2014 In Review: In January Oswego Council Reorganizes, Eyes 2015 Budget

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. 2.

Councilors voted to reappoint Ronald Kaplewicz (Seventh Ward) as the presiding officer of the council for 2014. He was approved 6-1. Councilor Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) noted no.

The councilors also approved appointed Eric VanBuren (Sixth Ward) as the council’s vice president. That vote was also 6-1 with Walker casting the nay vote.

He didn’t vote against the person, just the raises each position carries, he explained.

“It’s not personal,” he told Oswego County Today. “I’m sticking to my guns. I haven’t been for the raises ever. I voted no because of the raises.”

The rules of the council state that an additional compensation of $5,000 per year for the council president and $2,500 for the vice president be paid to those two councilors.

Kaplewicz said there is a lot of work to do on the 2015 budget and the council will get started soon.

“We have to seriously look at every department again. We have to find a better way of doing business as a city,” he said.

County Launches Tourism I-Map for Visitors and Residents

The Oswego County Tourism Office launched a new interactive map (iMap) in early January that allows prospective visitors and local residents to create their own customized itinerary for visiting hundreds of places in Oswego County. The iMap is a computerized map linked to the Oswego County tourism web site at www.visitoswegocounty.com

Designed to be a mobile-friendly tool, it contains more than 500 properties or points of interest, including places to stay, eat, shop, and explore with location details and links to web sites.

“The iMap provides quick access to information on destinations throughout Oswego County,” said David Turner, director of the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning. “It allows you to create your own itinerary and customize it to your interests, such as museums, fishing spots, farm markets, shopping and eating. You can share the map with friends, print it out, and access it from anywhere there is internet service.”

There is no charge for Oswego County businesses and attractions to be included on the iMap.

Anyone who would like to submit information for the iMap may e-mail the county tourism office at [email protected], or call O’Brien at 349-8322.

K&N’s Opens First Facility In America – in Fulton

On Jan. 3, Khalil Sattar, chairman of K&N’s Foods USA, brought some delicious food to Fulton. He also brought along a lot of hope for the community.

The former BirdsEye facility on Phillips Street was buzzing with activity as Sattar announced the opening of K&N’s Foods USA. K&N’s, an international and premium brand of frozen Halal chicken products, is considered to be the favorite of millions of people outside North American market.

The immediate impact of this announcement “is jobs,” Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward told Oswego County Today. “It’s putting a lot of our people back to work.”

“We hope to get the USDA’s approval within a month, month and a half. We have everything set up. All we need is their approval to start,” Sattar said. “We’ve got the boxes even printed and ready. We can’t do the final print until USDA approves.”

Although they are still a couple months away from commercial production, K&N’s employs 44 people and endeavors to create 183 jobs by the third year of its operation, Sattar said.

“I think this is a wonderful experience,” Mayor Woodward said. “It gives us hope. Being the first city in the USA for them to break into the American market, I think, is very important. It gives us a lot of room for expansion; a lot of possibilities for the future. I think there is a lot of opportunity.”

County Democratic Caucus Undergoes Metamorphosis

The Oswego County Democratic Caucus was re-named the Independent Reform Caucus in January. This change was needed to reflect that not all of its members hail from the same political affiliation.

The five incumbent Democrats were joined by two more member of their party who were elected in November 2013.

Newly elected Legislator Richard Kline, a registered Republican, announced that he was allying himself with the seven Democrats in the minority.

The goal of this bi-partisan coalition caucus is to put people before politics by working to provide services to the people of Oswego County in a cost effective manner. To be diligent regarding the legalities of the business before the legislature and to work cooperatively with all interested parties to create a budget that is indicative of these priorities.

In addition to Legislator Kline, returning to their roles in the minority caucus were Democratic legislators Mike Kunzeiler, Doug Malone, Amy Tresidder, Jake Mulcahey and Dan Farfaglia. Joining them this year are Marie Schadt and Frank Castiglia.

Kevin Gardner was re-elected as the chairman of the Oswego County Legislature. Fellow Republican Linda Lockwood was elected vice chairman; taking over the role from Terry Wilbur.

The Republicans named Wilbur as majority leader. Milferd Potter is the majority whip for 2014.

Things stayed the same on the other side of the aisle with Kunzwiler and Malone retaining the positions of minority leader and minority whip, respectively.

Oswego one of six SUNY colleges to debut Open SUNY

The SUNY system selected SUNY Oswego’s online master’s in business administration and MBA in health services administration to join only six other degree programs in the soft launch this spring of Open SUNY.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher introduced the new Open SUNY+ degree programs during her annual State of the University address Jan. 14 in Albany.

“Open SUNY will provide our students with the nation’s leading online learning experience, drawing on the power of SUNY to expand access, improve completion and prepare more students for success,” Zimpher said.

The first Open SUNY degrees were chosen based on factors including student interest, accreditation, and capacity to meet current and future workforce demand throughout New York State.

“We are proud to have our online MBA and our MBA/HSA as the only graduate programs in the first wave of Open SUNY,” said SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley. “All the qualities that make our programs great will be available throughout SUNY and beyond as premier online offerings.”

In January, U.S. News ranked Oswego’s online MBA programs No. 14 in the nation, praising the level of student engagement and faculty expertise. Princeton Review lists Oswego’s School of Business — which is accredited by AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business — among the best in the Northeast.

Constituents Discuss Issues With Congressman Maffei

More than three dozen area residents got to discuss what was on their minds with U.S. Representative Dan Maffei on Jan. 17.

Constituents from the 24th Congressional District gathered in the in the Oswego Public Library’s Community Room to await their turn to “Discuss it with Dan.”

Rep. Maffei said he holds the mobile office hours to give people the opportunity to meet with him one-on-one to discuss their thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns.

“There are different ways you can reach your congressman. You can write your congressman or call your congressman and that’s fine. But we also want to go out to them by doing these ‘Discussions with Dan.’ We go out and meet people where they are, make it easier for them. Sometimes there is a specific thing they want us to work on, something that affects their live individually or their neighborhoods,” he said. “It works well. If something becomes a bigger topic we can also set up a meeting to follow up.”

A lot of things they are focusing on are jobs and the economy, he said.

“I think people are frustrated that they feel things aren’t getting done to the level that they need. We really need to do a lot more with infrastructure,” he added. “Everything we do in Washington we try to make it cooperative to what’s going on in the district.”

Maffei added that he was looking forward to meeting the new director of the Port of Oswego Authority, Zelko N. Kirincich. Kirincich began his new position on January 6.

Heidi Allen’s Sister Shares Message Of Hope

Local author and speaker Lisa M. Buske traveled to San Antonio, Texas, in January to speak at The Heidi Search Center’s annual banquet. This wasn’t Buske’s first interaction with the HSC.

Their relationship began in April 1994 – when the center sent a search and rescue expert to join the search for Buske’s sister, Heidi M. Allen. Allen was kidnapped from the D & W Convenience Store while working alone on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1994. Allen remains missing today, but her family remains hopeful.

So when the HSC contacted Buske about traveling to Texas for its event and shared its theme, “Hope,” Buske knew it was meant to be.

The HSC kicked off its “Hope Initiative Campaign” last August to raise funds for its non-profit organization. The HSC brought Buske to Texas to share hope and encouragement with the families of the missing in attendance.

“The center provided age progression photos for each family, memory books, a candle, and a tree decorating ceremony all to help keep the memory of their loved ones in the forefront,” Buske told Oswego County Today. “It was an evening of laughter and tears.”

Buske said she never dreamed she’d have the opportunity in her lifetime to personally thank the HSC.

To share her appreciation, and that of her family, Buske presented the HSC and Heidi Seeman’s family with handcrafted wooden hearts made by her parents for them.

To learn more about Buske, her books, or speaking: http://LisaMBuske.com She blogs daily at http://www.lisambuske.com/blog.html

To learn more about the Heidi Search Center in San Antonio, visit http://heidisearchcenter.com/

Oswego School Board Disputes Financial Stress Claim

Even though, in the eyes of the state, the Oswego City School District is susceptible to financial stress, things are fiscally sound, district officials said in late January.

“The comptroller’s report that listed districts in their fiscal stress monitoring, Oswego has been classified, based on their formula, as being susceptible to fiscal stress,” Superintendent Ben Halsey said. “They have all kinds of formulas that they use to generate that, percentages as to where we fall in. We fall mid to mid-high level to being susceptible to stress based on the comptroller’s formula.”

In a nutshell, it comes down to total fund balance that you have available in your reserves and fund balance accounts, and your useable cash on hand at any given time as a school district in comparison to your daily and long-term expenditures, he explained.

“And so there is a ratio of where we are, with what we have saved in those rainy day accounts or for those accounts that were established for very specific purposes to address needs going forward,” he said. “It’s just another form of information for us to use in monitoring ourselves.”

“When I saw the report, I really didn’t get too excited about it,” board member SamTripp said. “That’s what they say. I don’t agree with them.”

Board member John Dunsmoor also disagreed with the state’s view.

“I strongly disagree with the whole picture. There’s got to be something else in that formula the state used as far as maybe the state aid that a school district gets compared to your budget,” he said. “We have more reserves right now than when I started on the board six years ago. But as far as the money we have, cash in hand, we sit pretty well.”

The administration had already begun the budget process for the 2014-15 school year.

Bishop Cunningham Visits Trinity Catholic School

The highlight of Catholic Schools’ Week was a visit by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham on Jan. 30. It was hard to tell who was more excited, the bishop or the dozens of Trinity Catholic School children he took time to chat with.

He stopped into a reading class. The students said that they always read at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, “but today is Thursday.”

“Thanks, I was wondering if I missed a day,” Bishop Cunningham replied. “Is there some other exciting thing happening tomorrow?”

“We usually read at 2:30 on Friday,” their teacher said.

“It’s Catholic Schools’ Week. And there’s a prayer service,” a student explained.

“Besides all the fun things we’re doing, we had two days when they got to come into school two hours late because of snow and weather,” Principal Barb Sugar added. “So, they have had short days and lots of fun activities this week.”

The children asked the bishop all sorts of questions.

One young lady asked, “What’s it like being the bishop?”

“It’s interesting. A lot of days it’s fun, like when I get to come to a Catholic school and see students like you,” he answered. “Sometimes you have to do things that aren’t as much fun. Your moms and dads probably have good days and bad days, too.”

To become a bishop, do you have to become a priest first?” another asked.

“You have to be a priest first. Correct,” he said.

“And then you’re a cardinal?” the student followed up. “How long do you have to be a bishop before you’re a cardinal?”

“That’s afterwards, right,” Bishop Cunningham said. “It’s doesn’t really happen that way. Cardinals are people the Holy Father names to be special advisors. So, nothing is time wise. Just because you’re a bishop doesn’t mean you’ll be a cardinal. And I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen to me.”

Bishop Cunningham is the 10th bishop of the seven-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. He was installed May 26, 2009, and visited Oswego the following month.

“The students here are just so warm and welcoming. It’s great to see them all,” the bishop said.

Trinity Catholic, 115 E. Fifth St., is the sole Catholic school in the county; it is supported by all parishes in the county. For more information, call 343-6700.

Oswego Schools Tab New Transportation Supervisor

A new Oswego City School District Transportation Supervisor was appointed during a special school board meeting on January 27.

Johnnie Pierce would commence his duties on March 3 with a salary of $74,000.

He was serving as the Transportation Supervisor of the Genesee Valley Central School District and previously held transportation positions at Lyme and Morristown Central School Districts. He also worked for Laidlaw Transportation in servicing the Indian River Central School District.

Pierce is a U.S. Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Drum where he was a heavy wheeled vehicle mechanic.

He replaced William Myer who left the position at the end of 2013.

Oswego Council OKs Lighthouse, Tree Ceremony Agreements

The Oswego Common Council authorized the mayor to enter into a lease agreement with the H. Lee White Marine Museum Guild, Inc., for the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse.

The agreement maked it possible for the museum to oversee the restoration project and apply for additional grants to address the on-going restoration project and museum exhibits that need to be installed in order to meet the obligations to the US government to restore and maintain the property and provide limited access for public visitation in the future, Mary Vanouse, community development director, explained.

“I’d like to recognize the Marine Museum and their willingness to take on this obligation and responsibility. I look forward to seeing great things at the lighthouse,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said. “I appreciate it.”

And, councilors authorized the Oswego City/County Youth Bureau to manage the Children’s Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Oswego Officials Nix Furlough Proposal

Following an executive session, the Common Council voted to approve balancing the 2014 budget by means other than furloughs. The vote was 3-3 (Councilor Mike Myers was excused) and Mayor Tom Gillen voted ‘yes’ to break the tie.

Voting ‘yes’ were councilors Fran Enwright, Eric VanBuren and Ron Kaplewicz. Councilors Mike Todd, Shawn Walker and Bill Barlow voted ‘no.’

The city’s 2014 operating budget included personnel furloughs. During the budget process, suggestions of alternate budget line items in lieu of furloughs were made. Time had been taken to research, review and calculate the suggested alternative options.

The council authorized the city chamberlain to amend the operating and enterprise budgets to restore the personnel furlough and related benefits line items and complete budget amendments to offset (them).

The mayor and council would work to restructure the management and operations of services provided by the city, including reassignment of duties, responsibilities and personnel assigned to provide these services. This would include a reduction in personnel “as necessary” to provide for more efficient and effective delivery of services.

The city will work with the county and surrounding towns in an effort to consolidate any services where possible.

“In lieu of the two-week furlough and 4 percent loss of wages for everybody, from me on down, we have decided to seek out other alternatives,” the mayor said. The furlough proposal ran into some problems with the unions, he noted.

Their reaction was rather negative, he said, adding they weren’t in support of the idea and would rather layoff some people. According to the mayor, some city workers have said they don’t want to lose 4 percent of their pay. They’d rather see some layoffs.

They would look at every department individually to see what they do for the city and exactly how they do.

“We’re trying to do the right thing. This isn’t political. You can’t just throw out a number and say that’s what it’s going to be. We’ve got to take the time to examine things, make the tough decisions, outside of the political arena and the right decision – what’s best for the entire city, so we don’t find ourselves in this same mess 10 or 15 years down the road,” the mayor said. “If it’s worth living in (Oswego), it’s worth investing in.”

Oswego Robotics Team Wins NY VEX Toss Up State Championship

Thirty-six robotics teams from all over New York State competed, by invitation only, on January 25 for the title of State Champion at the Northern NY VEX Toss Up State Championship.

Only winning teams from previous regional contests were invited to compete in the state championship.

The VEX Robotics Competition was held at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena. This year’s challenge was to build a robot which could score points by moving large balls around a field, over obstacles and on top of “goals.”

Two teams from Oswego dominated the competition during the qualification rounds.

Both teams made it to the semi-finals; both teams won special awards. And, one of them won a coveted spot in the next level of competition.

Oswego High School’s team, the Camelot Crusaders (#6050), held third place after all 72 qualification rounds were completed. They lost in the semifinals, keeping them out of the finals.

The Crusaders walked away with the Programming Award, their score being the highest of the day for the Top Programming Skills Side Challenge where the robot completes tasks autonomously through a coded program written by team members.

Freezing Code (#9282) is a 7-12 grade team sponsored by the Department of Technology at SUNY Oswego. They placed first in the qualification rounds by being undefeated in the 8 matches played.

Freezing Code went on to win the remaining robot battles with their ally, Six Sigma, from Granville, NY.

In their final battles of the day, they won 51-43 and a nail-biting 42-41, winning the State Championship.

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