2014 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.

In early February, the Port City celebrated what the area is best known for – Winter. 2014 marked the ninth annual Warm Up Oswego festival.

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

Temperatures lingered in the teens Feb. 8 and the windchill made it even colder. But hundreds of people braved the weather in and around the Oswego YMCA Armory.

Throughout the afternoon, hundreds of people wandered around the Armory to check out the vendors’ wares and watch the various demonstrations and performances.

“This festival gives us the opportunity to celebrate Oswego’s fabulous winters,” Mayor Tom Gillen said. “Today we can show the world that Oswego is one hot town, even when the temperature is below freezing!’

Following the opening remarks, the annual the Hot 2K Trot race got under way.

What was the best part of the day? “I got to dance with the ‘pepper,'” exclaimed one Oswego youngster.

“It’s what you do on a cold winter day in Oswego – you celebrate,” the mayor told Oswego County Today. “There are a lot of people inside (the Armory) having a good time. It’s really great to see all the demonstrations and performances. There are a lot of good things going on in Oswego. I’d like to thank the organizers of the festival for helping highlight some of those things.”

This year’s event drew hundreds of people to the Armory and dozens more to various other locations all around downtown from noon to 4 p.m. for the annual Hot Scavenger Hunt.

“This is fun. It’s what Oswego is all about; (children) enjoying the winter,” said Jillian Shaver of the Children’s Museum of Oswego. The group volunteered to conduct the Treasure Hunt in the Snow event.

“I think we had a nice turnout,” said Mary Vanouse, community development director and one of the organizers of the event. “Everything is going well and everyone is having a real good time.”

The team crazy costume sled race lasted just a few seconds. The YMCA Misfits team captured the title.

Investigation Continued Into Sub Shop Security Breach

Also in early February, a possible compromise of information may have been accomplished via an unauthorized external breach (hack) at Oswego Sub Shop. Therefore, it was not a matter of an internal security breach.

The possible compromise may have occurred several months prior.

On or about January 21, information was released to the public, attributed to the Oswego City Police Department, that the Oswego Sub Shop’s computers may have been compromised resulting in the unauthorized use of customers’ credit card information.

The Oswego Sub Shop was working diligently, in full cooperation with the United States Secret Service in finding the point of origin of this possible breach.

Since being notified of the possible compromise, the management of the Oswego Sub Shop replaced all hard drives in their point of sale terminals and hired experts in PCI (Payment Card Industry) Compliance to ensure that their system is and will remain secure to the highest degree.

According to Oswego City Police Chief Tory L. DeCaire, “The management of the Oswego Sub Shop has fully cooperated in this investigation and, at this point, there is no reason to believe that the customers of the Oswego Sub Shop are at any greater risk than those at any other business that allows electronic transactions.”

Council OK’s Yacht Club Deck Plan

The Oswego Common Council approved two requests from the Oswego Yacht Club, but not without a bit of discussion.

The club requested authorization to host several regattas (Oswego County Hospice Cup, Sail Oswego, Eastern Yachting Circuit and the J-24 Pennant Series) planned for the 2014 season. And, the club requested authorization to do a deck expansion. The club leases its current facility from the city.

The northern most deck of the building was never completed to a functional platform and the club wished to complete this dock on the existing footprint according to the site plan.

The club will cover the entire costs of all phases of the project. The estimated cost of materials for the project is $26,000 to $28,000. Labor will be provided by members of the club.

However, if the city terminates the club’s lease (prior to its end date), the club will ask the city to reimburse them for the project’s costs. Such costs will be reduced by one-sixteenth each year of the remaining 16 years of the lease; such that at the final termination date of the lease, the amount of reimbursement to the club by the city shall be zero.

Work was to begin in May and be completed in mid-July, according to Yacht Club officials.

First Ward Councilor Fran Enwright, a Yacht Club member, said the deck deal is a win-win.

“The city gets $500 a month rent for the top floor of the Yacht Club site, $6,000 a year; they pay about $45,000 a year for slip rentals; plus the dry slips, so that’s $5,250; and more,” he said. “That doesn’t even count the reciprocals, those boaters that come here, dock and want to come see the city. That’s even more money. It’s over $60,000 that (the club) generates annually. So I think that’s not a bad deal.”

Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd, however, said $500 a month isn’t sufficient rent for site.

The reimbursement clause was a sticking point for another councilor.

“I don’t agree with that,” Fourth Ward Councilor Shawn Walker said. “So, I don’t believe that I’m going to support this.”

The club’s request to use public space passed 7-0.

However, the vote was 5-2 on the deck resolution with councilors Walker and Todd casting nay votes.

County Eyes Governor’s Tax Freeze Proposal

For Oswego County taxpayers it could mean a $16.07 rebate check for two years or a permanent $514.08 tax cut.

At February’s Oswego County Legislature meeting, County Administrator Phil Church presented a summary of the Governor’s property tax freeze proposal and what it could mean locally.

“If the state passes this, it will determine a lot of the work that all of you (legislators) and all of our department heads, myself and the chairman do for the next two years,” Church explained. “So we thought it was very important for you to understand what the proposal is and what it will require you to do.”

The Governor anticipated $2 billion would be available surplus in the state’s fiscal years 2016-17.

The first $1 billion is earmarked for a two-year “property tax freeze,” accomplished by sending rebate checks to homeowners in each tax jurisdiction that complies with the two-percent real property tax cap. The rebate would be equal to the amount of the year’s increase in the homeowner’s tax bill.

Homeowners would be eligible for a rebate in the second year only if their jurisdictions keep their levies within the cap and also submit a local government consolidation and shared-services plan to the state by June 2015 that will reduce the participating jurisdictions’ aggregate tax levies by three percent.

The proposal also contains a “circuit-breaker” in years 3 to 5 that would tie the net amount of a homeowner’s property tax bill to the homeowner’s ability to pay, and a state-funded tax credit for property taxes paid by manufacturers.

The Governor assigns the responsibility for coordinating the development and implementation of the consolidation/shared services plan to the county.

If a county chooses not to participate, the lead agency responsibility falls to next largest tax jurisdiction.

“Using Oswego County’s 2014 combined tax levies for operations, community college, and workers compensation ($50,314,900) and the 2014 full value ($5,932,003,592), we can calculate the amount of an average homeowner’s rebate check, assuming a straight 2% tax cap increase for 2015,” he said. “For the average Oswego County home valued at $94,500, the rebate check would be $16.07.”

Many counties and the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) are proposing this alternative method to provide property tax reduction to New Yorkers, he said.

The alternative consists of the state taking over the costs of four of its own programs: Medicaid, indigent defense, pre-school special education, and Safety Net.

“Clearly, the mandate relief method results in greater property tax reduction over a longer period of time, contain less bureaucratic complexities and doesn’t require new circuit breakers and exemptions,” Church said. “If Oswego County taxpayers were asked, ‘Which would you choose: a $16.07 rebate check for two years or a permanent $514.08 tax cut?’ it would not be a stretch to predict their answers.”

OHS Students Award Winning Work on Display

The artistic impressions of several Oswego High School students were recognized in the annual Central New York Scholastic Arts competition.

Several Oswego students were recognized at ceremonies on the Onondaga Community College campus.

Their work was on display at the Whitney Applied Technology Center, 4941 Onondaga Road in Syracuse.

“Gold Key” recipients included Teo Patty for the drawing “Lost a Marble,” Allie Henderson for design of “Endangered Habitats” and a photography piece “Old vs. New” and Brenna Riley drawing entitled “Oliver.”

“Silver Key” award winners included Carrie Gilbert for drawing entitled “Clarinet,” Katie Bradshaw “Home Repair” drawing, Reilly Patrick drawing “Slate,” the sculpture “Punked Angel” by Brandi Hibbert, Shea Hewitt design of “Mind Like a Lens Letterhead Design” as well a photography piece “Leaf me Alone,” Rebecca North drawing “Farmers Market,” Kayla Volkomer painting of “Winter Birds” and Henderson for photography “Sea Glass.”

There were numerous “Honorable Mention” award winners.

Teacher Melissa Martin said, “Winning recognition in this show is very prestigious. Receiving a ‘Gold Key’ is equivalent to winning a sectional title in sports.”

The CNY Scholastic Arts competition encompasses a large 13-county region with almost 400 eligible schools.

Smoke Causes FPS Evacuation

Students at the Fitzhugh Park Elementary School were evacuated from the building for a short time one day in mid-February as smoke was reported on the second floor. Upon further investigation the source of the smoke was a fire in a waste basket.

The Oswego Fire Department and district personnel were on the scene.

There were no injuries.

Officials allowed the students to return to their classrooms.

Novelis Workers To Vote On Union Representation

Novelis employees were deciding whether they want a union to represent them at the plant in Scriba.

When Novelis recently unveiled a multi-million dollar investment in Scriba, they credited a strong workforce. As those workers watched the company grow, they say health care costs went up for less coverage, retiree health benefits were eliminated, and some overtime pay was cut, among other things.

The plant manager said they need to keep a tight budget in order to keep the Scriba plant secure. Two of their competitors announced a joint venture of $150 million to do exactly as Novelis, he added.

In late February, workers went to the polls. When the ballots were tallied, the attempt to unionize was defeated by just a few votes.

Oswego School Board Begins Reviewing Budget Numbers

Superintendent Ben Halsey handed out “a first blush” of the school district budget for the coming academic year. It contained operating expenditures, appropriations for next year, he said.

“We give it to you now so that you can take it with you and take the time you need to peruse it, make notes in the margins, generate questions and have a discussion,” he told the board.

Board members could contact him or Nancy Squairs, the district’s business manger, with any questions, he added.

Discussion continued throughout the spring.

Mayor Issues Travel Advisory For Port City

As of 1 p.m. Feb. 26, Mayor Tom Gillen issued a travel advisory in the city of Oswego due to the heavy snow accumulation and white-out conditions in the immediate area.

The travel advisory phrase meant no unnecessary travel on city streets and no parking on city streets between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. which are the hours of the city’s alternate-side parking restrictions.

Motorists were asked not to park on city streets during non-parking ban hours to assist city DPW crews in snow removal.

The travel advisory remained in effect for about a day until the snow was cleared.

Residents, City Officials Share Ideas

A small but vocal group of civic minded Oswegonians braved the winter weather in late February to attend a town hall meeting at City Hall.

The meeting was hosted by Eric VanBuren, Sixth Ward Councilor and council vice president, and lasted nearly two and a half hours. It was open to the public and not just residents of the Sixth Ward.

Besides VanBuren, other city officials at the meeting included Mayor Tom Gillen, City Chamberlain Deb Coad, Personnel Director Rita Tickle, Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie and Fifth Ward Councilor Bill Barlow also stopped in.

VanBuren opened the meeting by explaining some background about the budget, fund balance, consent decree and other items.

Some members of the audience pointed out the tax increase was hard to take, especially on the heels of increased water and sewer fees the past couple of years.

The city is taking a look at all of its departments, starting with the fire department, to determine whether they are operating at optimal efficiency. If not, the council and administration will restructure them.

With 52 percent of the city properties tax exempt, Oswego needs to find new ways to generate revenue, one audience member said.