkins Glen School District alone, the assessed value increase will be $28 million, up from $729 million this past year. Real Property Tax Office Director Tom Bloodgood said the increase will be for "the final roll this year. Its first impact will be seen in the September school tax bills."

Bloodgood said the assessment hikes were triggered by an annual analysis comparing existing assessment figures to sale prices of properties, with an eye toward adjusting them to maintain a 100% equalization rate. "We try to maintain the market value" in the assessment level, he added.

Hundreds of properties in Hector and Watkins Glen were affected either up or down, he said -- between 1,500 and 1,600 in Hector and more than 900 of Watkins Glen's 1,100 -- 692 in the Town of Dix portion of the village, and 212 in the Town of Reading portion. The Hector properties include many residences with 10 or more acres, along with vacant lands of different types: forest, pasture and so on. Bloodgood said the focus wasn't on lakefront property, although those with larger acreage might have been included, along with a few others.

The increase in assessed value was not confined to the Watkins School District. Assessed value in the Odessa-Montour portion of the county is going from $275.4 million to $280.2 million. Assessed value in the Trumansburg School District portion of the county is going from $90.3 million to $98.4 million. Bloodgood said that increases in the Town of Reading portion of the Watkins Glen School District are "minimal."

While the assessment adjustments don't relate directly to the STAR (School Tax Relief Program) that reduces tax bills for qualifying homeowners, both affect school taxes. Toward that end, Bloodgood was asked if the state's decision that those people with the STAR exemption re-register this year had possibly reduced the number of exemptions. He said that as of January, 13% of those with the Basic Exemption last year had failed to re-register -- and that while some of those 509 households did so before the registration period expired, there were still some that did not. He didn't have final figures, though.

Bloodgood said that those residents whose assessments are being affected by the value analysis -- begun last autumn, he said, and just concluded -- will be notified by mail. Those not notified can assume their assessments aren't changing, he added.

Asked if he expected complaints from affected homeowners, he concluded succinctly:

"Of course."

Seneca Terrace Apartments get go-ahead from Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, April 17 -- After 15 months and many Watkins Glen Planning Board sessions, the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments behind the Elks Lodge at the north end of Watkins Glen are a "go."

The Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to the 24-unit apartment complex following a public hearing at which the project drew both support and concern from neighbors.

With the way clear now to build -- following months of numerous revisions requested by the Planning Board, the Watkins Glen Fire Department and the state Department of Transportation -- the group representing the project, led by owner-developer William Frandsen, were looking forward to breaking ground.

"In about 10 days," said Attorney Charles Guttman, a frequent visitor to Planning Board sessions since the Jan 16, 2013 meeting at which Frandsen and engineer Ted Lauve presented the concept -- which at that time called for 28 apartments in sections of 16 and 12.

One of many changes since then had been a reduction to 24 units -- 12 apartments in each of two buildings, one high on the sharply slanted property, and one downhill from there.

Ground movers will start shaping the hillside soon to accommodate the structures -- one of which will be built before the other. Once the land shaping and infrastructure work is done, construction will begin with an eye toward "closing in" the earliest structure before winter. Occupancy, said Frandsen, could be in the fall of 2015 -- assuming separate Certificates of Occupancy can be obtained for the two buildings. Guttman was more optimistic, saying he thought apartments in the first building might have occupants in the summer of 2015.

The Planning Board approval, without dissent, came following a public hearing that saw a couple of Elks Lodge representatives support the project, with one saying they spoke for the hundreds of members of the club. A retired Watkins Glen resident just back from wintering in the south backed it, as well, saying it was exactly the sort of housing the village needed for people like him and his wife.

And former Mayor Bob Lee weighed in with the argument that the project is needed to increase the tax base of the village.

Concerns were expressed by several residents who live near the planned complex -- the concerns focusing on the effects of increased traffic, the effect of the complex on their property values, and on the matter of whether traffic would be excluded, except in emergencies, from the complex's North Jackson Street access. The answer to that was "no" -- but that an effort will be made to discourage use of that roadway through signage, an issue that would have to be taken up by the Village Board. The main access point would therefore be from North Monroe Street.

In the end, after the public hearing had been closed and the final site plan approved, there was a smattering of applause from the audience, and one low "boo."

And Frandsen, Lauve and Guttman adjourned to the hallway outside the meeting room -- perhaps to get their footing after a long, long rollercoaster ride to approval.

In other business:

-- The Planning Board gave final site-plan approval to a proposal by Seneca Physical Therapy on North Franklin Street to add to the front and rear of its building. The approval came after a public hearing at which no opposition was voiced.

-- Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the Board the Villager Motel is looking at expanding its office space.

-- Larnard told the Board that he was going to meet with Dunkin' Donuts personnel the next day to discuss demolition of the house Dunkin' Donuts has purchased on the north end of its parking lot -- with an eye toward expanding its parking. The meeting, he said, would include demolition contractor T. Shaw, Inc. of Tully. The house, Larnard said, will be razed "pretty soon, but no date has been set. We'll figure that out" at the meeting.

Shared Services Committee
to interview 5 firms for study

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

PENN YAN, April 15 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee plans by the end of April to choose a firm to conduct the shared services study of the two counties.

Committee members from both counties met in the Yates County Office Building April 2 to review the compiled reviews of the 11 proposals received from various companies.

Teams of two committee members were to conduct reference checks on the five top-ranked companies, and interview sessions with the top five were being scheduled for the week of April 21. The committee plans to make a choice on April 25.

The counties have received a $50,000 grant to help pay for the study. Officials from both counties say they are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.

The firms that were ranked in the top five, based on their proposals, are:

• CGR-Center for Governmental Research Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Rochester. CGR conducted the 2008 study of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for operational efficiencies that might be possible.

• Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, with offices in Raymond, N.H. and Mitchellville, Md. Berkshire Advisors has conducted a study in Cayuga County's Sheriff's Office, Health and Human Services Department and Highway Department.

• Bond Schoeneck & King, a firm with multiple offices in New York, Florida and Kansas, mostly known as a legal firm.

• Management Partners, with offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and California. This company’s website says the firm specializes in helping government leaders improve their operations.

• VMC Independent. Information was not available about this firm.

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy, who compiled the committee members' scoring and comments on the 11 proposals, said she felt the scoring process provided some consensus, with three firms — CGR, Berkshire and Bond Schoeneck & King — clustered at the top of the rankings.

While all committee members may be present during the open interview meetings, a team of four — Purdy, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and County Legislative Chairmen Tim Dennis (Yates County) and Dennis Fagan (Schuyler County) — will conduct the interviews.

A website with access restricted to the committee members has been established in connection to the Schuyler County website. Notes from committee meetings and other documents are posted on the website so committee members can share information easily.

Purdy and O'Hearn were contacting the five finalists to schedule interviews. Specifics about the time and location for the interviews were being determined by the possible need for internet connectivity if video conferencing is required.

Photo in text: The steering committee of representatives from Yates and Schuyler County met in Penn Yan April 2 to lay the groundwork for choosing a consultant to conduct the shared services study between the two counties.

IDA approves Schamel lease extension at Seneca marina

WATKINS GLEN, April 10 -- The Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency Wednesday approved a 15-year extension on the lease by which Schamel Brothers LLC operates the Seneca Harbor marina.

According to County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the agreement will substantially increase the revenue realized by the county both before the end of the current lease in 2018 and going forward to the new lease's end point in 2033.

O'Hearn said the county will see its revenue increase between 2014 and 2017 to $244,000, compared to the $17,500 it would have realized had nothing been done. And the revenue from 2018 to 2033 will be between $1.5 million and $1.6 million. "Extrapolated to current terms, the amount would have been $147,000," he added.

The 15-year extension does not include operation of the Village Marina Restaurant. The Schamels will continue to operate it until 2018 under terms of the old lease. The restaurant operation will be put out for bids in 2017, "and will generate a lot more income," said O'Hearn.

The marina operation came under scrutiny recently with the Schamels' request for the extension, something they deemed necessary if they were to spend $150,000 on the renovation of weathered docks in the coming year. The request prompted reaction from Frog Hollow Marina owners Ed and Theresa Woodland, who wanted an opportunity to bid on the Seneca Harbor operation themselves.

The SCIDA vote was 4-0, with one member absent and Chairman Kevin Murphy abstaining because of related business dealings. One seat is vacant.

No formal action is required by the Schuyler County Legislature, O'Hearn said, although it was aware of the lease provisions before the SCIDA vote and was not opposed to it.

A 90-day period is required by the state from the time of the vote to implementation of the new lease, he added. It will take effect after that period expires.

Photo in text: A dock and boat slips at the marina.

Yates, Schuyler open talks

Note: The following was published March 26, 2014 in the Chronicle Express of Penn Yan. We print it here in cooperation with that paper as a service to the readers of Schuyler County.

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

WATKINS GLEN, March 26 -- A group of officials from Yates and Schuyler County have begun a process that could spell some major changes in local government. An Ad Hoc steering committee met in Watkins Glen March 19 to discuss how to choose a consultant to study collaboration opportunities between the counties.

“This is a once in 50 years opportunity,” said Yates County Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis.
Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn agreed, saying the scope of the study will involve work that’s never been done before. He said he has not been able to find evidence of similar work being done between two counties anywhere else in the country.

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says the counties are likely to identify some opportunities for sharing or saving as the study progresses. “There’s no reason to wait for the study to talk about what is or isn’t possible,” she said.

“We need to keep an open mind. There are a lot of opportunities,” added Schuyler County Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan (pictured at right in file photo).

The group established a system for evaluating the proposals that have been submitted by applicants, and will meet again in Yates County to review the compiled scores and decide which firm will be awarded a contract to study the two municipalities.

The committee discussed its overall responsibilities and the potential for efficiencies that could be uncovered during the process of the study.

The contingent from Yates County included Dennis, Purdy, Legislators Mark Morris, Dan Banach and Jim Smith; Treasurer Winona Flynn, Highway Superintendent David Hartman, Social Services Commissioner Amy Miller and Legislative Clerk Connie Hayes. Legislator Bill Holgate is also a member of the committee, but was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Schuyler County representatives on the committee are: Fagan, Legislators Tom Gifford, Barb Halpin, Jim Howell, and Phil Barnes as an alternate; O’Hearn; Social Services Commissioner JoAnne Fratarcangelo; District Attorney Joe Fazzary; Community Services Director Shawn Rosno; and Office for the Aging Director Tamre Waite.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan. (File photo)

Area reps rip Cuomo over Monterey

ALBANY, April 1 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) Monday criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for refusing to renegotiate his administration’s plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility later this year.

The final 2014-15 state budget agreed upon by Cuomo and legislative leaders, and acted upon by both the Senate and Assembly, does not contain funding to keep Monterey open.

As part of the new budget, the Monterey facility and grounds will be designated as one of New York’s new tax-free zones in an effort to attract redevelopment initiatives, including new businesses and industries.

O’Mara (pictured at right), Palmesano and Friend said in a joint statement: “Together with our local leaders, Monterey employees, and former Monterey inmates and their families, we tried until the very end of this year’s budget negotiations to convince Governor Cuomo to keep Monterey Shock open. We made our case on the merits and on the undeniable facts that Monterey saves state and local taxpayer dollars, effectively reduces recidivism and turns lives around. The Cuomo administration refused to negotiate a better solution for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes economy, local property taxpayers, local community services, and local workers and their families. It’s the wrong decision.”

The lawmakers said that despite the budget setback, they will continue their efforts to try to find a way to save a shock program at Monterey. They also said that they would continue to closely monitor the efforts of the Cuomo administration to offer transfer and other reemployment opportunities to remaining Monterey staff.

Since last July when the Cuomo administration first announced its plan to shut down Monterey, O’Mara, Palmesano, Friend and other local leaders across the region have joined together with Monterey staff, former inmates and their families and many concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to
reverse the decision.

In private meetings and at public rallies, they’ve highlighted the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and lower recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with local infrastructure, natural disaster cleanup and repair, and other community enhancement projects.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

... but like budget's CHIPS funding level

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 1 --State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning) said Monday that area counties will see increases in state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the 2014-15 New York State budget hammered out by legislators and the governor.

In early March, O’Mara, Palmesano and a bipartisan group of nearly 100 legislative colleagues joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout the state to call for increased support for local roads and bridges. They noted that local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.

CHIPS provides the bulk of state aid to counties and towns for the maintenance and improvement of local roads and bridges.

Following a similar bipartisan effort last year, the 2013-14 state budget provided a $75 million increase in CHIPS funding to an overall level of $438.1 million. It represented the first funding increase for the program in five years.

O’Mara and Palmesano said that CHIPS funding in 2014-15 will be continued at last year’s funding level, $438.1 million, but with an additional $40 million distributed through the CHIPS program to local governments to fix surface road damage, including potholes, created by this year’s extreme winter.

“This continued recognition of the importance of CHIPS funding will make a significant difference for localities, local economies and motorist safety statewide,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement.

Swinnerton 'confident' about new plant

WATKINS GLEN, March 16 -- Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton says he is optimistic that the Project Seneca plan for a new sewage treatment plant will move forward despite significant problems in the village's existing plant and the resulting possibility of a heavy fine.

Swinnerton, who two weeks ago expressed concern about the effect such a fine might have on the village's ability to share in construction of the new plant -- a joint facility built in conjunction with Montour Falls, probably along the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School property -- now says that village officials have met in the interim with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and instituted a correction plan in the current plant that has Yaw's Environmental Lab of Ithaca assuming oversight of the daily operation. The firm had recently been providing reports on the plant's progress as it operated under a state consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.

"I'm very confident" the Project Seneca plan can continue toward fruition, the mayor said, although he wasn't yet sure what the fine -- initiated under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency -- might be. One reason for that confidence: "We acted quickly, and I think found a reasonable answer," although some fixes -- such as corrections in chlorine levels -- can be achieved faster than other ones. The DEC, he added, is "partnering with us to find solutions."

A new treatment plant is considered a spur to lakefront and other development in the county.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)

Increased state support for roads sought

Special to
The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 6 -- With final negotiations over the 2014-15 New York State budget kicking into high gear over the next few weeks, a group of state legislators, led by Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning), Wednesday joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York to call for increased state support for local roads and bridges.

“We’re seeing report after report deliver the message that the condition of local roads and bridges is critical, and getting worse,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement. “We need a stronger state commitment to our local transportation infrastructure. Local roads and bridges, in every region of New York State, are community and economic lifelines, but they’re at risk from a severe lack of adequate, dedicated funding. State investment in the improvement and upkeep of local roads and bridges is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. It’s an investment in economic growth, job creation, property tax relief and motorist safety.”

Photo in text: Senator O'Mara (at podium), Assemblyman Palmesano (immediately to the left) and a group of their colleagues joined local highway superintendents on the historic staircase in the State Capitol. (Photo proavided)

O'Mara backs medical marijuana act

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 5 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) said Tuesday that he will work with his Senate colleagues this session to gain legislative approval of the “Compassionate Care
Act” -- landmark legislation that would create the most tightly regulated, highly restrictive medical marijuana system in the nation.

“This legislation allows for safe, limited access to medical marijuana, for people who suffer from serious, debilitating diseases. I will continue to work to improve the bill to make sure we maintain a
balance between access and compassion for patients, and maintaining control to eliminate the potential black market,” O’Mara said. “Comprehensive medical research and the ever-growing testimony from medical professionals, health care experts, patients and families show that the use of medical marijuana can help ease the pain and suffering of the seriously ill. I have carefully considered the facts, and after meeting with patients and their families I have come to the conclusion it’s time for New York to offer a highly restrictive, tightly regulated network to provide patients access to treatment that will improve their quality of life.”

Waite set to return as SRO

WATKINS GLEN, March 4, 2014 -- Retired State Trooper David Waite, who served as School Resource Officer in the Watkins Glen School District in the latter part of his law-enforcement career, was approved by the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday to resume the role.

Waite, who also previously served the Odessa-Montour School District before O-M jettisoned the SRO position, is currently serving in a similar capacity in the Campbell-Savona School District. A transition from that job to the one at Watkins Glen will take an unknown amount of time, according to Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

"We have timing issues to work out," he said.

The mayor added that the Village Board has been in contact with the Watkins school district, and that it too is in favor of the hire. The board decision came after an executive session Monday night at which "that and other police matters were discussed," Swinnerton said.

Waite's salary will be $30,000, all of it coming from the school district. He will replace the current SRO, Sgt. Steve Decker, who has been serving in the post on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, the mayor said the board has not yet decided whether to to replace police officer Mike Powers with a full-timer on the municipal force . That position -- recently vacated by Powers, who had also served as SRO -- is currently being "backfilled by part-timers," the mayor said. "We'll see how the budget goes, but I will say there would be more consistency with a full-timer."

Photo in text: David Waite

Glen faces 'significant fine' on treatment plant violations

WATKINS GLEN, March 4 -- The Village of Watkins Glen is about to be fined what Mayor Mark Swinnerton said will likely be "a very significant amount" of money for its latest failure to meet established standards in its Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The situation, he said, could lead to one where the village must invest heavily in the plant and thus bypass Project Seneca's proposed joint Watkins Glen-Montour Falls replacement plant -- being touted as a spur to Seneca Lake shoreline development. The current plant sits along that shoreline.

The mayor told the Village Board Monday night that he had received a message from the State Department of Environmental Conservation specifying three instances of excessive chlorine levels exiting the plant, and that it appears the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pressuring the DEC to come down on the village, which has been operating the plant under a consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.

"It looks like we've backed ourselves into a corner," Swinnerton said. "A fine is coming our way, a very significant one, though it has not been finalized. We need a plan of action, which should be part of our executive session tonight" -- a closed meeting following the public board meeting.

"This isn't good," said Swinnerton, noting that it looks as though the EPA has evidently run out of patience with the way the DEC has handled the plant's shortcomings, thus leaving the village in a position where "anything we can do to expedite any retrofits" should be done as soon as possible.

He said village officials would be meeting with DEC and EPA officials after the expected receipt of an official letter specifying the fine.

"Now we've got to start working with the EPA. If we need to spend -- and I'm just throwing it out there -- $100,000 (on the fine), that's money that could be better spent elsewhere. This is very serious, and I'm very concerned about it."

He noted later that if the fine is $100,000, "we can't just pull it from the General Fund and pay it. That has to be borne by the rates. Users would see an immediate increase to pay it."

The amount of the fine "could be far less or far more" than $100,000, he said -- possibly the latter "because of how long this has been going on." The plant has encountered problems for several years.

"If we're forced to put $1 million into the plant," he added, "that puts a damper on our ability to move" the facility -- to replace it with a facility serving both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls. Such a facility is envisioned by some Project Seneca planners as being situated along the canal, across from the high school grounds.

"It's a very unsettling situation," Swinnerton added.

With the fine "imminent," he said, the village will have to adhere closely to whatever the EPA demands. "We can't deviate from that plan. If an (EPA) engineer tells us to do something, we need to do it exactly."

The plant is currently operated by several individuals, with input from engineers and with reports prepared by an environmental firm. When asked if anyone in particular could be blamed for the current situation, the mayor answered: "No comment."

In other business, the board:

-- Heard a plea from officials of Schuyler County Little League Baseball -- President Matt Walters (pictured at right) and Vice President Jesse Schubmehl -- for use of land behind the Community Center at Clute Park for a second baseball field, one in addition to Fazzary Field, which is located across a parking lot. Development of the land, once landscaped for soccer but sitting unused for a few years, would be financed through fund-raising and donations of materials and labor from local businesses. The board gave verbal encouragement, but said Cargill Salt first needed to be consulted because of a couple of brine wells it owns beneath the land there and uses periodically. Said trustee Paul Clifford, a Cargill employee: "They might ask you to slide a little to the east."

-- Heard concerns from a couple of residents who live near the site of the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge. The residents said increased traffic on Partition Street created by the apartment dwellers would make the intersection with Rte. 14 dangerous, and travel within the immediate vicinity more difficult. They added that the Watkins Glen Planning Board has been doing "a good job" dealing with the project, but that the chance to voice concerns had been limited by Planning Board rules precluding comments until the issue is essentially decided.

After the residents left the meeting, board discussion led Mayor Swinnerton to ask Police Chief Tom Struble to prepare a report by the next board meeting on the desirability of turning a portion of Partition Street, from Rt. 14 up to Monroe Street, into a one-way street.

-- Heard Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard confirm that a third Chinese restaurant is being added to the list of village eateries -- in the former Pick-A-Flick building on North Franklin Street. Trustee Scott Gibson (pictured at right) asked if there isn't "something on the books" limiting the number of identically themed restaurants in the village.

"I'm pretty positive that doesn't exist," said Larnard, who was nonetheless asked to research the matter in order to be certain.

Said Gibson: "I'm all for capitalism and letting things sort out, but I'm also for protecting longtime businesses."

-- Heard from Clute Park Manager Michelle Hyde about a proposal from Sara Caldwell of Watkins Glen for a weekly Movies on the Lake program. A letter from Caldwell said she envisions playing a movie (rated G or PG) at Clute Park on an outdoor movie screen on Thursday evenings at 9 p.m. in July and August, "west of the horseshoe pits and north of the playground." It would be a free event, with Caldwell asking local businesses to sponsor the films in return for advertising. The Village Board -- with one member calling it a "neat" idea -- backed the plan and asked Hyde to keep its members informed on how it develops.

-- Set May 10 from 8 a.m.-12 noon as the time period for the village's next Dumpster Day in the parking area between the Community Center and the canal.

Photos in text:

From top at Monday's meeting: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (left) and trustee Kevin Smith; Police Chief Tom Struble; Little League President Matt Walters; trustee Scott Gibson.

3rd Chinese eatery, historical center aired to Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 20, 2014 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night heard about two projects that are in the early planning stages -- one involving a third Chinese restaurant in the village, and one involving use of the former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street as a center devoted to the history of cars, auto racing and the village itself.

Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, in his summary of ongoing projects in the village, told the board that the former Pick-a-Flick property in the Subway plaza on North Franklin Street has been leased from its Bath-area owners by a group of Chinese speaking individuals from out of the area, apparently New York City. He said he has spoken to the group's English-speaking architect, and that plans call for construction of a kitchen within the confines of the existing structure, with an eye primarily toward take-out service. "There will only be a few dining seats," said Larnard.

As for the starting dates for renovations and the business opening, Larnard said those are not yet known. Thus far, he said, "the renters have the lease. That's as far as it's gone." He noted that the project will not require approval by the Planning Board; just the acquisition of a building permit, for which the group has yet to apply. Larnard said of the few facts he has so far, one is that there is no connection between this eatery and either of the village's other such restaurants: the Orient Hibachi Buffet and the House of Hong.

The "Museum"

Tony Vickio, noted sign painter, author and head of the Spirit of Schuyler service organization, was in attendance at the board meeting informally, in advance of a presentation next month regarding a project he and two of his cousins are planning on North Franklin Street. When asked by the board if he had anything to discuss, he decided to outline the project to the board and to a reporter afterward.

Vickio said the former Clifford Motors building and lot, as well as the former Esso station owned by Clifford at the north end of Franklin Street, where the road curves left on its way out of town, are being sold to Vickio's small group, headed by his cousins Louis Vickio Jr. of Texas and Mark Menio of Penn Yan. He said a purchase offer was made on the properties and accepted, and that he hopes the closing occurs early in May.

When asked the purchase price, he shook his head. "I have no idea. I'm the idea guy," he said, noting that his cousins are "the money guys."

Negotiations, Vickio added, are ongoing in an attempt to purchase the two properties between the Clifford lots -- a building currently leased by the Eyes on Seneca optometry practice, and the vacant former Little Joe's Texaco Station. Both are locally owned.

Whether those properties are purchased or not, he said, the project envisioned by him and his cousins will proceed -- with, first and foremost, use of the former Clifford dealership as "a sort of museum, though I hate to call it that," which will among other things pay homage to the Corvette. The idea for that car is believed to have occurred in Watkins Glen. It was the brainchild of General Motors designer extraordinaire Harley Earl, and accounts say he was inspired by his encounter with various European sports cars during a visit to Watkins for a 1951 race. The first Corvette was created in 1953.

"The idea," said Vickio, "is to have a 1953 Corvette on display here, along with the newest Corvette," with the modern display car replaced each year by succeeding models. He said talks are under way with GM regarding such a display.

"But it wouldn't be just about the Corvette," he said of the history center. "We would be honoring all kinds of cars" that have been part of the fabric of Watkins Glen racing lore. "And it wouldn't just be about the cars. There is no place in Watkins Glen that deals with the history of the village -- where you can go to learn about that history." That void would be filled by this project.

He said he has been in touch with the International Motor Racing Research Center regarding it taking part in some fashion in the Franklin Street project. The Research Center is located on the other side of the village, on South Decatur Street. Vickio indicated that the Research Center would not be moving, but "could have a presence" on Franklin Street, directing people to the Decatur Street site.

"We're excited about the project," Vickio told the Planning Board -- about the cars and equally about the village history aspect. He said the "museum" part of the project "will be set up as a 501(c)3" entity "where people can donate (historical) objects or put them on loan. We'll put out a big search" hunting for displayable objects. "It won't just be about autos. There's gonna be a lot of history in there."

He didn't have further details on what might be developed on the rest of the property -- factors contingent in part on how much property is obtained. But he said the hope is that "there will be shops, and eventually a restaurant."

The Planning Board also:

-- Heard an update on the planned Seneca Terrace Apartments planned for land above the Elks Lodge along Rt. 14 north of the village's business district. An apartment spokesman said a property dispute with a neighbor is still not settled, and that a suit has been filed in State Supreme Court in an effort to resolve it. Board chair Chris Bond said the board cannot act on the plan until the dispute is settled.

Photos in text:

Top: The former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street in Watkins Glen

Second: The two properties north of the Clifford Motors site. Negotiations are under way by the Vickio group in an attempt to purchase them.

Third: Tony Vickio (File photo)

Bottom: Planning Board chair Chris Bond.

Area reps rip Cuomo's plan
for 'Free College for Prisoners'

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Feb. 18, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Tuesday rejected Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide a free college education to state prisoners, and again urged the Cuomo administration to reverse its decision to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County later this year.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We reject Governor Cuomo’s proposal to have state taxpayers pick up the tab for providing inmates with a free college education. Hard-working, law-abiding students and families across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions are
sacrificing and struggling to find a way to pay for college in the face of rising tuition costs and other expenses, and they’re not asking for a state handout to get that education. It’s another bad proposal at the worst possible time for New York State taxpayers. We need to stay focused on cutting taxes, keeping state spending under control and turning around the upstate economy. Now’s no time to add another questionable – and potentially very expensive -- state spending commitment.

"Governor Cuomo already has a proven way to reduce recidivism that, at the same time, saves state and local taxpayer dollars and gives inmates the discipline and the determination to turn their own lives around. It’s called the Monterey Shock Incarceration program, and the governor should keep it open for the benefit of the local economy, local workers, local communities, and the inmates themselves. Monterey’s a better way to turn lives around and reduce state spending.”

Over the weekend, Cuomo unveiled a proposal to provide college-level education at state correctional facilities in 10 regions at a cost of approximately $5,000 per inmate annually. The state currently spends $60,000 a year to house an inmate and approximately $3.6 billion across the state’s correctional system. There are an estimated 54,500 inmates currently confined in state prisons. In announcing his proposal, Cuomo highlighted studies showing “that by earning college degrees, inmates are far less likely to return to prison. New York’s current recidivism rate is 40 percent.”

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano again pointed to Cuomo’s emphasis on reducing recidivism as a way of cutting incarceration costs as one of the main justifications for keeping Monterey open. In terms of its impact on recidivism, statistics from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have shown that 26% of shock graduates released from shock facilities returned to prison within three years, compared to 42% for all DOCCS releases. Add reduced incarceration times to lower recidivism rates and the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion over the past 26 years, the area lawmakers said. They also noted DOCCS statistics showing that shock inmates pass General Educational Development (GED) tests at a rate of 80%.

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We already know that Monterey Shock works to dramatically reduce recidivism rates and incarceration times while, at the same time, cutting costs, saving taxpayer dollars and giving inmates something even more important than free college classes, and that’s the desire and the drive to turn their own lives around by furthering their education or acquiring a practical skill or trade that offers a livelihood and an independent, success-driven future.”

Seneca Harbor Marina lease extension talks will resume

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night, in a 5-3 vote, approved the resumption of negotiations between County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and the Schamel family over a possible extension of the family's Seneca Harbor marina lease.

Voting against the resolution were Legislators Van Harp, Mike Lausell and Phil Barnes. According to the Legislature office, the move does not empower O'Hearn -- acting on behalf of the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) -- to reach an accord with the Schamels "on anything or to extend anything," but rather to reopen negotiations and report back on any progress.

The Legislature had, the month before, put the negotiations on hold, with Chairman Dennis Fagan explaining that its members wanted "to look at it further." County Attorney Geoff Rossi was instructed to "research some contractual questions," Fagan said at the time. "We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."

Since that time, one county official said, Rossi reported his findings to the legislators and the matter was discussed by the Public Works committee, which decided to bring the issue to the full Legislature Monday. The session was attended by the Schamels and by the owners of the Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen, Ed and Theresa Woodland, who are interested in operating the Seneca Harbor marina themselves and thus want a chance to bid on the lease.

The Schamels have held the lease (overseen by SCIDA) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033. They are seeking the extension, they have said, to ensure that they earn back the $150,000 they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands have argued that the lease should be put up for bid as "a point of fairness."

The legislators made clear Monday that they will approve an extension only if there are "significant new revenues" for the county, which owns the property and serves as its guardian. SCIDA is, in the words of O'Hearn, the "governing body that leases and subleases" the property.

The Legislature made clear last month that any extension, should it occur, will not include the Village Marina restaurant, currently operated by the Schamels. That will come up for bid in 2018.

Photo in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (File photo)

Judge orders incarceration
for Larry and Kimberly States

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 31, 2014 -- Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris sentenced Larry and Kimberly States to incarceration Thursday for stealing money from the Monterey Fire Department over a five-year period while serving as officers of the department.

Morris sentenced Larry States -- a former sergeant in the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office -- to 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison, and States' wife Kimberly to a year in a county jail, likely Chemung County's. Schuyler County has no such facility for women.

The verdicts came after guilty pleas by the pair last year to grand larceny in connection with the theft of more than $100,000 from the fire department. According to a report from the State Comptroller issued following an audit of the fire department's books, "misappropriated funds and questionable payments/purchases" made by the Stateses -- while the husband was chief and the wife was treasurer -- "comes to approximately $134,000." A total of $26,386 of that amount falls under "questionable," but "appears personal in nature."

The sentences were separated by lunch -- Larry States learning his fate before midday, and Kimberly States after. In both cases, arguments were put forth by Assistant District Attorney John Tunney urging state-prison time because of the heightened visibility of the cases and the need for deterrence should any other leaders in positions of public trust consider theft as an option.

And in both cases the defense attorneys -- James Ferratella for Larry States and assigned counsel Wesley Roe for Kimberly States -- pointed to pre-sentence reports that offered the suggestion that probation might be utilized, either by itself or in tandem with a short local jail term. In both cases restitution was expected, and embraced.

Judge Morris asked both defendants if they had anything to say. Larry States said no, although his attorney pointed out that States had been working (at Zotos International, a hair-care products firm in Geneva) and had paid back some of the money, with the intent to fulfill that obligation. Ferratella suggested community service as a sentence, so that States' life "would become work instead of jail."

But while States himself remained mum, his wife had a prepared statement that she read at her sentencing. Among her comments:

"I know that my actions were wrong and immoral. Not a day goes by that I haven't regretted (them)...I am sincerely, deeply remorseful ... I brought shame on myself, and put shame on my family...I've disgraced my profession (nursing)...Please accept my apology." She added that she "accepts" the consequences.

Added Attorney Roe: The defendant "made bad decisions that snowballed out of control." She is a "good person," he said, "taking responsibility for her actions...She has paid a huge price personally."

In sentencing Larry States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the monumental proportions of this crime" -- a crime that occurred across years. "The defendant made dozens of bad choices over several years," said the judge, "and only a small amount" of the stolen money "has been recovered."

Beyond that, he said, the defendant was employed by both the Sheriff's Office and Fire Department. "You betrayed the trust" of both departments, he said, "and the citizens of the county."

As a result, the judge added, a sentence of "one and a third to four years is required," along with restitution of $115,000.

Larry States' attorney, Ferratella, asked if the judge might "hold off" on the application of the sentence "so the defendant can get his affairs in order."

Tunney quickly objected, saying the defense had "known for some time" that sentencing was coming and that there was "a possibility that Mr. States would go to prison. His decision not to get his affairs in order in the face of that reality was another bad choice."

Morris denied Ferratella's request, and the defendant was taken into custody and, soon after, led from the courthouse and over to the adjoining Sheriff's Department. He was scheduled to be taken to Elmira for processing and a determination as to which state facility would house him.

Afterward, District Attorney Joe Fazzary -- on hand to witness the sentencing -- said he thought the incarceration would likely include a provision that would keep States separate from the general prison population, given his career in law enforcement.

In sentencing Kimberly States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the comparisons" in the two cases. And he noted the "six-figure" nature of the crime -- money for which restitution was being ordered, but also money that it would be "wildly optimistic to think will ever come in."

He pointed out the violation of the public trust that the defendant committed, and that the crime was committed "over a period of time. You made numerous bad decisions...when you were not financially destitute."

As a result, he said, "incarceration is required."

Following sentencing, the defendant was taken into custody for transport to the Chemung County Jail.

Photos in text: Larry and Kimberly States are led from the courthouse following sentencing.

Larry States exits the courthouse on his way to the adjoining Sheriff's Office after sentencing.

O'Mara, Palmesano will keep fighting against Camp closure

MONTEREY, Jan. 23, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano marked the day of the final scheduled graduation from the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility with assurances that they will continue the fight to keep the facility open.

The Shock camp is targeted for closing in July as part of a Cuomo Administration budgetary move. The final class of inmates on hand to graduate did so on Wednesday.

O'Mara, in a press release, said the local, grassroots effort to convince the governor to reverse
the decision will continue.

"This may be Monterey’s last graduating class for the immediate future," said the Senator, "but we’re far from shutting down our local, grassroots effort to convince Governor Cuomo that closing Monterey doesn’t make sense. I’m disappointed that the Cuomo administration still shows no sign of
reversing its decision to close Monterey this year. But this year’s budget adoption process is just beginning and I will be continuing to work to get the governor to reconsider the closure. I believe we've made a strong case for keeping the facility open and we’ll keep working to ensure that the
governor hears us. It's too important for the local economy, for regional community services and for the effectiveness of correctional services statewide. We’re not giving up on saving Monterey for the long term.”

O’Mara, area state Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, Congressman Tom Reed and other local leaders across the region have joined together with Monterey staff, former inmates and their families and many concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to keep Monterey open since his
administration announced its closure plan last July.

They continue to highlight the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and low recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with community infrastructure and other cleanup and enhancement projects.

Added Palmesano in a press release:

“As we start the budget process, we will continue to make the case to the Cuomo administration by sharing the facts and the overwhelming grassroots support in place which justifies keeping Monterey Shock open. I have said over and over again, it makes absolutely no sense to close Monterey Shock, which has a proven and well documented record of success over the past 26 years of not just saving state and local tax dollars, but even more importantly, of changing and saving lives by giving new hope and opportunity to the thousands of graduates who have completed this successful program.”

Palmesano said that he, O'Mara and Friend are working to schedule a direct meeting with the administration in the near future.

Photo in text: Sign at the Monterey Shock Camp.

Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, left, administers the Oath of Office to (from left) Legislators Van Harp, Michael Lausell, Barb Halpin and Jim Howell. The four were elected in November -- Harp, Lausell and Howell to first terms.

Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations are put on hold

New legislators sworn in; Fagan retains chairmanship

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 8, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Wednesday put Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations on hold, and welcomed three new Legislature members to four-year terms.

Joining the Legislature -- sworn in jointly by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris -- were Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp, all elected to first terms in the November general election. Also taking the oath was incumbent Barb Halpin, who defeated longtime legislator Glenn Larison in the September Primary and in November as redistricting pitted the two against one another in the new District 1.

In addition, Dennis Fagan was unanimously re-elected Wednesday by his fellow legislators to the position of Chairman. He was first elected to the post in 2011.

The meeting -- a combination of the lawmaking body's annual organizational meeting and its monthly Legislative Resolution Review Committee session -- featured arguments from two families interested in the marina lease: the Schamels, who have held the lease (overseen by the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033; and the Woodlands, spouses Ed and Theresa, who operate Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen and want a chance to bid on the harbor marina lease.

The Schamels, noting that they have put extensive funds into the development of the marina area, said they need the extension to ensure that they earn back the money they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands said the Schamels' performance is not in question, but rather (as Theresa Woodland put it) "a point of fairness" is. By opening the marina operation to a bidding process when the lease expires in 2018, she said, the county and SCIDA would be "giving the most revenue to the county that it can possibly get. It doesn't mean the Schamels wouldn't get it; but other people are willing to invest in the marina" and want at least an opportunity to bid.

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (right) outlined the situation, saying the Legislature had given its blessing to negotiations by saying it wasn't opposed to a lease extension, and that SCIDA had designated him as negotiator. He explained that SCIDA is the "governing body that leases and subleases" the county-owned property, but that the money paid "flows through the county" government in its role "as guardian of the property."

He said that SCIDA and the Legislature understand how the Schamels, before investing $150,000 in needed dock repairs, want some assurance of monetary recovery -- the assurance being the lease extension. However, he said, the extension would not include the Village Marina Restaurant, also operated by the Schamels through a lease agreement. That will come up for bid in 2018, said O'Hearn.

The Legislature broke for an executive session shortly after the discussion, and the matter was not revisited until after the Resolution Review Committee meeting had concluded -- when a reporter asked O'Hearn and Fagan if any action was expected on the lease extension in the near future. Their response: the issue had been "put on hold," in Fagan's words, during the executive session "because of some of the issues raised" by the Woodlands and by Nick Kelly, an associate in the Frog Hollow operation.

"We decided to look at it further," said Fagan, with County Attorney Geoff Rossi instructed to "research some contractual questions. We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."

Other matters:

--Fagan said that among key issues facing the Legislature in the year ahead are an improvement in the performance of the Treasurer's Office; alternatives to rapidly increasing costs related to homelessness; "enhancing the revenue potential of the Mental Health department"; and continued support for Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant along the canal, removal of the old one on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, and subsequent lakefront development.

Another goal: development of the long-languishing Business Park on Rt. 414. There is "one potential client we're working with," said Fagan -- a situation "we're hopeful will bear fruit."

--The continued absence of Legislator Mike Yuhasz, absent for many months and currently residing in the Bath VA Medical Center, boils down to the Legislature "simply waiting for Mike's determination on when and if he will return," said Fagan. Yuhasz is entering the final year of a three-year term as legislator.

Fagan said the absence of Yuhasz is not impacting committee assignments, since the eight-person Legislature has an extra member this year -- Tom Gifford in the final year of a three-year term -- due to redistricting. However, the Chairman added, "we're clearly concerned about Mike's continued absence."

Yuhasz, he added, has recently encountered "new health issues -- not major," but significant enough that they "might prevent him coming back in the foreseeable future."

New legislators Harp and Lausell were given committee assignments that would have been held by Yuhasz, with the understanding that -- said Fagan -- "if and when Mike returns, we can reverse" the assignments.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Seneca Harbor Marina lease-holder Guy Schamel and Frog Hollow Marina's Ed Woodland at Wednesday's meeting.

The Watkins Glen waterfront before the Schamels acquired the lease to operate the marina in the 1980s. This photo was distributed at the Legislature meeting by Guy Schamel.

Jones leaving SCOPED post

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10, 2013 -- Kelsey Jones, who has guided the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) for 14 years as Executive Director, has submitted his resignation, effective at the end of the month.

Word of Jones' resignation had been circulating over the weekend. When asked after Monday's monthly meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature about Jones' status with SCOPED, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said simply that Jones had "tendered his resignation" effective at the end of December and would be "pursuing other options.".

But Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, standing nearby, expanded on that, saying Jones "has done a good job" in the move to upgrade Franklin Street in Watkins Glen and increase the quality and number of apartments along that thoroughfare. "He's had a lot of successes. Franklin Street has made tremendous strides."

But, he added, the 16-member SCOPED Board of Directors feels "a stronger figure" is needed to run the agency now that movement is under way toward development of the southern shoreline of Seneca Lake as envisioned in Project Seneca.

"We needed to go in a different direction," said Fagan. "While Kelsey is good with details, we needed a larger picture type of person."

The departure of Jones, he added, "is not really a negative thing. We felt the time was right."

For his part, Jones implied in an email to The Odessa File that personal matters affected his decision, and said "there are excellent people in place to carry the 'ship' forward ... I feel gratified to know that much was accomplished" during his 14-year tenure. (For a full version of his statement, click here.)

Jones was the second executive director of SCOPED, succeeding Susan Payne, who served for about two years. SCOPED, formed in 1998, was preceded by Five Lakes Development. Among those who led Five Lakes was Rick Weakland, who subsequently was a Corning Enterprises and Corning Incorporated executive and now is project director of Project Seneca.

Fagan said a search would likely be mounted for a successor to Jones after the return of SCOPED Board President Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, who has been out of town.

Weakland, he said, has been doing "a great job" overseeing Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant likely shared by Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, and probably located on the eastern side of the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School playing fields.

That would lead to the sale and elimination of the current treatment plant, located next to the Village Marina on the southern shore of Seneca Lake.

After that is gone, lakeshore development can begin in earnest, proponents of the plan say.

"We're pleased with (Weakland's) efforts," said Fagan (pictured at right). "And we're pleased with private individuals who are stepping up." He didn't elaborate on that point.

"And getting the two villages to cooperate and collaborate -- that's a major accomplishment," he added.

SCOPED, its website says, assists "in identifying the financial and professional resources needed for business creation and expansion" in the area, and partners with individuals and businesses "to deliver innovative and comprehensive economic development packages."

In other words, it helps line up grants, tax credits and other incentives for various projects, helping bring them to fruition. One recent example was the creation of apartments on the second floor of the Jerlando's building at the corner of Franklin and Fourth Streets.

Members of the SCOPED Board include Printup, Fagan, Legislator Stewart Field, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Kevin Murphy (secretary), Burdett Mayor Dale Walter, Hector Town Supervisor Ben Dickens, Town of Catharine Supervisor John Van Soest, Cornell Cooperative Extension's Danielle Hautaniemi, Jeff Confer (vice president), Jeff Greuber (treasurer), Donald Chutas of Cargill Salt, Michael Donnelly of Corning Inc., Chuck Franzese of Hunt Engineers, David Whiting of Red Newt Wine Cellars, and Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah LaMoreaux.

Photos in text: Kelsey Jones, top, and Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.

Schumer visits Glen brewery, backs 50% cut in excise tax

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 2, 2013 -- U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Rooster Fish Brewing in Watkins Glen Monday morning while pushing for a bill he and 20 bipartisan colleagues are introducing that would cut the federal excise tax on small breweries in half.

Such a move, he said, would help small brewers reinvest in their businesses, hire new employees, and revitalize downtown communities.

Brewers curently pay a $7 per barrel excise tax for the first 60,000 barrels they brew per year. Under the Small BREW (Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce) Act of 2013, that rate would be cut to $3.50 per barrel, resulting in potential savings of $210,000 per year per brewery.

The bill would also cut the tax by $2 per barrel on the next 1,940,000 barrels produced, resulting in potential savings of another $3,880,000.

Rooster Fish Brewing, located on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen, is one of New York State's first "Farm Breweries," which means it uses 20% local products in its blends. Rooster Fish produced 700 barrels of beer last year, and is on pace for 1,500 barrels in 2013.

Based on the Small BREW Act, that anticipated level of production would mean an excise tax savings of $5,250 per year.

"Small breweries throughout Upstate New York, like Rooster Fish Brewing, not only brew great beer," said Schumer, "they also pour jobs into the community. By cutting taxes for these small businesses, we can help grow the economy and put more New Yorkers back to work in stable, good-paying jobs. Breweries are the crown jewels of so many of our communities, and many of them have renovated charming old buildings in downtowns across the state. Putting more money back in these businesses will be good for economic development, good for jobs, and good for Upstate New York."

Any brewery making fewer than 6 million barrels of beer per year would be eligible for the tax cut. That amounts to about 2,400 businesses. The bill would save them more than $17 million nationwide this year.

Schumer was joined during his visit by Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Rebekah LaMoreaux, and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.

Photo in text: Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, left, with Senator Charles Schumer during Schumer's visit to Watkins Glen. (Photo provided)

Schuyler man gets life sentence
in sexual exploitation case

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, Nov. 25, 2013 -- A Schuyler County man, Daryl Vonneida of the Town of Dix, was sentenced in federal court in Rochester to life in prison Monday following conviction by a jury in February on 14 counts related to the sexual exploitation of children across decades.

The charges included production of child pornography, transporting minors in interstate commerce for illegal sexual activity, and possession of child pornography.

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa, who told the defendant: "I think it's unfathomable, 40 years of preying on children."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa J. Miller, who handled the case, said the 63-year-old Vonneida (pictured at right) was sentenced to life in prison on each of the counts of production of child pornography and transportation. Judge Siragusa also sentenced the defendant to 20 years on each of the possession of child pornography counts, all to be served concurrently.

Vonneida had been found guilty in sexual abuse cases three times before, most recently in 1989.

“This case sends a clear message that if you victimize a child, you could spend the rest of your life behind bars,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul. “It also reminds all of us that child predators can include persons who work in positions of trust, and that we must continue to be vigilant with respect to those who interact with our children.”

Vonneida was charged after two minor children came forward with allegations of abuse by the defendant. Authorities said that members of the New York State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at the defendant's residence in September 2011 and recovered videos produced by Vonneida in which he coerced four children to engage in sexually explicit conduct. The defendant, they said, admitted to producing the videos and to taking the children to Hershey Park, PA and Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA.

Evidence presented by the Government at trial showed that the defendant used his position as a volunteer photographer at a church in Horseheads to gain the trust of parents and victims.

The sentencing is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian P. Boetig, and members of the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Mark Koss.

Photo in text: Darryl Vonneida (Photo provided)


For information about protecting children from exploitation and abduction, the U.S. Attorney's Office suggested the public visit the following websites:

NY Sex Offender Registry:

DOJ National Sex Offender Public Website:

What you can do to protect your child (NCJRS):

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Justice
OJJDP Publications/Child Protection:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):

NCMEC’s website to teach children about dangers on the Internet:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crime Against Children Program webpage:

Planning Board green-lights
parking lot, housing project

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 21, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to two projects -- clearing the way for the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot expansion and the development of apartments in the Watkins Glen Middle School.

The Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plan, debated before the Planning Board at a public hearing last month, was granted approval without any further fireworks in a 3-1 vote, member Tom Merrill opposed.

One stipulation had to do with alterations to the lot's lighting. Neighbors and board members had expressed concern about bright lighting "spillage" being an annoyance.

The lot will be extended to the north with the demolition of a house there that has been under ownership of Dunkin' Donuts for months.

The hearing last month had brought both criticism and support for the project. Opponents said expansion was unnecessary and the demolition contrary to the village's Comprehensive Plan.

Watkins Glen Apartments

The Planning Board also gave final approval to the plan by the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning) to transform the Middle School into 51 apartments for the elderly. The group has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one.

The Middle School is being phased out of use by the Watkisn Glen School District, which will consolidate into a single campus on 12th Street, where renovations and expansion are ongoing.

Project approval came immediately after a public hearing at which Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explained to the dozen people in attendance the planned layout of the facility, known as the Watkins Glen Apartments.

The complex will be for people 55 and over. It will be separated from the building's gymnasium and auditorium, which will be used for community events. Few exterior changes are planned, other than the addition of a wheelchair accessible entrance in the front of the building, new windows throughout, and some masonry restoration.

Additional parking will be added in the property's northeast corner, and the asphalt playground at the rear of the property will be eliminated, with a grassy area installed for use by the building residents.

Streetscape Project

The Planning Board also gave informal backing to a project that requires Village Board approval -- a streetscape project that is part of the 2011 Main Street Program grant.

This $15,000 project, paid for by the grant but with the proviso that the village maintain it for five years -- a measure that Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in the audience, assured the Planning Board that the village is willing to do -- calls for the installation of a couple of six-foot benches, plus planters and awning, on the sidewalk along the south side of the Chamber of Commerce office on Third Street. Vines will adorn the wall.

The grant funds are time sensitive, so approval is expected at the next Village Board meeting, with development of the project to follow soon thereafter.

Among those on hand to outline the project were Brian Williams of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and architect John Barradas of Ithaca.

Photos in text:

Top: Dan Whelan outlines the Watkins Glen Apartments project, set for the Middle School.

Bottom: A model of the Chamber of Commerce building and the planned streetscape project.

From left: Michael Lausell, Van Harp, Jim Howell and Barbara Halpin.

Halpin, Howell, Harp, Lausell win County Legislature seats

Change in Treasurer's post rejected

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 6, 2013 -- Barbara Halpin, Jim Howell, Van Harp and Michael Lausell were elected Tuesday to four-year terms on the Schuyler County Legislature.

Meanwhile, voters rejected a Proposition to change the elected County Treasurer position to an appointive County Director of Finance.

The proposition, hotly debated by opponents, was defeated 2,841-1,364.

And in the Town of Dix, incumbent Republican Supervisor Harold Russell defeated challenger Scott Yaw, a member of the Town Council, 401-273. Russell had also defeated Yaw in the Republican Primary in September. Yaw was running Tuesday on the Listening Party line.

Halpin, a Republican incumbent, polled 317 votes to defeat Democrat challenger Michael Burns (210 votes) and incumbent Glenn Larison (41), who was running on the Listening Party line after losing decisively to Halpin in the GOP Primary.

Halpin and Larison were pitted against one another due to redistricting -- the realignment of legislative voting districts based on shifts in population.

Howell, a Republican newcomer also running as a Conservative and on an independent line, defeated Democrat challenger Paul Cartwright, 322-170, in District 4. Howell had defeated incumbent Tom Gifford in the GOP primary. Gifford was accordingly not in November's race, but returns to the Legislature for one more year from his previously constituted district. He will be a ninth member of a normally eight-person lawmaking body, which will return to eight members the following year as redistricting continues on a staggered basis.

In the new District 2 in the Town of Hector, Harp -- a retired FBI agent running on the Republican, Conservative and Individual Rights lines -- defeated Democrat Shirley Barton, 423 to 313. Barton was also running on the Community Counts line.

And in District 3, also in the Town of Hector, Lausell -- a Democrat also running on the Community Counts line -- defeated John R. White, 396-367. White was running on the same lines as Harp.

Meanwhile, in other contested races:

Town of Hector: Three Republican-Conservatives were elected to full four-year terms, while another Republican-Conservative was defeated in the race for a two-year seat of an unexpired term.

Elected to four-year terms were Beverly Morley (894 votes) and incumbents Michael J. Bergen (right, with 878) and Alvin J. White (left, with 881). Trailing were challengers Daryl Anderson (770), Debra Reid (769) and Melissa Chipman (759). Anderson, Reid and Chipman are Democrats who were also running on the Protect Hector line.

Bo Lipari, also a Democrat running on the Protect Hector line, defeated Conservative S. David Poyer 761-727 for the two-year seat.

Town of Tyrone: A three-person race for two Council seats saw Republicans elected. Top vote-getter was incumbent Pamela Grimmke with 265 votes, while Christopher Bacon was second with 260. Alan Hurley was defeated with 101 votes.

Town of Orange: A race for Highway Superintendent saw Democrat Jeffrey Sutton defeat incumbent Republican Darold DeCamp, 225-90.

Town of Dix: The supervisor's race wasn't the only contested race. In the election for Town Clerk, incumbent Republican James McMahon defeated Jacqueline Leszyk, 387-245. Leszyk was running on the Listening Party line.

And in a three-way race for two seats on the Dix Town Council, Republican F. Joe Hammond and incumbent Republican Graig W. Gardner were elected with 453 and 372 votes, respectively. Narrowly missing was Democrat Jeffrey J. Meehan, with 370.

Town of Cayuta: A three-way race for two seats on the Town Council saw incumbent Democrat Ted Dudgeon (80 votes) and incumbent Republican Steven Brown (51) returned to office. Democrat William P. Barrett lost his bid for a seat with 43 votes. And in the race for Highway Superintendent, incumbent Republican Thomas J. Beach defeated Democrat Larry D. Vail 112-62.

State Senator Tom O'Mara speaks at the podium as Assemblymen Chris Friend, left,
and Phil Palmesano listen.

Rally sends ongoing message: Save Monterey Shock Camp

BIG FLATS, Oct. 27, 2013 -- An estimated 200 people -- state correctional officers, state and local officials, and supporters -- were on hand Saturday at the Harris Hill National Soaring Museum for a rally opposed to Governor Andrew Cuomo's planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.

Speakers told of the economic impact that the shutdown will pose to municipalities and parks and to the Soaring Museum -- where Monterey inmates play a key role in the facility's upkeep. Inmates, through their work around the region, save municipalities an estimated $1 million a year.

This was the second rally in support of Monterey. The first one, attended by about 200 people, occurred several weeks ago at the Watkins Glen Community Center.

Among those invited to the rally by organizers was a former Monterey inmate, Stephen Ray, who spoke in support of the Shock facility. He graduated from it in 1999.

The program at the Shock Camp, which offers GED studies, counseling, and a low rate of recidivism, "is important to me," Ray said, "and it's important to the community. We need a model program like this one."

Ray is partner in a Utica business called Out of Order Fitness Repair, which provides engineering and tech support for fitness equipment at universities and hospitals.

State Senator Tom O'Mara opened the session with a brief talk extolling the virtues of the Monterey facility, including the savings it provides communities through the work of inmate crews.

The Soaring Museum director of marketing and development, Ron Ogden, supported O'Mara's words by noting that the museum is dependent on Monterey workers to provide the tourist attraction with a continually clean, visitor friendly appearance.

"I'm happy to see the turnout here," he said, noting that the Monterey inmates "are great workers, and respectful. They provide us with a service that we really can't provide for ourselves. They are a most important asset to us."

Officials on hand included Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend.

Palmesano noted that organizers are nearing the point where they will deliver to the governor's office a collection of petitions, letters, and municipal resolutions opposed to the Monterey closure.

Friend said that considering all of the positives inherent in the Monterey program, the governor's action "just doesn't make any sense."

Supporters have also noted that Monterey’s closing comes on the heels of another Cuomo administration plan, to shut down inpatient services at and diminish the overall role of the Elmira Psychiatric Center – a move that could result in job losses and other economic consequences.

Other officials on hand Saturday included Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Joe Sempolinski representing Congessman Tom Reed's office, Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli, Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, former Corning Mayor Frank Coccho, and others.

Photos in text:

From top: Rally speaker and former Monterey inmate Stephen Ray, now a Utica business co-owner; Joe Sempolinski, representing Congressman Tom Reed's office; and Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.

From left at rally: Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, and Ron Ogden, director of marketing and development at the Soaring Museum, which hosted the rally.

Legislature appoints new county planner

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 22, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night unanimously approved the appointment of a homegrown woman as the new County Planning Director.

Kristin VanHorn, a Watkins Glen High School and Penn State University graduate who has a degree in Landscape Architecture and has been designing comprehensive master plans for Department of Defense installations around the country, "clearly led an outstanding field of candidates," County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said at the Legislature session.

Projects for which the county has been paying money to consultants are "exactly what she does," O'Hearn said. "She has led a team designing DOD communities. Her focus will be on Comprehensive Planning."

She has "worked in the field for five years since graduation," O'Hearn noted, adding: "She very much wants to come home. It's nice when we can attract young professionals back home." Her salary will be $51,000.

She succeeds Rocky Kambo, who moved from the area less than a year after taking the County Planner's job. O'Hearn said VanHorn has "more hands-on experience" than Kambo had when he assumed the Planner's post.

In other business, the Legislature:

--Heard from O'Hearn that the reconstruction of the Shared Services Building, damaged earlier this year in an early-morning fire, is on schedule or a little ahead, and that the county has received .$2,544,000 from the insurance carrier.

--Affirmed, through Chairman Dennis Fagan, that the increase in the tax levy in the coming budget will be "somewhere slightly over 2%, well within the allotted tax cap." A public hearing on the budget was set for Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls. The budget might be adopted at a regular Legislature session that follows the hearing.

--Appointed Dr. Benjamin Saks, D.O., to fill the County Coroner position vacated with the resignation of William J. Saks, M.D., "until such time as a primary can be held to fill the unexpired term."

--Approved the introduction of a Local Law amending the salaries of various county officials, with a public hearing to be held on Nov. 12 following the budget hearing. The salaries, which include 3% increases, will take effect Jan. 1. They include: Commissioner of Social Services $77,250; Real Property Tax Director $81,129; County Attorney $100,940; Clerk of the Legislature $49,890; Deputy Commissioners of Elections $34,750 and $31,827; Personnel Officer $65,920; County Administrator $111,448; Public Defender $84,048; and Commissioners of Elections $12,603.

--Voted unanimously against endorsing the state's Proposition No. 1 on the November ballot, which would extend casino gambling in New York. The move was "a protest vote," Fagan said, in response to the state's plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. Fagan said he was also protesting the state's gun-control SAFE Act, and a lack of language in the Proposition concerning gambling's negative impacts.

Photos in text:

Top: Legislator Phil Barnes listens to Alan Hurley speak during the Public Participation portion of the meeting.

Bottom: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn at Monday's session.

Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, outlined some minor changes in the Middle School plan affecting parking, signage and lighting.

Elderly project a step closer

Planning Board gives preliminary OK;
Dunkin' Donuts plan assailed and supported

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 17, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board gave preliminary site-plan approval Wednesday night to the planned Watkins Glen Apartments -- the elderly housing project envisioned in the Watkins Glen Middle School.

The school is being phased out by the Watkins Glen School District and sold to the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning), which has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one. For an earlier story with maps, click here.

The Planning Board -- after listening to Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explain minor alterations in the plan -- found that there was no negative environmental impact in the plan, approved the preliminary site plan as complete, and then approved the preliminary plan itself.

Next stop for Whelan and the S.E.P.P. Group is the Schuyler County Planning Commission next month, and then back to the village Planning Board for a public hearing -- after which the board might give final site-plan approval.

The apartment complex will have 51 units for people 55 years of age and older.

Public Hearing

The ongoing attempt by Dunkin' Donuts to gain approval for a parking-lot expansion was the subject of a public hearing the Planning Board held prior to dealing with the Watkins Glen Apartments matter.

About a dozen interested area residents were on hand, with most of them speaking in opposition to the plan, criticizing it as unnecessary since the existing Dunkin' Donuts lot is empty a high percentage of the time. They were also critical of garbage that blows from the property to neighbors' yards.

Most outspoken was Liam O'Kane, who wondered how the board could approve something -- the proposed elimination of a house at the north end of the Dunkin' Donuts property, with blacktop taking its place -- that is in opposition to the philosophy of the Village's Comprehensive Plan. He said more than 150 people had signed an online petition opposing the parking-lot plan, which he then submitted to the board.

A spokeswoman from the Tudor Rose Bed & Breadfast on Durland Avenue, near the Dunkin' Donuts shop, also opposed the plan, as did Marie Fitzsimmons, a teacher in the Watkins Glen School District, and Travis Durfee, owner of the Madison Guest House on North Franklin -- who said he had thought about purchasing the house that Dunkin' Donuts wants to level.

"I urge you to vote 'no' to see if there might be more productive uses" for such homes, Durfee said.

However, Angeline Franzese, who with her husband runs the Villager Motel downtown, said that parking is an important component in the success of any business, and that if Dunkin' Donuts says it needs increased parking, it should be granted.

And board member John Bond said that he had placed copies of a survey on the counters of various businesses in the village asking people to say whether they were in favor of the parking-lot expansion, opposed to it, or didn't care.

He said 203 of the surveys -- 89 of them from village residents -- were in favor of the expansion, with three opposed and six not caring.

"That tells me," he said, "that most people who don't show up at these meetings are in favor" of the Dunkin' Donuts proposal.

In the end, no action was taken by the Planning Board. Any move would wait until the next meeting, in November, said acting chairman Chris Bond.

Photos in text: From top: Planning Board member Amedeo Fraboni listens to public hearing speaker Liam O'Kane; Angeline Franzese speaks in favor of the Dunkin' Donuts parking-lot expansion; and board member John Bond explains his survey, which showed respondents heavily in favor of the parking-lot plan.

Summer Rec is coming back

Grant to school district will fund Glen program for 3 years

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 1, 2013 -- The Summer Recreation program jettisoned by the Village Board two-and-a-half years ago for budgetary reasons is being reinstated, thanks to a grant obtained by the village in conjunction with the Watkins Glen School District.

The grant will provide $22,000 to the village in each of the next three years, said Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- the exact amount it cost to run the Summer Rec program before it was axed.

The program will once again provide swimming, basketball, volleyball, arts and crafts and other activities at Clute Park under the guidance of counselors and under the direction of the Village Parks Department.

The Summer Rec funding is only a small portion of the entire school grant, a federal Carol M. White physical education grant to be used by the district to implement PIVOT (Physical Activity is Vital to Our Tomorrow). The entire grant totals $1,083,993 across three years. An outline of its goals can be found on the Schools Page.

“We’re very excited by this,” said Swinnerton (pictured at right), who explained that the village worked in conjunction with the school district in preparing the grant application.

“Any time you can team up with another municipality or entity,” he said, “good things can happen. We need more good news like this to keep coming.”

Although the heavy majority of the overall grant is being directed to the school district, Summer Rec will be operated by the village as it was for “for eons,” Swinnerton said, adding that it “will be open to any student in the school district.”

That posed a problem when the village was funding it, he said, noting that at the time the plug was pulled on the program -- shortly after he took office as mayor -- 75% of its participants were from outside the village. “So the village was subsidizing kids from outside,” he said.

That same scenario could be in place at the end of the three-year grant, but Swinnerton shrugged off the possibility. “It could get back to that,” he said, “but right now we’ll take whatever we can get.”

When the program was axed by the Village Board, the mayor said, the village was in the midst of a budget crunch. “We did it out of the gate,” he said, “and we knew we’d take a lot of flak for it. But we didn’t have any options at the time.”

Now, he said, it will be reinstated after the board approves “a resolution of some sort of support,” and makes sure that “certain criteria are met."

The program is expected to be up and running in time for the summer of 2014.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

Walmart evacuated after threat

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 26, 2013 --The Walmart store in Watkins Glen was evacuated for about two hours Wednesday night after writing found in the men's bathroom indicated "there might be a bomb" in the store "at a later date," Village Police Chief Tom Struble said. The store, evacuated at 7:30 p.m., was reopened at 9:30 p.m.

Struble said writing of an unspecified nature -- he wouldn't say whether on note paper, toilet paper or the wall -- indicated a future incident "relative" to an explosion, but with no indication of a specific kind of explosive device.

Village police called in bomb-sniffing dogs from Cornell University's security force -- Labradors that "specialize in explosives detection," the chief said -- although the writing did not threaten an immediate incident.

"We erred on the side of caution" in regards to the writing's time reference, Struble said, with the dogs and police combing the store and finding "no threat to the public at this point. We'll be working to pursue the case over the next few days."

As part of the probe, he said, police will be reviewing video of the rest room exterior prior to the discovery of the threat, studying people entering the room in an effort to detect "maybe a unique identifier, how they're acting." He wouldn't go into specifics beyond that, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation.

"We take this very seriously," he said, although "we felt confident enough to reopen the store" after searching it.

Village Board eyes 3rd bridge

Okays $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 11, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night voted 3-2 in favor of a $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt Engineers to determine the need, if any, for a third bridge over Glen Creek, at either Porter or Perry Streets.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who approached Hunt with the idea, voted in favor along with Trustees Kevin Smith and Scott Gibson. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Paul Clifford were opposed.

Swinnerton (pictured at right) said afterward that the matter of a third bridge-- the existing ones are on Franklin and Decatur Streets -- has long been discussed, but that there has "never been a traffic study done to show the benefits." Accordingly, he said, he "solicited a proposal from Hunt" for such a study to determine "whether a bridge is required" to alleviate traffic issues in the village.

While those issues manifest themselves during the summer tourist season, he said, an autumn study was preferred by the Department of Transportation, although the summer traffic will be considered.

"The Number One complaint I get in phone calls," Swinnerton said, "is hands down traffic, whether it's gridlock or trucks or how shutting down Franklin or Decatur raises havoc.

"It's safe to say that traffic will only get worse," he added, as the village moves forward with Project Seneca, which envisions a new sewage treatment plant and shoreline development. "And it's bad now."

He said he approached Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips with the idea, and that Phillips took it to the School Board.

"The School Board is very much in support of the bridge," Swinnerton said, noting that it would prefer to see it located on Porter Street so that northbound buses exiting the12th Street school campus can go straight to Fourth Street. Right now, buses often log-jam with other buses on Decatur Street.

The impact on the school district factors into the study, he said, because school is in session 10 months each year.

Beyond that, he noted, the county is "anxious to see what the numbers show" -- particularly with the study taking into account "30 years of future growth, what with Project Seneca and the changes ahead. We hope the area continues to grow."

The Hunt study, he said, will "show the Village Board the facts so we can decide if the bridge is needed. Even though studies cost a considerable amount of money, they're important -- as with the police department." The existing Village PD was the subject of a recent study which, officials decided, showed the department's continued need.

While Fraboni and Clifford didn't feel the Hunt study would demonstrate a need for the third bridge, Swinnerton said, "those are their opinions. By doing a study, we'll look at facts."

The study will begin this month, he said, "and we should have the facts in October."

Photo in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)

Taxes, exemptions in focus during Legislature meeting

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 10, 2013 -- Amid various resolutions, the meat of the Schuyler County Legislature's monthly meeting Monday night came from peripheral issues pertaining to the STAR exemption program, Walmart's assessment reduction pursuit, and a sales tax shortfall.

Among the issues:

-- Jeff Bartholomew, Syracuse regional manager of the state Office of Real Property Tax Services, outlined state legislation mandating that property owners in New York state must re-register with the state in order to retain in 2014 the Basic STAR exemption that reduces school taxes.

Homeowners 65 and older who have the Enhanced STAR exemption are not affected, Bartholomew said, although they must continue to apply annually or participate in an Income Verification Program.

Bartholomew, in a presentation to legislators and spectators, said part of the reason for the Basic STAR re-registration -- the exemptions had been automatically renewed for years -- was because of elements of fraud that had been found in the system.

He said property owners who currently have the Basic STAR exemption are being notified by letter with a registration code to be used on the state website, or by phoning (518) 457-2036. The deadline to register -- and thus maintain the Basic STAR exemption -- is Dec. 31. There will be no need to register every year for the exemption, Bartholomew added, saying: "This is supposed to be a one-and-done process."

Barthlomew will also be at the Odessa-Montour School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday and at the Watkins Glen School Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the issue.

-- Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan noted that the county's sales tax revenue is down about 2% from a year ago, and is running "5 or 6% below" what was anticipated in the current county budget.

-- County Administrator Tim O'Hearn noted that the assessment reduction sought by Walmart has been settled with the Town of Dix, with the assessment set at $11.4 million for the next three years, down from $12.4 million. Walmart had been seeking a reduction to $5.7 million.

In other business:

-- O'Hearn noted that the work on the Shared Services Building -- extensively damaged in a March fire -- is well underway, with much of the outer shell of the structure stripped away. "We're looking at design issues," he said, in an effort to determine how the building might be improved from its original architecture. Among the possible changes would be the addition of a sprinkler system "if other economies can be made," he said. Completion date is still set for mid-March.

-- O'Hearn noted that the position of County Planner will be advertised with the announcement by current planner Rocky Kambo that he plans to move to Ohio in October for personal reasons. Kambo has held the post since Jan. 1.

-- Legislators accepted a 2012 audit of county finances, which showed what one legislator said were "significant deficiencies" that are being addressed. The report was being posted on the county website,

Photo in text:

Top: From left, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislator Doris Karius at the meeting.

Bottom: From left, Legislators Phil Barnes, Barb Halpin and Stewart Field.

Here are the GOP Primary candidates

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 7, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has provided the following list of candidates running in the Sept. 10th Primary Election.

There is no need for a Democratic Primary.

From left: Sheriff Bill Yessman, Congressman Tom Reed, Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore and Monterey Shock Camp Superintendent Leroy Fields leave the facility's Education Building at the end of the group's tour.

Reed: 'We need Monterey'

Rally planned in Watkins Glen Sept. 9

MONTEREY, Aug. 30, 2013 -- Congressman Tom Reed -- after attending Thursday’s monthly graduation of inmates at the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility -- said that every effort possible will be made to get the scheduled closing of the facility reversed.

Meanwhile, a conference call of leaders in three counties Thursday resulted in a plan to hold a rally in support of the Shock Camp at 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at the Watkins Glen Community Center.

Efforts will be made to turn out a large crowd at the rally, said Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, in order to send a message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has scheduled a July 26, 2014 closing of the Monterey facility.

Reed, who last week dropped in on a weekly meeting of Monterey employees and supporters at Monterey Jack’s tavern, returned to Monterey for Thursday’s graduation of 18 inmates from the six-month program, which combines group counseling, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and work on public projects.

The Shock Camp, which currently houses about half of its capacity of 300 inmates, has been targeted by Cuomo for closure as a cost-cutting measure, but camp supporters decry the fact that many communities in the region, as well as the state park system, will suffer the loss of a great deal of inmate labor provided without charge. That work will have to be picked up by the communities if the camp is closed.

As one man put it later Thursday at another of the employees’ weekly sessions at Monterey Jack’s, “We lose these guys, (the communities) are gonna be screwed.”

Reed put it more delicately when he spoke Thursday morning to the media gathered on the state roadway that runs through the Shock Facility. He had just attended the graduation, and been given a tour of the camp by Superintendent Leroy Fields. Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman had delivered the keynote address at the graduation, while Reed had told the graduates to “never give up.”

“The Monterey Shock Facility is something we’re going to fight for,” the Congressman told the media. “One of the reasons I came here was to let people know it’s valuable to our communities. I told the graduates to never give up, and we’re never going to. We are saving thousands of dollars in the communities through the work of these young men. This is a bipartisan effort to tell Albany to change this decision.”

Reed said he had yet to hear “a clear answer” as to why the shock camp was put “on the chopping block. We have to stand up and fight for what we need, and we need this facility.” Toward that end, he noted, a petition drive led by camp employees and by State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano is underway to “let the Governor know this was the wrong decision.”

Meanwhile, publicized events will be planned, he said, “to raise community awareness. We need the Monterey Shock Facility to stay opened.”

Added Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore, also present for the graduation ceremony: the closing “will be a huge loss to us.” Her city often utilizes Monterey labor.

While the graduation was ongoing, state and regional leaders decided in their conference call on the day, time and location of the planned rally. An email campaign addressed to affected municipalities, and a media -- including social media -- blitz will attempt to attract a large crowd to the Watkins Glen Community Center.

The rally was announced at the afternoon session at Monterey Jack’s by Barnes, who chairs the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. He noted that the Legislature will be passing a resolution soon in support of the shock camp, and said government units in villages and towns around the region are being asked to do the same. Some already have.

Another conference call will be conducted on Sept. 4, he said, adding: “As your elected officers, we’re not going to let this thing drop.”

Mike Dildine, a union representative from Western New York, was also on hand at the tavern session to tell the employees that “you guys are starting in the right direction” with a petition drive, signs, letters to Albany officials and planned message-laden T-shirts. But he cautioned that one of the shock camps staying open -- the Lakeview camp in Chautauqua County -- “is busting at the seams” with inmates.

“They lowered your numbers and filled up Lakeview,’ he said, “That’s how they do it” when a closing is desired by an administration. “They reduce your numbers” to show capacity is not being met.

“That’s the plan. Everything is going to be run through Lakeview.”

Photos in text: Signs in front of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility administration building.

Shock Facility inmates march on their way to lunch.

Fagan: Monterey 'shouldn't be closed'

Congressman Reed joins the fight; 50 Cent interested, too

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 23, 2013 -- A congressman and a rapper have entered the picture as the effort continues to fight the planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has opted to close the facility next year. He bypassed State Legislature participation in the decision by issuing a one-year administrative notice.

Congressman Tom Reed on Thursday attended the weekly meeting of Shock Camp employees and supporters at Monterey Jack's tavern -- a meeting designed to update one another on the growing battle.

A spokesman in Reed's office said the next day that the Congressman plans on taking a role in fighting the closure.

Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, speaking at Friday's Legislature meeting, said the rapper 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson) has also indicated he is getting involved. Jackson was an inmate at Monterey in 1994 after his arrest on drug charges -- long before he attained entertainment fame.

Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan is also in the battle, along with State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, both of whom attended a meeting at Monterey Jack's last week.

Fagan reported Friday, duing the Legislature meeting, on the ongoing battle -- telling how a conversation he had with Governor Cuomo last week resulted in contact from the State Corrections Department's Acting Commissioner, Anthony Annucci. Fagan also outlined that conversation in an email to The Odessa File.

He said the commissioner, in "a 15- to 20-minute conversation," told Fagan the closing was a difficult choice because Annucci was "instrumental in the 1987 legislation creating the Shock Program in New York State" -- but that "an increase in shock vacancies warranted the closing even though the criteria for shock eligibility has been significantly expanded. In 1996 there were 26,000 drug offenders compared to less than 7,000 now."

Of the two other shock facilities in the state, Annucci told Fagan, Lakeview "would not close due to its large size. So the choice came down to Monterey or Moria." The latter was saved by political pressure four years ago, and thus had a political backing that left Monterey as the one to close -- despite millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements over the last decade.

But Fagan said that taking all aspects of the closing into account, "I'm convinced this is something that shouldn't be closed."

In addition to the weekly meetings at Monterey Jack's, he added, efforts are underway by O'Mara and Palmesano -- in conjunction with officials from affected counties -- to mount a rally and a petitoin drive in support of the Shock Camp. Officials from Schuyler, Chemung and Steuben counties are also meeting to discuss the issue.

Chief among the arguments being touted is the work produced by Monterey inmates on behalf of communities in the region -- especially cleanups at parks and cemeteries and along roadways. Opponents of the closing are also gathering testimonials from former inmates who attest to the positve effect the Shock Camp had on their lives.

"But we must move fast," said Fagan, since the state will soon stop sending inmates to Monterey. "And it would be a little difficult to save a camp that doesn't have any inmates," he added.

While petitions are being circulated by hand -- Legislator Glenn Larison was circulating one at Friday's meeting -- there is also one posted on-line. To reach it, click here and register.

Photos in text: Chairman Dennis Fagan at Friday's Legislature meeting; the sign above the entrance to Monterey Jack's tavern in Monterey, where weekly meetings are held.

The conceptual map of the proposed apartment complex.

Apartment complex plan revised, earns conceptual approval from Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 22, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave conceptual approval to a revised plan for the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments, a complex planned on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge on the north end of the village.

The revised plan reduces the number of apartments to 24 from the 28 previously envisioned, and eliminates an entrance to the complex from Route 14 due to safety concerns expressed by the board at a meeting earlier this summer.

The board said that in granting the conceptual approval, it will move next toward consideration of specific site plans. Engineer Ted Lauve, in utilizing a concept map to explain the changes, said his firm will move forward with those site plans now. A public hearing will be held before final site plan approval can be granted.

The board also heard from a traffic engineer, Gordon Stansbury, who said a study of traffic flow showed that access to the apartment complex -- and egress from it -- will not significantly impact traffic on the nearby Partition, Monroe and Jackson streets.

The plan now calls for two 12-unit buildings, with primary access from North Monroe Street along a new access drive connecting to North Jackson Street. Construction of the complex would start soon after final approval is granted by the Planning Board, and would take up to 18 months to complete.

The Planning Board also:

--Discussed the Dunkin' Donuts proposal to expand its parking lot -- which would include demolition of a house purchased by Dunkin' Donuts at the north end of the current lot.

Another house north of the first one has also been sold, Planning Board members said -- adding that they believe the second structure belongs to Dunkin' Donuts under a different corporate name.

Planning Board Acting Chairman Amedeo Fraboni asked James Gensel, a representative of Fagan Engineers of Elmira, if Dunkin' Donuts indeed owns that second property. Gensel -- who was substituting at the meeting for a Fagan planner who could not attend -- said he did not know, but would ask. Fraboni and other board members said they need to know what the plans are for that second structure if indeed it is under Dunkin' Donuts' control -- the idea being that if another business is targeted for that property and needs parking, then the need for the lot expansion would be more pronounced.

The board also told Gensel that it doesn't want a fence running the length of the lot along Franklin Street -- with board member Tom Merrill saying he would prefer a landscaped berm.

The board said it would also like a parking/traffic study done of the existing lot, and board member John Bond said "the new lighting should not be offensive." It was suggested, too, that lighting on the south end of the property should be adjusted to avoid annoying the neighbor to the immediate south.

Photos in text:

Top: Ted Lauve of Lauve Engineering explains the apartment concept plan to the Planning Board. The map he was utilizing is shown above.

Bottom: James Gensel of Fagan Engineers, the firm oveseeing the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plans.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is flanked by Scott Welliver, left, and Gene Pierce during a stop at Pierce's Glenora Wine Cellars along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.

Cuomo visits 3 wineries, presents Governor's Cup

Touts tourism and the wine industry to downstate merchants

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 14, 2013 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo -- leading a bus caravan through the Yates and Schuyler County wine country -- capped a day of promotion for tourism and wine Tuesday by presenting the annual Governor's Cup during an awards dinner at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.

The Cup -- a silver chalice signifying the outstanding wine of the year in New York State selected by a panel of experts from 875 entries -- was presented to Keuka Spring Vineyards for its 2012 Riesling. Keuka Spring is located near Penn Yan.

Accepting the honor were Len and Judy Wiltberger, who founded the business in the early 1980s.

Best of Category winners included Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (Best Red Wine for its 2010 Cabernet Franc), Finger Lakes Distilling (Best Spirit for its McKenzie Rye), and Earle Estates Meadery (Best Specialty Wine for Raspberry Reflections). They and other category winners were considered for the Governor's Cup honor. McCall Wines from Long Island won the “Winery of the Year” award.

Cuomo -- speaking to a dinner gathering of 200 people at the hotel -- also announced the upcoming launch of a TV ad campaign promoting New York State’s award-winning wines. The 30-second ad, with a catch line that says "Discover your favorite New York wine tonight" -- was shown publicly for the first time at the dinner. To view the ad, click here.

The dinner followed a day in which the Governor visited and toured the Anthony Road Wine Company in Penn Yan, Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee, and Lakewood Vineyards outside of Watkins Glen.

He was on one of several buses traveling together. On board were various officials -- such as State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan -- and downstate wine merchants and New York State Restaurant Association members recruited to visit the Finger Lakes to familiarize them with the area and all it has to offer in tourism and wine products.

As Cuomo said in a speech at the hotel later, the wine industry and tourism "have a magnificent role to play in the future of this state. It is breathtaking what tourism opportunities there are. There is a synergy between tourism and the wine industry that helps both grow. Both engines are humming."

He urged the visiting tour members to take back home word of "the unparalleled beauty of the Finger lakes" and to tout the wines that they found awaiting them Tuesday at each stop on their journey.

With a number of inhibiting laws and regulations now "out of the way," the governor said, "all we need now is exposure. We need to get (outside areas) to taste New York State wines. I'm glad you people from across the state are here. We want you to help in growing this."

He said it "all comes down to sales and marketing, and we have the best product imaginable."

Photos in text:

Top: Governor Andrew Cuomo presents the Governor's Cop to the Wiltbergers of Keuka Spring Vineyards.

Middle: Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards and John Martini of the Anthony Road Wine Company relax during the bus tour stop at Lakewood.

Bottom: Governor Cuomo samples wine during the stop at Glenora.

Brian McKenzie, left, of Finger Lakes Distilling is congratulated by Governor Cuomo for winning the Best of Spirit category.

Left: Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan shakes hands with the governor.
Among officials on hand at the dinner was Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

The dinner attendees watched the premiere of the new TV ad.

Left: Miranda Polmanteer of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce at the Glenora stop. Center: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. Right: Governor Cuomo exits the bus upon arriving at Lakewood Vineyards.

Protesters were present outside the Harbor Hotel. Some carried signs protesting the planned closing of the Elmira Psychiatric Center, some objected to the New York SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, and some opposed fracking and LPG storage.

Star-Gazette reporter Jeff Aaron, right, interviews two members of the tour -- both merchants from Brooklyn who had never been to the Finger Lakes before. Both Gilbert Bahadoor, left, of East River Liquors and Jeff Cohen of Tops Liquors praised the region and its wines.

Left: Alan Hurley, who had issues with the legislators. Right: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.

Legislature eyes possible expedited
repair of Shared Services Building

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 13, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night took under advisement an opinion by County Attorney Geoff Rossi that could enable it to bypass the normal bid procedure and thus hasten repair of the fire-damaged interior of the Shared Services Building on South Decatur Street.

The building, which housed a variety of village and county offices and agencies before fire struck in March, is sitting idly while the county awaits word from its insurance carrier as to the amount to be compensated for repairs. County Administrator Tim O’Hearn says the cost will exceed $2 million.

Complicating the issue, he said, is the temporary use by highway department employees of the former highway department garage, abandoned three years ago after the Shared Services Building opened, but "repurposed" following the blaze. The old facility has plumbing and heating issues unsuitable in increasingly cold fall and winter weather.

Rossi said that if the Legislature deems the situation an emergency, it can bypass the normal, time-consuming bid process and adopt an expedited process. Whether it does remains to be seen. O’Hearn said word is expected “imminently” from the insurance firm, and that the county hopes to have workers using the bays of the Shared Services Building by the end of the year.

In other business, the Legislature:

--Approved an increase in the salary of County Planner Rocky Kambo, who entered office on Jan. 1 at $45,000 a year and has taken on the additional role of Recycling Coordinator. The increase is $15,000 per year, retroactive to when he started -- an amount that drew criticism from Kathy Walruth, the Schuyler County Records Management Director. She said such an increase in a management salary is “a slap in the face” of other managers ”who have made (monetary) sacrifices to balance the budget” and have gone without raises. Added Walruth: “I’m appalled.”

Legislator Phil Barnes, while favoring the resolution granting the increase, said other salaries have to be addressed as well, to bring them into line with those in other similarly sized counties.

-- Listened to Alan Hurley of Tyrone, who had criticized the legislators last month for deciding to erect an LED informational sign near the Veterans’ Memorials in front of the courthouse. That plan, financed by a state grant, was terminated after footers were in place, when legislators realized -- as Hurley had argued -- that the location was an affront to veterans.

Hurley also complained Monday night about the sign’s new location, in front of the District Attorney’s office at the corner of Franklin and 10th Streets, saying it detracted from the historic nature of the County Building complex. And the fact that $3,600 had to be spent for the new footers didn’t set well with him.

“I am not happy with that at all,” said Hurley, visibly angered. “I know it’s a pittance, but little pittances add up to a lot of money. It’s waste!”

Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan said he was “the first to admit that we screwed up” on the original location choice, but said veterans’ groups had been consulted regarding the new location and agreed that it was fine.

Photos in text: County Attorney Geoff Rossi and Legislator Phil Barnes at Monday's meeting.

Reed outlines bills to stop IRS abuses

Special to The Odessa File

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29, 2013 -- Rep. Tom Reed Monday highlighted efforts in the House this week to prevent government abuses, specifically by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Reed said a series of bills will be considered in the House aimed at holding the IRS accountable, reining in the agency’s overreach, and providing answers to taxpayers.

“We’re responding to taxpayer concern that the IRS needs to be restrained,” Reed said. “It’s about keeping a check on the IRS whether that means keeping the agency out of your health care, making sure millions of tax dollars are not spent on lavish conferences and employee retreats, or holding officials accused of unethical conduct accountable, we need to restrain the IRS and re-empower taxpayers.”

IRS-related bills on the House floor this week:

· Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care (H.R. 2009) – authored by Rep. Tom Price, prevents the IRS from implementing any portion of Obamacare.

· Stop Targeting Our Politics IRS Act (H.R. 2565) – sponsored by Rep. Jim Renacci, would provide for the termination of employment of IRS employees who take official actions for political purposes.

· Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act (H.R. 2769) – sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam, imposes a moratorium on IRS conferences until the IG’s recommendations are implemented.

· The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (H.R. 2768) – sponsored by Peter Roskam, would specify the rights that citizens have when dealing with the IRS, including a right to privacy and confidentiality.

“These bills will rightly and fairly hold Washington accountable to taxpayers,” Reed continued. “The mentality in Washington is skewed. Too many have forgotten who they work for. Washington works for the taxpayer, not the other way around.”

Photo in text: Rep. Tom Reed (File photo)

O'Mara laments plan to close Monterey Correctional Facility

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, July 26, 2013 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says the announcement by the Cuomo administration that it will close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County in the next 12 months is "more tough news for a region already reeling from devastating job losses."

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced the plan Friday. It involves the Monterey facility and three medium-security operations: Butler in Wayne County, Chateaugay in Franklin County, and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County. State officials said there has been a "dramatic" reduction in drug offenders at those facilities.

Noting that the move comes on the heels of the Cuomo administration’s recent announcement that it plans to shut down inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center, O'Mara said:

“Once again I’ll say that the goals of downsizing and cost-effectiveness in government are moves in the right direction. But the Cuomo administration’s approach appears to be taking a particular toll on our region and other upstate communities and, in my view, it’s not making fiscal sense.

“I have to continue questioning the wisdom of these actions. I’m strongly opposed to the changes proposed for the Elmira Psychiatric Center, which in my view fails to make any sense at all for New York State fiscally or from a quality-of-care perspective.

“The same goes for Monterey. For more than 25 years, the Monterey Shock Incarceration facility has stood as an innovative and successful corrections initiative. The unique blend of counseling, education and treatment at our shock facilities has saved the state over a billion dollars during this time. The administration and staff of Monterey, past and present, have turned around numerous lives that were once at a dead-end but, today, are productive and successful.

“I’ll continue to raise all of these concerns and questions, and will keep working with local leaders to try to make the case to the Cuomo administration that there may be more effective ways to achieve the short- and long-term goals we share.”

Monterey was New York’s first “shock” facility. The facility celebrated its 25th Anniversary in September 2012. It involves -- in addition to no-nonsense military discipline, reduced privileges and hard physical labor -- an educational component along with drug and alcohol abuse treatment.

There are currently 124 employees at the Monterey facility. According to the Cuomo administration, the closure plan proposes to avoid layoffs by transitioning employees to other, preferably nearby correctional facilities or to employment in other state agencies.

County sign location changed

WATKINS GLEN, July 26, 2013 -- The planned installation of an events and information sign in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse near existing Veterans' Memorials has been scrapped, and an alternate site selected on the southwest corner of the courthouse property.

The plan had attracted some criticism, and county officials rethought the original concept.

"It will create a delay, but it's worth it considering the ramifications of staying the course," said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, explaining that there had been no intent to disrespect veterans. Some were offended, though, because the planned sign -- while not forcing a change in the location of any existing memorials -- would have visually impacted their space.

"I offered my apologies to the veterans groups," said O'Hearn, "and they were involved in selecting the new spot," which is located on the lawn fronting the District Attorney's office.

"We had good intentions," said O'Hearn, noting that the sign -- an electronic message board with streaming capabilities -- will provide information concerning Health Department activities as well as other activities in the county, serving as an aid to tourists as well as residents.

"There was a miscommunication along the way," he said of the original site selection. "It was not a good move on our part. The veterans' concerns were valid."

Two orange cones rested Thursday evening on the cement footers that were placed in the ground on the original site -- work that O'Hearn said will be covered over. Nearby is a small tree with a sign commemorating an April 28, 2012 CSEA Region 5 Workers Memorial Day Observance remembering "members who have died in the line of duty."

Near that is a commemorative stone with a plaque "to the eternal memory and glory of those of Schuyler County who gave their lives in the service of our country in the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts." Another nearby memorial honors World War I fallen from Schuyler County, while a more distant one honors those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II.

The original plan "didn't impinge directly" on the memorials, said O'Hearn, but "putting a sign in the middle of memorials didn't make sense. I'll take responsibility for the decision."

The sign had been approved by the Legislature, but only with "a general discussion as to location," O'Hearn added.

The spot now selected, where a wooden sign currently gives directions to various offices, "will be an enhancement to the community," he said.

Photo in text: Cones sit atop the footers that had been installed to hold the sign near the Veterans' Memorials.

Hayden honored by DA group

Special to
The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 23, 2013 -- Matthew C. Hayden, Chief Assistant District Attorney for Schuyler County, has been named Prosecutor of the Year for Trial Advocacy by the District Attorneys Association of New York State and the New York Prosecutors Training Institute.

The award was presented to Hayden on Saturday, July 20 at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, NY, during the District Attorneys Association summer conference. This award is given annually to one Assistant District Attorney who “has demonstrated dynamic trial skills, leadership, and selfless dedication to criminal prosecution in the Empire State.” It is the highest award for an assistant prosecutor in the State of New York.

Chief ADA Hayden was nominated by Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary. In his nomination letter, Fazzary stated: “Matt is an exceptionally hard working attorney and his integrity is beyond reproach. He is willing to try any case, from a speeding ticket or dog at large case, to an attempted murder case. He stands up in court every day as a voice for victims in Schuyler County.”

Added Fazzary: “Matt is an asset to my office and to the DA’s Association. He routinely assists other District Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys around the Southern Tier. He is first class all the way and I am proud to have him as my Chief ADA.”

This is the first time that a prosecutor from Schuyler County has received the award.

Photo in text: Matt Hayden at the award presentation. (Photo provided)

Mayor Mark Swinnerton, second from left, listens to Village Clerk Donna Beardsley before the start of Monday night's Village Board meeting.

Village wants more for SRO; parking, noise, leaks discussed

WATKINS GLEN, July 16, 2013 -- The School Resource Officer (SRO) and the proposed Dunkin' Donuts parking lot expansion were two main topics of discussion Monday night at a meeting of the Watkins Glen Village Board.

Also discussed: a planned noise ordinance to limit late-night downtown events whose sounds have carried to nearby neighborhoods, and an ongoing study of the 17 miles of sewer lines in the village to determine where leaks or breaks have occurred that are helping to feed groundwater into the water treatment plant.

--The SRO program in the Watkins Glen School District for the past three years came under extensive questioning by Village Board members trying to understand why the village is paying all but $25,000 of the cost of the SRO, a position filled in the school district by village patrolman Mike Powers. The village took over the police presence in the local schools after State Police funding for the program was terminated by the state three years ago.

Trustee Tony Fraboni argued that 80% of Powers' salary should be covered by the school district, since he spends 80% of his time in that position. But Police Chief Tom Struble said that wasn't the case -- that Powers is on call for regular village duty and is in fact often utilized in that capacity.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton countered by saying the cost that needs reimbursement is that of the part-time patrolman employed to cover Powers' village shifts. That salary amounts to about $33,000. Swinnerton said the school district will be asked to cover the difference between that amount and the $25,000 it now pays.

Accordingly, a contract sent over by the school district in the same amount as the past three years was tabled, with the school district to be informed accordingly

--The proposed expansion of the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot -- with the attendant planned demolition of two houses immediately to the north to make room for it -- was discussed after the board was asked by Barbara Merrill, who operates a bed-and-breakfast with husband Tom, whether the village was considering a moratorium on such demolition.

The matter is before the Village Planning Board -- of which Tom Merrill is a member -- and was scheduled for further discussion Wednesday night. But Swinnerton said that session has been called off due to the expected absence of a quorum.

Meeting or not, though, Swinnerton said it was his understanding that "there is nothing we can do" to stop the demolition -- an opinion echoed by Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

The Planning Board at its last session was resistant to the parking lot plan, saying it was not in keeping with the village's Comprehensive Plan, adopted late last year.

--The matter of late-night noise was raised anew by a letter of complaint from a resident who said band music played late into the night at a local eating establishment was disturbing neighbors on the side hill.

Chief Struble said he has checked with other municipalities to learn how they have handled noise complaints -- and was urged to proceed with caution. "The consensus was 'don't rush into something,'" he said. "We should analyze the data and fit (an ordinance) to us. It's not something we can do overnight."

But the Chief said he is proceeding with the intent of developing such an ordinance -- one that "won't punish" businesses with late-night events, and will take into account the growth of tourism in the community.

"My goal is to have an ordinance by January of 2014," he said -- one that will set an accceptable hour of noise cessation. The latest time set among the ordinances in other municipalities with which he has communicated is 11 p.m., he noted.

--The ongoing I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) study of the village sewer lines is in response to a state Department of Environmental Conservation consent order that has found the local treatment plant's performance falling short of prescribed parameters, but allows its continued operation while a solution is found. The DEC set a deadline of 2016 for the problem to be corrected.

Televised inspection of the 17 miles of storm sewer have uncovered many deficiencies that need correcting, said Swinnerton, possibly through a process called slip lining -- a method of rehabilitating pipes without excavating. It is "very expensive," said Swinnerton, though not as expensive as digging up and replacing the lines.

"We haven't invested enough" in the infrastructure "over the years," said Swinnerton, leaving the village in a position where it needs to spend money to regain an acceptable level of treatment plant performance. "Our biggest task over the next year or so will be figuring out how to fund this," he added, noting that the money will likely come through increased rates and borrowing.

Meanwhile, more money will be invested as the village proceeds with plans in the coming years to construct a green treatment plant near the canal. That is being planned in conjunction with the village of Montour Falls. That project, he said, "has to happen."

--In conjunction with the treatment plant and sewer line upgrades, the village is planning sewer inspections in the basements of homes on the side hill on Wednesday, Thurday and Friday this week. The goal, said Superintendent of Utilities Mark Specchio, is to "ensure the sanitary sewer is not compromised" through discharges from those basements.

Photos in text:

From top: Police Chief Tom Struble, trustee Kevin Smith, and trustees Tony Fraboni (left) and Paul Clifford.

Planning Board member Chris Bond points out a detail in the Seneca Terrace apartment plan as two of the development's representatives (left) observe.

Apartment, parking projects
face Planning Board resistance

WATKINS GLEN, June 20, 2013 -- Project proposals on the north and south ends of the village ran into some choppy waters at Wednesday night's monthly meeting of the Watkins Glen Planning Board.

The proposed 28-unit Seneca Terrace apartment project on the hill above the Elks Club near the village's northern border came under criticism from the board after two project representatives introduced a revised plan that would -- unlike the original proposal -- include access from Route 14.

The housing project, first brought to the board in conceptual fashion in January, had generated complaints from residents concerned with traffic the complex would create on Partition Drive and along Monroe and Jackson Streets -- access points in the absence of any from Route 14.

Project representatives Charles Guttman and Ted Lauve unveiled a drawing at Wednesday's session showing an access road from Route 14, but the board -- as had the County Planning Commission at a recent session -- expressed concerns about the safety of exiting and entering that highway. The concerns also focused on the steep pitch and sharp angles of such an access, and the potential difficulty it might pose for emergency services.

Also at issue was an observation by two board members that the Route 14 measure was presented as an additional access point, when what they wanted was a single alternative access that fell within desired pitch and safety parameters.

"I don't feel this addresses the 'alternate' issue," said board member Tom Merrill. "It just adds another danger. I'm personally not in favor of what you've done here."

"I have to tell you," said board member Chris Bond, "you've not given us anything that would be easily approved."

Guttman said the new access plan was in response to neighborhood concerns about traffic, and "one we thought made the most sense. We had an obligation to present this one."

The project -- with alterations -- will be discussed again, probably next month.


The Dunkin' Donuts plan to expand the size of its South Franklin Street parking lot met resistance, too, after a company spokesman said that earlier concerns expressed by the board had been addressed -- specifically involving headlights shining across the street into nearby residences. Those will be mitigated with fencing. Neither signage nor additional lights are being proposed, he added.

Board Chair Joe Fazzary said that his major concern -- and that of the board -- has to do with the proposed elimination of housing that will make way for the parking expansion. Dunkin' Donuts is in the process of closing on the purchase of the house immediately north, and owns a second residence to the north of that one. The current plan, however, calls for parking expansion on the nearest lot only.

Leveling residences is contrary to the philosophy -- the vision -- included in the Comprehesive Plan adopted by the village late last year, Fazzary explained. Its contents and philosophy will be at the heart of a new zoning law that village officials plan to craft in the near future.

However, the existing zoning law -- while frowning on building demolition in the village's central business district -- does not preclude such an event as far south as the Dunkin's Donuts site. That fact, the Dunkin' Donuts spokesman said, is the one the board needs to embrace in its decision-making.

Fazzary said, though, that permitting demolitions now would run counter to the philosophy of the Comprehensive Plan and thus counter to the vision of Watkins Glen's future. Accordingly, he added, the board is likely to resist Dunkin' Donuts' effort and see "how far they want to pursue it. They will probably have to go to the full extent to get us to commit." The "full extent," he later said, would take the form of an Article 78 proceeding in State Supreme Court.

Photo in text: Planning Board members (from left) Chris Bond, Amedeo Fraboni, Joe Fazzary and Tom Merrill study a document.

Legislature OKs funding cut restoration

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 19, 2013 -- The State Senate Tuesday gave final legislative approval to legislation co-sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) to restore a $90-million cut in funding to the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) that was included in this year’s state budget:

“It’s one of the most important actions we’re taking this session. This cut was the biggest downside and disappointment of this year’s state budget,” said O’Mara, who since the adoption of the budget in late March had joined a large number of his colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to continue urging Cuomo to restore the cut. “But we never gave up on removing this threat to the programs and services that are the lifelines for people with disabilities and their families.”

Under this legislation (S.4777/A.6692-C), expected to be signed into law by Cuomo, if a previously established working group is unable to achieve recommended savings and cost efficiencies without impacting essential programs and services, state funds will be utilized to make up the difference and fully restore funding for OPWDD.

During budget negotiations earlier this year, O’Mara said that both the Senate and Assembly had called for rejecting and fully restoring the governor’s proposed $120 million or six-percent, across-the-board reduction to OPWDD – the lead state agency overseeing state assistance to programs
and services for people with developmental disabilities, such as The Arc of Schuyler.

The governor, however, would only agree to a $30-million restoration, or just one-quarter of his original cut – leaving the current $90-million gap.

Dix man found guilty in meth trial

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, June 14, 2013 -- John Anthony Barton, 33, of the Town of Dix was convicted Thursday of several meth-related charges in U.S. District Court in Rochester. He represented himself at trial, but offered no defense and neither an opening statement nor a closing argument.

He was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture 500 grams or more of methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute 500 grams of more of methamphetamine; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; using his residence to manufacture, distribute and use methamphetamine and marijuana; and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking. The trial was before U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa.

The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life, and a fine of $10,000,000.

Barton was arrested on May 18, 2011 after members of the New York State Police, Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office, Schuyler County District Attorney’s Office, Village of Watkins Glen Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration executed a search warrant at Barton’s residence on Roloson Hollow Road in Dix.

Officials said that during the search, law enforcement officers discovered an active methamphetamine laboratory in a shed on the property. They also recovered a total of eight firearms, including a loaded .45 caliber handgun, more than 30 grams of methamphetamine, and more than $8,700 in cash. Officers also recovered about a pound of marijuana from the house located on the property.

Testimony at the trial also showed that Barton, together with others, manufactured methamphetamine and distributed as much as 900 grams between 2009 and May 18, 2011.

At the time of Barton’s arrest, two other men -- Shawn Rickard and Chad Speicher – were also arrested. Rickard pleaded guilty to narcotics conspiracy involving 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Speicher pleaded guilty to narcotics conspiracy. Both defendants are awaiting sentencing.

Sentencing of Barton is scheduled for September 24 before Judge Siragusa.

Senate move targets unfunded mandates

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 10, 2013 -- The State Senate Monday kicked off an effort to reform state rules, regulations and mandates by approving a series of relief measures to end the practice of unfunded state mandates on local governments and school districts.

The legislation -- co-sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) -- was approved by a vote of 51-9.

“Mandate relief has to remain a state priority. Localities, school districts and local property taxpayers facing tough fiscal challenges still have their hands tied by too many unfunded state mandates,” said O’Mara. “We can start by putting an end to the state’s bad habit of passing the burden of unfunded mandates on to counties, cities, town, villages and school districts. If the state mandates it, the state should pay for it. That’s just common sense.”

The legislation (S.1294/A.4861) has bipartisan support in the Legislature and is co-sponsored in the state Assembly by area Assemblymen Chris Friend (R,C-Big Flats) and Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning). It would ban the imposition of any future state mandates on local governments and school districts that are not accompanied by state funding to localities to pay for delivering the required programs and services.

Monday’s move, said O'Mara, comes as part of a more comprehensive, wide-ranging effort by the Senate Majority Coalition to identify and eliminate hundreds of costly and unnecessary government regulations that strangle business and job growth and drive up municipal and school property taxes.

“Upstate citizens, counties, school districts, manufacturers, small businesses and industries across the board are overburdened with far too many unnecessary state regulations. It’s time to get rid of the costly red tape that keeps the upstate economy going nowhere and makes New York’s business climate one of the worst in America,” he said.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

County unveils settlement with Inergy

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 10, 2013 -- Schuyler County officials have reached an agreement with Inergy Midstream that resolves a property tax appeal and "provides financial certainty for Schuyler County and its residents," says a press release from county officials..

Inergy had protested the assessed value of its Seneca Lake natural gas storage facility located in Watkins Glen, seeking a reduction to $15 million from $29 million.

According to the release, "The taxing jurisdictions have agreed to an incremental reduction over a three-year period that will result in local property tax payments in excess of $1.7 million per year by Inergy Midstream, money that will support critical government services and strengthen our local schools."

It quoted Legislative Chair Dennis Fagan (pictured at right) as "explaining the rationale for the settlement " this way: “The Real Property Tax system is predicated upon parity among all taxpayers. Our position from the onset was that we would vigorously defend any action that sought to unfairly shift the property tax burden. Through the course of our review of data associated with this action, we are in agreement that a reduction is in order to maintain equity in assessments.”

The local taxing authorities, the release said, "have agreed to an incremental reduction over a three-year period to a final assessment of $22 million. Inergy had originally sought a reduction from the current assessed value of $29 million to $15 million. The agreement stipulates no refund of prior payments and will result in a $3 million reduction in 2013 followed by subsequent reductions of $2 million over each of the next two years."

Said Town of Reading Supervisor Marvin Switzer: “We are appreciative of Inergy’s recognition of the fiscal duress facing our local governments and their sensitivity to the adverse impact a significant
reduction in assessed value would impose on our taxpayers. Their willingness to spread the reduction over three years and relinquish their right to refunds will positively impact local budgets.”

Added the Legislature's Fagan: “This action helps to ensure the retention of our local workforce and
recognizes the significant contribution to the community by one of our largest employers and taxpayers.

“The revenue certainty from this settlement," said Fagan, "and the potential future tax revenue expected from Inergy’s Finger Lakes LPG storage project, is invaluable at a time when our budgets are stretched.”

Inergy Midstream weighed in, too, with Ron Happach, Senior Vice President, saying the company “strives to be a responsible business owner in the communities in which our employees live and we operate. We share the same vision for Schuyler County as our communities and neighbors – quality schools, a strong economy and a pristine environment.”

Photo in text: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan (File photo)

Beverly Stamp: 'Woman of Distinction'

Longtime ambassador of NY grape and wine industry honored in Albany

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 5, 2013 -- Beverly “Bev” Stamp, co-owner and operator, with her late husband LaMont “Monty” Stamp, of Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, was honored by State Senator Tom O'Mara in Albany Tuesday as a New York State Senate “Woman of Distinction.”

Stamp, a longtime ambassador of New York State’s nationally and internationally renowned wine and grape industry, represented O’Mara’s 58th Senate District at a statewide awards ceremony in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

"Over the course of the past three decades, no one has done more than Bev Stamp to promote the excellence and quality of New York State’s wine and grape industry," said O'Mara in a press release beforehand. "She’s a beloved ambassador for New York State wines. She’s given the industry her heart and soul, every step of the way, as the industry’s growth has unfolded as one of New York’s great success stories. Bev is one of the Finger Lakes region’s true treasures. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity to recognize her contributions, honor her commitment and pay tribute to her community service as a ‘Woman
of Distinction.’”

The Senate's annual "Women of Distinction" program allows senators statewide to select one honoree from their respective legislative districts for this distinguished, statewide tribute.

Donna Gridley, President of Women for New York State Wines and co-owner, with her husband Louis, of Gridley Vineyards on Bluff Point (Yates County), nominated Stamp for this year’s “Woman of Distinction” award.

Gridley noted that Stamp is one of the founding -- and still active -- members of Women for New York State Wines. Founded in 1981 as the promotional arm of the New York State Wine Grape Growers, the group’s original members were the wives of vineyardists whose goal was to increase
consumer awareness of New York’s wines and other grape products. For more than three decades these women, nicknamed “Ambassadors of Taste,” have crisscrossed New York’s wine-producing regions and neighboring states conducting tastings and other promotional events. Their enthusiastic
leadership has played a pivotal role in the industry’s remarkable success over the past generation. Stamp has served as the organization’s treasurer for over 30 years.

Gridley said, “"Bev is truly deserving of this honor. We are all blessed to know her and her compassion for the industry. She’s our ‘energizer bunny’ with her boundless energy and ideals for the New York wine and grape industry."

In 1988 the Stamp family established Lakewood Vineyards Winery. The award-winning farm and winery have been widely recognized by numerous industry organizations and community associations for quality and excellence – including the 2011 “Conservation Farmer of the Year Award” from the Schuyler County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Stamp has been active in numerous local projects and associations, including the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and the Watkins Glen-Montour Falls Zonta Club. Zonta International is a worldwide service organization of business and professional executives working to improve the status of women. She lso currently serves on the Reading Town Board.

Photo in text: Beverly Stamp (Photo provided)

Legislators' group offers scholarships

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 23, 2013 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) has announced that the New York Conference of Italian-American State Legislators is accepting applications for annual college scholarships. Four $1,500 scholarships will be awarded at the Italian-American State Legislators Annual Legislative Conference Day on June 10 and Palmesano is encouraging eligible and interested students in the 132nd Assembly District to apply.

“The cost of a quality college education continues to rise year after year, preventing even the most deserving students from earning the education they should receive,” said Palmesano. “I encourage students from the 132nd Assembly District to apply for this opportunity. A scholarship like this one can help make the difference for a young person to achieve his or her higher education goals."

Of the four scholarships available, two will be awarded on the basis of academics and two on the basis of athletics. A student’s eligibility will be determined by grade-point average, interest in pursuing higher education, involvement in local community, and financial need.

Interested students may request an application by contacting Assemblyman Palmesano’s office by phone at 607-776-9691 or by email at Applications must be returned no later than Friday, May 10.

The New York Conference of Italian-American State Legislators is a bipartisan organization of New York State Assembly and Senate members who are actively involved in promoting and celebrating the state’s Italian-American community.

Planning Board OKs restaurant, Food Locker plan, delays action on apartments

WATKINS GLEN, April 18, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave final approval to a restaurant at the Frog Hollow Marina and to short-term rental units in the old Seneca Frosted Food Locker building, but took no action on a proposed apartment complex on property behind the Elks Lodge along Rt. 14 on the north end of the village.

The Frog Hollow restaurant, called the Oar House, will be a Tiki Bar-styled building with a full bar. It will have two permanent walls, and two removable ones, will seat 65-75 people, and will be open to the public.

The Frosted Food Locker plant (pictured at right), owned by a group of men including project manager Dan Bower, will have seven townhouse units available for short-term rental by individuals and families. The structure will have five garages. Two parking spaces will be available for each unit. Work on the building involves removal of the floors and roof and demolition of part of the walls, where renovation is deemed impossible.

The proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments near the Elks Lodge -- a plan first brought to the board in conceptual fashion in January -- attracted a turnout Wednesday that brought the meeting room in the Municipal Building to capacity. Most were concerned with traffic that the complex will generate on Partition Drive and along Monroe and Jackson Streets. Those are access points in the absence of access directly from Rt. 14.

One resident asked the developer or a representative, along with board members, to meet on the site in the near future to walk through the property and explain the project further. It was anticipated that such a tour might occur before the next Planning Board meeting, set for May 15. The board has 60 days in which to take action on the apartment plan.

O'Mara seeks increase in methamphetamine penalties

Bill targets manufacturing, possession and sale of drug

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, April 10, 2013 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) -- pointing to the increasing frequency of methamphetamine-related arrests across the region -- has introduced legislation in the Senate to significantly increase the criminal penalties for possessing, selling or manufacturing the dangerous and highly addictive drug.

“We need to ensure that our laws are keeping pace with the goal of putting meth manufacturers and sellers out of business in New York State,” said O’Mara (pictured at right). “The addiction, violence and tragedy that are the byproducts of the rampant production and use of methamphetamine pose unacceptable risks to our neighborhoods, threaten the safety of police officers and first responders, and burden local systems of health care, criminal justice and social services.

“Regional law enforcement officers continue to do outstanding work to protect our communities. I’m hopeful that these tougher new laws will help in the prosecution and punishment of meth crimes, and as a deterrent. We can’t allow our region or anywhere else in New York State to serve as a safe harbor for meth labs, meth addicts or meth pushers.”

According to a 2009 report from the Rand Corporation, the economic cost of meth use in the United States reached nearly $24 billion in 2005 and could go as high as $48 billion.

Legislation introduced in the Senate by O’Mara would:

-- further outlaw the operation of meth labs (S.3639) by increasing the criminal penalties for the possession of methamphetamine manufacturing material and the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, implementing a series of increasingly severe felony offenses.

O’Mara stressed that meth manufacturing involves the use of highly explosive, flammable and toxic chemicals, and that meth labs pose a significant public health and safety threat, especially if they’re located in residential neighborhoods; and

-- in a similar fashion, increase the criminal penalties for the possession and/or sale of methamphetamine to bring the penalties more in line with the penalties for possessing and/or selling cocaine and heroin (S.3289/A.3528).

The legislation has been introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Erie County) and is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning).

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Supporters of the protesters gather outside the Reading Town Hall after the court session.

2 protesters plead to trespass, pay fines

READING CENTER, April 4, 2013 -- Two of the 12 people arrested on March 18 and charged with trespass for blocking a gate at an Inergy facility along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen pleaded guilty Wednesday night in Town of Reading Court. Each was fined $250 plus a $125 state-mandated surcharge.

Katarina Andersson, 22, a voice student at Ithaca College’s Conservatory of Music, and Darmaye “Crow” Marley, 53, of Hector, pleaded guilty before Town Justice Raymond H. Berry and paid the fines with money provided by what Andersson described as a "community" of citizens concerned with Inergy's proposed storage of liquefied petroleum gas in old salt caverns far below the surface of land on the western side of Seneca Lake ... and by extension with the drilling technique known as hydrofracturing, or fracking

A third person charged with trespass, Nathanael Miller, 26, of Ithaca, has secured an attorney, Lance Salisbury of Ithaca. His case was adjourned until May 1 to give the court time to submit paperwork to the attorney.

The court session followed by two weeks another one in which three other protesters appeared before Berry: Dennis Fox, 20, of Middle Island; Kathleeen C. Alvey, 22, of Ithaca; and Jack Ossont, 69, of Himrod. All three pleaded guilty to trespass and were fined. Ossont paid with a credit card, while the other two asked for additional time to raise funds.

Other sessions are expected to follow in the coming weeks. Melissa Chipman of Hector, Michael Dineen of Ovid and Sandra Steingraber of Ithaca are scheduled to appear before Berry on April 17, and James Borra of Hector, Marjorie Rodgers of Elmira and Richard Jones of Belfast on May 1st.

Among those present Wednesday to show support were Joseph Campbell of the Gas Free Seneca Group, and two of the "Seneca 3" arrested last September in another protest: Jeremy Alderson and Susan Walker. Alderson's case is still pending, while Walker served a 15-day sentence for refusing to pay a fine.

Campbell, noting that neither the September protest nor the latest one had anything to do with Gas Free Seneca's efforts -- “we’re about public education” -- said his group is nonetheless "sympathetic" to the efforts of those charged in both protests.

Alderson, just before Wednesday’s hearing began, asked the only member of the media present where all the other media were. “People are getting arrested,” he said. “What does it take to get coverage?”

After the session, the evening’s defendants and more than two dozen supporters gathered outside the town hall to discuss the proceedings. Among them was Andersson, who had been given an opportunity to make a statement in court -- but had not done so, whereas Marley had (saying she had protested out of an “urgent concern for all forms of life that co-exist on Seneca Lake”).

“I wasn’t prepared to be asked,” said Andersson. “I was told he (the judge) had shut down any statements before. “

And what might come next?

She said she wants to complete her studies and secure a job, but added: “I’m from Ithaca, so fracking (she has said she sees salt-cavern development leading to fracked-gas storage) is very important to me. I want to stand on the front lines in solidarity.”

Photos in text:

From top: Defendants Katarina Andersson, Crow Marley and Nathanael Miller after Wednesday evening's court session.

Palmesano: Budget 'missed opportunities'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 29, 2013 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) says the new state budget -- while possessing positives -- "represents some missed opportunities to provide a better business climate" and delivers "a devastating and unacceptable cut to our state’s most vulnerable New Yorkers – the developmentally disabled." .

Palmesano said he applauds “the long overdue increase in funding to improve our local roads and bridges through the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), the increase in funding for our schools and libraries, and a tax cut for our state’s manufacturers.

“The additional $75 million for CHIPS for our local roads and bridges represents a 20 percent increase above last year and will provide a much needed boost to our local communities to help them maintain and improve their local infrastructure.”

However, he added, “a number of policies in this budget do not represent being ‘Open for Business’ in New York. The business community and job creators are not looking at our slogans, they are looking at our actions.”

Of even greater concern, he said, "is the immense damage this budget will have on our state’s most frail and vulnerable New Yorkers – the developmentally disabled."

The governor’s executive budget proposed $120 million in cuts, or 6 percent, to not-for-profit agencies that provide services to the developmentally disabled. The adopted state budget provided only a $30 million restoration. Palmesano said he and his colleagues in the Assembly minority called for a complete restoration of funding, but that an amendment along those lines was struck down on the Assembly floor.

“We have a responsibility to set priorities when developing a budget," Palmesano said. "Caring for our state’s developmentally disabled New Yorkers is a commitment we should honor. Unfortunately, these cuts will be devastating to the services and quality of life for our state’s most vulnerable New Yorkers. It is absolutely unconscionable how we can adopt a budget that provides a $420 million tax credit for ‘Hollywood’ film production in New York, yet provides an unacceptable cut to those we have an obligation to protect.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

O'Mara rips Cuomo on failure
to restore disability funding

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 27, 2013 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo came under fire Wednesday from State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) for failing to more fully roll back his cut to the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) in the final 2013-14 state budget.

O’Mara (pictured at right) said that both the Senate and Assembly had called for rejecting and fully restoring the governor’s proposed $120 million, or six-percent, across-the-board reduction to OPWDD – the lead state agency overseeing state assistance to programs and services for people with
developmental disabilities.

Among organizations affected will be The Arc of Schuyler, headquartered in Watkins Glen.

The governor would only agree to a $30-million restoration, or just one-quarter of his original cut. Cuomo administration officials have continued to argue that the reduced funding will only impact administrative costs at OPWDD.

“It’s one of the major disappointments of this year’s budget," said O'Mara. "The final restoration is not enough and it jeopardizes care for one of our most vulnerable populations. I will keep working with many of my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to do anything and everything we possibly can to offset the impact of Governor Cuomo’s unreasonable cut.

"I share the concerns of local service providers across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions that this cut goes beyond addressing administrative waste and inefficiencies. It’s a direct threat to the programs and services that are the lifelines for people with disabilities and their families, and that’s not right.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara.

Counties to see hike in CHIPS funds

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 26, 2013 -- Area counties will see significant increases in state support for local roads and bridges under the 2013-14 New York State budget being enacted this week, according to State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning).

A breakdown of county figures as a result of this year’s state-level increase of $75 million for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) was released by Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders Monday at the Capitol.

“After five years when state support for local roads and bridges remained stagnant, this year’s recognition of CHIPS funding will make a significant difference for localities, local economies and motorist safety statewide,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement. “The improvement and
upkeep of local roads and bridges is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. It’s an investment in economic growth and job creation throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and all across New York.”

O’Mara and Palmesano said that area counties will receive the following increases in CHIPS funding under this year’s transportation budget, which was approved by the Senate and is scheduled to receive final Assembly approval on Thursday:

-- Chemung County: CHIPS funding will increase from $3,327,649 last year to $4,087,491 in 2013-14, an increase of 22.83% or $759,841;

-- Schuyler County: funding will increase from $1,728,590 to $2,139,391, an increase of 23.77% or $410,800;

-- Steuben County: funding will increase from $8,193,287 to $10,151,319, an increase of 23.90% or $1,958,032;

-- Tompkins County: funding will increase from $3,460,858 to $4,271,054, an increase of 23.41% or $810,196; and

-- Yates County: funding will increase from $1,994,253 to $2,477,899, an increase of 24.25% or $483,646.

Palmesano, who also represents part of Seneca County, said that Seneca County’s funding will increase from $1,780,302 to $2,205,941, an increase of 23.91% or $425,639.

In early March, O’Mara, Palmesano and a bipartisan group of legislative colleagues joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout the state to call for increased support for local roads and bridges. They noted that local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State. A recent report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, "Cracks in the Foundation,” called 32% of New York’s local bridges deficient and 40% of local roads fair or poor, and getting worse.

CHIPS provides the bulk of state aid to counties and towns for the maintenance and improvement of local roads and bridges.

Site of the planned 7-unit townhouse building offering short-term rentals.

Watkins Glen Planning Board sets hearings on 3 projects

WATKINS GLEN, March 21, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board gave preliminary site-plan approval to three projects -- one conditionally -- Wednesday night and set public hearings for each one. Those will be held at the board's next regular session on April 17.

The projects are the planned Seneca Terrace Apartments above the Elks Lodge off Route 14 on the north end of the village; the Watkins Glen Holding LLC's planned demolition/renovation of the old Seneca Frosted Food Locker building next to Captain Bill's, with an eye toward establishing seven short-term-rental townhouse units there; and a restaurant on the Frog Hollow Marina property off Fairgrounds Lane on the south end of the village.

Before addressing those three matters, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the proposed Black Berry Inn Bed and Breakfast at 209 Sixth Street. Nobody spoke at the hearing, and it was given final approval, with clearance to move forward with an opening. The facility will rent out three bedrooms, with a maximum of two occupants per room.

The Frosted Food Locker plant, owned by a group of men including project manager Dan Bower, anticipates removal of the building's floors and roof and demoliton of parts of its walls where renovation is deemed impossible. Bower told the board he has been in consultation with neighboring business owner Mark Simiele (Captain Bill's and the Seneca Harbor Station Restaurant) regarding parking, access to the lake side of the Food Locker building, and use of Simiele's land to access water and sewer lines.

The project envisions seven townhouse units available for short-term rental by individuals and families. The building will have a total of five garages, and will provide two parking spaces for each unit.

The board gave preliminary approval and set a public hearing for its next session, which starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17.

The Seneca Terrace Apartments plan -- first brought to the board in conceptual form in January -- attracted a number of neighborhood residents concerned about the traffic it will generate on Partition Drive and along Monroe and Jackson Streets. Those are access points in the absence of access from Route 14. The board had some concerns of its own, and asked for revisions while giving conditional preliminary site-plan approval. A public hearing will be held at the April 17 session.

The restaurant, called the Oar House, will be a Tiki Bar-styled building with a full bar, and will be built on the Frog Hollow property. It will have two permanent walls, and two removable ones, will seat 65-75 people, and will be open to the public. It too gained preliminary site-plan approval leading to an April 17 public hearing.

Wright Report: Code Enforcement Officer Gordon Wright said progress is being made on a number of other projects in the village, including: four apartments above Jerlando's; two loft-styled apartments being constructed by David Lisk in a building on the east side of Franklin Street near the north end; an extension at the Cargill plant to house its new boiler; apartments being constructed on the second and third floors of the House of Hong building; a new sun room planned on the side of the Colonial Inn; and the four apartments and 12 townhouses (under the name Water Works) being built at the village's former Water & Electric Department facility on Salt Point Road.

Photos in text:

Top: Plans for the Seneca Terrace Apartments were presented to the Planning Board. The plans were upgraded from initial conceptual drawings shown the board in January.

Bottom: Dan Bower addresses the board. He is project manager of the planned townhouse project in the old Frosted Food Locker building

Arc of Schuyler represented in Albany

Special to the Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, March 15, 2013 -- This week family members, staff, and self-advocates from The Arc of Schuyler traveled to Albany to thank State Senator Thomas O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano for opposing the 6% Medicaid budget cut proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

This $120 million cut for non-profit service providers of supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities would have an extensive impact. Agencies throughout the state may face potential layoffs that will create critical staff shortages and fewer services – or no services – for persons with disabilities.

The Senate and Assembly recently passed resolutions approving their own house bills. Both include provisions which -- if agreed to by the Senate, Assembly, and Governor and enacted as a final bill --would restore $120 million to the budget.

Service-coordinator and family member of a person with a developmental disability, Jill Drehmer, was one representative of The Arc who thanked Assemblyman Palmesano in person.

“It means a lot that Assemblyman Palmesano and other legislators are supportive and have taken action to stop these cuts,” Drehmer said. “I’m in the process of trying to adopt a child with a developmental disability and I want to make sure that he or she has the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Drehmer was joined by self-advocate Jamie Asbury and Jamie’s sister-in-law, Dorothy Asbury, as well as Arc board member Larry Tanner.

“The Governor wants people to work,” Tanner expressed to both Assemblyman Palmesano and a representative of Senator O’Mara’s office. “But these cuts could take jobs away from me and other people with developmental disabilities who depend on agencies like The Arc to provide work and training."

The Arc of Schuyler is a non-profit organization that provides hundreds of people in Schuyler County with a lifetime of supports. NYSARC, Inc. and its chapters have been dedicated and committed partners of New York State for 60 years, providing a range of services including residential, employment, service coordination, and programs for children to seniors.

Photo in text: From left: Dorothy Asbury, Jamie Asbury, Jill Drehmer and Larry Tanner at the State Capitol to thank Assembly Palmesano and Senator O'Mara for opposing the 6% budget cut. (Photo provided)

Schuyler, Yates counties seek study funds, eye shared services or maybe even merger

WATKINS GLEN, March 12, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night did what the Yates County Legislature had done earlier in the day -- unanimously approved a resolution seeking a $100,000 grant from New York State to finance a study that might determine the feasibility of the two counties sharing services, consolidating some operations or even merging.

The resolution, offered by Chairman Dennis Fagan, said "potential remedies to reduce the costs of Yates and Schuyler County government" -- plagued by tax-levy increases under the yoke of state mandates -- "may lie in cooperation to deliver services, consolidation of departments, or any other measures that achieve efficiencies through collaboration."

Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and his counterpart in Yates County -- Sarah Purdy, who was present at Monday night's Schuyler meeting along with Yates Legislator Bill Holgate (pictured below right) -- were even more to the point afterward, when they said even a merger of the two counties is among the possibilities to be considered.

That would be unprecedented in New York State, both administrators conceded, and is "a long way off" in a process that will move slowly. Even if the grant -- 10 percent of which would be locally funded, split 50-50 by the two counties -- is approved, a study wouldn't be completed until the autumn of 2014, Purdy said.

"Where that would take us," she said, "we don't really know. There's no reason that a consolidation of some services isn't possible. We'll go wherever the study takes us. If it takes us far enough to consolidate a lot of services, we will consider if it makes sense to merge."

But, she added, "We need to take this in phases. We're not jumping right to merger."

There is no provision in New York State for a merger of counties, both O'Hearn and Purdy said. But O'Hearn said the similar size of the two counties and similar demographics make the two compatible for an efficiency effort. "We'll look at every option," he said. "Until proven otherwise, nothing is off the table."

Yates County has a population of 25,000, and an annual budget of $40 million. Schuyler County has a population of 18,300, and an annual budget of $43 million.

"There are a lot of logistics, even to consolidate" operations between counties, Purdy said, although such consolidation is not unprecedented. As Legislator Glenn Larison pointed out at Monday's meeting, Schuyler and Chemung counties share a Sealer of Weights and Measures.

The two administrators said they have been discussing applying for a study for several months. "We don't really know what's totally possible," Purdy said. "But we're willing to take a look, leave no stone unturned. We might turn those stones right back over, but we'll take a look."

The two counties have previously shared -- but no longer do -- a Veterans Services Director. "And if we did before, people will ask why not now," Purdy added.

And if the grant request -- which must be filed by Wednesday -- does not yield the study money, will the two counties give up?

"Even if there's no grant," said Purdy, "we've started discussions. There's no reason not to continue them."

Added Legislator Holgate: "There's willingness on both sides."

The Legislature also:

-- Unanimously adopted a Local Law that calls for changing the elective County Treasurer's position to an appointive Director of Finance. Several people -- citing constitutional issues -- opposed the move, which will be put to a vote of Schuyler County residents through a Proposition placed on the November ballot.

-- Unanimously approved a resolution opposing the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013 that was hurriedly adopted by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo. A number of resolution supporters were on hand at Monday's session.

-- Approved a resolution to hire the accounting firm of Bonadio & Co. for one year at $10,000 to audit Occupany Operators -- motels, B&Bs and the like -- in "the belief that such reviews will find current operators not complying with the Room Tax Local Law." Former Legislator Paul Marcellus (pictured at right), who owns and operates the Colonial Inn on North Franklin Street, told Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan that "you are possibly dragging a wide net for little return" and that the move "could possibly have a bad effect," generating "ill will" among the many honest operators in the area.

Marcellus illustrated with a story about a coffee stand run by a married couple at The Windmill. They employed their two college-age sons, and after expenses, their season-long profit was $4,000. But with two weeks left in the season, along came a state representative who asked if they carried Worker's Compensation to cover their two employees -- the two sons. The mother said she and her husband, as parents, looked after the safety of their boys, but that didn't matter to the state rep, who made the couple pay $900. "I would be thrilled to see a resolution relating to the folly of that," said Marcellus, "right up the chain."

The Bonadio resolution, he suggested, is another instance of excessive government. "It strikes me as not wise to do. You say it's not punitive, but boy, I don't know...

-- Accepted a low bid of $735,249 from Silverline Construction, Inc. for replacement of the Mill Street Bridge in Odessa. There were five bids, in all, said Adminstrator O'Hearn, with two of them in excess of $1 million each. The Legislature also approved a resolution authorizing "the issuance of up to $1,690,000 (in) bonds ... to pay costs of various capital items" -- including the Mill Street Bridge and five miles of repairs on County Rte. 16 in the Town of Orange.

-- Authorized advertising for bids for the sale of the Dog Pound on VanZandt Hollow Road in anticipation of the relocation of its services to the new Schuyler County Humane Society facility on Marina Drive in Montour Falls.

Photos in text: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan and Legislator Doris Karius; Yates County Legislator Bill Holgate; and former legislator Paul Marcellus at Monday's meeting.

Calling for increased road aid

State Senator Tom O'Mara, front center, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (to the right of him) and legislative colleagues were joined on the staircase in The Well of the Legislative Office Building in Albany Wednesday morning by orange-clad county and town highway superintendents from throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide. As final state budget negotiations kick into high gear, the group called for greater state support for local roads and bridges. At a press conference, the legislators noted that Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding has remained stagnant since 2008. They want an increase of $100 million, from a proposed $363.1 million to $463.1 million.

NYSARC: This budget cut can't stand

DELMAR, NY, March 5, 2013 -- NYSARC, Inc., the nation's largest nonprofit agency serving people with developmental disabilities, is urging the Legislature and the Governor to approve a final budget deal restoring $120 million in State funding to programs and services for people with developmental disabilities.

The reduction is a result of a 6% across-the-board cut which was contained in the Governor's budget. When federal funds are included, the cut is $240 million.

"These cuts are catastrophic," said NYSARC's executive director, Marc Brandt. "They are in addition to the nearly $350 million in cuts developmental disabilities services have sustained over the past three years."

Agencies throughout New York State -- including The Arc of Schuyler -- care for 126,000 individuals with developmental disabilities. It is the largest system of its kind in the nation.

Brandt said that "We expect that many agencies will sharply curtail service and some may face closure" as they are unable to meet payroll and pay for goods and services.

"Many of these agencies serve vulnerable people, some of whom are medically frail, many of whom require 24-hour care. We don't know what will happen with them. Many, particularly adults, have no families to step in should an agency fail. This is a recipe for disaster for this population."

Furthermore, Brandt added, "the staff that provides hands-on care are already stretched to the breaking point from prior year cuts and a staggering onslaught of regulations."

"Seventy percent of all agency funding goes to pay these individuals. Simple math will force these employees to absorb layoffs, shortened hours, and increased medical costs.

"Now, these cuts will push many of these staff beyond the breaking point. Many of people they care for will find their quality of care eroded and be exposed to far greater health and safety risks.

"The Governor's Justice Center was aimed at enhancing the health and safety of the people we serve. We strongly support the Justice Center. However, we can't help but note that these cuts will undermine the primary aim of the Justice Center -- to safeguard the people we serve.

"When New York State elected to build a large system of community-based care for people with developmental disabilities, it accepted a moral responsibility for decent care. Some argue that a system this large should never have been built. But over decades, New York State built it. That reality won't go away. The State must continue to own up to its clear moral obligation to provide decent care to tens of thousands of people with developmental disabilities and their families. The State must eliminate this cut."

The Arc of Schuyler: Contact your representatives. Forum.

County Atty. opinion: Gifford can run

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 26, 2013 -- County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi says that in his opinion, there is no prohibition against incumbent Schuyler County Legislator Thomas Gifford (R-Montour Falls) running for one seat on the Legislature while holding another seat that doesn't expire for another year.

And Rossi said he "doesn't anticipate that the State Board of Elections would contradict" that opinion should Gifford's candidacy be challenged. But nobody appears to be doing that.

County Election Commissioner John Vona, a Democrat, says "as far as I know" Gifford's run "is legal," and there is no plan to contest it. "Even if we did, the State Board would hand it back to us and we would have to research it," said Vona. "But we can't find anything" that would preclude it.

Gifford announced last week that he is seeking the seat from District 4 in the redistricted Schuyler County election landscape. Redistricting is being phased in over three years, creating a situation where Gifford is holding a seat through 2014 in the old District 2 while a resident of the new District 4 -- where Jim Howell has also announced his candidacy.

"There is nothing in the law" to suggest that Gifford should not be allowed to run, Rossi said. "He meets the eligibility requirements to run. If elected, he could simply resign from his old seat and assume the duties of a Legislator from District 4. If he loses, then he serves out his old term" through 2014.

If Gifford won the District 4 seat, said Rossi, the Legislature "could appoint someone" to fill the unexpired portion of his original term, although "I'm not certain if they would be compelled or mandated to." If it did not appoint someone, the Legislature would continue with its traditional eight-member level, a number that was to grow to nine in 2014 to cover the final year of Gifford's old term. The membership level would return to eight the following year.

"I haven't talked to Tom about this," said Rossi, "but I imagine his thinking was that if he doesn't do it now, then he is out" until the election of 2017. Each new district will be represented by just one person, with each term for four years.

The redistricting situation "is complex because of staggered elections and the plan being phased in," said Rossi, "but my review of the law" shows "there is no prohibition. (Gifford) meets the eligibility to run."

Photos in text: County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi (top) and Legislator Thomas Gifford.

Some of the nearly 50 people who turned out for the committee meeting.

Committee OKs resolution opposing
NY gun law; final vote expected March 11

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 25, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature's Public Safety / Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously Monday morning in favor of a resolution opposing the State's passage of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act -- a gun control law enacted on Jan. 15.

Nearly 50 people filed into the small confines of the Legislature chamber to support the resolution, which was crafted by Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman and County Clerk Linda Compton (and can be found in its entirety here). The vote followed a brief presentation by Yessman, and drew applause from the audience.

"I told people there is no opposition (among Schuyler legislators) to this resolution," Yessman said before the meeting started, "and that they didn't need to be here. But ..." And he motioned to the crowd squeezing into the room. Committee Chairman Phil Barnes noted that petitions with 300 signatures opposing the SAFE Act have been received

The gun law, Yessman told the gathering, "is an action that infringed on our rights" and one that was passed hurriedly, "in a way not done before. I think the county needs to move forward and take action on this." Some other counties, including Chemung, are passing similar resolutions.

After the vote, Yessman noted that another bill in the Legislature would "require owners of firearms to obtain insurance" of not less than $1 million "to protect against willful and negligent acts." But he said insurance companies have indicated they won't insure against "willful and negligent acts," so even if such a law is passed, "you can't get insurance." The bill, he added, "might die by itself, but we need to take a stance."

The committee gave its blessing to a resolution yet to be written on that issue by Yessman. It and the anti-SAFE Act measure will now go to the Legislature Resolution Review Committee on March 6. Final legislative approval is expected on March 11.

Legislator Glenn Larison told the audience before it dispersed that he was pleased to see so many people turn out in force on the gun issue, "but I'd like to see you at a meeting when we discuss the budget, too."

Yessman noted that he will be holding a public meeting on March 19, from 6-8 p.m., at the Odessa-Montour High School auditorium to present information on the NY SAFE Act.

Photos in text:

Top: Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman at Monday's session.

Bottom: Committee Chairman Phil Barnes.

O'Mara rips Cuomo on Utility Tax

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 23, 2013 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats), a member of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, Friday criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for failing to take action on his own to reject a five-year extension of a “staggering” energy tax first imposed on New Yorkers in 2009.

O’Mara (pictured at right) said that he and his Senate Republican colleagues will continue to push for the proposal’s rejection during final state budget negotiations with the Assembly and the governor over the next several weeks.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to hold Governor Cuomo to his ‘no new taxes’ pledge to New Yorkers," said O’Mara, who’s serving on the Senate’s budget subcommittee on economic development and taxes. "We were hopeful that he’d take this early opportunity to back up the words with the actions. Higher taxes like this one are tough on consumers and make it harder and harder for New York’s businesses, farmers and manufacturers to stay competitive. So we’ve got work to do over the next several weeks to convince the governor and Assembly that this staggering tax was a bad idea four years ago and the worst thing we could do is to make New Yorkers keep paying it for another five years. It’s already taken billions of dollars out of the state economy.”

O’Mara and his colleagues were joined recently by statewide business leaders, farmers and consumer advocates to urge Cuomo, as part of the 30-day amendment period when the governor can unilaterally make changes to his proposed 2013-14 state budget, to remove his proposal for a five-year extension of a nearly 600-percent hike in the Temporary State Energy and Utility Service Conservation Assessment, commonly known as the 18-a assessment.

Cuomo released his 30-day budget amendments in Albany Thursday night and did not remove the proposed utility tax extension.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Gifford shifts gear, seeks new board term

MONTOUR FALLS, Feb. 19, 2013 -- Schuyler County Legislator Thomas M. Gifford (R-Montour Falls) has announced his intention to seek re-election -- which normally would result in a straightforward press release noting his years of service, background and platform.

But in this case it also raises a question: Can a person holding one seat on a legislative body run for another on the same body when the term of the first seat is not yet expiring?

Gifford, in fact, has a seat on the Legislature through 2014 -- a seat he earned under the longstanding three-district system of elections in the county. But an eight-district system was passed last year and will be kicking in on a staggered basis that won't be completed until the end of 2015.

Part of the approved redistricting included a year (2014) in which the Legislature would have nine legislators instead of its normal eight, in order to accomodate the final year of Gifford's currently elective term. And Gifford had made it known he did not intend to seek re-election once that term expired.

But now he has shifted gears and plans to seek election from the newly formed District 4, running against the already announced Jim Howell. Another race will occur in the newly constituted District 1, where incumbents Barb Halpin and Glenn Larison will be vying for a single Legislature seat.

Schuyler County Republican Party Chairman Phil Barnes said that Gifford "changed his mind" by deciding there are a number of continuing initiatives in the county that he wants to help oversee.

"If he wins" against Howell and any other candidates who might run, Barnes said, Gifford would resign his current seat. And if he loses, "he would still have another year on his current term."

Board of Elections Commissioner Joseph Fazzary, when asked about the situation, said he isn't sure Gifford can run for a seat on the board while holding another, unexpiring seat on it. "I'll be talking to some people with the State Elections Board," he said. "I don't know if there is a precedent for this. Perhaps he can do it; I'm not sure. I'll get a little better handle on this in the next few days."

Gifford has been a member of the Legislature for 14 years, and served as chairman for 12.

“There is no question that the County is facing unprecedented challenges in the coming years, largely as a result of the fiscal crisis our state is in," Gifford said in the press release announcing his election bid. "However, locally we have accomplished a great deal and we continue to see growth in our tourism industry and agriculture sectors and I believe we are well positioned to meet these challenges successfully.

“I am proud to be a member of a legislative body that has taken a fiscally conservative approach in balancing the delivery of largely mandated services against the cost to our taxpayers. I am respectfully asking for the opportunity to continue to contribute to the many positive things that are happening in our county.”

Gifford lives with his wife of 48 years, Carole, in Montour Falls. He is the father of three grown children and 12 grandchildren.

He holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration from Elmira College, is a graduate of the Institute of Banking and the Pelatier Institute of Good Government, and is a retired Vice President of Fleet Bank with more than 30 years in the banking industry.

Legislature moves toward replacing treasurer's position

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night took a step once again toward eliminating the elective post of County Treasurer and replacing it with an appointive position by giving preliminary approval to the first Local Law of 2013.

A public hearing on the matter will be held at the next Legislature meeting -- at 6:30 p.m. March 11. Should the legislators then approve the measure -- which provides for a Director of Finance to replace the Treasurer -- then it will be placed before the voters as a referendum in November.

The issue arose last year, as well, but an effort to place it on the November ballot failed when it was discovered the placement had to be made at least 60 days before the balloting. At the time of the discovery, it was 57 days until the balloting.

Last year's effort called for the title of the appointed officer to be that of Comptroller. This time around, the title is Director of Finance. In either event, it would shift the control of the office from the State to the County.

County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi said that under the existing format, the County has "no constitutional authority ... to establish qualifications" for the post, nor to control the person in that post. "But under Municipal Home Rule Law," he added, "there is room to eliminate the elected position" and replace it with the appointive one. "Then qualificatons can be defined locally and controlled locally. But it requires a referendum."

The current Treasurer, Gary Whyman, suggested the change last year. The Legislature, which had been at odds with the previous Treasurer, decided to pursue the issue -- only to run afoul of the missed filing deadline.

"This year," said Legislature Clerk Stacy Husted, "I made them do it early."

In other matters, legislators:

--Approved a resolution directing County Administrator and Budget Officer Tim O'Hearn to produce a preliminary budget the next time around that meets the state tax cap. O'Hearn had submitted a preliminary budget last year that was well above the cap and left resulting reductions up to the legislators. This time, the cutting will be done before it reaches the legislators, who will then add and subtract as they see necessary.

--Appointed JoAnn Fratarcangelo as the Commissioner of Social Services, effective March 18, at an annual salary of $75,000. The job now includes the duties of the Youth Bureau Director. Also approved: a contract with Bonadio & Co., LLP for Medicaid fraud/abuse detection services.

--Authorized the creation and filling of a temporary full-time Correction Sergeant/Jail Supervisor position in the wake of the current supervisor's indefinite suspension.

Photo in text: From left: County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi, Deputy Clerk Jamee Mack and Clerk Stacy Husted at Monday's meeting.

Larison announces re-election bid

Special to The Odessa File

ODESSA, Feb. 8, 2013 -- Four-term legislator Glenn Larison has announced his decision to seek another term on the Schuyler County Legislature.

Larison is running for the seat representing the Towns of Cayuta, Catharine and the Village of Odessa, the new District 1. Larison reaffirmed his commitment to work diligently for the county in all aspects of government.

During his time as a legislator, Larison has served on a variety of committees both internal and external to county government. On behalf of the Legislature, he was appointed as the legislative representative for:

* The Inter-County Association of Western New York. In his current term he served as president of the association, which has membership from 19 counties of Western New York. The association, representing over 3.5 million residents, works collaboratively in sending to the State resolutions that support this area.

* New York State Association of Conservation Districts. He continues to serve a director for this agency, which supports local Soil and Water regulations.

* Soil And Water Conservation Board of Schuyler County.

* Southern Tier Transportation Committee.

* Finger Lakes Resource Conservation & Development Council, Inc.

* Office For The Aging Advisory Council of Schuyler County.

* Forest Practice Board

He has also worked with the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), and the Transportation Committee for Schuyler County, and served on the Persons with Developmental Disabilities Board and the Community Service Board.

Larison said he wants to continue working with other Schuyler legislators on budgets that are:

-- transparent;
-- that provide opportunities for economic development;
-- that support resolutions that enable continued growth for local business while protecting local resources;
-- that provide safety and security for area residents and support those that are most needy.

He said he will also work hard "to continue existing partnerships with other county, town and village governments to coordinate services providing both fiscal and service benefits while enhancing the quality of life for all constituents."

Photo in text: Glenn Larison

Glen Board OKs Community Center rates

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 5, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday approved new rates for use of the Clute Park Community Center and Lakeside Pavilion, and gave its blessing to renovations of five of the 10 removable village docks along the canal.

The Center's new rates include a full-day fee of $450, up from $400, with non-profits charged $200, up from $150.

Community classes, such as Zumba class and dog class, will be charged $20, up from $10, with a security deposit of $250 (unchanged).

Use of the full pavilion will be $125, up from $100, while use of half of the pavilion will be $100, up from $75. The security deposit remains at $75.

Rental of Lafayette Park will remain at $25, as will its electric rate and security deposit. The full-season vendor fee there is going to be $300, up from $250.

The new rates take effect on March 1.

The village boat docks -- which are removed from the water each winter -- are in disrepair, the board said, and in need of refurbishment. The board accepted a bid of $3,800 per dock from OSM Off-Shore Marine of Dundee, and decided to have five of them done with money from capital reserve. The other five will be refurbished in the future.

The board also:

--Received an annual report from Village Justice Nicholas Dugo showing that court traffic was down from the previous year, as were fines, fees and surcharges. The court handled 1,165 vehicle and traffic cases in 2012, down from 1,510 in 2011. However, the number of penal law cases rose to 194 from 123, and civil and other cases remained at virtually the same levels.

Photo in text: Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, right, speaks to village trustees Tony Fraboni, left, and Paul Clifford before the start of the meeting. Mayor Mark Swinnerton was absent, having not yet returned from attending the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Legislature seeks bridge replacement bids

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 15, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a resolution that authorizes the county to advertise for bids for construction of a Mill Street replacement bridge in Odessa.

The bridge, on a side street joining the downtown district of Odessa with its northern residential neighborhood, has long been a target for replacement. It has been red flagged by the state for repairs a couple of times, and pedestrian traffic was banned on it two years ago.

Funding, the resolution specified, is available in the 2013 county budget.

In other business, the Legislature -- in a brief session:

--Approved a resolution, necessary every two years, asking the state to continue a 1% increase in the sales tax in Schuyler County, a measure first adopted in 2000;

--Approved various one-, two-, three-, four- and five-year appointments to boards, committees and agencies.

O'Mara raps NY gun-control legislation

Criticizes lack of public input; says state-by-state approach ineffective

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 16, 2013 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) voted against far-reaching gun control legislation advanced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and approved by the Senate, 43 to 18, late Monday night.

The Assembly approved the legislation Tuesday, and it was then signed by the governor into law.

O’Mara (pictured at right) released the following statement.

“As a parent and as a public servant, I was as outraged and as saddened as anyone by the recent events in Newtown and Webster. I agree that as a nation we must respond to the societal breakdowns that lead to these unimaginable acts of insanity and evil.

“A federal policy is the most effective and ultimately meaningful response to the mass shootings that horrify every decent human being. We know that a state-by-state approach only perpetuates ineffective public policy.

“I’m especially discouraged that legislation as far-reaching as this in New York State was put together behind closed doors, with no formal public input or hearings on the final product, and through a questionable legislative process driven by a rush to be first. Too many legislators attempted to seize this politically powerful moment to push through parts of a long-held, liberal, extreme gun control agenda that will not make New Yorkers safer.

"Those of us who have long opposed this agenda successfully rejected a number of the most extreme proposals and ensured that this measure will at least include important, practical and common sense
initiatives in mental health, illegal firearms, school safety, first responder safety and other areas that we believe can help keep the focus on where and how these terrible crimes and criminals can and should be confronted. These actions can make a difference going forward, but they should have been even stronger.

“I’m a lifelong sportsman and a strong defender of the Second Amendment. I’m also more than willing to be open-minded about reasonable and potentially effective public safety initiatives. New York was already recognized by responsible gun control advocates as one of America’s strongest gun control states.

“Today’s constitutionally dubious action in New York State goes too far to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding, responsible, reasonable, decent, stable and respectful citizens throughout my legislative district and statewide.”

Palmesano: Gun-control law is 'disservice'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 16, 2013 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I – Corning) Tuesday cast his vote in opposition to legislation which a press release from his office said was "rushed though the Assembly and Senate without public hearings, review or input, while restricting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."

Palmesano, in a statement, said:

“Governor Cuomo, in the past, has advocated for openness and transparency in government when considering major legislation. However, the legislation passed today failed that test and was printed and hurried to a vote without any public hearings, review or input.

“The tragic events of Newtown, CT and Webster, NY have certainly impacted us all. As the father of two school-aged children I agree we need to do more to address the violence facing our society today. However, I also believe an issue as important as this, and its implications to the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, needed and deserved to have a deliberative and open process of public review and comment. The victims and their families of these horrible crimes deserved nothing less.

"Unfortunately, this did not happen and I believe we’ve done a disservice to the victims of crime and the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Joint government-school effort begins, targets dollar squeeze

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 10, 2012 -- Government and school leaders interested in establishing a public dialogue aimed at meeting today's fiscal challenges through shared effort met Tuesday at the Schuyler County Human Services Complex and emerged with a unified statement of intent.

In essence, it said the parties involved -- County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (pictured at right), Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, Village of Burdett Mayor Dale Walter, Bradford School Superintendent Wendy Field, Bradford School Board President Adam Monell, Odessa-Montour Superintendent Jim Frame, O-M School Board President Debra Harrington, Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips (pictured below), and two Cornell University facilitators, John Sipple of the New York Center for Rural Schools and Rod Howe of the Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) -- agreed that something needs to be done to counter the economic squeeze that threatens the delivery of services.

And in order to be successful, they decided, whatever action is taken needs to be done in cooperation with one another. The shape and extent of that cooperation remains to be seen.

In a statement crafted by the meeting participants, the situation was described like this:

"Faced with increasingly difficult financial challenges as growth in expenses continues to outpace revenue streams, and expectations placed upon our educational institutions and governments continue to expand, it is becoming certain that our current method of operating is not sustainable absent systemic change.

"In an effort to be pro-active, local governments and school districts in Schuyler County would like to explore different models of governance. Discussions are in the early stages between local government and educational leadership concerning bringing our local leaders and community together to explore opportunities within Schuyler County to improve the delivery of public and educational services at reduced costs. The concept of regional governance is a key area that we desire to explore and is a position also supported by the (Schuyler County) Council of Governments.

"As fiscal pressures increase, we are finding that municipalities are much more inclined to consider that which previously would have seemed impossible, i.e. increased shared services, consolidations and mergers. Local leaders realize that we can no longer conduct business as usual and that if we don’t take a proactive approach to chart our destiny, the State of New York through tax cap legislation will surely do so for us.

"An outcome of the aforementioned initiative has been the formation of a steering committee consisting of representation from all three County school districts and Schuyler County Council of Governments. This group has conducted its first meeting, which was facilitated by Cornell University representatives and has resulted in a consensus of the group to continue its efforts to research options associated with alternative forms of administration and governance. It was also agreed that the process should be data driven to best determine objective and realistic options for leaders and the community to consider as we face our future.

"It is our hope that through collaboration and a unified vision for a strong and vibrant community, these efforts will produce change that is both sustainable and replicable throughout the state."

The matter will be aired by the school superintendents at their upcoming School Board meetings, and pursued at the next meeting of the Council of Governments.

Photos in text: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips. (File photos)

S. Tier gets $91.1 million in
2nd round of Development aid

Watkins projects include planning for treatment plant relocation

ALBANY, Dec. 20, 2012 -- The Southern Tier region will be awarded $91.1 million and the Finger Lakes region $96.2 million under the second round of funding through the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils initiative.

Among those grants is one for $300,000 for "Schuyler County, in partnership with the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, Schuyler County IDA, the Village of Watkins Glen and the Village of Montour Falls to conduct planning and preliminary engineering and environmental investigation to decommission the Watkins Glen and the Montour Falls Waste Water Treatment Plants and consolidate the two systems into a state-of-the-art 'Green' Waste Water Treatment Plant located south of Glen Creek in Watkins Glen."

Local authorities have said that movement of the treatment plant from its current location near Seneca Harbor Park is key to development of the Seneca Lake southern shoreline.

A total of $738 million in economic development awards to support 725 specific regional projects statewide were announced Wednesday in Albany following a report from the Cuomo administration’s Strategic Plan Review Committee, which analyzed and ranked the strategic blueprints for each of the 10 regions statewide that competed for this second round of state economic development aid.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said, "For the second year in a row, the Regional Councils have been on the forefront of rebuilding New York State's economy. For too many years, top-down economic development policies have failed communities across the state and not truly invested in the unique resources and strengths of each of New York's regions. Now a new, bottom-up approach is in place that brings local communities together to chart their own economic destiny. The second round of Regional Economic Development Council awards will deliver funding for critical projects and investments in communities across our state, helping put New Yorkers back to work and rebuilding our economy."

Added State Senator Tom O’Mara: “The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions stand out this
year and my gratitude goes out to the many regional leaders who have worked long and hard over the past two years to assess our regional strengths and weaknesses, identify specific economic priorities, and put in place short- and long-term strategies to keep us moving toward a stronger and more secure economic future."

Highlights within O’Mara’s district for the Southern Tier Regional Council, which received $91.1 million for 62 projects, include:

-- $3 million for the expansion of Corning Incorporated’s manufacturing facility in the Town of Erwin;
-- $2.5 million for the Southern Tier Telemedicine and Mobile Health Care Technology Fund Initiative;
-- $500,000 to Cornell University for the development of a Food Processing and Development Lab, which will provide farmers and other small businesses with access to a small-scale production area that can transform raw materials into packaged products such as yogurt, beverages, cheese, etc.;
-- $2.5 million for the continuation of Southern Tier Community Revitalization Program;
-- $1.8 million for the City of Ithaca to rehabilitate and reconstruct the deteriorated surface of the three-block Ithaca Commons and the replacement and upgrades of all of the underground utilities;
-- $1.5 million for the continuation of Southern Tier Infrastructure Fund to support the development of Shovel Ready Sites;
-- $300,000 for Schuyler County, in partnership with the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, Schuyler County IDA, the Village of Watkins Glen and the Village of Montour Falls, to conduct planning and preliminary engineering and environmental investigation to decommission the Watkins Glen and the Montour Falls Waste Water Treatment Plants and consolidate the two systems into a state-of-the-art “Green” Waste Water Treatment Plant located south of Glen Creek in Watkins Glen;
-- $110,365 for the Near West Side Neighborhood Association (Chemung County) to assist the association's 355 Davis Street restoration project;
-- $75,290 for the city of Ithaca to complete the first phase of the Cascadilla Boathouse restoration and rehabilitation;
-- $350,000 for Cornell University to construct a research-grade greenhouse;
-- $250,000 for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance Renovation Project;
-- $344,000 for the Emerson Complex Redevelopment Project (Tompkins County);
-- $40,500 for the Ithaca-Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote the Finger Lakes Beer Trail and the many microbreweries throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions;
-- $150,000 for the city of Elmira to extend the existing 2.3-mile multi-use Lackawanna Trail to create the Chemung River regional trail network as outlined in the Chemung River Trail Comprehensive Master Plan;
-- $250,000 for the Corning Gaffer District's Market Street Revitalization Project;
-- $600,000 for the town of Prattsburgh Water District Improvements Project;
-- $134,600 to the town of Wayne to advance the Keuka Lake Watershed Land Use Planning Guide;
-- $200,000 for Tompkins County organics material management and to expand its food waste composting facility;
-- $600,000 for the redevelopment of Watkins Brewery;
-- $150,000 for the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development to undertake Franklin Street redevelopment in the village of Watkins Glen; and
-- $200,000 for Southern Tier Economic Growth to undertake West Water Street housing improvements in the city of Elmira.

Highlights within O’Mara’s district for the Finger Lakes Regional Council, which received $96.2 million for 76 projects, include:

-- $2 million in support of a small business revolving loan fund for the nine Finger Lakes counties (which include Seneca and Yates). The Pathstone Finger Lakes Enterprise Fund will provide essential credit to microenterprise and small businesses, particularly in underserved rural and urban communities, accelerating economic growth and community development;
-- $2.5 million for the Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative to create an interconnected network of business support services and incubation facilities that spans all nine counties of the region;
-- $200,000 for the Keuka Housing Council's Dundee Revitalization Program;
-- $125,000 for the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association;
-- $490,000 for the Village of Penn Yan for Keuka Lake Waterfront Development; and
-- $578,000 for the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum to build a new aquarium destination, enhance its history of wine making presentation and offer a range of additional, regionally unique educational programming.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature established New York's 10 regional economic development councils as part of the 2011-2012 state budget. The councils are aimed at putting in place a more locally based approach for distributing state economic development aid and guide the development of local economic development strategies that will compete for state assistance. The first round of funding was awarded last December.

O’Mara’s 53rd Senate District includes Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and part of Tompkins County, all of which fall under the Southern Tier Regional Council, and Yates County, which is included in the Finger Lakes Regional Council.

Watkins Glen board approves several key village measures

OKs Comprehensive Plan, union deal, camping rate hike, police-study bid

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 4, 2012 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night approved a Comprehensive Plan that was months in the making, okayed a four-year contract with its Teamsters union employees, backed an increase in the camping rates charged at Clute Park, and selected a firm to study the possible consolidation of the Village Police Department within the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department.

The Comprehensive Plan, approved following a public hearing, is a 34-chapter, 150-page document developed over several months. Mayor Mark Swinnerton thanked the village Planning Board and Cooperative Extension planner Rocky Kambo for their extensive work in pulling the document together and incorporating useful and foresightful ideas from other, earlier plans such as Watkins Glen Tomorrow back in 1981.

The document is key, he said, to obtaining state funding for major projects -- the most important being the relocation of the sewage treatment plant. Moving that facility -- which is along the southern shore of Seneca Lake -- would open up lakefront development options.

"That's what sparked the need for this (document)," said Swinnerton. "The state was talking to us about the treatment plant, and asked us what kind of official plan we had, and we said it was three pages long. And they said, 'Uh, no, we don't think so.' So that was the catalyst for the plan."

The document was written by The Laberge Group, which held public sessions designed for public input on the issue. The plan now stands as an operational document, Swinnerton said -- "the point of development for all the projects we're working on."

Contract: The board approved a four-year contract with those members of the village workforce who are members of the Teamsters Union. It is retroactive to June, and calls for a 0% increase in pay in 2012, then 3% in 2013, followed by 2% in 2014 and 3% in 2015.

Police Study: The board awarded a contract for a study of the possible consolidation of police services -- blending the Village Police into the Sheriff's Department -- to the Center for Governmental Research at a cost of $45,000, which includes $1,800 for a subcontractor and $1,200 for travel expenses. The other bids ranged from $24,900 to $55,000.

CGR was selected from five bidders, and Swinnerton said it was the choice of all six members of a steering committee: Village Police Chief Tom Struble, Sheriff Bill Yessman, village trustees Scott Gibson and Tony Fraboni, and county legislators Dennis Fagan and Phil Barnes.

They will now meet with CGR, collecting data and studying village departments and the needs of Watkins Glen.

"The Village Board," said Swinnerton, "is very clear that even if this makes fiscal sense, it has to be done without a loss of services." If it meets that goal, he added, then "it would probably be put to a public referendum."

Camping rates: The board approved a new rate structure for the Clute Park campground, increasing its camping charges to bring it more in line with other, similar facilities in the state. "We're not the highest now, but we're not the lowest," said the mayor. "We have something special here" in a campground close to the water and close to town, "and our price needs to reflect that."

Accordingly, the day fee at sites with electricity, water and sewer services has been increased to $50 from $43, the weeklong rate to $300 from $260, and the monthly rate from September through June to $800 from $700. July and August rates have been set higher, at $1,000 each, up from $725.

The board also:

--Is redesigning its website because the site is, in the words of the mayor, "outdated and antiquated." The redesign will be handled by inCommand Technologies of Corning, which "does a lot of work for municipalities. They understand how municipalities are set up. They will work with the departments, figuring how each needs to improve" its presence on the site.

--Reserved the Clute Park lakeside facilities on August 2, 3 and 4 for the annual Schuyler County Italian American Festival at the request of festival organizers.

--Received a police department report that showed there were 126 incidents answered in November, including seven motor vehicle accidents and 21 violations of criminal law.

Photos in text: One of the conceptual renderings of possible future downtown improvements under the Comprehensive Plan; trustees Paul Clifford, left, and Scott Gibson at the meeting.

Chairman Dennis Fagan, center, listens to a speaker during the public hearing on the budget.

Legislature bypasses tax cap, shifts chargebacks to towns

MONTOUR FALLS, Nov. 14, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Tuesday night approved a Local Law permitting it to exceed its state tax cap of 3.38%, and approved a shift of $400,000 in community college chargeback costs to the towns.

Both votes were 6-2, with Barbara Halpin and Doris Karius opposed.

Legislators did not vote on the 2013 budget -- which calls for the same tax rate as in 2012 ($8.37 per $1,000 of assessed value), but shows a 5.46% increase in the tax levy. That vote is expected at the next monthly meeting, in December.

Chairman Dennis Fagan said the legislators chose not to vote on the budget Tuesday so as to make clear that the tax cap move occurred first, and also to look "at possible avenues for adjustment" in the spending plan. Those would include any "new revenue sources or consolidations" that might be brought to their attention.

"But I don't expect any major changes. The Legislature met its goal to hold the tax rate" at the 2012 level. "That was our primary goal."

The shift of chargebacks to the towns was for 2013 only, with the expectation that a reduction in the amount of sales tax forwarded from the county to the towns would occur the following year. The sales tax move was precluded this year by a law requiring six months notice to municipalities of such a change. That could have been bypassed if all of the towns agreed to it, but they didn't.

The $400,000 is less than half of the $845,000 charged to the county as its share of tuition payments for the students in Schuyler County attending community colleges in the state.

Halpin and Karius were in lockstep in their opposition to the tax cap measure and the chargebacks. Halpin said the legislators should cut the budget to a point within the tax cap, and she complained that the chargeback maneuver was not equitable. Karius was opposed to the cap measure based on "many phone calls" against it.

Halpin's husband, Jim Halpin, criticized the Legislature for bypassing the tax cap, calling it "a slap in the face to county taxpayers ... You're not doing your job." He said that in economically challenging times like this, the Legislature should "cut programs and lay people off. We can't afford this. It is unconscionable."

Attorney Stewart McDivitt opposed the tax cap move, saying that in any business, "you've got to learn to live with what you've got. I had a downturn in my business, and reduced expenses. If that means you've got to cut programs, that's what you've got to do."

And former legislator Angeline Franzese said that shifting chargeback costs to the towns "is no better than the state" shifting costs to the counties. "You're digging a deeper hole. You used up your fund balance, and now you're going to the towns. The county taxpayer is the town taxpayer, and will pay either way. Keeping the tax rate the same with all the revaluation in the county is not acceptable."

County employee Sue Brill, on the other hand, commended the legislators for exceeding the tax cap, telling them they "didn't have a choice. The state has forced it."

David Crea suggested that the Legislature treat state mandates as "suggestions you can turn your back on," but Fagan said that "unfortunately, the state controls the purse strings," and that if the county did what Crea suggested, "it would take over our programs and administer them. Nobody wants that."

The comments and votes came after a 45-minute presentation regarding the budget presented by County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.

Photos in text:

From top: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn talks about the budget.

Second and third: Attorney Stewart McDivitt and Jim Halpin.

Chairman Fagan is interviewed by TV after the meeting.

Schuyler lawmakers prune proposed 2013 county budget

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 25, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature's Management and Finance Committee agreed Wednesday to several cost-cutting measures as it struggled to reduce expenditures in the 2013 county budget.

The committee decided to remove $400,000 of the county's $845,000 share of community college chargebacks from the line items, with the intention of shifting the cost to town governments. Town chargeback payments have been discussed at several meetings, as have the basis for the individual towns' payments. Those "should be based per student enrolled in each town," a county official said.

And the committee decided to reduce by 15% the annual payments to two contract agencies: the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and Cooperative Extension. The amounts to be cut are $28,500 and $27,000, respectively, the official said.

Meanwhile, anticipated revenues to the Sheriff's Office and Treasurer's Office were increased as part of the budget adjustments that left about $65,000 yet to be trimmed in order to bring the tax levy increase down to a target of 6.1 percent or lower. The tax rate at that level would be roughly equal to the rate in the 2012 budget.

Another workshop session on the budget is set for 9:15 a.m. Monday in the Legislature chambers in the County Office Building. The budget proposal will likely be turned over after that to the full Legislature for its Legislative Resolution Review Committee session on Nov. 7.

The Legislature will hold a public hearing on the budget on Nov. 13 at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls, along with a hearing on the Local Law that would permit the county to exceed its tax cap limit of 3.38%. The budget could be approved that night, although the deadline is not until Dec. 20.

State OKs Watkins Glen grant for police department study

Focus will be possible consolidation of Village PD into Sheriff's Office

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 17, 2012 -- New York State has approved a $49,500 grant to the Village of Watkins Glen for a study into the possible "consolidation" of the village police department into the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office.

The Police Restructuring Study grant was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo this week as part of $4 million in grants "that will help 21 municipalities find new ways to reduce local government costs and save taxpayer dollars through consolidation and reorganization."

Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton last year announced the planned study, which was contingent on acquiring a grant. The Cuomo announcement, he said, now opens the way for the village to issue an RFP (Request for Proposals) to find "a third party to figure out if it's practical, whether consolidation as a whole makes sense."

There are "at least two (consulting) firms interested," he said, including one in New Paltz that "has completed police consolidation studies" elsewhere. At issue will be the need to maintain the $400,000-a-year Watkins Glen Police Department.

"It makes economic sense" to consolidate, said Swinnerton, "but there is the question of a potential loss of services. It's important to maintain or better police coverage for the Village of Watkins Glen. The Board made it clear from Day One" that if any services were lost or if response times were not maintained, "it didn't feel it would go ahead with it."

The only strategical change that will be considered, he said, is the possible consolidation of the village police into the Sheriff's Office -- likely with the number of village officers reduced from the current level. The police force includes Chief Tom Struble, five full-timers and a varying number of part-timers.

"The whole study will essentially look at consolidating with the county," Swinnerton said. "Of course, of interest is where the county is with its budget shortcomings. We haven't discussed this (consolidation) with them recently, but will in the near future."

As for a timeline, the mayor said he hopes the study -- to be started in early November -- will be completed by April. If the Board ultimately decides it would like to pursue consolidation, "there would be a public referendum scheduled to see if the community supports it."

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (right) and Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson at a recent Village Board meeting.

Schuyler legislators take step toward bypassing tax cap

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 10, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature, during an often contentious monthly meeting Tuesday night -- approved by a 7-1 margin a Local Law that would, if approved following a public hearing next month, allow it to bypass the state tax cap.

Legislators, with only Barb Halpin opposed among them, thus took a first step toward an action that Chairman Dennis Fagan says they want the county's eight towns to adopt, as well.

That desire, he said, was behind a move being considered by the Legislature to shift some of the county-paid Corning Community College chargebacks to the towns -- a proposal that drew the ire of former Town of Cayuta Supervisor David Reed, who said towns have steadfastly been meeting their budget obligations within the tax cap limitations. But with the chargebacks ($22,000 in Cayuta, and $196,000 in Hector), he added, they now face an inability to do so.

Said Fagan: Payment of chargebacks by the towns is just shifting the payment by taxpayers "from the right pocket to the left pocket. The governor and his media group are taking credit for the tax cap and ignoring the promises made for mandate relief." As a result, "counties and school districts are paying ... If we put some of the (CCC) charges onto the towns, it will force them to surpass their tax caps" and thus send a message to Albany -- "a unified voice screaming ... that they've got to have effective mandate relief."

Attorney Jim Halpin, in attendance at the meeting along with a dozen other area citizens, said the strategy outlined by Fagan was "fatuous."

Former legislator Paul Marcellus -- owner-operator of the Colonial Inn and Motel on North Franklin Street -- was outspoken, as well, saying that with full-value assessment and continued tax hikes, "I resent my taxes being doubled. Remember there comes a point that duress is placed" on local businesses "because of taxes."

Legislator Barbara Halpin was outspoken against bypassing the tax cap, saying it would only give the Legislature "the ability to not make the tough decisions." Referring to a county cap level of 4% -- a figure that County Administrator Tim O'Hearn later told a reporter was 3.38% -- Halpin said: "We are actually allowed a 4% increase anyway, so why we want to do this is beyond me. Somehow we have to find a way to cut spending. (But) I'm sure (the Local Law) will get passed and you'll probably see your tax levy go up more than 4%."

O'Hearn was scheduled to take the next step in the process this morning (Wednesday) when he presented his budget proposal to legislators at a meeting of the group's Management and Finance Committee.

O'Hearn said Tuesday night that the county faces a shortfall of $2 million in the new budget. He has said the tax levy hike in his proposal would be in the "double digits."

Photos in text: Legislator Barb Halpin and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn at Tuesday night's session.

Howell urges schools to sit down and talk

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 10, 2012 -- Jim Howell, a longtime Schuyler County Watershed Inspector and now Inspector Assistant, and a member of the Schuyler County Hall of Fame, took the occasion of a County Legislature discussion of finances and budgets Tuesday night to shine the spotlight on local school districts.

Howell said he had been at a recent luncheon meeting of the Schuyler County League of Women Voters, during which Watkins Glen School District Superintendent Tom Phillips declared a growing need for districts such as his and Odessa-Montour to share services and sports programs as part of an increasing statewide trend toward consolidation.

"I left there very discouraged about the fuure of our school districts," Howell said of the League luncheon, noting that O-M Superintendent James Frame, although scheduled to attend it, had sent his regrets instead. Also present for the League event was Bradford Superintendent Wendy Field.

Howell -- who lives in the O-M district -- said he contacted Frame the next morning to ask why the superintendent hadn't been at the luncheon, and was told "he just couldn't make it. And I understand that."

Howell noted that Phillips, in his luncheon talk, had "eloquently" outlined how his district "had made many efforts" to get the O-M administration "to sit down" for shared services and consolidatoin discussions, with O-M resisting such sessions. "They feel like they're doing it right in Odessa," said Howell..

But he thought that the tax rate might say otherwise. "It's $12 per $1,000" of assessed value in the Watkins Glen district, he said, "while O-M's is $17 per $1,000. They're really hitting us in the pocketbook.

"I'm appealing to all legislators who encounter School Board members to encourage them to sit and talk about increasing shared services, perhaps moving toward merger or consolidation."

Photo in text: Jim Howell (File photo)

O'Hearn paints bleak picture

Will unveil budget proposal as Legislature eyes tax-cap override option

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 4, 2012 -- County Administrator Tim O'Hearn is scheduled to present his proposed 2013 Schuyler County budget to the Legislature at a budget workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 10, but this time his annual presentation will be a little different.

In the past, says O'Hearn, he has prepared budgets fairly close to the final mark -- subsequently adjusted in various ways by legislators, but not in any fashion that seriously impacted his proposals. This time, he says, he has done what he can and will have to leave further, difficult solutions to the lawmakers.

His preliminary budget proposal, he said, would require what he described as a "double-digit" increase in taxes -- well above the tax cap, and a level he realizes the Legislature will strive to significantly reduce.

"The outlook is less than stellar financially," he said -- a situation created by a lack of state mandate relief, significant increases in the county's cost of Child Protective Services, increases in health care and pensions, and the existence now of a state tax-levy cap. The matter is made more difficult, he adds, by a fund balance reduced already to a point where further drawdowns "would, in my estimation, create cash-flow issues."

While there is a fund balance of $3.5 million, O'Hearn says, only $200,000 of that falls under the heading of uncommitted.

The situation is so bleak, he said, that county legislators will consider passing legislation that would give them the option of overriding the tax cap, designated at 2% but in actuality about 4% for the county this year based on various state formulas and the fact that Schuyler stayed underneath the cap last year.

Municipalities around the state are considering -- and many are adopting -- such override options as a precaution. Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying "it makes sense to pass (such) legislation." Legislators will accordingly take the first step toward the cap override option at their monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9. If a resolution to that effect is approved, a public hearing will be held in November, followed by a final Legislature vote.

The Child Protective Services cost increase in the upcoming budget stems from the Family Court system largely altering the placement of juveniles from foster homes to more expensive group settings. That is beyond the county's control. O'Hearn told the legislators last summer that while the county spent $86,213 in juvenile placements in 2011, it expects to spend more than $700,000 this year and $1.2 million in 2013.

Health care and pensions, he has also said, will each increase by about $300,000 in 2013.

The situation in Schuyler is not as bad as in Yates County, he says, where the chief executive is proposing a 31% increase in taxes. "But it isn't pretty," he says of his budget proposal. "It preserves existing programs, such as they are; they are already whittled to the bone. We've done everything we can to reasonably manage the situation, but now we've run out of road."

How the legislators choose to trim back the spending plan, he said, will be up to them -- whether by cutting various of those programs or in some other fashion.

Legislator Barb Halpin is calling for the cuts. At a Resolution Review Committee meeting Wednesday, she urged a hold on taxes. "You have to cut," she told her fellow legislators, "and you probably have to cut programs."

Nathan Hand pleads guilty to Manslaughter in Bennett case

Sentencing set for April, after the Alice Trappler trial

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 20, 2012 -- Nathan Hand, 25, accused of Second Degree Murder in the shooting death of Daniel Bennett in the Town of Dix in April, pleaded guilty instead to First Degree Manslaughter Thursday morning in Schuyler County Court.

Hand, represented by Public Defender Wesley Roe, entered the plea as part of an agreement that will get him a 19-year sentence should he fully cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of Alice Trappler of Addison, charged with Second Degree Murder in connection with the shooting.

Hand testified in court Thursday that his stepbrother, Thomas Borden -- Trappler's ex-husband -- shot and killed Bennett in the victim's home in the Town of Dix at 11 p.m. on April 19. Police have said the murder weapon was a .12-gauge shotgun.

Hand also testified that he was present with Borden at the shooting, and that the pair -- before leaving for Bennett's home -- had received a phone call from Trappler. There was no indication in court as to what was said in that phone call.

Trappler was connected to Bennett through a personal relationship. The pair produced a female child, the custody of whom was being contested in Steuben County Court before the murder. Officials said a custody hearing had been scheduled for April 20, the day after the murder.

Borden was killed in Jenkintown, Pa., on April 23 when he was struck by a train while fleeing from police who wanted him for questioning in the Bennett case.

Hand's plea agreement was predicated on his continuing cooperation, which thus far has included testimony before a grand jury. He also waived his right to appeal his conviction, has to pay restitution to the Bennett family if there is any ordered paid, and must take part in a supervised 5-year post-release program when his sentence is completed. The Second Degree Murder charge against him will be dismissed, said District Attorney Joe Fazzary.

If Hand violates the conditions of the plea agreement, then Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris can sentence him to the maximum Manslaughter term of 25 years. Manslaughter, First Degree is a Class B felony.

Morris meticulously asked Hand a series of questions at Thurday's court session, making sure the defendant understood that in pleading guilty, he was waiving his right to a preliminary hearing and to a trial. Hand said he understood.

Hand has been held in Schuyler County Jail since his April arrest, and will continue to be held there pending his sentencing. He has not applied for release on bail, and is not expected to in keeping with the spirit of the plea agreement, a spokesman in the DA's office said.

Fazzary said Hand would prefer to go straight to sentencing and to prison, but that the plan calls for him to be kept nearby for now as a means of assuring his continued cooperation.

Trappler's case is on the schedule for a March trial, said Fazzary. Among the charges she faces are Second Degree Murder -- which carries a sentence of 25 years to life -- and Conspiracy to Commit Murder.

Fazzary made a point after Thursday's court proceeding to praise the "absolutely fantastic police work" done by the state police and Sheriff's Office in cracking the case quickly in April.

Photos in text:

Top: Nathan Hand is led down a stairwell and through hallways on his way from the courtroom back to his jail cell.

Bottom: District Attorney Joe Fazzary speaks to the media outside his office after the court session.

Property upkeep draws fire at Watkins Glen Board meeting

Local Law OK'd; will cut speed limit to 20 on side streets

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 18, 2012 -- How the village appears to visiting tourists and a parking jam on South Monroe Street dominated conversation Monday night at a meeting of the Watkins Glen Village Board.

The board also gave approval to Local Law No. 2 of 2012, a document governing traffic within the village. The law, among other things, sets a speed limit of 20 miles an hour, down from 30, on "village-controlled streets" -- basically side streets and north-south roads such as Decatur Street. It will take effect on December 1st.

Resident Ralph "Pete" Van Horn started the discussion when he complained about the unsightly nature of a neighborhood property that he said was negatively affecting the value of his own. That led Lou and Vickie Perazzini, owners of the Lake Valley Legends Bed and Breakfast at 115 North Glen Avenue, to say that poorly kept properties in the village pose a threat to the image of the village and, thus, to the continued success of tourism here -- as does a propensity by shop owners to close before evening.

They said that visitors staying at their B&B have frequently expressed an interest in shopping downtown after dinner, only to find that little is open. Trustee Scott Gibson responded by saying that business owners had probably tried later hours in the past without success, but that with "tourism exploding, maybe it's time to try it again."

Mayor Mark Swinnerton said he would be meeting with Rebekah LaMoreaux, president of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, and would broach the subject with her, with the hope that she might pass along the suggestion to business owners. The Perazzinis were also urged to contact the Chamber.

The thrust of the discussion, though, dealt with unsightly properties, with suggestions that there are likely ordinances on the books to force owners to meet community standards.

Mayor Swinnerton noted that oftentimes residents don't give a second thought to how their community might look, because they are used to it as it is. But he said his wife recently noted accurately that "we have to look at Watkins Glen with fresh eyes."

Trustee Kevin Smith said that Code Enforcement Officer Gordon Wright had been researching old ordinances regarding a case involving grass clippings in the street, and had found one from 1946 calling for a $100 fine. "I think this is an avenue we might pursue," said Smith. "It's hard to believe we've never had the subject broached before. We should have Gordon continue" researching old ordinances with an eye toward those dealing with property upkeep.

"I don't think there's any disagreement on the board," said Gibson, "but we have to decide how far to go with it. There's no excuse for not having a bucket and a mop." He said that while some people don't see upkeep as important, it "can have longlasting effects on the community."

Village resident and former village official Amedeo Fraboni said complaints regarding property have come up repeatedly over the years, and that there is one way to deal with it effectively: use existing laws to go after those violating community standards. "Alert the taxpayers you're gonna do it, that you're gonna dig up the laws and enforce them, and then go at it."

In the past, he said, the complaints "stopped here," meaning at the Village Board, because "nobody (on the board) wanted to ruffle any feathers. You all gotta agree to do it."

Said Swinnerton. "It does start with us."

Added Gibson: "If we need to pass new laws, we should look into it."

Parking: The board also heard concerns from South Monroe Street residents regarding an absence of enough parking on that street.

Swinnerton told them he would have village Streets Superintendent Don Perry and Police Chief Tom Struble assess the situation "and we'll try to resolve it."

Local Law: The new law regarding various aspects of traffic in the village was passed unanimously following a public hearing at which a letter was read from resident Robert Groll, 103 Willow Drive, opposing the reduction in the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on "village-controlled streets." Groll said 20 mph is "too low," and that he would prefer to see the existing speed limit enforced.

Trustee Kevin Smith said he had suggested 25 mph as the limit, and still had reservations about 20 mph on Decatur Street, which is used heavily. Swinnerton said that during school hours, the speed limit on "75 to 80 percent" of Decatur is actually 15 mph -- suggesting, therefore, that the speed-limit adjustment there will not be a major one.

Following the hearing, the board, noting it had taken into account the concerns about the new limit, decided to go along with it as recommended by Chief Struble. The board chose Dec. 1 as the start date to give the village time to notify residents of the change and to secure and install new signs.

The new law replaces one from 1977, incorporating amendments and additions regarding such things as parking, pedestrian crosswalks and traffic-control devices. The document, 19 pages long, is available for perusal at the Village Clerk's Office.

Photos in text: From the top, at Monday's meeting: Mayor Mark Swinnerton and trustees Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith.

A veteran receives a discount-program card during a session at the Schuyler County Human Services Complex. Facing the camera, from left: Judy Stanton of the Chemung County Clerk's office, who was operating the card-making machine; Schuyler County Clerk Linda Compton, and Chemung County Clerk Katie Hughes.

Merchants return the favor

Provide discounts in Chemung, Schuyler to veterans under new program

MONTOUR FALLS, Aug. 17, 2012 -- About 30 veterans strolled into the Schuyler County Human Services Complex Thursday and strolled out again with a special card in hand: a Return the FAVOR (Find and Assist Veterans of Record) card that enables them to receive discounts from participating merchants in Schuyler and Chemung Counties.

The County Clerk's offices in both counties are playing integral roles in the program, which provides a card at no fee to any honorably discharged veteran who presents a DD Form 214 discharge paper.

A growing number of merchants are joining the program as a way of thanking the servicemen and servicewomen who have returned home -- as a way to, as the program says, Return the Favor. Each of the two counties will give a decal to participating businesses for them to post in their windows, alerting veterans that those businesses have discounts for them. The merchants will honor cards from both Chemung County and Schuyler County veterans.

Chemung County has distributed about 75 cards thus far. Those cover a small percentage of the 7,341 veterans registered in the county. Schuyler County has now distributed about 50 discount cards. There are currently 1,803 veterans registered in the county.

But the program has barely begun. County Clerks Katie Hughes of Chemung County and Linda Compton of Schuyler County, along with Joan Scott, the director of the Schuyler County Veterans Service Agency, and Robert Bly, director of Veterans Services in Chemung County, at first tried word of mouth through American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars groups. Now they are expanding the word through the media.

"What a wonderful way for our business community to honor our veterans for their service," said Hughes. "Another benefit is this: By filing their separation papers at the Clerk's office, veterans and their families will always be able to locate these important documents."

Added Compton: "Our veterans epitomize the concept of service to our country. I am thrilled to partner with Chemung County and our local businesses in recognizing and paying tribute to our veterans."

Forty-one counties in the state have similar programs, Compton added, although it's not known if any others are partnering for it like Schuyler and Chemung.

Many businesses in the two counties have been receiving a letter asking if they would like to participate in the program. The discount or offer by a merchant, restaurant or service company is not determined by the counties, but is of the owner's own choosing.

Both County Clerk offices have been using a single software-driven card-making machine, with Hughes and an assistant, Judy Stanton, venturing twice to the Human Services Complex to aid in Schuyler's effort. However, Compton said Schuyler will have its own card-making unit within two months.

Compton and Scott said the program -- in addition to providing discounts -- will also serve to draw in veterans who might not yet be registered with the Veterans Service Agency and thus could be missing out on a number of beneficial programs. Those programs include VA life insurance and health care, vocational rehabilitation, home loan guaranties, local real property tax exemption, burial benefits, and VA compensation for service-connected disabilities.

There are 28 businesses signed up for the discount program in Chemung County, and 16 in Schuyler County.

The Schuyler participants include The Halpin Law Firm, Sunset on Seneca B&B, Lake Valley Legends B&B, Pampered Chef, Professional Land Surveyor, Watkins Glen Veterinary Hospital, Schooner Excursions, Over The Top Cupcakes & Treats, Glen Mountain Market, Maria's Tavern, Jerlando's Pizza, Sunset View Creamery, The Great Escape Ice Cream Store, The Wildflower Cafe/Crooked Rooster Brew Pub, Watkins Glen Supply, and the Hector Wine Company.

The Chemung participants include the Audiology Center of Elmira, Benchmark Audio, Bouille Electric, Brian's Custom Flooring, the Cottage Gift Shop, Culligan Water, Dave's American Lifetime Muffler, Denny's, Ear to Hear, Ed's Heads Portable Toilets, Giuseppe's Restaurant and Pizzeria, Hills Valley and Streams, Home Necessities, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning, John's Equipment Rental, Attorney Joshua C. Navone, Knights Inn, Legends Bar & Grille, NuWay Auto Parts, Oldies But Goodies, Parkside Apartment, Pastricks (Screen-Hogan Inc.), The Purple Iris, Rita's Ice, Rocky's Auto Sales, Rodabaugh Optical, the Turtle Leaf Cafe, and Wade's Jewelry.

Discounts vary greatly. The Schuyler County and Chemung County websites have lists that include the discounts and the addresses and phone numbers of the businesses. Those sites also contain application forms for merchants and veterans. The Chemung County information can be accessed at The Schuyler County information can be accessed at

Photos in text: Chemung County Clerk's Office employee Judy Stanton and the card-making machine; a blank version of the discount card issued to veterans; and Joan Scott, Director of the Schuyler County Veterans Service Agency.

Government, school leaders vow to fight assessment reduction for Inergy, Walmart

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 15, 2012 -- Town, county and school leaders agreed Tuesday at a meeting at the Schuyler County Courthouse to share the cost in opposing an effort by Inergy and Walmart to cut in half assessments on property each company owns -- Inergy in the Town of Reading and Walmart in the Town of Dix.

Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips (pictured at right) said the meeting of leaders from the county, Village of Watkins Glen, school district and Towns of Reading and Dix resulted in agreement by each party to share the cost of the legal effort, which is heading Aug. 17 to New York State Supreme Court.

The requested cuts by both Inergy and Walmart were rejected at the town grievance level, prompting the court action by the two firms.

Inergy is seeking a reduction of $15 million from a current assessment of $29,282,201. That applies to property purchased last year by Inergy from NYSEG in the Town of Reading.

Walmart is seeking a reduction of $6,775,000 from its assessment of $12,400,000 on the land and store it owns on Fourth Street in Watkins Glen. That section of the village lies in the town of Dix.

Present at Tuesday's session were Phillips, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Reading Town Supervisor Marvin Switzer and Dix Town Supervisor Harold Russell.

O'Hearn (pictured at right) has said the assessment authority in such cases lies with the towns, but that the county is a party in providing "assessment services. We are a strong partner."

The county would also be impacted by the reductions -- along with the school district, village and towns -- through a loss of tax revenues.

Phillips has said the school district would lose $270,000 in revenue. The amount lost by the county, according to one published report, would be $167,000, while the village would see a reduction of $40,000. Figures for the towns are not clear, but would measure in the thousands of dollars.

Phillips and O'Hearn said the group will probably seek an outside attorney -- what one county official has referred to as a "hired gun" -- to help county and town attorneys on the case.

The Aug. 17 date in State Supreme Court is expected to be procedural, both O'Hearn and County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi have said. The case could take months to run its course, they have indicated.

Photos in text: School Superintendent Tom Phillips (top) and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.

Legislators move to make Treasurer's post appointive

Redistricting also headed for November ballot

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 8, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature -- which last year was openly critical of the County Treasurer's office -- is moving toward a referendum seeking to change the post of treasurer from elective to appointive.

The legislators will act on a resolution Monday night that would introduce Local Law No. 6 of 2012 that proposes to abolish the elected office of Treasurer and replace it with an appointive office of Comptroller.

The resolution was introduced without comment at Wednesday's Legislative Resolution Review Committee meeting that serves as preparation for the monthly Legislature session.

After Wednesday's meeting, Chairman Dennis Fagan explained that the change was suggested by current Treasurer Gary Whyman, who defeated then-incumbent Treasurer Margaret Starbuck for the post last November. That election was preceded by open animosity by the Legislature over operation of the Treasurer's office.

The proposed change will go on the ballot in the general election in November, and would -- if approved by voters -- take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Legislators would appoint someone -- likely Whyman (pictured at right), said Fagan -- to a three-year term that would coincide with the time remaining on the current four-year term. After that, he said, the appointment would be for four years.

"We have to do what we feel is in the best interest of the county," the chairman said, noting that the change would eliminate the chance of anyone winning the post strictly on the basis of public popularity.


The legislators will introduce another Local Law Monday night that could lead to establishment in 2014 of redistricting in the county -- replacing the current three-district layout with a new eight-district plan. A public hearing will be held at 6:50 p.m. on the matter, which has been under discussion for months.

The plan, which goes to the voters in the November election, attempts to establish districts with roughly an equal number of inhabitants, based on the most recent U.S. Census. It would be implemented gradually from 2014 to 2016.

The Legislature would, for the most part, remain at its current number of members -- eight -- although there would be nine for a one-year period as part of the phase-in process. The process includes letting each legislator complete his or her current term.

Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan at Wednesday's session (top); and Treasurer Gary Whyman (in file photo).

O'Hearn: tough budget ahead

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 8, 2012 -- Schuyler County Adminstrator Tim O'Hearn said Wednesday that the county Legislature will have "difficult decisions" ahead as it grapples with establishing a 2013 county budget.

O'Hearn said that significant increases in the county's cost of Child Protective Services, health care and pensions will put Schuyler officials in the tough position of trying to pare down expenses -- and thus the tax levy -- to a point "that the taxpayer can bear."

He said he would be presenting a budget proposal in the next 30 days to legislators, but declined to speculate on what tax increase, if any, that there might be.

"I don't want to predict" what the tax levy situation will be, O'Hearn said. "But it will be a difficult budget year" in which the Legislature will strive "to mitigate cost increases." But some of them -- most noticeably in Child Protective Services, where the Family Court system has largely altered placement of juveniles from foster homes to more expensive group settings -- can not be controlled. O'Hearn said that while the county spent $86,213 in juvenile placements in 2011, it expects to spend more than $700,000 this year and $1.2 million in 2013.

Health care and pensions, he added, will each increase by about $300,000 in 2013.

"Program and people are all that we have left to adjust," O'Hearn said. "The Legislature is faced with some difficult decisions."


O'Hearn commented on the request by Inergy and Walmart for reductions in their property assessments, a matter raised Monday night at the Watkins Glen School Board meeting by School Superintendent Tom Phillips -- who said the changes, if permitted, would reduce school district revenues by $270,000.

Inergy is seeking a reduction of $15 million from a current assessment of $29,282,201. O'Hearn said that applies to property purchased last year by Inergy from NYSEG.

Walmart is seeking a reduction of $6,775,000 from its assessment of $12,400,000.

O'Hearn said an Aug. 17 date in State Supreme Court is expected to be procedural. "It's just a formality. We won't appear on the 17th. It moves the case into the system" -- a process that could take months to run its course.

O'Hearn stressed that the towns in which the properties lie are the assessment authorities in the case, and that the county "provides assessment services. We are a strong partner. We will help in facilitating the response to the suits."

Photo in text: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn at Wednesday's meeting of the Legislative Resolution Review Committee.

Soccer field complex plan draws fire at Board session

ODESSA, July 24, 2012 -- The proposed Chemung Valley Soccer Association (CVSA) soccer complex off Church Street drew opposition Monday night from several residents at a meeting of the Odessa Village Board.

The Board last month unanimously approved a zoning change that cleared the way for the CVSA to purchase a 16-acre hayfield in the village for the proposed development of the complex. That sale, by property owner Steve Bannister, is pending.

The zoning change was from residential to open space, which allows for public recreation. But the matter is far from settled, needing to go through the Planning Board process before the CVSA can move ahead with the development.

Present at Monday's session were residents who circulated or signed a pair of petitions opposing the project. About 20 signatures were gathered.

Denise Letteer, who lives across the street from the proposed access road -- which is currently a path between the DeCapria and VanSkiver homes on the south side of Church Street -- said that while she loves sports, she believes increased village traffic created by the complex will work to the detriment of Church Street residents.

A nearby Merchant Avenue resident, Shirley Young, said she was concerned about traffic too, about "what kind" of people "might be coming into our village" and about "added problems such as stealing and noise. I feel (the complex) should be someplace else."

Speedway resident Tracy Gavich (pictured at right) took opponents to task for trying to "build a wall" around the village to stop "every single thing from coming in. That's why business leaves. We've lost everything on Main Street. If we keep blocking things, the village is gone."

CVSA representatives James Nolan of Montour Falls and David Kelly Jr. of Burdett were on hand, with Nolan telling the residents and the board that they are "open to work with the public, to hear their comments. This is a community project for our local children."

Nolan (pictured at left) and Kelly, who are coaches and members of the six-region CVSA board, are expected to take the project next to the Planning Board, which will review any site plans and work with the Association and affected landowners in an attempt to fashion a project that meets with everyone's approval.

"We need meetings to talk about it," said Mayor Keith Pierce. "I understand what people are saying. Probably nobody wants (the soccer fields) in their backyard."

But he took issue with circulation of the petitions before any discussions were held -- other than at last month's public hearing, which only a couple of Monday's participants attended. Although the June session was advertised through legal notices, those who missed it said they didn't know about it. (A report on that meeting can be found on the Sports page.)

If the project ultimately gains approval, Nolan and Kelly have said they envision a likely startup date of autumn 2013.


The CVSA is a not-for-profit organization that provides soccer training and competition for youths in various age brackets between the ages of 6 and 14 in the counties of Chemung, Steuben and Schuyler. It is broken into six regions: Schuyler County, Elmira North, Elmira South, Big Flats, Horseheads and Corning. Games are played on weekends.

The organization, which has about 100 teams with players from 56 different schools, has been operating for 28 years, but these would be the first soccer fields that it owns. It has rented or leased -- from schools or at city or village parks -- all this time, but is looking now to effect a cost savings in that area across the long term.

Schuyler County teams have, in fact, been playing and practicing on the soccer fields at B.C. Cate Elementary School in Montour Falls -- fields notorious for their soggy and often unplayable conditions.

By owning a complex of fields, Nolan and Kelly have said, the CVSA would qualify for various grants that could help finance such things as field mowers and the purchase of soccer equipment that currently constitute a large part of the annual budget.

Photos in text:

Top: Possible layout of the soccer field complex, as presented to the Village Board. The red line is the property line.

Bottom right: Tracy Gavich

Bottom left: James Nolan

Sheriff's Office installs medication drop box

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 4, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), has placed a permanent medication drop box in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office on 10th Street in Watkins Glen.

Authorities said there is 24-hour access to the drop box, and no questions are asked.

According to Sheriff Bill Yessman, Prescription Drug Collection Days, held twice annually, have been so successful in collecting unwanted medications that the everyday drop box was adopted to try and expand on that success. By collecting unwanted medications, he said, people have an alternative to flushing them down the toilet and contaminating ground water.

The Sheriff said this will also reduce the amount of prescription drugs available for abuse and sale, which are problems in the county.

Cuomo: air-conditioning available for NY residents with low incomes, medical problems

Cooling initiative offers relief in heat waves

ALBANY, July 3, 2012 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is reminding residents of assistance available for low-income New Yorkers whose health issues pose a medical emergency during extended periods of hot weather.

In order to protect vulnerable New Yorkers, New York State has set aside $3 million in funding through the federally-funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

"The late spring and early summer have already brought several heat waves, which can be life-and-death matters for New Yorkers with serious medical conditions," Governor Cuomo said. "Senior citizens and children are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, and this initiative provides low-income homes with much-needed air conditioners so that New Yorkers have the assistance they need to stay cool and healthy."

"Summer heat can be dangerous for many New Yorkers," said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. "I strongly urge eligible families and seniors to take advantage of this program to help keep their homes safe and comfortable."

"Working with our non-profit partners across the state, we are happy to provide some relief to those needy New Yorkers with medical conditions," said Darryl C. Towns, Commissioner/CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which administers LIHEAP. "But if you find yourself without air conditioning and in a true heat emergency this summer, please do not wait: head to your nearest local cooling center."

Eligibility for the program is determined by:

1) LIHEAP low-income guidelines. (For a four-person household, the maximum gross annual income to qualify is approximately $49,500.)
2) Having at least one household member who has been diagnosed with a chronic or acute medical condition which is aggravated by exposure to extreme heat situations.
3) A doctor providing written documentation (dated within the last six months) that air-conditioning assistance is critical to prevent a heat emergency.

Households that have a working air conditioner or have received one from the State in the last 10 years are not eligible.

The cooling program is administered by HCR with funding provided from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funds, through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). HCR's network of 63 local Weatherization agencies will provide delivery and installation of cooling program services, and funds have been allocated to ensure coverage in each of the state’s 62 counties.

These agencies will accept applications, determine eligibility, and oversee the installation of the air-conditioning units. Under the terms of the grant, one air conditioner will be awarded to an eligible household or dwelling unit, with installation and labor included. Grants do not include an additional HEAP cash benefit to cover the cost of operating the air conditioning unit.

The organization overseeing Schuyler County grant funds is the Economic Opportunity Program of Chemung and Schuyler Counties, Inc. It can be reached at (607) 734-0795.

S. Tier coalition gets $1M for green sustainability planning

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 25, 2012 -- A coalition representing Steuben, Schuyler, Chemung, Tompkins, Tioga, Broome, Chenango, and Delaware counties has received $1 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to create the Cleaner Greener Southern Tier Plan – a comprehensive smart growth plan for regional sustainability.

This plan is part of the Cleaner, Greener Communities program, an environmental initiative announced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last year.

The coalition, comprised of Tompkins County, the Southern Tier East Regional Planning and Development Board, and the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, will develop a smart growth plan that encompasses the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) area. Tompkins County will lead the planning process for the region.

“Establishing a sustainable growth plan for the Southern Tier is a smart choice now that will ensure a brighter future for our communities,” said Tom Tranter, President & CEO of Corning Enterprises and Regional Council Co-chair. “This funding will go a long way in developing a strong, strategic plan that creates jobs and economic opportunities while also recognizing the need to be cognizant of our environment.”

“Protecting the environment is protecting our future. As our region continues to build and grow we must be mindful of how it affects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we live on,” said David Skorton, President of Cornell University and Regional Council Co-chair. “By developing and implementing a sustainable growth plan for the region we can be energy efficient and reduce pollution while also increasing job and economic opportunities that improve the quality of life for our communities.”

The development of a comprehensive regional sustainability plan is the first phase of the Cleaner, Greener Communities program and -- according to its proponents -- is intended to provide resources that each New York State region can use to develop its own vision, goals and objectives for a sustainable future, identify actions needed to achieve that future and outline metrics to measure success. Only one award was made in each region of the state.

“This funding is an excellent opportunity for the Southern Tier Region to develop a plan that improves environmental quality by reducing air, water and land pollution and improves quality of life through smart growth and sustainable development,” said Francis J. Murray Jr., President and CEO of NYSERDA.

Once the plan is developed, additional funding will be available from the Cleaner, Greener Communities program on a competitive basis to implement projects that support the goals of the plans. Projects must create opportunities for achieving carbon reductions, energy efficiency savings and/or renewable energy deployment while enhancing job creation, economic investment and development consistent with the region’s sustainability and REDC strategic plan.

For further information about the Cleaner Greener Southern Tier Plan, and to help rate the project’s draft goals or suggest strategies, visit the project website at or contact Leslie Schill at the Tompkins County Planning Department, 607-274-5560 or by email at

Planning Board handles several requests

WATKINS GLEN, June 19, 2012 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval for one bed-and-breakfast facility, and preliminary site-plan approval to another.

Gaining final approval was the Cassidy House Bed & Breakfast at 601 N. Decatur St. owned by Connie Fern Miller. Approval came following a public hearing at which nobody spoke.

Gaining preliminary approval was the ARMS Bed and Breakfast owned by Catherine Powell at 330 Franklin St.. A public hearing on it will be held at the next Planning Board session on July 18.

The board also:

--Gave preliminary approval to Jeff Parmenter for expansion from three apartments to four at a residence he owns at 208 Seventh St., and installation of a parking area behind the structure. A public hearing on the plan will be held at the July 18 Planning Board session.

--Gave preliminary approval for measures including construction of a 64-by-120 foot storage and office structure at Frog Hollow Marina, the former Ervay's Marina. Work has been ongoing under general contractor Nick Kelly since the facility was purchased last year by Ed Woodland. A public hearing on the latest moves is set for the July 18 Planning Board meeting.

--Discussed some problems involved in the traffic flow at the new pumps in front of the Tops Friendly Markets grocery on Franklin Street. Code Enforcement Officer Gordon Wright said the building owner and Tops management are discussing the matter. The chief problem, board members said, appears to be a traffic blockage when, say, a motor home operator pulling a car fills the tanks of both vehicles, edging ahead into the parking lot's exit lane in the process. Vehicles have also driven into the pump bays from the wrong direction, despite signage.

2nd meeting set on Comprehensive Plan

Special to The Odessa File

ODESSA, June 21, 2012 -- A continuation of the June 20th Public Visioning Meeting designed to lead to a Comprehensive Plan in the Town of Cathaarine and the Village of Odessa will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 in the Town of Catharine office, 5182 Park Road, Odessa.

Organizers are encouraging anyone who was unable to attend the meeting on the 20th to attend on the 27th to provide their input into the Comprehensive Planning process. The meeting is for all interested parties in the Village of Odessa and the Town of Catharine.

The meetings are designed to help a Joint Comprehensive Plan Subcommittee convened by the two municipalities develop a plan that accurately reflects the needs and interests of the community. Broad public involvement is crucial, organizers say, to ensure that the Comprehensive Plan serves as a guiding document for future development.

The plan is being developed based on survey input from 2011.

The mission of the committee is to develop a comprehensive plan to provide a foundation for sound municipal policy decisions which will maintain and enhance the quality of life over the next ten years.

The 15-member committee consists of the Catharine and Odessa Planning Boards, and other community and business leaders.

Direct any questions to Julie Johnstone (, Comprehensive Plan Intern, or Tim Hicks (, Chair of the Catharine Planning Board.

Sheriffs launch Yellow Dot program

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 12, 2012 -- Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman and the New York State Sheriffs’ Association are partnering to offer Yellow Dot, a free program that provides vital medical information to first responders.

According to Yessman, the Yellow Dot Program is an effort to better serve and protect the citizens of Schuyler and other counties. The program was launched in 30 counties across the state this week.

Yellow Dot, he said, is designed to help first responders provide life-saving medical attention after a crash or other emergency.

“When you can’t speak for yourself, Yellow Dot can speak for you,” said Peter Kehoe, Executive Director of the Sheriffs’ Association.

The Yellow Dot kit contains a medical information card and a Yellow Dot decal. Participants complete the card, attach a recent photo, place it in the glove compartment of their vehicle, and place the Yellow Dot decal on the rear driver’s side window.

First responders arriving at the scene of an emergency will be alerted by the Yellow Dot decal to look for the medical information card in the glove compartment.

“The Yellow Dot Program will save lives by giving first responders access to vital medical information and saving time,” said Sheriff Yessman.

Funded by the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the program is a free service available to individuals of all ages. Yessman’s office will distribute Yellow Dot kits to the public. You can also have a kit mailed to you by visiting

The New York State Sheriffs’ Association, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation, formed in 1934, for the purpose of assisting sheriffs in the efficient and effective delivery of sheriffs’ services to the public. It comprises all of the elected and appointed sheriffs of New York State.

Yellow Dot was started in Connecticut in 2002 by People’s United Bank. Originally developed for senior citizens, the program can be used by anyone of any age.

Hydrofracking concerns aired at session

WATKINS GLEN, May 22, 2012 -- Concerns about hydrofracking were aired to the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night by a member of the Schuyler County Environmental Management Council, who urged the board to write letters opposing such drilling to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Frank Spena said members of the Management Council are concerned about the effect on Seneca Lake of any hydrofracking that might be done in the area. "If they started contaminating the water supply, gosh, what a disaster," he said.

Spena asked how the Village Board feels about hydrofracking -- a process used to extract natural gas from shale -- and was told by Mayor Mark Swinnerton that in "my personal opinion, I'm not for fracking." The mayor said the problems encountered by such drilling in Pennsylvania are "concerning," as is the "irreversibility" of contamination.

However, he noted that government leaders around much of the county "don't feel it's an issue in the near future because of the depth of shale" below Schuyler -- a depth purportedly too shallow to allow effective drilling. The thinking is that any drilling in the region will be to the south and east, well away from Seneca Lake.

Spena said he was "concerned too about air pollution" connected to the fracking process, adding: "I don't know how far (drillers) have to be" away from the Watkins Glen area "not to affect us." And he expressed worries about increased truck traffic -- a concern echoed by Swinnerton, who called it "a major issue."

A decision by the DEC on allowing hydrofracking in New York State is due by the end of the year, Spena noted, and toward that end "I'd like to see you send a letter" to Cuomo and the DEC Commissioner opposing the practice.

The Village Board, said Swinnerton, hasn't "taken a stand ... but we will discuss it."

The Environmental Management Council is composed of appointees from the county's 12 municipalities along with five at-large members. The council also has representatives from the county Planning Commission, Soil and Water Conservation District, Watershed Department, Planning Department and Legislature. It meets the second Wednesday of each month at the Schuyler County Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

In other business, the board:

-- Received two bids for recycling in the village in the coming year. One bid was from the current contract-holder, Casella Waste Systems of Elmira, in the amount of $1,805 per month for bi-weekly pickup. Cardinal Disposal of Dundee provided two figures: $2,000 a month for once-a-month pickup, and $2,500 a month for bi-weekly collection.

The board, said Swinnerton, will consider the bids and announce its choice on May 31.

Photos in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (top); Frank Spena

Left: Montour Falls Public Works Department workers Mike Hughey (left, Foreman) and Mike Thomas (Machine Equipment Operator) near a storm drain marker installed in a parking lot. Right: A storm drain marker. (Photos provided)

Glen, Montour install storm drain markers

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 20, 2012 -- The Public Works Departments in the Villages of Montour Falls and Watkins Glen, along with the Rural Stormwater Coalition of Schuyler, Chemung and Steuben Counties, installed storm drain markers last week to complete a project that was started months earlier in the Village of Odessa.

The Rural Stormwater Coalition is a group coordinated by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD).

The circular, steel disc markers are labeled with a jumping fish and have the words "No Dumping Drains to Stream" or "No Dumping Drains to Lake" inscribed on them. The purpose of the discs is to remind residents that storm drain inlets often connect to natural waterbodies, so the stormwater runoff that enters them needs to be as clean as possible.

“We are glad to participate in this program along with the other villages,” said Mark Specchio, Superintendent of Public Works for Watkins Glen. “All of the street, parking lot and roof runoff in Watkins Glen ultimately enters Seneca Lake and we want to remind folks of this.”

Added Elaine Dalrymple, District Field Manager of the Schuyler County SWCD and a member of the Rural Stormwater Coalition: “Stormwater is water from rain or melting snow that doesn’t soak into the ground but runs off from rooftops, over paved areas and lawns, picking up debris, chemicals, motor oil and other pollutants. Stormwater can flow into a storm sewer system or directly into a lake, stream, river or wetland, potentially contaminating the water we use for swimming and fishing.”

The purpose of the Rural Stormwater Coalition, made up of local agencies and municipalities, is to develop coordinated, educational and implementation projects to reduce stormwater runoff in the three counties.

Photo in text: Village of Watkins Glen Street Department staff installing a storm drain marker by the Harbor Hotel. From left: Don Perry, Street Superintendent; Doug Thompson, Maintenance Mechanic; and Ken Barber, Motor Equipment Operator. (Photo provided)

The 8D plan endorsed by legislators.

Legislators OK 8-district plan

WATKINS GLEN, May 15, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night unanimously backed a plan to redistrict the county into eight districts, with one legislator from each.

Because the decision won't change the current number of legislators, no public referendum is necessary. County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi will prepare a Local Law for the Legislature's consideration at next month's meeting.

The vote Monday was 7-0, with Legislator Stewart Field absent -- although Chairman Dennis Fagan said Field was not opposed to the redistricting plan selected from among several options.

County Planner Rocky Kambo went through a number of alternative plans, devised after an earlier redistricting meeting at which plans with 7 and 8 districts -- and one with five districts and two at-large legislators -- failed to forge a consensus. This time, Kambo presented a 5-district plan, and three different 8-district plans. The one selected was designated 8D.

The county currently has three legislative districts. The change was prompted by new population figures and a wish to improve complex voting laws.

The district plans were all drawn based on population. Census numbers show that two of the three current districts are under-represented.

All of the legislators spoke in favor of the 8D plan, which would divide the Town of Hector into three different component voting districts, divide Odessa along town lines, and divide the Towns of Dix and Tyrone. It met the criteria of keeping population variation among the districts within 10 percent.

Spectators present voiced support of the 8D plan, although a couple indicated they preferred the 5-district option. Town of Hector supervisor Ben Dickens said he liked the 5-district plan better, but was okay with 8D. Support was also voiced by Jim Howell, Mark Rondinaro and Alan Hurley.

Photo in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan.

O'Mara-sponsored legislation takes aim at cyberbullying

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 2, 2012 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) announced Tuesday that he is sponsoring legislation in the Senate known as the “Internet Protection Act” to combat cyberbullying.

“Cyberbullying has become one of the great tragedies of the Internet age,” said O’Mara. “Numerous national studies tell us that upwards of 40 percent of students have experienced some form of cyberbullying at least once, and they feel helpless in the face of it. Victims of anonymous cyberbullies need protection. We’re hopeful that this legislation can be helpful to the overall effort to deter and prevent anonymous criminals from hiding behind modern technology and using the Internet to bully, defame and harass their victims.”

O’Mara joined State Assemblyman Dean Murray (R,C-East Patchogue), who’s sponsoring the legislation in the Assembly, and other Assembly co-sponsors at a press conference in Albany Tueday to unveil their legislation (A.8688/S.6779).

The legislation proposes to combat cyberbullying by allowing the victim of an anonymous website posting to request that the post be removed if the anonymous source is unwilling to attach his or her name to it. Under the legislation, website administrators, upon a request, would be required to remove anonymous web postings unless the anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate. All web administrators would be required to place a clearly visible contact number or e-mail address on their site to receive removal requests.

“While the Internet is a wonderful resource for social networking, sadly it can also be used to anonymously bring harm to others,” said Murray. “My legislation addresses the dangers of cyberbullying and protects the victims of this offense. By demanding these online abusers
come out from anonymity and identify themselves, they will hopefully think twice before posting harmful comments about others.”

According to the Cyberbully Research Center, past studies have shown that nearly 42% of middle school students have been bullied online at least once. The Center has also reported that cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to young people who have not experienced it.

The O’Mara-Murray legislation has been referred to the Codes Committee in the Senate, and the Government Operations Committee in the Assembly.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (right) with the Internet Protection Act's Assembly sponsor, Dean Murray, at the press conference. (Photo provided)

Cuomo representative Barbara Fiala during her power-point presentation.

Cuomo rep gets an earful

WATKINS GLEN, March 10, 2012 -- A representative of Governor Andrew Cuomo presented her boss's vision for a future New York Friday, and then took comments from a small audience in the Schuyler County Legislature chambers in the County Building.

The comments were not as rosy as her report.

Barbara Fiala, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, presented -- with an accompanying power-point display -- a regional discourse on the governor's "2012 Executive Budget and Reform Agenda," touching upon such items as streamlining government, mandate relief, reducing the local impact of Medicaid (increases to county's have been capped); and improving Education (where a teacher evaluation system has been pushed by her boss). Hers was one of a dozen such meetings being conducted around the state by various members of the Cuomo team, seeking input.

When she was done with the report, the comment session turned in the other direction: a bit critical.

Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips opened with a complaint, backed by figures he quoted, that the 21 districts in the regional GST BOCES have seen a loss of millions of dollars in state aid in the past three years, and that districts are reducing staff and increasing class sizes, and in many cases reducing athletic opportunities. He also said the governor's proposal to distribute $250 million in state aid on a competitive basis is inequitable, and that there are other inequities in aid between rich and poor districts. He said the governor "continues to tout 4%" as the amount of this year's state aid increase, "when in fact, at Watkins Glen, it's 1.35%."

"What plan does the Governor have to address these gross inequities?" Phillips asked.

Fiala said she was "at a disadvantage. I assume your numbers are correct, but I can't be sure without checking. ... I'd like you to send me the statistics so I can give you a broader explanation."

Other officials on hand included Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Schuyler Hospital President Andy Manzer, both of whom expressed economic concerns. "I applaud the governor's efforts to rein in spending," Fagan said, but he called Cuomo's efforts to limit Medicaid costs to local governments "tepid" and added: "We simply can't afford to conduct business as usual. We're going broke."

Manzer, meanwhile, said he was "extremely disappointed with (the governor's) State of the State" message, saying that there is "no reason for our young people to stay here, other than family." As for health care, "there's only so far we can go," he said, "with the underlying reimbursement mess."

Other speakers included area resident Alan Hurley and Watkins Glen High School senior Alexander Rundle, the latter representing the student-run SOS (Save Our Schools) group that has been lobbying for changes in the governor's budget proposal. The group, which has specifically taken aim at the $250 million in competitive aid, is particularly upset with the loss of 15 positions in the planned 2012-13 school district budget.

Rundle presented Fiala with a letter to the governor expressing the group's outlook and wishes. Fiala said she would pass it along to Cuomo.

Photos in text: Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips (top) and Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan address Barbara Fiala during the session in the Legislature chambers.

County legislators and officials posed for their annual group photo Monday night. Legislator Mike Yuhasz was absent. Seated from left: Legislator Barbara Halpin, Deputy Clerk Jamee Mack, Clerk Stacy Husted, and Legislator Doris Karius. Standing from left: Legislator Phil Barnes, County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi, Legislators Stewart Field, Tom Gifford and Glenn Larison, Administrator Tim O'Hearn, and Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan.

Grant sought for police consolidation study

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 14, 2012 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a resolution supporting a co-application with the Village of Watkins Glen seeking a grant to study the feasibility of consolidating the Village Police Department with the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office.

The application will go to the New York State Department of State, with the village as the lead applicant "and responsible for all local share costs," the resolution read.

The "obvious goal" of consolidation, said Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, "would be to save money." It would, he said, follow in the wake of several shared-service initiatives with the village that have proved successful. "But the study might show it's not feasible," he added.

The consolidation idea surfaced in late September, when Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton questioned the need to retain the $400,000 department. He stressed that such a move was only in the idea stage, and that if consolidation were adopted "we would want to retain as many positions as possible" among the current village force, shifting them to the Sheriff's Office. The village force includes Chief Tom Struble, five full-time officers and a varying number of part-timers.

Also Monday:

--The new County Attorney, Geoffrey B. Rossi (right), was on hand for his first session since being appointed last month. He fills a vacancy created by the retirement in mid-2011 of James P. Coleman. Dennis Morris served as Acting County Attorney before being elected County Judge.

--Watkins Glen High School students Alex Rundle and Rob Rondinaro, representing a group called S.O.S., sought the legislators' support in a drive to combat the competitive aspect of some state aid to education, and to possibly get enough aid reinstated to retain a number of teachers being laid off next year at WGHS. (See story on Schools.)

Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (top) and County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi.

Fagan re-elected chairman

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 4, 2012 -- Dennis Fagan was re-elected chairman of the Schuyler County Legislature Wednesday morning at that governing body's first meeting of the new year -- its organizational session.

Fagan was named to his second year at the helm without oppositon and in a unanimous vote of the legislators.

In other action, three measures dealing with the appointment of a County Attorney to succeed Dennis Morris were tabled. They were designed to name a County Attorney, an assistant and a confidential secretary, but the county has not yet found a successor to Morris, who was sworn in earlier in the week as the new Schuyler County Judge.

Interviews of prospective candidates are under way, officials said.

The Legislature also approved the appointment of incumbent Stacy Husted to a four-year term as Clerk to the Legislature and incumbent Jamee Mack as Deputy Clerk, and Marian Boyce as the County Historian, succeeding Barbara Bell, who retired. Wesley Roe, named Public Defender in 2011, was appointed to a full four-year term.

The session was preceded by the swearing-in of Fagan and Legislator Stewart Field -- both re-elected in November -- and Gary Whyman, who won election as the new Country Treasurer in that November balloting.

Photos in text:

Top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan signs the oath of office after being sworn in for another term as legislator by County Clerk Linda Compton (left). Also sworn in was Legislator Stweart Field, standing behind Fagan. The two men were re-elected in November.

Bottom: Gary Whyman is sworn in as Schuyler County Treasurer by County Clerk Linda Compton.

Watkins buys back Salt Point building, plans apartments

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 4, 2012 -- The Village of Watkins Glen has bought back the old Electric and Water Department Building on Salt Point Road from the Magee Point Associates development firm owned by Bill Benedict, but still plans on having upscale apartments in the building.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton announced the purchase -- and the price, $825,000 -- at Tuesday night's meeting of the Village Board. The village sold the building several years ago for $225,000 to Benedict, who gutted it in preparation for the installation of apartments and an eatery.

Swinnerton said that while the buyback price "was a tough pill to swallow," it was preferable to running up litigation bills that could have surpassed it. Beyond that, retention of the building eliminates the need for the village to purchase a new water intake building -- the lowest cost of which appeared to be $1.2 million.

The village government in previous years had decided on the new intake building as the course to follow, but bid estimates for the construction came in much higher than anticipated -- first $2.3 million and then $1.8 million -- until it tentatively decided on a pre-cast structure that would have brought the cost down to $1.2 million.

In the meantime, Swinnerton said, the delay in getting an intake building led the village to inhabit the Electric and Water Building -- which has long served as the intake point -- past the July 15, 2011 date it had promised to vacate. Benedict therefore filed a notice of eviction, and the matter ended up in court, and legal bills mounted -- $60,000 in the past six months.

"So we negotiated to buy back the building," said Swinnerton -- and beyond that the village has "lined up another developer with whom we will cohabitate." The developer, he said without identifying him, will pay fair-market value for the property, occupying about two-thirds of it and developing upscale apartments or condos, with access by the residents to boat slips on the Seneca Lake waterfront the building faces.

Negotiations with the new developer are not yet complete, he said, but the entire process will be aided by a New York State revitalization grant recently extended to cover the new plans for the structure.

Benedict, Swinnerton pointed out, had every right to institute the litigation against the village, and every right to make a profit, inasmuch as he held the property for years and invested a good deal of money in preparation work. As it is, the mayor said, the building is "ready for new construction."

"I'm sure Mr. Benedict was happy to walk away from it," he said. "The village didn't get out of his way. And I'm happy to get the deal we got and move forward. The board is happy, too -- it was a unanimous decision to buy it back.

"It had become a daily issue we had to deal with, what with the lawyers and everything. We're glad to have it behind us."

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton at Tuesday night's board meeting.

New Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, right, is sworn in by his predecessor, J.C. Argetsinger.

Morris sworn in as Judge

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 3, 2012 -- "Hear ye, hear ye. Schuyler County Court is now in session."

The words from longtime County Judge J.C. Argetsinger initiated the formal portion of a gathering of about 100 people Monday in the Schuyler County Courtroom on hand to see Dennis Morris sworn in as the successor to Argetsinger.

The swearing-in was preceded by a prayer offered by Rev. Beverly Karr-Lyon of the First Presbyterian Church of Watkins Glen, who intoned:

"Gracious God, hear our prayer for public servants and elected leaders, especially today for Dennis J. Morris as he is sworn into office as Schuyler County Judge.

"Fill him with your spirit to judge rightly, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with his God. As he seeks your wisdom and truth, grant him the courage to always do what is right."

Argetsinger then spoke to the audience -- scores of people seated in chairs and in the jury box, and standing in the back of the room. He pointed out that Morris was joining "17 predecessor judges" who are on display in paintings and photos on the wall of the courtroom. "I can say with certainty," said the judge, that Morris will serve "well and honorably" in keeping with the example that those previous judges have set.

Former County Judge and State Supreme Court Justice William N. Ellison was also present -- in robes alongside the robed Argetsinger and Morris. "I'm pleased to be back at the old bench," he told the audience.

"It is said by some," he noted, "that a judge is a lawyer in a robe. I could not disagree more. The people elect the judge -- decide who they want to put their future in. He is the People's Choice."

He said there are three requisite qualifications "for a good judge." They include "knowing the law and basing his decisions on it," being "entirely impartial," and "standing ready to give his time" and wisdom "to all parties who appear before him in court. Dennis Morris measures up to those three criteria. I know he will end up, God willing, to be one of our outstanding judges."

Argetsinger then passed the judge's gavel to Morris and administered the oath of office. It was followed by a standing ovation.

Morris, elected to a 10-year term in November in a race against District Attorney Joe Fazzary to succeed the retiring Argetsinger, addressed the gathering briefly, thanking his supporters and those who had helped set up the party preceding and following the oath of office. There was plenty of food on hand on two tables near the rear of the courtroom.

"I'm stunned by the size of the crowd," Morris said, standing behind the elevated bench and surveying the audience. "I've had the opportunity to meet the last seven judges of Schuyler County Court ... and I'm honored to have the chance to live up to my predecessors."

Morris signed a written oath in an official book provided by County Clerk Linda Compton, and then signed a larger sheet prepared for the occasion -- a giant, informal Oath of Office that he urged everyone present to autograph "as a keepsake" he wanted to carry with him into his term of office.

Before he presides at any cases -- the County Judge oversees County Court, Family Court and Surrogate Court -- Morris was to leave today (Tuesday) for a weeklong judges' school run by New York State at a site in White Plains.

Photos in text:

From top: County Judge Dennis Morris with his wife, Julie, and daughter Jessi; Morris is congratulated by retired Judge William Ellison; outgoing County Judge J.C. Argetsinger and Morris celebrate after the oath of office was administered.

From left: Former Sheriff Michael Maloney signs Morris' informal Oath of Office autograph sheet; former Watkins Glen Mayor Judy Phillips chats with a friend at the gathering; Morris addresses the audience present for the swearing-in.

The gavel passes from one judge to the next -- J.C. Argetsinger (left) to Dennis Morris.

Legislators end year with brief meeting

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 29 2011 -- The Schuyler County Legislature held its year-end meeting Wednesday morning, and it was a short one.

The legislators considered, and passed, just nine resolutions, and none of them were major. There were no committee reports, and no administrator's report.

However, Legislature Clerk Stacy Husted suggested to the five members present that a contract with the Chamber of Commerce that designates the Chamber as the Tourism Promotion Agency for the next 15 years be studied further before Chairman Dennis Fagan signs it.

"Probably a little more thought should be given to the balance between the two parties," said Husted, referring to the county and the Chamber, which previously had entered into one-year pacts. Fagan agreed, and the others followed suit.

The legislators also gave verbal approval to the removal of soda from the menu of the upcoming annual County Recognition Luncheon, at which county workers are recognized for years of service. Husted raised the matter, saying there had been suggestions to exclude soda from the menu due to diabetes and obesity concerns linked to the drinks.

The Recognition Luncheon is sponsored by the Legislature.

Photos in text:

Top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan presiding at the year-end meeting.

Bottom: Stacy Husted, Clerk of the Legislature.

Legislators approve budget

Plan sets 2.1% increase in tax levy; Halpin votes no

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 13 2011 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a 2012 budget by a vote of 6-1, with Barbara Halpin opposed.

Halpin had convinced her fellow legislators on Nov. 14 to table a budget vote scheduled that night, and legislators met on Nov. 30 in a workshop setting to consider amendments that might reduce the tax levy. The plan adopted Monday calls for a 2.1% increase in the levy (it had been 2.23% before the workshop), and a tax rate of $8.37 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from this year's $8.17.

The vote came after some testy words from Halpin and Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan -- the former criticizing the lawmaking body for instituting a tax hike "in a year in which we could have done without one" through job and program cuts, and the latter taking the state to task for its failure to institute promised mandate relief. He pointed to a large increase in pension costs as part of the problem facing legislators, and urged approval by the state of a gradual takover of Medicaid costs now borne by counties.

The spending plan drew fire from a handful of onlookers, including former Legislature Chair Patricia Hastings, who said that "people are hurting out there" and told legislators "there are ways you can cut the budget, absolutely." She pointed to non-mandated contracts, including one with the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, as a place to start -- amending or eliminating them. "The only obligation you have is the safety and welfare of the people," she said. "You can get out of contracts. The state is not your problem; you're the problem for the state."

After the budget was approved, Mark Rondinaro -- who recently ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature -- urged its members to focus in the future on "what's necessary" in budgets, "to the exclusion of everything else."

Among the cost-cutting measures approved by legislators Monday was cancellation of a Physically Handicapped Children's Program that helped provide medication reimbursement for children from a handful of county families at a cost of $5,000 a year to the county. It was cut, Fagan said, "on the recommendation of the department head because of minimal use."

Barbara Kelly, mother of one of the children, asked the legislators before the vote to reconsider the move and retain the program. But it was voted down 5-2, with Phil Barnes and Stewart Field in favor of retaining it. Kelly blasted the vote afterward, saying she was "disappointed. I think we need to speak up for our weak, overall -- particularly children."

Added her husband, former Watkins Glen Village Trustee Nick Kelly: "When I was on the Village Board, we would never cut children's programs. Two of you have a heart; the other five do not. Some things you can cut, and some things you shouldn't. Our kids are all we've got."

In other business, the Legislature:

--Set its year-end meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28.

--Set the 2012 organizational meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4.

--Approved a Local Law -- to some criticism from a resident in attendance -- that sets salaries for county officials as follows in 45 days: Highway Superintendent $66,389; Deputy Highway Superintendent $53,567; Chief Assistant District Attorney $76,472; Assistant District Attorney $29,221; Undersheriff $56,680; Commissioner of Social Services $74,278; Personnel Officer $48,763; Real Property Tax Director $78,766; Deputy County Clerk $40,124; County Administrator $108,202.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan; Legislator Barbara Halpin; County Attorney Dennis Morris, standing, confers with County Administrator Tim O'Hearn before the session. Legislature Clerk Stacy Husted is at left.

Legislator Barbara Halpin (left) and Sheriff Bill Yessman at Wednesday's workshop.

Legislators pare $8,600 from budget

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 1, 2011 -- Schuyler County legislators met in a workshop setting Wednesday morning in an attempt to whittle what Legislator Barbara Halpin considered "fat" from the proposed 2012 county budget.

After a series of cost-cutting (and some cost-adding) proposals were completed three hours later, all that had been removed, on balance, was about $8,600 -- bringing the proposed tax-levy hike down from 2.20% to 2.14%.

The workshop was the result of Halpin's complaints at a Nov. 14 meeting that the Legislature -- set to vote that night on the budget plan -- had not exercised enough effort to keep the tax levy from rising. She said that night that she had $136,000 worth of cuts in mind.

Wednesday's session featured mostly low-keyed discussions on the need for certain budgetary levels -- in such areas as equipment, supplies and overtime in various county departments. Responding to questioning were department heads.

A testy exchange occurred between Halpin -- who was eyeing cuts affecting 14 line items in the Sheriff's Office budget -- and Sheriff Bill Yessman, who said he had "kept my spending flat the past two years, to the point where we're holding things together with duct tape ... Every department head in the county worked hard on the budget. We kept cost down. There is no fat in the budget."

Halpin said she sympathized, "but everyone out there (in the county) is holding things together with tape. We all have to give a little. I'm not picking on you, although some might say I am, considering the number of line items ... If you'll stand here and say you need (the funds), I'm okay with that, until next year when I find you didn't need them."

Ultimately, the only person to vote in favor of the cuts was Halpin.

A move to reduce election-related budget items saw Election Commissioner John Vona tell the board: "If you want to cut it, go ahead. But we will continue to buy what we need to hold elections ... Everything we do is mandated."

A subsequent discussion regarding a budgeted increase in election advertising showed it was needed for an increased number of elections. Finally the legislators settled on trimming $1,000 from the department's conference expenses.

A motion later by Chairman Dennis Fagan -- seconded by Halpin -- to trim $5,000 from the Central Data Processing budget was defeated 4-3.

Other budgetary matters were approved, while some were discarded without a vote or a second.

In the end, the $8,600 reduction amounted to a comparative drop in the budget bucket. Each of the measures approved at the workshop will be voted on in resolution form by the legislators at their next regular session, on Dec. 12, with an eye toward possibly approving the budget that night.

The $42.4 million spending plan had envisioned a tax levy of $10,080,143, which is now -- after Wednesday's workshop -- at $10,071,470.

Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (top) and Election Commissioner John Vona.

Legislators table budget vote

MONTOUR FALLS, Nov. 15, 2011 -- What started as a lone voice against a tax increase resulted in a delay Monday night in the vote by the Schuyler County Legislature on the proposed 2012 budget.

Legislators decided 5-3 to table the vote, which had been scheduled for Monday following the annual budget report by Administrator Tim O'Hearn to a gathering of about 40 people in a meeting room at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

The move came after Legislator Barbara Halpin, outspoken in her opposition to a tax increase -- the budget currently envisions a levy hike of 2.2 percent -- and seemingly alone in that opposition, urged further discussion of the spending plan in a workshop setting, and a delay in the vote until a future meeting.

The Legislature, she pointed out, has until Dec. 20 to approve a budget. The budget vote on Monday's agenda, she said, was the result of haste by the Budget and Finance Committee, comprised of four of the eight legislators.

"They had a goal" of a tax hike under 3 percent, she said, and when they reached it, "they said 'that's it.' But I do not understand how the Legislature can increase taxes on the people of this county. The goal should be to decrease taxes on an annual basis." Rising taxes, she said, are driving some residents out of the area and the state.

Halpin complained that she had not had a proper opportunity to propose some cost-cutting measures, a contention that drew debate from other board members. But in the end -- on a motion by Legislator Doris Karius and a second by Halpin, and much to the amazement of onlookers expecting a budget vote -- that vote was tabled and a workshop scheduled for the morning of Nov. 30. The next regular meeting is Dec. 12.

Siding with the tabling measure were Phil Barnes, Karius, Stewart Field, Halpin and Chairman Dennis Fagan. Opposed were Tom Gifford, Glenn Larison and Mike Yuhasz.

Halpin, asked afterward if she was surprised by the fact that the budget vote was tabled, said "Yes, I was." She added: "I'm very appreciative of the five votes" to "take a little more time and slow this down."

She said her proposals for the workshop contain $136,000 in cuts, and that she is awaiting word on the possible impact of fees for some services. But those reductions won't totally eliminate the tax increase, she said -- voicing the hope that other legislators might have some reduction ideas of their own. Ultimately, she said, program cuts would have to be embraced in order to avoid a tax hike.

O'Hearn's report early in Monday's meeting stressed how the budget is driven by state mandates, and how promised mandate relief had not materialized.


Photos in text:

Top: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn explains the budget as part of the annual budget hearing during Monday night's Legislature meeting.

Middle: Legislator Barbara Halpin discusses why she is opposed to the budget. She does not want any tax increase.

Bottom: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan at Monday's session.

Dennis Morris, right, addresses family, friends and TV reporters Tuesday night as his wife, Julie, listens at his side.

Morris defeats Fazzary for judge post; Whyman tops Starbuck for treasurer

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 9, 2011 -- The first-time campaigner defeated the seasoned campaigner Tuesday as Dennis J. Morris outpolled District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary for a 10-year term as Schuyler County Judge.

Meanwhile, Gary J. Whyman, who won the GOP primary in September, defeated incumbent Margaret Starbuck, 2,476-2,138 in the race for County Treasurer. And incumbent Stewart Field won re-election to the Schuyler County Legislature, defeating challenger Mark F. Rondinaro 842-733. A second available District 1 seat went to incumbent Legislature Chairman Dennis A. Fagan of Tyrone, who as the sole candidate from a District 1 town outside of Reading (where Field and Rondinaro reside) earned the seat despite polling just 554 votes.

Morris, who had never run for office before, defeated Fazzary -- experienced in campaigns for the DA's job and in a failed run for the State Supreme Court -- by a 402-vote margin, 2,677-2,275.

"I'm stunned," said Morris at a party at caterer Carol Bower's place -- scene of many other parties over the years, but perhaps none quite as loud as the moment in which campaign treasurer Diane Carl announced that WETM had just called the election in favor of Morris.

A cheer went up among the 30 friends, family members and campaign workers present, who then started chanting "Den-nis! Den-nis! Den-nis!"

WETM reporters Jenelle Tortorella and Chuck Brame arrived at that point after leaving a Fazzary party at the Seneca Lodge in Watkins Glen. They were greeted with the cheers, and with a speech by Morris to his supporters.

"You're making me blush," he said, and added: "I guess it's time for a speech. You all know I'm kind of a history buff. Some say when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, they sang "The World Turned Upside Down." I wish I knew that song ... but that's exactly what this feels like."

Morris told his audience that he was "proud of this campaign, and I'm proud of all of you. The voters reacted to our campaign, and I'm glad they reacted this way."

Then, after a pause, he concluded: "Oh my gosh, I've got a challenge ahead."

"Compared to what you just did, it will be easy, " called out a campaign worker, which drew a loud laugh from the gathering.

"I'm really exhilarated," Morris told Tortorella in a subsequent taped interview. He said he was hoping to uphold the judicial legacy of Schuyler County Judges who went before him, wanted to thank the voters for showing their faith in him, and said that while he was "very happy," he was also "exhausted. It's been a long campaign."

The campaign had its start in February, when he first thought of the possibility, bounced the idea off his wife, Julie, and then off friend James Coleman, who for years was County Attorney while Morris was Assistant County Attorney. Morris knew Fazzary would likely be running, and checked with a couple of other attorneys to see if they would be tossing their hats in the ring. They weren't, so he did.

He started his campaign ahead of Fazzary, posting Morris signs -- complete with a photo portrait -- along the roadways. "I had to get my picture out there early," he said, "because nobody knew me."

After that, he said, it was a matter of getting across his main message -- that the job of County Judge was not just about criminal cases, in which Fazzary had excelled. It was about Family Court and Surrogate Court experience, too -- courts in which he had spent a good deal of time over the years.

The message apparently struck a chord, judging from his narrow Republican Primary loss to Fazzary and, now, his General Election victory.

"I appreciate the fact that the voters listened," he said. "This really is stunning."

Other races:

In addition to Whyman's and Field's victories, the county had some notable town races:

Catharine: John VanSoest was re-elected supervisor, defeating newcomer Michael Hines 271-79. And incumbent councilmen Ronald W. Hoffman (303 votes) and C. Michael Learn (283) turned back a challenge by Ron Havens (159).

Cayuta: Christopher Arnold -- a cousin of Dennis Morris -- won election as supervisor, defeating Terry F. Gardner Sr. 89-68. In the race for two council seats, Karen A. McLean (93 votes ) and Kathleen C. Cleveland (83) outpolled Anne M. Johnson (42) and William Barrett (39). Meanwhile, Angela S. Knapp defeated Debra A. Barrett 96-61 in the race for town clerk.

Dix: Incumbent Justice Alan E. Gregory won re-election, defeating Ronald G. Alexander 608-334. And Scott A. Yaw (678 votes ) and Robert DeNardo (571) defeated F. Joe Hammond (493) in the contest for two council seats.

Hector: Incumbent Supervisor Benjamin R. Dickens edged challenger Robert J. Fitzsimmons 825-805, while incumbents Clifford D. Yaw (1,065 votes) and Marie A. Stevens (801) turned back a challenge from Bo Lipari (748) and Donald C. Beckley (396).

Orange: Jocelyn M. Harrison outpolled Henry Taylor Jr. 205-68 in the race for supervisor.

Reading: Gary B. Conklin (417 votes) and Robert J. Everett (268) turned back a challenge by Charles M. Peacock Jr. (224) for seats on the town council. And Alice W. Conklin defeated Rita A. Osborne 283-238 in the race for Town Clerk.

Tyrone: Gary Jackson, recently appointed as supervisor and running a write-in campaign, defeated Alan Hurley 256-121 in the race for supervisor. In addition, Tom Allen (232 votes) and Geraldine Petris (220) won seats on the town council, defeating Joe T. Sevier (209) and Fred Erdle (156); Deborah L. Tyler won the town clerk's job, defeating Michele M. Gee 341-89; and Paul H. Ernhout defeated Matthew M. Stiles 305-118 for the highway superintendent's post.

Photos in text:

From top: Dennis Morris smiles as his friends and family cheer at the news that he has won; Morris with friend and advisor James Coleman; Morris gets a congratulatory kiss from his wife, Julie; and the judge-elect talks to a friend.


Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field. Not pictured: Mike Yuhasz (inactive)


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335

Inactive: Michael Yuhasz

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


Odessa Officials, Offices

Village Board Members

Pictured below, from left: Mayor Keith Pierce and Village Board Trustees Robin Thoman, Shawn Crane, Thomas Letteer Jr. and Sally Hill.

Mayor: Keith Pierce

Trustees: Robin Thoman, Shawn Crane, Thomas Letteer, Sally Hill

Village Clerk: Kristi Pierce, 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-2100

Department of Public Works: Steve Siptrott

Village Justice: Ronald Goossen

Municipal Building: 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-3792

Dutton S. Peterson Memorial Library: 106 First St., Odessa, 5942791


Montour Falls Village Offices

Mayor: John King

Trustees: Philip J. Smith, James P. Ryan, Steven Lawton, Vincent Chicone

Village Clerk-Treasurer: Alyssa Hammond, P.O. Box 812, 408 W. Main St., 535-7367

Village Garage: 535-9580

Village Justice: Donald Spaccio, 408 W. Main St., 535-7362


Town of Catharine Offices

Supervisor: John VanSoest

Town Board: Ronald Hoffman, Wayne Chapman, Glenn Bleiler, C. Michael Learn

Town Clerk: Carmella Hoffman, 594-2273; office at 106 Grant Road, Odessa

Town Justice: Richard Lewis, 594-2273

Town Assessor: Daniel Bizzell, 535-8118

Highway Superintendent: Bill Morgan, 594-3382

Historian: Carol Fagnan, 594-2062



Village of Watkins Glen Offices

Mayor: Mark Swinnerton

Trustees: Scott Gibson, Kevin Smith, Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford

Village Clerk: Donna J. Beardsley

Village Justice: Nicholas J. Dugo

Code Enforcement Officer: Gregory Larnard


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara. -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano -- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791