2014 In Review: In April – Hundreds Turn Out To Remember Heidi Allen

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

It was a study in paradox April 3 at the New Haven Fire Hall. The large crowd inside was laughing, smiling and sharing stories. However, it wasn’t the happy event one might think. Instead, the occasion marked the 20th anniversary of the kidnapping of Heidi Allen.

Heidi disappeared around and 7:50 a.m. April 3, 1994, from the D&W Convenience Store at Route 104 and 104B in New Haven. She was working alone that Easter Sunday. Her last transaction was at 7:42 a.m. She has not been found. She was 18 years old.

Following the social hour at the memorial event, the crowd moved outside for a candlelight vigil at 7:42 p.m. Lisa Buske, Heidi’s sister, greeted the crowd and thanked everyone for their support.

Pastor Vivian Summerville, the same pastor who led the vigils in 1994 and 1995, opened the prayer time. Pastor Daniel Groh helped make the vigil a special time of hope and prayer.

Is this more special because it’s the 20-year mark?

“I don’t believe this year is more special than others yet these milestone markers seem to be more difficult, creating different emotions and expectations,” Buske told Oswego County Today. “Typically, the 10th or 20th anniversaries are momentous and special because it means you’ve achieved longevity on the job, accomplished decades of marriage when so many choose to divorce, or a positive annotation to reaching another 10 years. For the families of the missing, to reach 10, 20 or more years with no answers … it isn’t special or something to celebrate.”

These anniversaries remind us that life is precious and not to take a day for granted, she added. Her personal desire is to educate, inform and help others understand kidnapping and child exploitation happen anywhere.

County Combats Jail Overcrowding with Alternatives to Incarceration

In early April, the Oswego County Legislature’s Public Safety and Finance and Personnel committees approved a budget modification request from Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd to cover the cost of housing inmates out-of-county.

In the first two months of the year, this expense amounted to $130,000 which exhausted the adopted 2014 budget amount of $100,000.

The full Legislature approved the budget transfer the following week.

“A minimum of $30,000 is necessary at this time to process payments for costs that have already been incurred,” said Sheriff Todd. “We are requesting additional funding to cover estimated expenses for the rest of the year. Capacity at the Oswego County Correctional Facility continues to exceed its limits due to a variety of factors. This results in inmates being housed in facilities in other counties at the expense of our own.”

Some of the factors associated with overcrowding at the county jail include more local arrests for drugs and other felonies, longer jail sentences, the number of days defendants await sentencing, and the closure of state prisons. These closures have created a rise in the number of state parole violators being housed at the Oswego facility.

This is an unfunded state mandate which, along with the state’s denial of a housing limit variance, has compounded the problem and forced the county to house prisoners at other counties’ prisons at local taxpayer expense.

The Oswego County Alternatives to Incarceration Board was established by the Legislature Chairman to address the problem.

Buccaneer Bulletin Tops Award Winning Scholastic New York Press Association Publications

The award-winning Oswego High School Buccaneer Bulletin continued the tradition of being ranked among the best scholastic publications in New York State. The NYS Press Association recognized the Buccaneer Bulletin at its annual conference at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs. Editor-in-Chief Tara Stacy and Alumni Editor Victoria Armet accepted the award as the best high school publication in New York State.

In earning the first place “General Excellence” award the judges said, “The front page photos are excellent. The ‘Athletes of the Month’ are fantastic. The use of graphics and pull-out quotes are very well done. Stories are well-written and overall these are excellent newspapers.”

The awards didn’t just stop at the “General Excellence” category, but several plaques were brought home.

The paper earned first place in “Design” as judged said, “There is a great use of color and it is fun to read. There is excellent formatting of photos and wrapping text. The incorporation of sidebars, cartoons and pulled quotes and materials looked fantastic. There was a clean format while not feeling boring.”

In the “Sports” category Rachael Purtell received first place recognition.

The Buc Bulletin earned a second and third place honor for “Feature” story. Purtell received recognition for second place and Patrick Baer a third place award.

In the “Photography” category Baer received second place recognition.

Baer also received a third place award in the “Column” category.

There were two honorable mention awards with Alex Borland earning recognition in the “Best Sports Story” category and Purtell in the “Column” area.

Dozens Weigh In On School Budget Plan

Oswego City School District Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey updated the board of education and the public on the 2014-15 budget situation during the April 8 board meeting in the OHS cafeteria. And then, about three dozen speakers let him know what they thought of his tentative spending plan as well as the potential cuts it includes.

The district’s projected revenue for the next school year was $79.8 million and projected expenses are $81.5 million – a gap of $1.7 million. Halsey’s spending plan would include a four-percent tax increase.

To close that gap, he is proposing cutting nine positions from the high school; seven teachers, a school counselor and the weight room supervisor. That would mean a savings of $887,099. The Buc School would be another budget causality. Eliminating the alternative school (all nine positions associated with it and associated costs) would result in a savings of $762,368.

All of the reductions amount to $4,588,425. The gap is $1.7 million, he pointed out.

“That gives us room to prioritize, to listen and discuss amongst each other what it is that we value going forward,” he said.

Several speakers spoke out against cutting the weight room supervisor. The Big Picture (Buc) School received vigorous support from students as well as parents.

Jim Jackson, who represents the district’s support staff, questioned why the district is considering laying off support when it hasn’t reduced the size of any of its facilities.

Others spoke about the importance the theater and the two positions. Cutting the positions would severely damage the theater and have a ripple affect on all the students, as well as the community members who use the facility, they said.

Oswego’s 2014 Polar Plunge Draws More Than 125

It was the coldest and fastest Polar Plunge for Special Olympics New York. Temperatures languished below freezing on April 5 and the windchill was in the teens.

More than 125 people from all around the area, including SUNY Oswego, took part in the second Oswego Polar Plunge for Special Olympics New York.

The plunge began at 1 p.m.

An honor guard made up of representatives of local law enforcement, US Coast Guard Oswego Station, and Oswego Fire Department lead a large contingent of Special Olympians to the water at Wright’s Landing. One of them carried the Olympic Torch.

They were followed by dozens of polar plungers, in various stages of dress.

By 1:05 p.m. they were back on dry land with friends and family members wrapping them up in blankets and winter coats.

“A lot of people plunged in the lake today. That’s nice,” said Roger Pullen who joined them in the frosty frolic. “I went in to help Special Olympics. I’m an athlete. I wanted to help out like everybody else.”

Heather Moore said she wanted to take part because it is a really good cause.

“And, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she added. “Everyone should do this once in their lives.”

Guinn Simmons said she was plunging in honor of a friend with special needs.

“It’s for a real good cause,” she said. “And, I can help out a friend as well.”

Mayor Tom Gillen, who had been at the War of 1812 Symposium, stopped by to thank the plungers for turning out to support the Special Olympics program. However, even though he arrived by 1:06 p.m., everyone had already gotten in and out of the water.

“I don’t blame them,” he said. “This has got to be the coldest plunge ever; and the windchill must be around 15-20 degrees! It’s great to see our community come together for an event like this. Everyone should be very proud for helping out the Special Olympics today!”

AAA Recognizes City of Oswego for Traffic Safety Success

On April 14, Tony Spada, president and CEO of AAA Western and Central New York presented Oswego Mayor Thomas Gillen, Oswego Police Chief Tory DeCaire and Oswego Police Lieutenant Charles Searor with their second Gold Award for their success in the in AAA’s Community Traffic Safety Program.

The city of Oswego demonstrated success in addressing speeding, aggressive and impaired driving, occupant protection, and pedestrian and school zone safety.

Gold Awards, are given to communities that implement programs and projects that demonstrate superior effort at addressing local traffic safety issues.

The program considers basic crash statistics, presence of a traffic safety leadership group, projects, and their effectiveness.

Oswego Approves Amendments To Taxi Cab Law

At its meeting April 14, the Common Council fine tuned its local law regarding taxis.

“It was more than a year ago when we introduced this local law and there was a question from (the Workforce Advocacy Center) that had to do with the law’s legality as it related to how you would treat convicted felons and others who have already done their time and whether or not what we were trying to do was discriminatory against those individuals,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz explained.

The council has since had the state of New York go through the legislation and made it legal; so the local language is consistent with state statue and other law, he added.

“So, now it will regulate taxi cabs, taxi cab drivers, will require individuals to submit to a host of questions regarding their background. What we’re really looking to do is if your mother or father, brother, sister whoever hops in a cab, they have the right to know who is driving and be safe,” Kaplewicz said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
The code was amended so that it reflects the state’s Correction Law, which has the appeals process for this type of thing spelled out.

So if someone feels they have been wrongfully treated, the appeals process is now clearly marked, according to Sixth Ward Councilor Eric VanBuren.

Originally, the law barred persons with felony convictions from driving taxis in the city of Oswego.

Oswego County Clerk Invited To Russia

Oswego County Clerk Michael C. Backus was invited to visit Russia for 12 days in May as part of an international exchange program organized by the American Council of Young Political Leaders and sponsored by the US State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The ACYPL manages political exchanges for young American political leaders between the ages of 25 and 40. The program is designed to reflect the broad diversity of the United States and includes equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

Backus is the youngest county clerk in New York State and was invited to participate in a seven-member delegation that left from Washington, D.C. for Moscow on May 8.

“I am honored to receive this invitation,” said Backus. “As a delegate to Russia, I will be provided with the unique opportunity to meet with elected officials at the national, regional and local levels, as well as policy makers, business, and community leaders, and Russian alumni who traveled to the US on an ACYPL program.”

Backus will be representing New York State along with Oswego County while in Russia. He shared information about Oswego County fishing and manufacturing, along with state tourism opportunities like the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oswego School Board OKs 2014-15 Spending Plan

On April 23, the Oswego board of education approved the budget for the coming school year 6-0-1 with member John Dunsmoor absent. The $79,900,000 spending plan contained a 4 percent tax increase for the fiscal year commencing July 1, 2014.

It also called for the closure of the Buc School located in the basement of the Education Center. The Big Picture School program wasn’t being eliminated as the students would be able to continue with the program in some manner as they are integrated back into the Oswego middle and high schools. Some, however, opted to drop out of school.

“This is a difficult situation. There is not a perfect budget there. The board support of this budget means a lot to me as a superintendent. Now, our task is to take these next few weeks and present it to the public in a way that they can understand it, and answer their questions so they feel informed to vote on it on May 20. I’m happy with the result today,” Superintendent Ben Halsey said following the meeting.

School Board Approves Contract Extension With Teachers’ Union

The Oswego Board of Education also approved a contract extension with the OCTA (teachers’ union). The new deal called for a 1.75% raise for 2102-2013.

Then there were 2 percent hikes for 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and for 2015-2016.

“I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. It was a restless night. Voting on this contract at this time when we’re trying to approve a budget … I think the timing is terrible,” board vice president Sam Tripp said. “We’re laying off people, the taxpayers of this city have gotten a huge increase (in city taxes), water bills are out of sight. The timing is just lousy in my eyes.”

The vote was 6-0-1 with member John Dunsmoor absent.

Oswego Council Shoots Down Rental Fee Hike

At its meeting April 28, the Common Council voted 3-4 to increase the rental inspection fees. During discussion at the previous week’s committee meeting it was noted that the city isn’t covering what it costs to perform the inspections.

It was suggested the fees be upped to $50. However, at the council meeting the resolution was to increase the fee to $75 per unit, per three years.

Council President Ron Kaplewicz noted that “it has become very obvious that the current $30 rate per unit doesn’t cover the cost. This resolution increases the rate to $75 per unit and it also does some other things.”

There are a number of rental properties in the city that are in need of improvement, both inside and outside, he added.

The fee would include the application costs, initial inspection of the rental unit and a one-time re-inspection if necessary. However, if the violations persist after the initial re-inspection, a $50 fee will be assessed for each additional inspection thereafter.

“The resolution includes a higher fee for those units we have to inspect for a third and fourth time, Kaplewicz said.

These fees would have taken effect on May 1.

“This is just a short-term measure,” Kaplewicz said. “Right now, we are obligated to inspect properties. We are woefully behind in our obligation.”

Councilor Mike Myers suggested letting the landlords deal with their tenants.

“Let them call their landlord if they want the place inspected,” he said.

“Right now, like it or not, there are inspections that have to be done,” Councilor Fran Enwright pointed out. “It is costing the city more to do these inspections than what we collect. I can’t see us subsidizing these inspections right now. This is a short-term fix.”

He said he feels inspections “should be more based on a complaint or as needed.”

“Nobody knows their business better than (the landlords). If that’s the case, let’s partner with them,” Council Vice President Eric VanBuren said. “I’m fine with that.”

Voting against the fee hike were councilors Shawn Walker, Bill Barlow, Mike Myers and Mike Todd. Casting a yes vote were councilors VanBuren, Kaplewicz and Fran Enwright.