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2012 In Review: In January Oswego Swore In New Mayor; Scriba Taxes Cut

OSWEGO, NY – Here’s a glimpse of the some of the news from the past 12 months.

The Oswego Common Council got reorganized on Jan. 1.

In a brief session, following the inauguration ceremony for Mayor Tom Gillen, councilors voted to reappoint Ronald Kaplewicz (Seventh Ward) as the presiding officer of the council for 2012.

He was approved 7-0.

The councilors also approved Mike Myers (Second Ward) as the council’s vice president. Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) had held that position in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

That vote was also 7-0.

Following his inaugural ceremony, Gillen said he was excited about leading the Port City back to a place of prominence in Central New York in the coming years.

“I want to thank you for being here today. I’m honored, I truly am. It’s a great privilege and I promise that I will work every day to serve the people of Oswego to the very best of my ability,” the new mayor vowed.

He thanked former Mayor Randy Bateman for his “outstanding leadership,” eliciting a hearty round of applause from the large crowd.

“The choices that we make today will impact future generations. We also know what makes Oswego so special. It’s the waterfront, our neighborhoods, our history and traditions – but our greatest resource, it has been and always will be, is the people,” he said.

The city will grow if people are willing to think in new ways and embrace new technology, he noted.

Beardsley Named Chair Of County Legislature

The new chairman of the Oswego County Legislature hopes to continue in the footsteps of his predecessor – and find ways to do things even better.

On Jan. 3, Legislator Fred Beardsley (R) was nominated by the Republican majority to take over the position held in 2011 by fellow Republican Barry Leemann, who didn’t seek re-election.

The Democrat minority nominated Legislator Amy Tresidder for the post.

Beardsley was elected with the vote going mainly along party lines; Shawn Doyle (R) voted against Beardsley and Bonnie Kastler (R) abstained.

Beardsley said he intends to continue “many, if not all” of the programs under way during Leemann’s tenure.

“The Green Team definitely. That has really helped the county save a lot of money,” he said. “It’s a great program.”

There are some things that he’d like to look at instituting once he gets settled in as chairman, he said. “Do I foresee any earth-shaking changes? No. I want to continue to try and do what we do, only a little better,” he added.

Court Rules In Teachers’ Favor

The Oswego City School District’s attempt to add more instructional time, at the secondary level, was stymied again, it was announced in early January.

In the matter of the arbitration between Brian Haessig, president of Oswego Classroom Teachers Association, and the school district, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Department rendered its decision Dec. 30, 2011.

At the secondary level, middle and high school the district unilaterally changed the terms of OCTA members’ employment by making them go from five teaching periods out of nine periods to six periods, according to the union president.

The court’s decision states: The Association filed a grievance when (district) assigned an additional instructional class to teachers for the 2010-2011 school year and it subsequently demanded arbitration.

(The district) sought a stay of arbitration on the ground that the grievance was not arbitrable.

In the alternative, (the district) sought a determination that any arbitration would be advisory in nature. Contrary to (the district’s) contention, Supreme Court properly granted the petition and denied the cross motion.

The Association alleged that (district’s) assignment of an additional instructional class violated Article VIII, sections A and D of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which govern teaching load and class sizes.

House Fire Claims Life In New Haven

On Jan. 5, at approximately 5:12 p.m., the New Haven Volunteer Fire Department responded to a residential structure fire at 667 County Route 64, town of New Haven.

A man was subsequently located, deceased, within the residence by firefighters.

The fire was investigated by the New Haven Fire Department, the Oswego County Fire Cause and Origin Team and New York State Police – Pulaski.

The victim was Adrian E. Richardson Jr., 55, according to State Police.

Authorities believe the fire started in a wood stove or its piping, in a back addition of the house.

The cause of death was listed as smoke inhalation.

Scriba Taxes Cut 46% For 2012

Taxpayers in the town of Scriba had something to celebrate in the new year. The town’s taxes for 2012 was cut nearly 50% from the 2011 total.

Town taxes fell to $.67 per 1,000. The 2011 rate was $1.25 per 1,000.

That means that the average homeowner of a property assessed at $100,000 would pay approximately $67 in 2012, as opposed to $125, according to Town Supervisor Ken Burdick.

Burdick credited the combination of sound fiscal practices by the town board, the increase in revenue from the recently concluded negotiations with the owners of Nine Mile Point units I and II and a commitment of the town employees to maintain the high quality of services provided to the town’s approximate 7,000 residents and businesses.

“Much of the credit goes to the town board for having the willingness to cut expenses without sacrificing services,” said Burdick. “Our negotiations with Constellation over units I and II were hard, but beneficial to the town’s taxpayers.”

The town of Scriba’s total budget for 2012 is approximately $3,557,048.

New Company Gives Old Plant New Life

The year 2011 ended on a sour note for employees of the BirdsEye plant in Fulton. The decades-old frozen food processing plant closed.

However, dozens of displaced workers hoped to start off 2012 with a new job.

Champlain Valley Specialty of Keeseville announced that it will be renovating and expanding the former Empire Fresh Cuts facility in Oswego Town into an apple processing facility.

On Jan. 10, Congressman Bill Owens toured the site of the new Champlain Valley Apple Slicing facility on Route 104.

“This is a great opportunity; we’re looking at 80 jobs. These people are already trained, so it helps this operation,” Owens said referring to the former Empire Fresh Cuts and BirdsEye employees seeking work with Champlain Valley Specialty. “It’s just a win-win all the way around!”

“We’re getting settled in, taking out some of the old equipment that was here for onions,” explained Jeremy Dygert, one of the new owners. “We hope to begin new production by the first of February. We’re basically right in the middle of the apple growing region. This was a great opportunity for us. This building really lays out well for our process.”

The plant will be capable of putting out about 400,000 pounds per week, he added.

Right now they are shipping their product to a lot of schools.

Oswego School Board Hears Update On Employee Morale Survey

There isn’t a morale problem in the Oswego City School District. However, Superintendent Bill Crist admited, “I think morale could be better.”

A group of graduate students at SUNY Oswego conducted a survey regarding morale in the as part of their class work. On Jan. 17, five of the seven board members heard a report on the results of that appraisal.

Board member Fran Hoefer was absent and board vice president Kathleen Allen left early.

The eight-question poll was completed online by 278 of the district’s employees from a cross-section of positions.

Responses revealed that some district employees don’t think the board appreciates what they do.

“When there are letters to the editor that are published that reflect negatively; I think employees look at that (and wonder) is that from an individual on the board or is that from the entire board,” Crist noted.

The survey also indicated that community members “don‘t realize the good going on in Oswego schools” and some district employees believe the administrators don’t take their input into consideration before making decisions.

Approximately 69 percent responded either “a little” or “not at all” to the question asking if their input was considered when decisions were made.

It also showed that most employees did feel some sense of belonging to the district.

Among strengths of the district, the survey results list the quality of the employees, technology, programs and professional development among the top positives.

BirdsEye Plant Could Soon Have New Owner

Members of the Oswego County Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee heard some encouraging news at the January meeting regarding the recently closed Birdseye plant in Fulton.

It could experience a rebirth in the near future, according to L. Michael Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County.

The committee members viewed some of the materials OOC has used to market the closed Birdseye plant in Fulton.

“This marketing piece has been sent directly to more than 1,000 companies that are in a 500-mile radius of Fulton as well as 50 site location consulting firms,” Treadwell told the legislators as they examined the materials. “It is still an on-going, active marketing campaign.”

A special website regarding the facility has also been created, he added. It includes much more detailed information.

“We can say, to date, there has been a significant amount of interest in the facility. It has been high level detailed interest by a couple companies on the refrigeration component of the complex. Much more interest on that than on the manufacturing portion of the building.”

It’s possible, that at some point in time, there could be multiple users of the facility, he pointed out.

Since late October, early November (2011), there were at least 15 companies that toured the facility.

Oswego School District Considering New Redistricting Plan

The Oswego City School District was exploring a plan to redistrict its five elementary buildings.

The plan impacts the fewest number of students possible and doesn’t close a school, Superintendent Bill Crist told the board of education on Jan. 24.

“From time to time we look at population zones of our school district. It was an interest of the school board and administration that for the 2012-13 school year we look at how to best place students in our schools so that there is a better balance of students, also looking at how we can best provide transportation … as well as maintain the neighborhood concept that Oswego has been known for,” Crist explained.

They had been working on the plan since October in looking at how to better distribute the population of students at the elementary level, he said. The proposal would keep all five schools open and provide for a better distribution of students, he explained.

Tom Gunn, transportation director, provided board members with a map detailing the current setting and the proposed changes.

“I will be going to each of the elementary schools to address this specifically with the home and school (organizations),” Crist said. “I have been in conversation with the home and school presidents right straight through from the beginning of the school year. We would then invite each school community to come together at these meetings in February to discuss this more openly with them and provide a little bit more input, and listen to some of the concerns or issues that may present as a result of this redistrict plan.”

The proposal impacted about 283 students, the superintendent said, adding some of the other plans they looked at impacted almost double that amount.

The new boundaries would be “blurred or grayed” to allow for balancing of class sizes, the superintendent pointed out.