2013 In Review: In October Legislators Get First Look At Proposed 2014 Budget

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

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church unveiled the first version of the proposed 2014 county budget at the October Finance and Personnel Committee meeting.

The draft 2014 Oswego County Budget was $197,408,657 and carried a real property tax levy of $43,053,017.

The draft budget allocates $5.5 million in unappropriated fund balance and reserves – which is $1,385,167 less than 2013, thereby making important progress in the vital goal of reducing reliance on those declining sources, Church pointed out, adding that “it’s moving in the right direction.”

During the adoption of the 2013 budget, in order to have no increase in the property tax levy, the legislature covered large increases in the mandated NYS Pension and Safety Net programs by allocating $2,385,167 from the Retirement Reserve and committed itself to undertake cost reduction measures during 2013. Among these were the reduction of $1 million in costs and transfer of Tax Stabilization Reserve funds to the Retirement Reserve in anticipation of decreasing NYS Pensions in 2013.

The draft budget accomplishes both, Church noted.

The reduction in the initial levy was accomplished through a combination of personnel attrition, operating cost reductions and a small unanticipated reduction in NYS Pension, Church explained.

The draft budget contained eight fewer positions, five downgraded positions and 32 vacated positions filled at lower rates.

Significantly, 18 county departments had draft budgets that lower their net county cost to the taxpayers.  Others had increases, most notably maintenance cost for the expanded emergency communications system and employee/retiree health benefits.

The result is a real property tax levy that increases slightly by 0.91 percent.

This, coupled with a drop in the overall assess value, generated a generic tax rate of $7.26 per thousand dollars of assessed value. This translates to $15 for the average residential home in Oswego County.

OHS Bandmates Headed To U.S. Army All-American Marching Band

The 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl Selection Tour recruited a pair of Marching Buccaneers on Oct. 3 to the Army All-American Marching Band.

OHS student musicians Cassandra Hondro and Emily King said it took a lot of hard work to make the select group of musicians from around the country. They are, in fact, the only two selected from New York State. Two students from different schools were picked for colorguard.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio will be televised live on NBC, from the Alamodome on Jan. 4, 2014. The band will perform at halftime.

Since 2007, Hondro and King are the 11th and 12th Marching Buccaneers to be selected for this honor.

“We actually found out in the beginning of August that we had been selected,” Hondro said, adding quickly, “But, we had to keep it hush hush!”

Her first reaction when she learned she had been selected for the band?

“Jumping up and down screaming,” she said. “I was that excited. It’s really an honor to be part of such an elite group.”

King agreed.

“I was really surprised, really surprised honestly,” she said. “You kind of think about it, it would be great to be selected. It’s kind of a dream. And then when you actually get the call and you have been selected, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. You don’t expect it really. And then you hear it and it’s like wow I am an All-American! You don’t know what to think.”

“This community has really supported music in our schools. It’s really been unbelievable,” band director Scott Ciesla said. “It helps and it’s part of the family that we have here. It’s an honor to have you all as our special guests as we honor one of our students that like many are thriving in our music program here in Oswego.”

“We are ever grateful for your service and sacrifices. From the bottom, of my heart, thank you so much for everything,” he told the Army representatives.

Growing Great Pumpkins Is A Labor of Love

2013 Oswego Great Pumpkin champion Andy Wolf says growing award-winning pumpkins takes a lot of hard work – with some good luck mixed in.

“Mother Nature can be very fickle,” the Little Valley resident said.

Little Valley is about an hour directly south of Buffalo, Wolf said, adding, “It’s about a three and a half-hour drive to get to Oswego.”

The trip was well worth it this year as his 1,461.5-pound entry took home the top prize of $2,000.

“It’s a lot of practice; I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now. It’s a lot of hard work,” he told Oswego County Today. “It takes lots of manure, lots of water and yes, a little bit of luck. That plays a big part. I had one last year that was 1,640 pounds on Aug. 26 and it was still growing pretty good. And it split. You win some, you loose some.”

Fellow grower Gary Adams agrees with that.

“I did my plants in May. It’s like three weeks behind. I had a real big one I packed up for Cooperstown and a mouse ate a hole in the bottom,” he said. “It was a huge, huge pumpkin. I got it loaded it on. And my wife goes, ‘What did you do drop it?’ I said, ‘No worse than that – a mouse ate it!’”

“During the winter time, we’ll take the seeds out of these and we’ll mail them back and forth to all the other pumpkin growers. We’ll give them to the clubs to sell for fundraisers. It’s pretty much a year-round thing,” Wolf added.

“It’s a labor of love,” said 2006 champion Eric Gerry. “You get out there and do it because you really want to, you enjoy the work. You want to see just how big a pumpkin you can grow.”

School Board Hears About ‘Math Stress’

Things weren’t adding up for math students in the Oswego City School. Multiply that by the number of students that are getting frustrated and factor in the number of parents aggravated about being unable to help their children with homework and it equaled one big headache for the district.

At October’s school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Cathy Chamberlain and the district’s Director of Mathematics Carrie Plasse presented a program on the implementation of the mathematics modules within the district in hopes of providing information and reducing the level of stress for everyone.

Chamberlain explained that the new standards were needed because so many college students being unprepared for college. Many are having to take remedial math courses.

Research has shown that students who scored at least 75 percent on the ELA regents and at least 80 percent on the algebra regents were the students that were successful in college. That was just 37 percent of the students.

“Not a good figure,” Chamberlain said. “We need to go back and see what the issues are and see what the skills are that the students need to be successful.”

They also asked employers what percentage of students (who entered the workforce instead of college) weren’t prepared. The figure was 45 percent.

When asked the same question, college instructors responded with a very similar number – 42 percent.

“Those numbers are abysmal and so they knew that we really needed to take a look at the curriculum and make some big changes,” Chamberlain said.

A common curriculum has been created for the entire country, and so far, 48 states have bought into the program.

“We got new curriculum, that is mandated, the state tells us what curriculum we need to do. So, when the new common core came out, our state bought into it, so that is the curriculum that we need to follow,” Chamberlain said. “It outlines basically every grade level, every subject, what the students need to know and be able to do.”

Oswego is in the first year of the implementation of the new standards.

“There is a lot for teachers that is new. And, that is very difficult, especially in the area of math,” Chamberlain added. “We are working along with things as they come out.”

“This isn’t unique to Oswego. The majority of school districts across the state are experiencing the same stress and frustrations,” Interim Superintendent Gary Mix pointed out. “We need to take the time to do a couple of things. This is one of them right here, you have to have communication about these big changes. The second piece is going to happen on Friday (meeting with teachers).”

He said this is like driving a standard car. “You don’t start out in fourth gear. You start out in low gear and you’ve got to build up a certain degree of speed and momentum before you can go faster. If our students are ready yet, we need to find the time, to make the time for intervention and more time on class.”

St. Francis Snips Ribbon, Ready To Welcome Residents

St. Francis Commons Assisted Living Residence held its grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony in October. The brand new facility at 12 Burkle St. was packed with soon-to-be residents and those who may be in the future.

“This is such a nice place,” one woman said. “It’s very warm and homey.”

Greg Osetek, director of community relations, welcomed the large crowd.

“St. Francis Commons will join St. Luke Health Services, Bishops Commons and Michaud Residential Health Services in continuing programs and services we now provide to the greater Oswego community,” he said.

Breakfast icon Wade’s Diner serving up 75+ delicious years

Wade’s Diner celebrated 75+ years of business in October with a contest and a very special raffle to thank the community for its loyal support.

Wade’s owner, Anthony Zappala, announced plans to commemorate Oswego’s little “gem” of a diner by raffling off a beautiful pair of diamond earrings worth $395 donated by J.P. Jewelers in Oswego.

“We never really recognized our 75th anniversary in 2012, which was our diamond year, so we are doing it now,” Zappala said. “We really appreciate the generosity of Jamie Pauldine at J.P. Jewelers for his donation and for helping us to celebrate our anniversary in style.”

Originally opened in 1937 by Neal Wade, Wade’s Diner has only had three different owners during this time. Around 1953, Thomas Parrish purchased the diner from Wade. At the time, the diner was open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It was Thomas who decided it would be more economically feasible to make the diner a breakfast hotspot and it has remained open just for breakfast ever since.

In 1983, Zappala, along with Joseph Clark, purchased the diner.

In 2003, Clark, Zappala’s friend and business partner of 30 years, passed away and Zappala has been running Wade’s ever since.

Marching Bucs Capture Championship

“The Pride of Oswego” lived up to its moniker in October as the Oswego High School Marching Buccaneers returned home with a championship trophy and an assortment of hardware from a USBands competition in Nazareth, Pa.

The Marching Bucs captured first place in its division, earned the best overall scored for the show and received trophies for best music, best visual performance, best effect, best guard and best percussion.

Novelis Marks Commissioning of Aluminum Automotive Sheet Finishing Lines

Novelis, the world leader in aluminum rolling and recycling, on Oct. 24 commissioned a $200 million expansion of its rolling operations in Oswego (Scriba). About 100 local, state and federal representatives were on hand to help Novelis officials and local employees celebrate the milestone.

The expansion increases the company’s North American capacity for producing aluminum sheet for the automotive industry by 240,000 tons, five times the company’s existing capacity in the region.

“This automotive expansion in North America is an important piece of our global strategy in a market that is experiencing explosive growth,” said Phil Martens, Novelis president and chief Executive officer.

“Today is our grand opening celebration. I am very happy to be here today. This will position Novelis strong for the future as the leader in the automotive sector for aluminum products,” Marco Palmieri, senior vice president and president, Novelis North America, told Oswego County Today prior to the ceremony.

There were many reasons for the expansion in Oswego, he said.

“This is a great plant, a great workforce. We melt, hot mill, cold mill here. It makes all the sense to have the finishing lines here; that saves costs. We have many customers in the US, it makes a lot of sense to make the investment here,” he said. “We had hundreds of contractors working this job. But now, in normal operation, we added more than 100 jobs here.”

Novelis began construction on two new high-performance aluminum processing lines for automotive applications at its Oswego facility in 2011 in response to escalating demand for automotive aluminum sheet in the United States.

“Novelis is a great corporate citizen of our community. I think it is great that they are re-investing in their plant here. It’s a huge boost to our economy,” said Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.

The port of Oswego and other logistics for transportation and marketing were some of the things that influenced Novelis’ decision to expand in Oswego, the mayor noted.

“It means a lot to the greater Oswego area. It means jobs, good paying jobs. A lot of professionals are moving into our area. It creates a good quality of living for everyone,” he said.

Oswego City School Board Announces New Superintendent

The Board of Education of the Oswego City School District announced the appointment of Benjamin Halsey as Superintendent of Schools. Halsey, a distinguished leader with more than 20 years of experience in education, would be appointed  at a special meeting on October 29.

Halsey brings to the Oswego City School District nine years of experience as the Superintendent of the North Collins Central School District. Prior to his role of superintendent at North Collins, Halsey’s tenure in education includes experience as a building principal, assistant principal, athletic director, and teacher.

Coupled with Halsey’s professional experience and demonstrated leadership abilities are resounding character virtues of integrity and humility, the board noted. The virtues were echoed by Halsey’s professional references as well as from unsolicited sources and are qualities that the Board of Education believe the district will benefit greatly from.

The board said in a joint statement about the decision to appointment Mr. Halsey, “We look forward to his leadership, vision, and working with him for our community.”

Halsey assumed the duties of the superintendent for the Oswego City School District on December 2.

Oswego County Adult Recovers from West Nile Virus

OSWEGO – The Oswego County Health Department reported Oct. 21 that a senior resident in the county was recovering from West Nile virus. It was estimated that the patient was infected with the virus in middle to late September.

The virus is carried by mosquitoes and was found in mosquitoes collected in Central Square, West Monroe and in Onondaga County several times over the summer.

“The Oswego County Health Department is working with the state Department of Health to investigate the case,” said Jiancheng Huang, public health director of the Oswego County Health Department. “County residents are reminded to diligently practice individual prevention measures to reduce mosquito bites until a heavy frost comes.”

In most people, West Nile virus causes no symptoms, but it can cause serious health problems and in rare instances can lead to death.

Individuals aged 50 and older are at highest risk for serious illness. It is estimated that 20 percent of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever and have mild symptoms, including fever, headache and body aches, and occasionally a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Oswego Woman Honored for 18 Years of Activism Against MS

Brenda Irving of Oswego was recognized at the October 17 National MS Society Upstate New York Chapter’s annual meeting. The event was held at the Crowne Plaza in Syracuse and highlighted several individuals who have worked towards creating a world free of multiple sclerosis.

Irving was awarded with the Norman Cohn Hope Award emanating hope for the future through committed civic action. This is the Society’s highest volunteer award and is named after Cohn who was active in the movement against multiple sclerosis for 33 years.

Irving was diagnosed with MS just six months after her wedding. With the tremendous support of her family, she has been able to actively take a role in the movement against MS.

Prior to moving to New York State, she was involved for 14 years in her area’s local chapter. She has been involved with the Upstate New York Chapter for four years.

Irving remains humble and positive throughout the trials and tribulations that have come with her MS diagnosis.

“At times it’s been a journey, but everyone has their own journey ride to take. How we take it and what our support system is, I believe, can only make us stronger,” said Irving. “My faith is very important to me and I do see my MS diagnosis as a blessing in disguise. This disguise has a way of changing daily, but just the same, a blessing.”

Eugene G. Saloga Dies

Eugene G. Saloga, 86, a resident of East Sixth Street in Oswego, passed away Thursday October 31, 2013, in Oswego Hospital.

For 23 years, he had served as a member of the Air National Guard, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. From 1958 to 1967, he served as supervisor for the city of Oswego’s Eighth Ward.

In 1974, he was appointed as executive assistant to Oswego Mayor Walter Lazarek. In 1976, Saloga was appointed Oswego Community Development Director by Mayor Jack FitzGibbons. He also served in that position under Oswego Mayors John T. Sullivan, Terrence Hammill, and John Gosek, retiring in 2000.

In 2006, for his accomplishments, he received the Rhea Eckel Clark Citizenship Award from the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board.

Mr. Saloga was a former president of Operation Oswego County, and of the New York State Supervisors and County Legislators Association. He was a former Chairman of the Oswego County Planning Board.

He had also belonged to various other boards and organizations.

In 2005, he was named Veteran of the Year.