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N. Franklin St.
Your Peace of Mind Dealer
state support for roads sought
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)
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
“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
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
'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.
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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."
--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
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."
Vonneida had been found guilty in sexual abuse cases three
times before, most recently in 1989.
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:
Planning Board green-lights
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.
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,
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
gives preliminary OK;
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.
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 tax.ny.gov, 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, schuylercounty.us.
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.
County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan shakes hands with the governor.
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.
eyes possible expedited
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.
· 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
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
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
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.
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
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
Added the Legislature's Fagan: “This action helps to ensure the
retention of our local workforce and
“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
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
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
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. “
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
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.
(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
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
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.
OKs resolution opposing
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.”
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:
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.
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
“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.”
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
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
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;
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;
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 www.chemungcounty.com. The Schuyler County information can be accessed at www.schuylercounty.us.
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.)
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 www.cleanergreenersoutherntier.org or contact Leslie Schill at the Tompkins County Planning Department, 607-274-5560 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 (email@example.com), Comprehensive Plan Intern, or Tim Hicks (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 www.nysheriffs.org/yellowdot.
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.
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
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.
--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."
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.
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)
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
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
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara. -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano
-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates