2013 In Review: In February Oswego Warms Up For Annual Festival

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

“This is the best Warm Up Oswego – ever!” exclaimed a Fulton youngster on Feb. 2 at the Oswego YMCA Armory.

“The windchill is probably 15 to 20 degrees warmer back home, however,” quipped her father.

More than 1,000 winter-weary Oswego County residents packed the Oswego YMCA Armory all afternoon Saturday to celebrate the eighth annual Warm Up Oswego festival.

The crowds came in waves to check out the wares of the many vendors inside the Armory and to watch the various demonstrations and preview performances of upcoming musical at Oswego High School and the Oswego Players’ thriller, “Dial M for Murder.”

The YMCA adopted the festival in 2006 in order to raise money to renovate the Armory and to create more programs.

This year’s event drew hundreds of people to the Armory and hundreds more to various other locations all around downtown.

“This is fun. This is what Oswego is all about, getting outside and enjoying the winter,” said Kathy Schrecengost. “Look at all the people and stuff going on in here. This is a great event. It shows that the city is a place to visit, not just drive through to somewhere else.”

“I think this is the largest turnout we’ve ever had. There are people all over,” said Mary Vanouse, community development director and one of the organizers of the event.

A scavenger hunt led participants through the city to dozens of local businesses to get their programs stamped.

The Fireworks by Pyrotecnico display began at 6 p.m. and blazed in the sky over the Oswego River for several minutes.

A Little Luck Plus A Joy Of Living Equals A Long, Happy Life

Bill Mason celebrated his 100th birthday Feb. 6 with about 100 or so of his family, friends and assorted other well-wishers.

What’s the secret to his longevity?

The birthday boy grinned and with a theatrical panache replied, “Pure luck!”

His smile grew wider as he added, “And, a joy of living. I have had such a ball! A hundreds years and it was a ball.”

He served in the US Navy during World War II, but everything worked out well for him, he added.

Change Announced In Alternate Side parking Restrictions For Oswego

The winter parking restrictions for the city of Oswego were changed for the 2012 – 2013 winter season.

The Oswego City Common Council voted unanimously to amend the winter parking restrictions that have been in place for many years, and the mayor was authorized to impose alternate side parking restrictions from 1 to 6 a.m. on city streets, at his discretion, when weather conditions warranted.

The alternate side parking restrictions have been in effect since December 27, 2012, and after further consideration, Mayor Tom Gillen has determined that the westside downtown area should be excluded from the alternate side parking restrictions.

The alternate side parking has caused considerable difficulty in allowing our DPW crews to keep the immediate downtown streets clear of snow and it has created difficulties for our downtown merchants.

Mayor Gillen has directed that effective at 1 a.m., February 8, there will be no overnight parking allowed on West First Street and West Second Street from West Oneida Street to West Seneca Street.

Oswego County Committee Seeks Repeal Of NY SAFE Act

At a special meeting Feb 7,  the Oswego County Legislature’s Government Courts and Consumer Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send a resolution calling for the repeal of the NY SAFE Act to the full legislature for consideration next week.

The resolution was sponsored by Legislator Terry Wilbur, committee chairman.

It begins: “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms is guaranteed as an individual right under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and the right of the people to keep and bear arms for defense of life, liberty and property is regarded as an inalienable right by the people of Oswego County.”

Wilbur said legislators object to the manner in which the new law was created.

“This resolution means a lot to the people of Oswego County,” said Legislator Louella LeClair. “I have had numerous phone calls from residents who are very upset about (the new law). This entire bill was put together way to fast, without any input from law enforcement. I think that with the help of counties, we should force the legislature, the senate and the assembly, to look at this bill again.”

She said they need to come back with something that doesn’t take away people’s constitutional rights.

The resolution was amended to include language from the New York State Sheriffs’ Association and some information from the County Clerks’ Association and other information, Wilbur explained.

Wilbur said he is sponsoring the resolution because the people of Oswego County “are crying out for people to stand up for them.”

“This is a good way to show some support for our state senator and our assemblyman who are doing good work for the people of our county,” he said. “We strongly encourage the New York State Legislature to hold public hearings to address the issue of gun violence in a way that will produce meaningful results for all residents of New York State.”

Girl Scout Cookies Assist County Health, Highway Departments In Drill

In the event of a real a national emergency involving bioterrorism or a natural pandemic, the cases would have contained medical supplies.

For the early February multi-agency drill, thousands of boxes of Girl Scout cookies were used.

The Oswego County Health Department, assisted by the Highway Department, conducted a Strategic National Stockpile drill using nearly 30,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to simulate medical supplies at the event staged at the county’s Highway Garage in Scriba.

The Strategic National Stockpile is the national repository of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins and other critical medical equipment and supplies used in the event of a national emergency involving bioterrorism or a natural pandemic.

Federal authorities require state and local governments to be able to demonstrate their ability to request, receive and dispense medications and other materials from the Strategic National Stockpile.

This exercise meets that criteria, explained Diane Oldenburg, Senior Public Health Educator.

“We are testing our ability to receive large shipments of supplies, inventory and sort them, store them and ship them to local agencies, as demonstrated in a Strategic National Stockpile drill,” said Jiancheng Huang, Public Health Director for Oswego County.

Besides that, Sonja Robinson, an Oswego County Public Health Educator (and a representative of the Girl Scouts) pointed out that the drill also assisted them by receiving, sorting and distributing the boxes of cookies.

Health department staff sorted cookie orders for approximately 25 troops in the Oswego, Lycoming, Mexico, New Haven and Parish areas.

Oswego County Health Department staff received “an inventory of supplies” (26,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies), unloaded, sorted them, and then processed them for shipment, Robinson said. They were delivered to some area scout troops for distribution to their customers, others picked them up.

“We were having a call with other counties and talking about emergency preparedness and how to test our Strategic National Stockpile, which is what this drill is,” Robinson explained. “Receiving assets, medical supplies, in the event of an emergency is rather similar to receiving and distributing Girl Scout cookies. So, that’s how the connection was born between the county health department and Girl Scouts.”

The drill was observed by members of the county health department staff, assisted by members of the NYS and Onondaga County health departments. They will evaluate the exercise.

School District To Pay Back Indeck

The Oswego Board of Education got another look at the latest figures for the tentative 2013-14 school budget.

At Tuesday night’s (Feb 12) board meeting, Superintendent Bill Crist updated the board members on the $80.2 million spending plan.

The budget committee is working to tighten the budget before it is officially presented to the board for approval later this spring.

“At this point, it’s a best guess as to what we’re trying to get to,” Crist said. “We have some hard work to do.”

The current budget “is very tight, very lean,” he said adding that he think the 2013-14 school budget will be the same.

The 2013-14 budget is being crafted in the wake of Tuesday night’s settlement of the tax challenge brought by Indeck-Oswego, seeking a reduction of the assessed value of its property within the city (and school district) of Oswego.

The board voted 6-0 in favor of approving the deal.

“We had an idea that it was going to get to this point,” Crist said of the settlement with Indeck. “We have a lot of hard work to do now to come in with a fiscally responsible budget for the next school year.”

The essential terms of the settlement are a reduction of the assessed value for the tax parcel (Steam Station) from $10,000,000 to $5,542,000 for tax year 2009-10; $3,500,000 for tax year 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, with refunds paid based on reduced assessments.

Based upon the agreed reduced assessed values, the district owes Indeck $54,826 for the 2009 assessment year; $47,222 for the 2010 assessment year; $126,880 for the 2011 assessment year; and $29,483 for the 2012 assessment year.

Maffei Hosts Oswego Small Business Round Table Discussion

Dan Maffei (D-NY) hosted a small business round table discussion at Lombardo’s Bridie Manor Restaurant in the Port City as part of his district-wide listening tour focused on job creation.

Later, he was also scheduled to meet with Novelis workers and toured the facility.

Maffei cited creating more jobs, fixing the economy and growing the middle class as his top priorities.

During the Feb 20 roundtable, several small business owners, local politicians and those who assist small business told Maffei their ideas on how to expand small businesses, retain jobs, create new jobs and grow the region’s economy.

This was the fourth roundtable Rep. Maffei has hosted of this nature and there have been two consistent themes that continue to get raised, he said.

The first is the need to improve our local infrastructure and transportation options in order for businesses to grow, expand, and be competitive, he pointed out.

“As businesses work to move goods and personnel in and out of the region, they need improved infrastructure and transportation in order to do so,” he said.

The second thing is education and having a well-trained, qualified workforce is a key need, according to Maffei.

Newest Legislator Vows To Work For The People

At the February Oswego County Legislature meeting, Jack Brandt was sworn in to fill the seat vacated by the late Art Ospelt.

Brandt, a Republican, is an attorney with deep ties throughout legislative District 12. Most recently he served as a town justice in Schroeppel.

He described Ospelt as “a true pillar of our community and a strong advocate for our area.”

The legislator gave more than four decades of service to the county in a various number of positions, including county administrator.

Brandt thanked many people, individually and collectively, for helping him join the ranks of county legislator.

“I want to thank the legislature for the opportunity to serve the county in this capacity,” Brandt said.

He pledged that his votes will be in favor of what he believes to be in the best interest of his constituents.

“The philosophy that I adopted years ago, was given to me by Art Ospelt,” he pointed out. “He told me to vote your conscience. And, I’ll tell you the same thing he told me, my vote is not for sale; I do not vote on the basis of fear or favor. That’s the philosophy I follow and it’s a little too late in the game for me to change now. So, my pledge to the people here is any vote that I make on any issue I will vote my best judgment to be in the interest of the community in general and my constituents particularly.”

Schumer Pushing for Repairs, Modernization at Oswego Port

The Port of Oswego Authority has been a vital part the Central New York economy for decades.

It is a critical asset for CNY business and global supply chains for everything from soybeans to aluminum, according to US Senator Charles Schumer. But, deteriorating rail lines and lack of critical equipment could hamper the port’s ability to grow and compete, he added.

The senator was in Oswego on Feb 18  to announce his three-pronged plan to ensure the port prospers for generations to come.

Schumer was joined by Jonathon Daniels, (then) executive director of the Port of Oswego, and Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.

The port needs to make critical upgrades to infrastructure and equipment so that it can meet future shipping demands, increase productivity and preserve its role as a critical resource for business throughout Central New York – and around the globe, Schumer told the crowd of port officials, business representative and members of the Oswego County Legislature.

“The port is a great entryway for business and jobs throughout Central New York,” Schumer said. “We’re here today to focus on the big boost in the popularity of the port in recent years. When I first came here in 2007, the port was not as close to as busy as it is now.”

“The roster of companies (that use the port) keeps growing. The needs keep growing,” Daniels said. “Because of that, the senator is here again today to talk about a program to aid the port.”

“The port is growing and that is great news. But there are significant obstacles for it to grow further,” the senator said.

Schumer urged the Federal Railroad Administration to provide a much-needed $1.5 million loan to the port through its Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, which aims to finance development of railroad infrastructure.

The loan would have a “very low rate of interest” and be paid back over 30 years, the senator said.

The tracks have deteriorated to the point of shutting down, Schumer said, adding there have also been derailments all that stretch. The current rails have been in place since 1963, and has had no rehab in the last half century, he said.

“Without modernization, the rail line is at risk of shutdown and the port would be rendered useless,” Schumer warned. “The port handles 1,000 rail cars annually. A few years ago, it was zero. So, if we fix the rail line, it could be thousands and thousands more.”

Secondly, Schumer said the port is in need of a specialized forklift to better handle the large, overweight materials at the facility.

Currently, to handle such cargo, the port has to rent a crane from an outside contractor, which is an unnecessary expense, Schumer said.

He is urging the federal government to transfer one such forklift to the port through a surplus equipment program.

Schumer also announced his support of the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013.

It would unlock the dredging funding that the US Army Corps of Engineers needs in order to dredge the port and maintain operations, he said.

SUNY Oswego Student Recovers from Bacterial Meningitis

Laboratory tests have confirmed that an 18-year-old female SUNY Oswego freshman contracted bacterial meningitis, Jiancheng Huang, Oswego County Director of Public Health, said on Feb 19. The student was recovering at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

The Oswego County Health Department and SUNY Oswego health officials located persons who had close contact with the student. Several close acquaintances were treated with preventative medication at the Mary Walker Health Center at SUNY Oswego.

Bacterial meningitis is a relatively rare but serious acute illness in which bacteria infect the covering of the brain and the spinal cord.  A vaccine protects against the most common strains of meningococcal bacteria, and the student had been vaccinated. The New York State Public Health Law (Section 2167) requires college students to obtain the vaccine or sign a waiver.

The disease is spread by air through droplets of respiratory secretions and direct contact with an infected person, such as sneezing and coughing, sharing food items, a drinking glass, a cigarette or kissing. Symptoms of meningitis may include fever, severe headache or neck ache, chills, mental confusion, stiff neck, vomiting and sensitivity to light.

School Board Approves Salary Adjustment for Superintendent

At its meeting Feb 26, the Oswego Board of Education approved a salary adjustment for Bill Crist, the retiring Superintendent of Schools, for the 2012-13 school year. The rate is now $147,737.

The board also approved an amendment of the superintendent’s contract by adjusting his health insurance contribution from 20% to 15%.

Both votes were 4-2 with Kathleen Allen and Sam Tripp casting the nay votes.

Crist announced earlier this year that he was stepping down at the end of this school year.

BOCES District Superintendent Chris Todd was leading the search for the new superintendent.

The desire of the Board of Education was to place a suitable candidate in the superintendent of school position by July 1.

“Their timeline is such that they will very likely have a new superintendent in place by July 1,” Crist said.

If not, he would be willing to stay on in an as needed role, he added.