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Area state legislators welcome Cuomo veto

Warned that signing legislation on stream projects would stagnate protection measures

Special to The Odessa File

SOUTHERN TIER, Nov. 29, 2020 -- A group of state lawmakers representing the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western New York are welcoming Governor Andrew Cuomo’s veto of legislation that they had recently warned would jeopardize the ability of local governments to accomplish critical stream and infrastructure protection projects if enacted.

The governor vetoed the legislation (S.5612/A.8349) late Friday.

In a November 23rd letter to the governor, State Senators Tom O’Mara, Fred Akshar, George Borrello and Pam Helming, and State Assemblymembers Phil Palmesano, Marjorie Byrnes, Chris Friend, Joe Giglio, Andy Goodell and Brian Kolb called on Cuomo to reject the legislation. They and other opponents argued that the measure would force the reclassification of tens of thousands of miles of New York State streams and result in a more time-consuming, costly, overregulated, redundant, and impractical state-level permitting process for stream-related projects involving flood repair and mitigation, bridge and culvert maintenance, farmland protection, and other public works priorities.

In their letter, the area legislators wrote, in part: “We strongly urge you to veto S.5612/A.8349 in the best interests of the local stakeholders we represent and work closely with, as well as to protect local governments, local environments, local economies, local communities, and local property taxpayers from this overregulation that would only serve to stagnate, not strengthen, the well-earned and well-monitored quality of our waterways.”

The legislation was also strongly opposed by the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents (NYSCHA) and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH), as well as a broad coalition representing the agricultural and forestry industries, including the New York Farm Bureau and the Empire State Forestry Products Association.

Local soil and water conservation districts also warned against taking the action. In its own memorandum of opposition, the Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District stated, “Currently, Soil and Water Conservation Districts are leaders in their local communities assisting public entities and private citizens with thousands of stream habitat, stabilization, flood remediation, and flood mitigation projects on an annual basis. We oversee and install these projects and go through an arduous permitting process that we can assure you has not been dissolved ... This bill, while intended to preserve and protect water quality, would inadvertently set conservation efforts back 50 years.”

The legislators and other opponents warned that the legislation’s enactment would result in significant barriers preventing local soil and water conservation districts, county and town highway departments, public works departments, builders, utilities and others from undertaking and completing stream-related projects. Opponents also feared that the expanded permitting process would result in time delays and higher costs that would jeopardize stream stabilization, flood mitigation and prevention, bridge and culvert maintenance and rehabilitation, soil erosion prevention, farmland preservation, forestry management, infrastructure protection, and other projects vital to local communities, economies, environments, and property taxpayers.

In his veto message (Veto Message No. 60), Cuomo recognized the merits of the opponents’ arguments, stating that the legislation would “have a tremendous fiscal impact on state and local government” by adding approximately 40,000 miles of streams to the permitting process and more than doubling the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) existing and planning oversight role. Such a move, the governor stated, “would lead to lengthy permitting delays, and jeopardize the thorough and necessary review of all projects.”

Recognizing the existing oversight provided by local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the veto message states that under the existing regulatory process streams “receive substantial benefits from oversight by the State's Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Districts have ably worked to address nutrient runoff from agricultural activities, implement flood recovery programs and provide technical expertise to municipalities to address infrastructure needs. The existing conservation efforts accomplished by the Districts will continue to ensure that adequate environmental controls are placed on these streams.”

Photos in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

Area state legislators urge Cuomo veto

Say approval of legislation regarding stream projects would stagnate protection measures

Special to The Odessa File

SOUTHERN TIER, Nov. 24, 2020 -- A group of state lawmakers representing the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western New York are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto legislation that they say would, if enacted, significantly expand New York’s regulatory process governing stream-related projects.

The legislation (S.5612/A.8349) was approved by both houses of the Legislature earlier this year. It was delivered to the governor for final action late last week.

If enacted, opponents said the legislation would force the reclassification of thousands of New York State streams and result in a more time-consuming, costly, overregulated, and impractical state-level permitting process for stream-related projects involving flood repair and mitigation, bridge and culvert maintenance, farmland protection, and other public works priorities.

The regional legislators calling on Cuomo to veto the legislation are State Senators Tom O’Mara, Fred Akshar, George Borrello, and Pam Helming, and State Assemblymembers Phil Palmesano, Marjorie Byrnes, Chris Friend, Joe Giglio, Andy Goodell, and Brian Kolb.

In a November 23 letter to the governor, the area legislators wrote: “We strongly urge you to veto S.5612/A.8349 in the best interests of the local stakeholders we represent and work closely with, as well as to protect local governments, local environments, local economies, local communities, and local property taxpayers from this overregulation that would only serve to stagnate, not strengthen, the well-earned and well-monitored quality of our waterways.”

The legislators and other opponents warn that the legislation’s enactment would result in significant barriers preventing local soil and water conservation districts, county and town highway departments, public works departments, builders, utilities and others from undertaking and completing stream-related projects.

Opponents fear that the expanded permitting process would result in time delays and higher costs that would jeopardize stream stabilization, flood mitigation and prevention, bridge and culvert maintenance and rehabilitation, soil erosion prevention, farmland preservation, forestry management, infrastructure protection, and other projects vital to local communities, economies, environments, and property taxpayers.

The sponsors of the legislation believe it’s necessary to offset possible federal deregulation that could impact stream protection. Opponents argue that no such federal deregulation is on the horizon and that, in any event, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is already authorized to revise and upgrade stream classifications to implement any protections that the department’s professionals deem necessary in specific instances.

Cuomo has until November 30 to act on the legislation.

O'Mara wins 56% to 43%, thanks voters

Special to The Odessa File

SOUTHERN TIER, Nov. 18, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) on Wednesday thanked Southern Tier and Finger Lakes voters for his reelection victory in the 58th Senate District.

His opponent, Leslie Danks Burke, conceded the race earlier in the day.

The 58th Senate District covers all of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and a portion of Tompkins County.

O’Mara scored a solid victory, 56% to 43%, defeating Danks Burke by more than 16,000 votes. He won by landslide percentages in Chemung (62%), Schuyler (62%), Steuben (68%) and Yates counties (65%).

“I am proud," O'Mara said, "to have brought together an ever-growing, broad coalition of support for building stronger and safer communities throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, for protecting our way of life and the Upstate values we share, and for saying no to a future of one-party control of New York State government.

"Voters responded to our positive message of sticking together, rebuilding our communities and local economies, and restoring a true, long-term voice for Upstate, rural New York. We have rallied together like never before this year in the face of COVID-19.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Gators cleared to use Community Center

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 18, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Tuesday night unanimously approved a request by The Glen Gators swim club to use the Watkins Glen Community Center three evenings a week.

The go-ahead came the night after a club proposal to use the Watkins Glen High School pool for training was turned down 5-2 by the local School Board.

The Village Board okayed use of the Center by The Gators for exercise and other group activities from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the end of the calendar year -- with the understanding that a request for extended dates will be submitted if high school sports tentatively scheduled for the new year fail to materialize due to a spiking pandemic.

The approval followed a presentation by Gators Assistant Coach Steve Klemann, speaking on behalf of Head Coach Jason Westervelt and Assistant Coach Nicki Chaffee. In granting use of the building, the Village Board waived its usual facility fee.

Klemann, in his presentation to the board, outlined the 40-year history of The Gators, and said its members had recently been swimming outside, in a lined pond, and running on trails until the weather turned. Beyond that, the elite members of the group swam the length of Seneca Lake over several sessions late in the summer. Now, he said, "we're trying to find outlets" in the absence of high school sports, on hiatus due to the pandemic.

The Gators, Mayor Luke Leszyk said afterward, "will do a lot of out-of-water exercises and activities" at the Community Center. "I'm sure the kids are looking forward to getting together and bonding. I'm confident they'd never compromise their safety" or anyone else's.

In this age of the coronavirus, he said, kids have been so constrained in their activities that they need something to do, even if in this case it's somethng out of their preferred element: water. "I feel bad for the kids," he added, "with no activities, no sports. Any little bit we do, we will. This was really a no-brainer."

The board was meeting in Zoom session, as it did for its Nov. 3 meeting after Leszyk had tested postive for Covid-19 and was in quarantine. He is out of quarantine now and feeling fine, but said the board decided, with the pandemic spiking, to continue remote sessions for now "to be on the safe side, until things calm back down."

The Schuyler County Legislature has likewise gone to remote sessions after its last in-person session Nov. 9. The Odessa-Montour School Board has been meeting through Zoom technology for months, while the Watkins Glen School Board returned to in-person sessions after conducting Zoom sessions for a while.

In other business Tuesday night, the Village Board heard a report regarding dirt extracted to make way for the foundation and footers of the new activities structure being built at Clute Park. The pile of dirt later was deemed by the Department of Environmental Conservation to contain contaminants which -- while Leszyk said they were minor in nature -- precluded it being moved off site unless to a landfill that handles such material.

"That would be a heavy cost," the mayor said, explaining that the DEC rules permit the dirt to be used elsewhere on site, perhaps as a small hill for sledding or as berms in landscaping. That will be less expensive than a landfill, he said.

The contamination, he said, "is not at a dangerous level. The dirt can be left in the park; it was already there and not considered a problem." Moving and re-using the dirt at Clute will bear a cost, but one Leszyk said is built into the park project -- a grant-fueled undertaking that includes the new building as well as a skating rink and new bathrooms.

"There are always change orders," the mayor said. "Extra costs are expected."

Photos in text: Mayor Luke Lezyk (top) and Gators Assistant Coach Steve Klemann during Tuesday night's Zoom session.

O'Hearn: Yellow designation seems unlikely

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 17, 2020 -- Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn said Tuesday that given the small size of Schuyler and the relatively low number of active Covid-19 cases here, it seems unlikely that the state would move the county into its Yellow Zone of pandemic restrictions.

“Because of that size, I think we need not be overreacting,” he said after Schuyler County Public Health raised the 7-day rolling positivity rate to 4.9% from 3.4% Monday.

“A bigger barometer” than the positivity rate, said O’Hearn, should be the low number of active cases in the county. “It’s been consistently at 30 to 35. And hospitalizations have been low.” As of Tuesday, there were just five.

The Yellow designation is the lowest of three color-coded restrictive state actions, below the more severe Orange and Red zones. Among its mandates is random testing by school districts of 20% of its students and staff every two weeks during the designation.

Published state metrics say that for a county of Schuyler's size to be placed in the Yellow Zone, it would have to show a 7-day rolling average positivity rate above 4% for 10 days, and 15 or more daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average. Schuyler's population as of 2018 was just below 18,000.

O’Hearn said at least two other counties away from major metropolitan areas have been moved to Yellow only after topping 7%, not 4%.

“I think there would be statewide restrictions before” any Yellow designation in Schuyler County, he said, “but I could be wrong.”

If the state were to impose the Yellow designation, he said, he would be notified just 2 or 3 hours before it would take effect.

The bottom line, he said, is that people “should treat everyone as if they are infected. Take extra precautions.”

Having said that, he added this: “The great unknown is Thanksgiving” and how family gatherings might serve as Covid-19 spreaders. The next month -- with the family lure of Thanksgiving and Christmas, “will give us a better picture of what the future holds.”

Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (File photo)

Danks Burke's Schuyler lawsuit dismissed

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 16, 2020 -- A New York State Supreme Court Judge has thrown out the lawsuit filed by Democratic New York State Senate candidate Leslie Danks Burke against the Schuyler County Board of Elections.

In court on Monday, Nov. 16, Justice Christopher Baker agreed with the motion to dismiss filed by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman on behalf of the Board of Elections, and dismissed the case in its entirety. According to the motion papers, Danks Burke did not follow New York law to obtain jurisdiction over the Board.

The motion papers also stated that further proceedings, if any, would have shown the election count was done in accordance with New York State law and was decided on unanimous agreement of both election commissioners: Republican Joseph Fazzary and Democrat Carolyn Elkins. Both commissioners had submitted an affidavit to the court asking that the case be thrown out.

Danks Burke, of Ithaca, was the Democratic Party candidate for State Senate in the 58th district. Unofficial results on Election Night, Nov. 3 -- before the counting of absentee ballots -- showed her trailing the Republican incumbent, Tom O’ Mara, by a subtantial margin.

Danks Burke, in statements to the press, has maintained an optimism that the absentee ballots might propel her to victory -- although she trailed unofficially by 23,000 votes with some 33,000 to be counted. In her lawsuit, she had singled out Fazzary, claiming that he had been "flip-flopping ... in preventing (her) campaign from inspecting affidavit ballots that the Board of Elections decided were invalid and so would not be counted."

In response to the ruling, Danks Burke issued the following statement:

“This is exactly the type of partisan political protection that makes ordinary voters see that the system is rigged against them, and rigged against anyone trying to change things in Albany or Washington. My attorney went to serve our legal papers; the Board of Elections commissioner hid behind a locked door to avoid being served; the County Attorney then told my attorney that he could accept service, then turned around and told the courts that serving him was inadequate. It's dishonest, it's disgraceful, and it's further evidence of why we need real systemic change in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes.”

Danks Burke has approximately 30 days to attempt to appeal the dismissal to the New York State Appellate Division of Supreme Court in Albany.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s motion to dismiss can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/484194280/Motion-to-Dismiss-Leslie-Danks-Burke-v-Schuyler-County

Photo in text: State Senate candidate Leslie Danks Burke (File photo)

Elections Board files motion to dismiss lawsuit brought by candidate Danks Burke

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 13, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Leslie Danks Burke, the Democratic Party candidate for New York State Senate in the 58th District.

The motion was filed by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman Friday on behalf of the Board of Elections. According to the court papers, Danks Burke did not follow New York law to obtain jurisdiction, and the lawsuit must be dismissed.

The motion papers also state that the election count was done in accordance with New York law and was decided on unanimous agreement of both election commissioners: Republican Joseph Fazzary and Democrat Carolyn Elkins.

Danks Burke, in statements to the press, had singled out Fazzary for her complaint. She claimed that there had been "flip-flopping by (Fazzary) in preventing the campaign from inspecting affidavit ballots that the Board of Elections decided were invalid and so would not be counted."

The case is currently scheduled to be heard in Schuyler County Supreme Court on Monday, Nov. 16, with Justice Christopher Baker presiding.

“Schuyler County is committed to full, fair and open elections,” Getman said.  “Both  our election commissioners, Republican and Democrat, work tirelessly to ensure that all proceedings are open and transparent.”

Unofficial results showed Danks Burke trailing the Republican incumbent, Tom O’ Mara, by a substantial margin in the Election Day vote count.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s motion to dismiss can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/484194280/Motion-to-Dismiss-Leslie-Danks-Burke-v-Schuyler-County

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman.

Montour Falls man sentenced in porn case

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, Nov. 9, 2020 -- Michael J. Truesdail, 39, of Montour Falls, NY, who was convicted of possession of child pornography involving prepubescent minors, has been sentenced to serve 24 months in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr., it was announced Monday by U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan K. McGuire, who handled the case, said that on March 27, 2019, a federal search warrant was executed at the defendant’s Henry Street residence. A number of electronic items were seized including two computers, a hard drive, an SD card, and two thumb drives. McGuire said a forensic analysis recovered more than 8,000 images and 10 video files, some of which depict children engaged in sexual activity with other children and with adults.

The sentencing is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia.

Schuyler Legislature set to act on budget

Tentative spending plan lowers tax rate; staff credited

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, Nov. 2, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Legislature will hold a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed 2021 budget on Monday, Nov. 9. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls, and will be followed immediately by a regular session of the Legislature.

A resolution to approve the budget is on the agenda of that meeting.

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the proposed budget carries both a reduction in the tax rate and the tax levy (chart below). O’Hearn said this is largely attributed to the fact that all staff have agreed to a wage freeze for the coming year.

“As the level of government on the front lines of responding to the Covid 19 pandemic, county staff have been asked to go far beyond the call of duty," he said. "In Schuyler, staff have worked tirelessly to provide services and protect the health of our constituents. To additionally agree to forgo a negotiated salary increase to preserve these programs and services speaks volumes about their character and commitment. Absent this sacrifice, our residents and businesses would be facing the prospect of both a reduction in services and a property tax increase. Words cannot sufficiently convey my appreciation of their sacrifice and commitment!”

Added Legislative Chairman Carl Blowers: “2020 has brought unprecedented challenges to County government as we respond to not only a public health crisis, but the ensuing fiscal crisis caused by the shutdown of our economy. By this recent action, our staff have once again demonstrated their professionalism and dedication to serve our community. I could not be prouder of our workforce!”

Management and Finance Committee Chair Phil Barnes echoed the praise, stating: “Schuyler County has borne a disproportionately large burden of the fiscal crisis as a result of the partial shutdown of our tourism economy. While it would be very easy (and some would argue justified) to simply increase taxes, this was never an option for the Legislature. Thanks to our staff, we are able to maintain services without adding undue burden to our taxpayers at a time when they can least tolerate it.”

Below is the summary / comparison of the 2020/2021 budget:

Photo in text: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn

Montour Falls man draws prison sentence

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 24, 2020 -- Logan J. Teemley, 19, of Montour Falls, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court Friday to Coercion in the First Degree and Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, both Class D Felonies.

Teemley was sentenced by Judge Gerald Keene to 1-to-3 years in state prison with an order for the Shock program.

Officials said the Coercion conviction stemmed from an incident that occurred in March 2019, when Teemley prevented a female victim from leaving his residence by threatening her with a knife.

The Reckless Endangerment conviction, they said, resulted from a separate incident in March 2019, when Teemley fired a high-powered rifle into an occupied home, with the bullet passing through several inhabited areas before exiting the house on the other side.

In both cases, the court issued orders of protection for the victims. Teemley was also ordered to pay up to $5,000 in restitution.

Sheriff's Office will partner with SCCUDD to Take Back unwanted prescription drugs

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Oct. 20, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office and the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) are encouraging community members to participate in National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 24.

Community members can drop off their expired, unused, or unwanted medications between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Odessa and Tyrone Fire Departments. The Odessa Fire Department is located at 300 East Main Street. The Tyrone Fire Department can be found at 3600 State Route 226.

This initiative, organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. Pills that sit unused in homes can easily end up being abused by someone or taken accidentally by a child. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows year after year that the majority of misused and abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including someone else’s medication being stolen from the home medicine cabinet. Additionally, Americans are now advised that their usual methods for disposing of unused medicines -- flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash -- both pose potential safety and health hazards.

Community members can also dispose of unwanted, expired, and unused prescription drugs year-round by using the 24/7 confidential drop boxes available at the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office in Watkins Glen or in the foyer at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

SCCUDD is a group of dedicated community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth.

For more information, or to become involved with SCCUDD, visit it online at www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd, or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

Area public libraries receive state grants

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Oct. 20, 2020 -- Public libraries throughout the 58th Senate District -- including the Watkins Glen Public Library -- have been awarded state library construction grants, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) announced Tuesday.

O'Mara's 58th Senate District covers Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, and Yates counties, and a part of Tompkins County.

O’Mara said the grants are awarded through the state’s Library Construction Grant Program, which received $34 million in the 2019-20 state budget to allocate this year’s awards.

Said O’Mara: “A public library is a fundamental resource for area families, seniors, and countless other community residents. That point has been driven home like never before over the past eight months when throughout this Covid-19 response our public libraries have been centers of public outreach and information.”

According to the New York State Library, which administers the grants, surveys have estimated that the cost of public library construction and renovation needs statewide totals more than $1.7 billion. More than 51% of the over 1,000 public library buildings across New York are over 60 years old. Another 33% are more than three decades old. Many of the state’s local public libraries are unable to accommodate users with disabilities, and cannot provide Internet, computer, and other electronic technologies to users because of outdated and inadequate electrical wiring.

The construction grants help libraries and library systems make renovations and upgrades, update electrical wiring to accommodate computer technology, renovate facilities to provide wheelchair accessible entrances and become fully accessible to persons with disabilities, and provide community meeting rooms.

O’Mara announced the following grants to area libraries:

--Southern Tier Library System, $176,746 to upgrade ten furnaces and A/C units, renovate a meeting room, construct new offices and install a phone system in new and existing office space;

--Southeast Steuben County Library (Steuben County), $75,152 to install new safety and security equipment that will eliminate hazards and improve building access and security;

--Chemung County Library District-Steele Memorial Library (Chemung County), $163,093 to purchase and install two new boilers for increased energy efficiency and backup capability;

--Cohocton Public Library (Steuben), $45,000 to renovate its Community Room for improved space accessibility and bathroom ADA compliance;

--Pulteney Free Library (Steuben County), $21,487 to purchase and install a generator;

--Dundee Library (Yates County), $201,727 for interior construction of the newly built, 1150 square foot library space, which includes renovations to the Children’s section of the library;

--Penn Yan Public Library (Yates County), $69,000 to obtain an efficient Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning system and added electric capacity for future electrical needs;

--Watkins Glen Public Library (Schuyler County), $18,450 to improve safety and accessibility with new sidewalk entrances that are ADA compliant; and

--Finger Lakes Library System (Tompkins County), $60,437 to renovate the roof on the two-story and single-story parts of the building, and rehabilitate the parking lot.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Public Library (Photo provided)

Legislature tables call for end to state's emergency declaration enacted in March

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Oct. 14, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Tuesday night tabled a resolution that would have urged the New York State Legislature to end the emergency declaration that was enacted to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The emergency declaration came in March, the resolution noted, because the onset of COVID-19 had “demanded an ability for the Governor to respond quickly to a rapidly changing crisis.” It called for “Executive Orders to set restrictions and regulations to help protect the health and welfare of the public.”

In moving to table the resolution, Legislator Mark Rondinaro said it should be passed, but not right now.

“The timing is not appropriate,” he said, noting “an uptick” in coronavirus cases in Schuyler County and elsewhere in the state. Accordingly, he said, the resolution could be revisited “in a couple of months.”

Not all of the legislators agreed, but the motion to table passed 4-3.

In other business, the Legislature approved resolutions extending by one year, through 2021, the Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Schuyler County Road Patrol Association and the Schuyler County Correction Officers Benevolent Association at no increase in wages. With the move, said County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, “100 percent of county employees have agreed to a wage freeze" through 2021.

With everyone "pitching in," he said, the county will be able to enact an upcoming 2021 budget with reductions in both the tax rate and tax levy.

The public hearing on the budget was set in a separate resolution for Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m., preceding the Legislature’s next regular session, which will follow immediately after the hearing.

The legislators also heard an update from Montour Falls Village Trustee Jeff Confer on the road construction project underway on Route 14 in the village. He said the road pavement and striping should be completed by Friday, Oct. 16, ending Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 next year will include sidewalks and work on Route 224 from Route 14 to the bridge over Catharine Creek.

Photos in text:

Top: Legislature Chair Carl Blowers at Tuesday's meeting.
Bottom: Legislator Mark Rondinaro.

No indictment in Matthews case; Watkins mayor says village is 'in a holding pattern'


WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 10, 2020 -- The case of Watkins Glen Police Department Sergeant in Charge Brandon Matthews -- who was placed on paid administrative leave a couple of months ago pending completion of an investigation by the New York State Police -- is in the hands of village officials after a grand jury failed to indict Matthews and his wife Danielle. Accusations that had been made against them and presented to the grand jury were never made public.

Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk, when asked what the next step might be for the village regarding Matthews' employment, said that he has no official word regarding the grand jury outcome -- and that the village's labor attorney, Jay Girvin, has been tasked with finding out as much as he can about what has transpired. "We're in a holding pattern" pending further information, the mayor said, adding: "We're out of the loop" with little input from the State Police and prosecutor.

In New York, a grand jury of 16 to 23 citizens considers testimony presented by the prosecution in a closed forum; it is not open to the public. There is no defense attorney. In order to indict and move a case to trial, at least 12 of the jurors must find the evidence -- presented by the prosecution in support of whatever crime is being alleged -- to be sufficient. If there are not 12 such votes -- and there were not in the Matthews case -- then there is no indictment.

While details of the grand jury proceeding are closed, a request for an update on the Matthews case was sent by The Odessa File to defense attorney Raymond Schlather of Ithaca, who responded by e-mailing:

"By Notice of Dismissal dated October 6. 2020, the Schuyler County Grand Jury found that both Sgt. Matthews and Danielle Matthews, husband and wife, had done nothing wrong. The investigation was closed without charges. Under the circumstances, the Notice of Dismissal is under seal and cannot be released.

"This case illustrates how a false accusation and the subsequent lack of proper investigation and due diligence by the police lead to very real damage to reputations, especially in a small community. Sgt. Matthews and Danielle are hardworking, honest and decent members of the community. They deserve an apology."

When Schlather was asked if he could say what accusations had been brought against Sgt. Matthews and his wife, he responded "No," but then added: "I can say that they had nothing to do with anything financial, sexual, parental, abusive or violent."

Two months ago:

Rumors were not in short supply in Watkins Glen before and after the news broke of Matthews' administrative leave, announced on Aug. 10. Among the rumors was one involving a large police raid on the Matthews property outside of the village. Mayor Leszyk confirmed at the time that State Troopers had executed a search warrant there.

The matter was initially referred to the Schuyler County District Attorney's office, where DA Joe Fazzary recused himself and said a special prosecutor, Tompkins County DA Matthew Van Houten, had been "assigned to investigate and prosecute." Neither Van Houten's office nor State Police would comment at the time beyond a State Police spokesman saying there was "an ongoing investigation" and "accusations," but "no charges."

Leszyk said at the time that he intended "to err on the side of caution" -- that the investigation involving Matthews "might turn out to be nothing." He also said "some details will come out, probably sooner than later."

Present day:

Two months later, after the grand jury declined to indict, there are still no official details, and no known reaction from the State Police or Special Prosecutor.

In a phone call by The Odessa File to Mayor Leszyk, he said the village can take no action -- whether reinstatement or some other move -- without more facts. In addition to contact with Attorney Girvin, he said the village will be in touch with the local police union, the Police Benevolent Association.

Even without criminal charges, Leszyk said the entirety of the situation involving Matthews must be studied to determine if there were possibly any violations of employment rules.

"We're trying to delve into" that, he said, adding: "But it's premature to say anything about anything. We gotta wait and see."

In Matthews' absence, the Sergeant in Charge post has been filled on an interim basis by Ethan Mosher, who had been serving as a village patrolman.

Photo in text: Brandon Matthews (File photo)

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul cuts the ribbon, with dignitaries on either side of her.

Lt. Governor Hochul cuts ribbon to mark opening of new wastewater treatment plant

Speeches by area dignitaries highlight celebration of $32 million facility

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 2, 2020 -- The Villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls celebrated the completion of their new shared wastewater treatment plant with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, with New York State Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul wielding the scissors.

The $32 million project received $10.3 million in grant money as well as a $21.7 million low interest loan from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The grants included $5.0 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, $4.3 million from Empire State Development, and $1.0 million in Community Development Block Grant funds.

The celebration took place under largely sunny skies on the tarmac in front of the facility's administration building. The plant is located south of the Watkins Glen Community Center, along the canal and across from the Watkins Glen School District property.

"Today's completion of the Catharine Valley Water Reclamation Plant ensures an environmentally safe facility and fewer pollutants entering Seneca Lake," said Hochul. "I commend the Villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls for working together to find a common solution to protect Seneca Lake for future generations."

The new regional system, the first Project Seneca initiative, replaces the 50-year-old facilities in each of the two villages that were costly to operate and did not meet state and federal water quality standards. Equipment at the facility is able to treat up to 1.2 million gallons of wastewater each day. Additionally, the plant will use environmentally friendly methods of treating wastewater, involving biological reactors which "digest" the wastewater before filtering and treatment. Wastewater will also be disinfected using ultraviolet light rather than chlorine and other harsh chemicals traditionally used.

On hand in addition to Hochul -- and also speaking -- were State Senator Tom O'Mara; Alison Hunt, district director for Congressman Tom Reed; former Montour Falls Mayor John King; former Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton; current Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan; current Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk; Tom Tranter, former president of Corning Enterprises; and Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. The emcee was Judy McKinney Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED).

Also present to observe were Schuyler County Legislature Chair Carl Blowers and Legislator Jim Howell; Watkins Glen trustees Lou Perazzini, Nan Woodworth and Laurie DeNardo; Montour Falls trustee Jeff Confer; former Watkins Glen trustee Tony Fraboni, who played a key role as the project progressed over several years; County Planner Kristin VanHorn; and Michael Hardy, Executive Director of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce.

All of the speeches made clear that this was a project achieved through a coordinated effort by many people -- not only from the two villages, but from Project Seneca (a private-public redevelopment effort driving regional economic growth); Corning Enterprises, the Schuyler County Legislature and Department of Planning; various state agencies; and SCOPED.

Said former Montour Falls Mayor King: "I want to thank the village boards who stuck with it, the county, all the politicians that supported us and helped find funding, all the Project Seneca participants, and all the contractors who were involved in multiple ways that helped create this state-of-the-art facility. It has capacity for 30 years of growth in our communities and has eliminated over 40,000 pounds of harmful contaminants going into the canal and lake each year. I am very proud to have been part of it. I also want to pay tribute to the bald eagle that stayed with us throughout the construction and flew each day to the closest tree to supervise the work."

Former Watkins Mayor Swinnerton, who served from 2011 to 2015, and who was integral with King (both are engineers) in the development of the joint project planning, said that "to say I'm proud of the project is an understatement." He praised King for his role, and listed some of the many people who contributed to it, including County Administrator O'Hearn, whose leadership, he said, was "unparalleled."

The new plant -- with an administrative building that includes a laboratory; and three other structures with equipment utilized in the treatment process -- is located at 449 South Clute Park Lane on lands formerly owned by the New York State Canal Corporation. The $32 million project represents the largest single infrastructure investment ever undertaken by the two villages.

The new plant biologically produces a clean water effluent and will, say officials, be able to meet the future needs of the area. Because of the pandemic, no public tours are being allowed, but a virtual tour will be made available on-line for residents and others interested in viewing the facility.

Photos in text:

From top: Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Senator Tom O'Mara greet each other with a pandemic-era elbow bump; Schuyler CountyAdministrator Tim O'Hearn; Alison Hunt, district director for Congressman Tom Reed; and former Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

Left: State Senator Tom O'Mara; Right: A roll of Green Heritage Pro toilet paper was the "party favor" for each of the invited participants and spectators.

From left: Former Montour Falls Mayor John King; emcee Judy McKinney Cherry; and Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk.

From left: Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan; former Corning Enterprises President Tom Tranter; and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul as she answered media questions after the ceremony.

Terry Wilcox, water reclamation plant supervisor, shows a visitor the concrete tanks used in the water treatment.

One of the plant's buildings contains a pair of 4,500-gallon sludge tanks

The plant's administration building, with offices, a laboratory, garage bays and work area.

Glen man sentenced for attempted burglary

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 29, 2020 -- Brandon L. Bailey, 34, of Watkins Glen, was sentenced Monday in Schuyler County Court following an Aug. 13 guilty plea to Attempted Burglary in the Second Degree, a Class D Felony, and Aggravated Harassment of an Employee by an Inmate, a Class E Felony.

Bailey was sentenced by Judge Christopher Baker to three years in state prison plus three years post-release supervision on the Attempted Burglary charge, and to 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison on the Aggravated Harassment charge, with the sentences to run concurrently.

The charges arose from an incident where Bailey entered the home of a neighbor, displaying what appeared to be a handgun, while making demands to the homeowner. While incarcerated for this incident at the Schuyler County Jail, Bailey made threats and threw toilet water at employees of the facility.

Extension's Cherry retiring at end of year

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 10, 2020 -- Phil Cherry, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County for the past four years, has decided to retire at the end of the year.

Accordingly, Cooperative Extension has posted an ad on this website's Home Page looking for a successor.

Cherry, 65 this year, said the Covid-19 pandemic "has brought home the message that life can be too short." Stepping away from his demanding job will permit him time to pursue "personal projects" and volunteer work, and possibly participate in local politics, although he declined to announce any intention to run for office.

He stressed that his wife, Judy McKinney Cherry, Executive Director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, "has no plans to retire. She is very happy with what she does."

Mr. Cherry, who moved here after a 32-year career with the State of Delaware -- his last role was as that state's Director of the Division of Energy and Climate -- said he and Judy love it here, adding: "We're not going anywhere. This is a wonderful area."

Rather than announce his retirement two weeks before departing, Cherry said, he decided to give Cooperative Extension an opportunity to advertise and find someone he might help mentor "before I walk out the door."

Photo in text: Phil Cherry (File photo)

Covid-19 cluster linked to Lighthouse Baptist Church; testing recommended

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 8, 2020 -- Schuyler County Public Health and the Chemung County Health Department, in coordination with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), and with what officials said was the cooperation of the church, have identified a cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to the Lighthouse Baptist Church, with cases identified in each county. The church is located at 209 Gardner Rd, Horseheads, NY 14845.

According to Public Health officials, anyone who attended the church for any events (services, Bible study, etc.) between August 18 and September 6 should:

--Get tested for COVID-19. COVID-19 testing for church visitors will be offered Wednesday, September 9, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chemung County Fairgrounds, located at 170 Fairview Rd, Horseheads. Testing will be free of charge. Please bring identification. Anyone who cannot make it to this test site is encouraged to visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you to find another testing location.

--Those tested are required to quarantine for 14 days from the test date. Stay home and limit contact with others. If you must be in the same room as someone else, wear a mask and keep your distance. School age children and school staff who attended during this time period should not attend school in person.

--Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop symptoms at any point during the 14-day period, get tested – even if you already tested negative earlier in your quarantine.

“This testing event is vital to identify those who may be ill with Covid and attended any church related functions, in order to stop any further community transmission,” said Chemung County Health Department Director Peter Buzzetti.

“If you feel sick, even if you only feel a little sick, get tested and then stay home,” Schuyler County Public Health Director Deborah Minor advised. “Taking these steps as soon as you start to feel sick limits how many people get exposed to the virus and helps keep it from spreading widely in the community.”

2 Landon's workers test positive; exposure risk ID'd; business closed for disinfection


Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept 2, 2020 -- Schuyler County Public Health has received notification that two employees at Landon's Pub and Pizza have tested positive for COVID-19. During contact tracing, a public exposure risk was identified, and the business has been closed for disinfection under a New York State Department of Health directive.

The affected individuals worked multiple shifts during the time they were potentially contagious. Landon’s Pub & Pizza is located at 110 West 4th St., in Watkins Gle..

Public Health said that "if you visited Landon’s Pub & Pizza between August 19 and August 29, please" do the following:

1. Get tested for COVID-19. Schuyler County residents can get tested for COVID-19 by:

a. Registering for the Cayuga Health System Sampling site in Ithaca at cayugahealth.org or by calling 607-319-5708.

b. Calling Schuyler Hospital at 607-535-8602.

c. Contacting your healthcare provider.

d. Visiting https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you to find a testing location.

2. Self-quarantine in your home for 14 days from the last day you visited Landon’s Pub & Pizza. Remain in quarantine for the full 14 days even if you test negative. To self-quarantine:

a. Stay home, except to visit a doctor or to get tested for COVID-19. If you must see a doctor, call ahead and avoid using public transportation.

b. Separate yourself in a room that is not shared with others.

c. Stay at least 6 feet from others in your home at all times. Wear a face mask if you must be around others.

d. Don’t have visitors over.

e. Use a separate bathroom, if possible, and disinfect after each use.

f. Arrange for food, medicine, and other supplies to be left at your door.

g. Arrange for others to care for your children or pets if possible.

h. Wash your hands often.

3. Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop symptoms at any point during the 14-day period, get tested -- even if you already tested negative earlier in your self-quarantine.

“Even if you don’t have any symptoms, please get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine.” Schuyler County Public Health Director Deb Minor advised. “By taking these steps, you can help protect the health of your friends, family, and our community. We’ve been fortunate so far in Schuyler County, but we need to keep it up. Please continue to wear a mask, try to stay at least six feet from people you don’t live with, and wash your hands frequently.”

“This incident," said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, " is a testament to the fact that no community is outside of the reach of this deadly virus. My hope is that this serves to reinforce the need for strict adherence to all elements of the NYS PAUSE orders, especially as we approach a major holiday weekend.”

Schuyler County Public Health said it and the New York State Department of Health are working with Landon’s Pub & Pizza to implement further processes to protect the health of employees and visitors to the business.

Mitrano rips Reed on 'extremism' charge


Special to The Odessa File

PENN YAN, Aug. 28, 2020 -- Saying that it was “inappropriate” for Republican Congressman Tom Reed to speculate about who vandalized his Corning headquarters without any information from Corning City Police regarding an investigation or evidence, Democratic candidate Tracy Mitrano has called on Mayor Bill Boland and the Corning police to do a thorough investigation of the August 25 incident and bring the perpetrator to justice.

Reed said the brick that smashed his office window was an act of extremism. His campaign spokesman called it “another sad example of the radicalism we see every day from our opponents and the far left.” During her weekly press call Thursday, Mitrano repeated her condemnation of vandalism and accused Reed of invoking “left-wing extremists” as a straw man, and a way to tar her with the same brush.

“This is McCarthy-like stuff,” Mitrano declared. “We would expect that a congressman would not stoop to such tactics. It was beneath the dignity of his office to make such statements, without any evidence or facts behind them.”

But then, she added, it’s of a piece with what today’s GOP is all about, starting at the top. “We all know this president has an extreme propensity to speak mistruths and utter blatant lies in the face of obvious evidence and facts. It’s not a surprise, but it does continue to dismay.”

Mitrano said the Democratic and Republican national conventions brought that propensity to lie into sharp focus.

“I understand that part of politics is to create a narrative about who you are and what you represent, and it sometimes leads to exaggeration or misleading information,” she said. “I recognize both parties do this.” The striking thing, when comparing the two conventions, “is how much more plain lying went on at the Republican National Convention.”

As examples, Mitrano cited the oft-repeated lie that Democrats are socialists, and that they want to invalidate the Second Amendment and defund law enforcement.

“In every instance, the truth lies in the opposite,” she said. “Democrats want a vibrant economy based on fair taxes, to protect all Constitutional Amendments, and to fund law enforcement so they have the support they need and want to protect and serve their communities.

“This congressman has used the same tactic against me, telling bold and blatant lies about me and my positions,” Mitrano said. “As a politician, I may not be perfect, but I will dedicate myself to facts. I will never make a claim about Tom Reed without substantiation. I challenge him to do the same.”

Photo in text: Congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano (File photo)

Reed assails 'extremism' after brick smashes window at campaign office


Special to The Odessa File

CORNING, Aug. 26, 2020 -- Congressman Tom Reed’s Corning campaign office was the target of violence Tuesday night. A brick was thrown through the window, leaving glass strewn throughout the office.

“This extreme behavior is unacceptable,” Reed said in reaction to the attack. “Volunteers are usually sitting right by that window. I am thankful no one was here when this happened, and no one was hurt.”

"This is another sad example of the radicalism we see every day from our opponents and the far left,” observed Matt Coker, spokesman for the campaign. "It has to stop.”

“I will continue fighting this extremism,” Reed said. “They bring violence, but we will keep standing against their hatred. We will stand proudly for what we believe in, be willing to listen to those who disagree, and in the end seek to unite our nation. That is when we are at our best.”

Reed also thanked Republican Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Democrat Bill Boland, Mayor of the City of Corning, for standing with him Wednesday morning at the site of the damage. “We are here not as Republicans or Democrats, but united to say that violence like this doesn’t solve problems.”

Reed also lauded the Corning Police Department, which is investigating the attack. “We have always had the back of our police," he said, " and I know they have our back as well. We look forward to the results of their investigation and justice being done.”

Photo in text: The broken window at Congressman Reed's office. (Photo provided)

Palmesano rips Cuomo on election orders


Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Aug. 25, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest Executive Order mandating that county boards of elections send a mailing to all voters outlining all of the deadlines associated with absentee, early and in-person voting on Election Day. The governor’s order says the letter must be sent by September 8.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Palmesano. “Our local counties have lost billions of dollars in sales tax revenue. For the governor to demand they do this without providing any funding for it is absurd. Additionally, they don’t have the time, resources, or personnel to undertake a project of this magnitude while they’re preparing for early voting, managing absentee ballot applications, and preparing for Election Day.

“The governor," Palmesano added, "loves to complain about how Executive Orders from Washington are too costly for states or are unworkable. He should be the last person complaining about Executive Orders because this is another executive dictate. The governor is a hypocrite. If the governor thinks this is such a good idea and is necessary, then he should have the state pay for it. This is another costly, unfunded mandate burdening counties and local property taxpayers that he knows cannot afford it. He doesn’t care. He is obsessed with getting good headlines.”

Additionally, the Executive Order creates more bureaucratic red tape for boards by requiring them to submit new staffing plans for state approval, adopt brand new policies that will allegedly “speed up” vote counting and purchase costly new envelopes for absentee ballots, Palmesano said.

“Our hardworking, local BOE officials know how to do their job," he added. " During this unprecedented time, they deserve more help and more resources from the state. Instead, the governor is assigning them work they couldn’t possibly do within time frames they couldn’t possibly meet with money and resources they don’t have.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. (File photo)

Police step up campaign to curb DWI's


Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Aug. 19, 2020 -- New York State Police and law enforcement agencies statewide have ramped up enforcement of impaired driving laws and will keep the enhanced pressure on through Labor Day, Sept. 7. The STOP-DWI “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign is designed to reduce alcohol and other drug-related traffic crashes.

“There is no excuse for driving impaired and recklessly putting yourself and others in danger,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Be smart and have a plan to get to your destination safely. One bad decision can have lifelong consequences. It’s just not worth it.”

New York’s efforts to reduce impaired driving through targeted education and enforcement initiatives, like this crackdown, are working, say state officials. Fatal crashes involving an impaired driver have decreased over 19 percent from 2010 to 2019, according to preliminary data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College.

Throughout this enforcement blitz, law enforcement will be stepping up patrols, and the NYS Thruway Authority and State Department of Transportation will have Variable Message Signs alerting motorists to the consequences of impaired driving to help deter such behavior. During the 2019 enforcement campaign, law enforcement throughout the state issued 4,995 tickets for impaired driving and 170,378 tickets for other vehicle and traffic law violations.

The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) and the New York State STOP-DWI Foundation also remind motorists that their "Have a Plan" mobile app is available for Apple, Android and Windows smartphones. The app enables New Yorkers to locate and call a taxi or rideshare service and program a designated driver list. It also provides information on DWI laws and penalties and provides a way to report a suspected impaired driver.

Several sentencings set in Schuyler Court


Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 14, 2020 -- The Schuyler County District Attorney's office Friday reported the following sentencings and other action in Schuyler County Court.

CHRISTOPHER G. BILLIRAKIS, 33, of Dundee, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on February 13, 2020 to Driving While Intoxicated, a Class E Felony, and was sentenced on August 13 by Hon. Christopher Baker to 1 to 3 years in state prison, a 3-year conditional discharge, installation of an ignition interlock device, attendance at a Victim’s Impact Panel and fined $1,000. In August 2019, Billirakis drove his vehicle while in an intoxicated condition, swerving into oncoming traffic and striking another car with three occupants. One of the occupants sustained physical injuries as a result of the accident.

KARYN A. MARION, 54, of Trumansburg, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on August 13, 2020 to Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a Class E Felony. Marion was sentenced to 5 years probation and restitution in the amount of $41,644. Marion admitted to failing to report income to the Schuyler County Department of Social Service, which resulted in her receiving benefits that she was not entitled to. Marion made partial restitution at the time of sentencing in the amount of $10,000.

BRANDON L. BAILEY, 34, of Watkins Glen, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on August 13, 2020 to Attempted Burglary in the Second Degree, a Class D Felony. This plea is a result of Bailey admitting to entering a neighbor’s home on the evening of January 8, 2020, and displaying what appeared to be a firearm, for the purpose of obtaining property. Bailey also pleaded guilty to Aggravated Harassment of an Employee by an Inmate, a Class E Felony, resulting from an incident that occurred while he was detained in the Schuyler County Jail. Bailey is scheduled to be sentenced on September 28.

CHRISTOPHER K. ELLIOTT, 33, of Elmira, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on June 18, 2020 to Burglary in the Third Degree, a Class D Felony, and was sentenced on August 13, 2020 by Hon. Christopher Baker to 2 to 4  years in state prison. Elliott entered a home in the Town of Dix in March 2020, and removed property that did not belong to him.

CAMERON A. MCCAFFERY, 27, of Ithaca, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on August 13, 2020 to Attempted Burglary in the Third Degree, a Class E Felony, and was sentenced by Hon. Christopher Baker to 5 years probation with restitution. McCaffery admitted to illegally entering Walmart for the purpose of obtaining property on September 17, 2019, after he had previously been banned from Walmart.

BENJAMIN S. ARNOLD, 26, of Millport, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on July 31, 2020 to Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the Second Degree, a Class D Felony. Arnold was sentenced by Hon. Christopher Baker to 2 1/2 years in state prison, plus 7 years of post release supervision. Arnold admitted to having engaged in sexual conduct with a child less than 13 years of age, when he was 25 years older.

KYLE K. ROGERS, 34, of Watkins Glen, pleaded guilty in Schuyler County Court on July 1, 2020 to two counts of Criminal Contempt in the First Degree, Class E Felonies, and was placed on interim probation on July 31. Rogers admitted to violating his probation on August 13, 2020 and was remanded to the Schuyler County Jail. Rogers is scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2020.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses regional tourism leaders during meeting at WGI.

Lt. Gov. Hochul visits Watkins, discusses pandemic's effects with tourism officials

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 12, 2020 -- New York Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul visited Watkins Glen Wednesday morning, meeting with regional tourism leaders at Watkins Glen International and then visiting the site of a Downtown Revitalization Initiative project on the village waterfront.

Meeting with Hochul at the Jack Daniels Club on the WGI grounds were:

-- WGI President Michael Printup.
-- Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) Executive Director Judy McKinney Cherry.
-- Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michael Hardy.
-- Fred Bonn, Director of the Finger Lakes State Park Region.
-- Watkins Glen Village Mayor Luke Leszyk.
-- Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.
-- Seneca Lake Wine Trail Executive Director Brittany Gibson.
-- Corning Museum of Glass Chief Marketing and Communications Director Beth Duane.

Each spoke, explaining to Hochul the status of the efforts of their organizations in the midst of a pandemic, and their (largely optimistic) expectations for the future.

Leszyk opened the meeting by welcoming Hochul, who responded by praising the Watkins Glen waterfront and downtown business area as possessing "unparalleled charm," and predicting that "the future will be bright" for those businesses. "Next year, you will be beating back the crowds," she said, anticipating a heavy tourism season.

In the meantime, she said, we can take into account what we've learned from the pandemic, and apply it in how we approach the future. Among the pluses it has presented us, she noted, was more time with family, something that we might embrace moving forward.

O'Hearn conceded that counties "have been stressed more than ever before," but that public-private collaboration has proven successful, and "we're planning for next year. I'm confident the recovery will be robust."

Responded Hochul, in part: "It will be part of our legacy that we came back better than ever."

Printup saw a promising future, too, after a season in which WGI has had to curtail many of its activities, including its NASCAR race, moved this year down to Daytona. A positive in that, he noted, was that Daytona and WGI are owned by the same company. He expressed some concern that the number of consumers next year might be down as some of them approach travel with an abundance of caution, but said NASCAR racing is "back in the game" and will continue to receive heavy media attention and a large following.

Hardy said Governor Andrew Cuomo set the bar high for the performance he expected from New York businesses, "and I think they've jumped a little higher." Among those businesses is the lodging industry, which he said "is doing much better than we thought they would ... making up for a dismal spring."

McKinney Cherry said some businesses, despite the challenges of the pandemic, have done very well by concentrating on "quality over quantity," and that she is feeling "pretty bullish about seasonal business" in the future.

Hochul replied that those businesses succeeding have adapted through innovative strategies, by "re-imagining better." The pandemic has provided "an opportunity for an area like this to seize on change" and to ask: "Why were we doing it that way anyway? It's an opportunity to leave that behind."

Bonn said the Watkins Glen State Park attendance is "off a little bit" due to the loss of charter buses, but that "parking lots are still full" and that the park is "drawing from seven hours away." As for 2021: "I'm optimistic," he said, "that we're going to make it the best year on the books." Among park aspects in high demand in the region, he said, is campsites. "We've already opened reservations" for those sites for 2021, he noted.

Gibson, once a key player in the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and head of the Wine Trail since 2018, said her organization -- which oversees a key niche among the attractions offered in the region -- is studying the existing business flow to look "where we've been and where we're going." That will be key going forward, for only through understanding, and through accompanying innovation, can businesses facing the challenges of a pandemic survive and thrive.

While those wineries have been innovative in their approach to the pandemic, and managed -- with the help of a fairly robust tourist trade this summer -- to withstand the economic downturn, Hochul cautioned that the public must embrace the opportunity to support them and all local businesses.

Some businesses, she said, "won't be back next year if they don't make it this year."

Duane said the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) was closed from mid-March to July 1, but that once it was reopened "the staff rallied and we stayed open." One challenge facing an interior atrraction such as Corning's is air quality, she said, noting that the Museum of Glass has air quality "only one notch below" that of a surgical suite. "I never thought I would market 'CMOG has good air.'"

Hochul followed up the meeting with a trip down the hill to visit the new Captain Bill's shop and office on the Seneca Lake waterfront, where owner Mark Simiele has replaced a longstanding structure with an archtecturally appealing new one, with some of it funded by the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

From there, she headed to Penn Yan to visit another state DRI site.

Photos in text: From top: Hochul bumps elbows with Captain Bill's owner Mark Simele in farewell as she prepares to leave Watkins Glen; Hochul confers with Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk; and Seneca Lake Wine Trail Executive Director Brittany Gibson at the meeting, held at Watkins Glen International.

Also at the meeting:

Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (left) and Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michael Hardy.

From left: SCOPED Executive Director Judy McKinney Cherry; WGI President Michael Printup; and Fred Bonn, Director of the Finger Lakes State Park Region.

Beth Duane, Corning Museum of Glass Chief Marketing and Communications Director; and Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk.

Watkins Sergeant in Charge on paid leave pending result of State Police investigation

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 10, 2020 -- Watkins Glen Police Department Sergeant in Charge Brandon Matthews has been put on paid administrative leave by the village pending completion of an investigation by the New York State Police.

Village Mayor Luke Leszyk said that Patrolman Ethan Mosher has been installed as the interim Sergeant in Charge until the matter is resolved. "I want the people to know that the police department is fully functioning," said Leszyk.

The mayor declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, saying that he has not seen a report, but had been "advised" by the State Police. He did say, though, that troopers had recently executed a search warrant at Matthews' property outside the village.

The matter was referred to the District Attorney's office, where DA Joe Fazzary recused himself. Fazzary, in a text, said: "A special prosecutor has been assigned. DA (Matthew) Van Houten from Tompkins County. Assigned to investigate and prosecute. That's all I can tell you."

An inquiry to Van Houten's office elicited a brief response from his Confidential Secretary. "We have received your request for information concerning Brandon Matthews," she emailed. "We cannot provide any information regarding this matter at this time."

Another inquiry, to State Police, resulted in a spokesman saying "There is an ongoing investigation. There are allegations," but thus far "no charges." He declined to comment on any specifics.

Regarding rumors circulating about the investigation, Leszyk said he was "not confirming or denying" them, saying "there's nothing punitive or anything at this point," and that the village was awaiting the State Police report and input from the Tompkins County DA and from the village's labor attorney, Jay Girvin, before moving forward.

When State Police do report on the matter, he said, "we'll piggyback off what they do."

In the meantime, he said, he planned "to err on the side of caution. ... It might turn out to be nothing."

But he didn't expect to wait for long. "Some details will come out," he said, "probably sooner than later."

Photo in text: Brandon Matthews (File photo)

State Police are probing theft at Glenora

Special to The Odessa File

DUNDEE, Aug. 7, 2020 -- New York State Police are requesting the public’s assistance identifying a "person of interest" involving a recent theft at The Glenora Winery.

The manager of the winery told State Police that a black male with a gray beard entered the winery on Wednesday, August 5 at 11:30 a.m. The man was described as approximately six feet tall, slightly balding, heavy set and wearing a green shirt with tan khaki shorts.

The man, police said, walked around the store and ordered some wine at the front desk before grabbing a shirt and concealing an SPCA donation jar containing over $50 in donations. The man was unable to complete the wine transaction, as his credit card was declined multiple times. He then left the store with the shirt and donation jar still in his possession, ostensibly to use the ATM machine just outside the store. He proceeded to get in his car and leave.

Police were unable to get a video or a photo of the man, but while canvassing several other wineries nearby, investigators were told by the Miles Winery that they had a similar incident take place and saw the man leave in a gray Honda sedan.

State Police are asking that anyone with information regarding this individual call the New State Police station in Dundee at 607-243-5133.

Schuyler eyes generic drug price lawsuit

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 6, 2020 -- Schuyler County legislators are considering a resolution to join federal, state and municipal governments in suing the makers of generic drugs over alleged price-fixing.

The County Legislature will vote Monday, August 10 on a resolution authorizing County Attorney Steven Getman to join forces with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a New York City law firm “in the investigation and/or prosecution of any legal claim against manufacturers of generic pharmaceuticals and/or their executives based upon their actions in fixing prices, allocating markets, and engaging in other antitrust violations or other wrongdoing with respect to generic pharmaceuticals.”

According to Getman, the county will be investigating claims in several areas. These include possible overpayments of Medicaid reimbursements, increased health insurance premiums for county employees, and higher costs of pharmaceuticals purchased for use by county agencies, all based upon artificially inflated generic drug prices.

Various government agencies have already commenced suit, Getman said, alleging violations of state and federal antitrust laws and consumer protection statutes.

“In 2014, the Department of Justice began an investigation into the pricing of various generic pharmaceuticals,” Getman explained. “In the wake of the federal investigation, in 2017, the state attorneys general of 48 states brought a civil action alleging price fixing, market division, and other antitrust violations by 16 defendant pharmaceutical companies related to 15 generic prescription drugs.

“As alleged, the defendants' anticompetitive conduct falls principally into two categories. First, the defendants allegedly communicated with each other to determine and agree on how much market share each would control and which customers each competitor was entitled to. Second, competitors allegedly communicated -- either in person, by telephone, or by text message -- and agreed to collectively raise and/or maintain prices for a particular generic drug.”

The lawsuits, Getman said, now involve over 100 generic drugs and 21 pharmaceutical manufacturer defendants, including Teva, Sandoz, Mylan, Pfizer, Actavis, Amneal, Apotex, Aurobindo, Breckenridge, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Glenmark, Greenstone, Lannett, Lupin, Par, Rising, Taro Israel, Taro USA, Upsher-Smith, Wockhardt USA and Zydus.

“The key question in formulating a lawsuit is determining for which generic drug(s) each county has overpaid, and whether each was a direct or indirect purchaser of same,” Getman explained. “As noted, hundreds of generic drugs have been implicated. Each affected county or municipality can bring an action asserting overpayments for each applicable generic drug.”

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, any lawsuit will be filed at no risk to the county, as Napoli Shkolnik will work on a contingency basis that will cover all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By voting to go forward with possible litigation, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers and seeks to hold manufacturers responsible for any unlawful role in the high cost of generic drugs,” O’Hearn said.

Separately, three other New York counties (Greene, Schenectady and Essex) are already working with Napoli Shkolnik on a lawsuit likely to be heard in federal court in eastern Pennsylvania, and the state Association of Counties last month circulated a memo suggesting other counties consider joining the effort.

In addition to the generics case, Schuyler County has been working with Napoli Shkolnik to prosecute a pending action against the manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for damages to the county arising out of the fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of opiates in and to the county.

The next regular meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature will be held in the Schuyler County Human Services Building, 323 Owego Street, Montour Falls, New York on Monday, August 10, 2020 at 6:30 pm. The meeting is open to the public and all required COVID-19-related safety protocols will be in place.

A copy of the county’s proposed resolution is available here:

https://www.scribd.com/document/471631010/Generics-Lawsuit-Resolution-Schuyler-County-Draft

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman

O'Mara now ranking Republican member on the Senate Investigations Committee

Will help preside over upcoming legislative hearings on COVID-19 nursing home crisis

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, July 26, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) has been appointed the top Republican member on the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations as the committee prepares to lead upcoming joint Senate-Assembly hearings on the COVID-19 nursing home crisis.

O’Mara’s appointment as the ranking member on the Investigations Committee was made by new Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt.

O’Mara will also continue to serve as the top Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He welcomed the new appointment to the Investigations Committee and said that he looks forward to the upcoming hearings on nursing homes, scheduled for early August, to try to lead efforts to examine the impact of the Cuomo administration’s COVID-19 response. So far, Senate Democrat leaders have resisted calls by O’Mara and the Senate GOP to use the committee’s subpoena powers to compel testimony from the governor and top administration officials.

Questions have been raised by Republicans over the Cuomo administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York State’s nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities, where at least 10,000 residents have died over the past four months.

O’Mara has worked closely with local officials throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, particularly in Steuben County, which had a nursing home “hot spot” in Hornell.

“Simply settling for the findings of an in-house report on the COVID-19 nursing home crisis from Governor Cuomo’s own Department of Health is not good enough for those who have lost parents, grandparents and other loved ones," said O'Mara. "The Governor’s response to our calls for an independent investigation as ‘politically motivated’ is disingenuous and disrespectful to these grieving families. The seniors who have died and their families deserve to have an unbiased and independent inquiry into the actions of the Department of Health, and they should know if any mistakes were made. There is nothing political about uncovering the truth.”

Ortt stressed that O’Mara is well suited to represent the Senate GOP on the committee, pointing to his previous experience as the District Attorney in Chemung County, as a former Chemung County Attorney and as a former Assistant District Attorney in both Chemung County and Manhattan.

O’Mara is a graduate of the Syracuse University College of Law.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Push to limit Cuomo's powers rejected

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, July 21, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and his Senate Republican colleagues Tuesday proposed a legislative amendment to put an end to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s current emergency powers to unilaterally enact state laws and regulations.

However, the amendment was unanimously rejected by the Senate Democratic leadership. A similar legislative amendment was also unanimously defeated when O’Mara and Senate Republicans proposed it when the Legislature met in late May.

Since early March, O’Mara said, Cuomo has issued 54 Executive Orders that have allowed the governor to unilaterally change nearly 300 laws.

“The governor," said O'Mara, "needed the ability to respond quickly to a rapidly changing crisis at the outset of the COVID-19 response. However, four months later it’s time to put an end to this government by executive order. The dangers and shortcomings of government by executive order have become clear. A legislative process without checks and balances goes too far and fails to be effective. Senate Republicans keep putting forth proposals to restore more balanced government, but the all-downstate, extreme-liberal Senate Majority is not serious about governing or checking the power of the governor. They are content letting Governor Cuomo do the dirty work.”

The Senate GOP amendment would have immediately stopped the governor’s unilateral emergency control. The proposal would have put New York’s disaster emergency control policy in line with other states that limit an Executive’s powers to 30 days and require the Legislature’s approval for continuing the powers.

The amendment would have also mandated that the Governor provide weekly reports to the Legislature during an emergency declaration to ensure accountability and transparency.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Palmesano rips Cuomo on new regulations

Responds to governor's rules regarding bars, restaurants, wineries and breweries

Special to The Odessa File

CORNING, July 17, 2020 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced new regulations banning bars, restaurants, wineries and breweries from serving alcohol to patrons who do not order food and are not being served food.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) is outraged.

“This arbitrary and destructive action will further hurt small businesses that have already been crushed during the COVID-19 shutdown," said Palmesano. "If it was safe to have a glass of wine or a beer six feet away from other customers yesterday, what changed overnight? This is just the whim of the governor, who is obsessed with controlling nearly every aspect of everyday life in the state of New York.

"Under Phase IV for our region, the governor increased and set capacity limits at 50% for restaurants, bars, wineries, and breweries serving food or beverages, and he is once again moving the goalposts in the middle of the game, even with our lower infection rates. This action is the latest example of the governor exceeding and abusing his emergency powers.

"This is why so many of my colleagues and I have been urging members on the other side of the aisle to join us in taking action to finally end the governor’s emergency powers that he’s consistently abused for months. Enough is enough,” said Palmesano.

Palmesano said this latest executive action could be particularly harmful for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region, the center of the state’s multi-billion dollar wine, craft beverage and agritourism industry.

“Ironically, this is an industry the governor has boasted about and supported in the past," said Palmesano. "This new mandate will prolong the financial hardship and crisis. The small, family-owned operations that power the area’s tourism have worked hard to adapt to the changing regulations by the governor and can’t continue to absorb additional, costly mandates after losing months of business.”

Palmesano added that this action is being driven by reported violations of overcrowded bars in New York City and downstate New York.

“Once again," he said, "Governor Cuomo is instituting another ‘one-size fits all’ approach. The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region is not New York City. We do not have the density or the infections that downstate has, and the small businesses and employees here, who have been following the rules, should not be hurt and penalized because of actions taking place in New York City.”

Palmesano also questioned the timing of the order.

"We’ve made progress here," he said. "Infection rates across the state are extremely low, especially here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region. We need to continue to work together to protect public health, but this order is an extreme and unnecessary reaction. This is not the time to blindside these businesses and workers. This is the time we should be helping them, not hurting them even more than they have been. They made sacrifices. They followed the governor’s rules and shut-down orders, and they are just trying to survive and avoid an economic catastrophe.

"This is the worst possible time for the governor to mandate devastating new regulations. It’s arbitrary and it's just wrong."

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Results of Primary Elections unveiled

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 24, 2020 -- Primary elections were held Tuesday, including on a limited basis in Schuyler County.

Results included:

President, Democratic Party: Joe Biden 241, Bernie Sanders 79, Elizabeth Warren 20.
Orange Town Council, 2-Year term, Republicans: Heather A. Waters 39, Richard M. Hendricks 30.
Orange Town Council, 3-Year unexpired term, Republicans: Maryann J. Friebis 42, Jocelyn Harrison 29.

O'Mara to Cuomo: Open up graduations

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, June 15, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) continues to join a chorus of voices from across the Southern Tier region calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to revise the state-mandated size limit for in-person high school graduation ceremonies.

In early June, the governor issued an executive order limiting in-person graduation ceremonies to no more than a total of 150 attendees.

O’Mara and other Southern Tier leaders stress that this state-mandated restriction leaves many school districts unable to conduct a collective gathering for their entire graduating school community.

O’Mara said, “I think that’s wrong. I believe we can and should trust school district administrators and regional officials to conduct safe graduation ceremonies. In my view, given all of the recent civil protest and unrest, these traditional high school graduation ceremonies for our young people to celebrate community, family, unity, achievement, and hope for the future are extremely meaningful and necessary this year. I continue to urge Governor Cuomo to recognize their overriding value at this time and place in New York State.”

The Watkins Glen School District, with that limiter in place, has opted to go with four graduation ceremonies on June 27 -- the only way it can permit the students' families to attend and celebrate the milestone.

In a letter Monday to the Horseheads Central School District community, Superintendent Tom Douglas wrote, “Our senior class is over 300 students. In order to meet that requirement and include parents and personnel to help us adhere to safety guidelines and run graduation, we would need several ceremonies. To date (Governor Cuomo) has not changed this arbitrary number -- (which is) not based on fact or data. He has allowed gatherings for other events and activities such as beaches and big box stores at 25% of the location’s capacity. We believe we can hold graduation safely using this guideline, but unless and until the governor changes his 150 limit, we are unable to hold one in-person graduation ceremony for this very special Class of 2020.

"Urge (Governor Cuomo) to increase the number of attendees at in-person graduation ceremonies using the same percentage limits being used for other gatherings at beaches, big box stores (Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot) and grocery stores: 25% or more of the actual venue’s capacity. If this reasonable request were granted, almost all districts in the state could hold one graduation ceremony that includes all graduates, two parents/guests, and the necessary staff on their football fields and meet social distancing requirements.”

Last Friday, county executives and county mangers from across the Southern Tier region -- including Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss, Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler, and Schuyler County Administrator Timothy O’Hearn -- also wrote to Cuomo calling on the governor to revise the guidelines.

In their letter, the county leaders wrote, “We are NY Tough and we are also Southern Tier Strong. We appreciate your leadership and flexibility through this unprecedented crisis. Given the Southern Tier’s positive healthcare data, we feel that we can accommodate larger graduations with the appropriate standards and precautions. Let’s work together to give the thousands of high school graduates and their families in the Southern Tier the graduations that they deserve.”

O’Mara and other Southern Tier leaders urge area residents who support their effort to call the governor’s office at 518-474-8390, or send an online message through the following web page: https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photos)

Beaver Dams man accused in stabbing attack

GENESEO, June 11, 2020 -- A Schuyler County man has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and first-degree assault after an incident Tuesday at the Geneseo Walmart.

Gregory Cunningham, 24, of Beaver Dams is accused of stabbng a woman multiple times inside the store -- a scene described by witnesses and Geneseo police as "chaotic."

The victm, 34, was treated and released from the hospital Wednesday, said members of her family.

One witness in a checkout line said she heard a woman screaming "at the top of her lungs" and that the victim, approached by a clerk, said "I'm going to die! I'm going to die! Somebody stabbed me!"

Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian said that when police arrived soon after, the suspect was quickly identified and was taken into custody without difficulty.

Another witness told an area TV station that the attacker struck with a four-inch pocket knife in the store's dairy section and that the victim ran through the store, "bleeding profusely" and saying "Please don't let me die. I have two small kids and a husband."

The police chief said drugs and alcohol don't seem to be involved, and that police are investigating Cunningham's background. None of the suspect's social media posts contained any suspicious behavior, Osganian added.

Police said it does not appear that Cunningham and the victim know one another.

Cunningham was arraigned Wednesday afternoon, at which time he pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond, and a mental competency exam was ordered.

Photo in text: Gregory Cunningham (Photo provided)

Local road, bridge work gets green light

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, June 11, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) Thursday welcomed the announcement that the Cuomo administration is giving counties across the region the go-ahead to start this summer’s local road and bridge projects.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend said, “We are pleased that the Cuomo administration has responded to our calls, together with the calls of industry and local government leaders across New York State, to move forward on this summer’s local road and bridge work. These critical projects had been on hold and the state’s delay was raising serious concerns that any prolonged slowdown would have severe economic consequences for local economies and lead to even more job losses. This infrastructure work will be a badly needed jumpstart for regional economies hard-hit by the COVID-19 response.”

Prior to the go-ahead, O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend were joined by transportation, construction, and local government leaders from across the state to urge the Cuomo administration to release the funding.

In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 27, the lawmakers highlighted the importance of the work to local economies across upstate, rural New York. They urged the governor to immediately direct the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to release approximately $743 million in local transportation aid enacted earlier this year as part of the 2020-2021 state budget, including funding through several key programs including the Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), PAVE-NY, and Extreme Winter Recovery.

Palmesano named to legislative task force

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 11, 2020 -- Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay Thursday announced that Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) has been named as the Minority Conference’s representative on the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research & Reapportionment (LATFOR).

Every 10 years, following completion of the U.S. Census, New York’s election district lines are redrawn to determine boundaries for congressional and state legislative offices. The Legislative Task Force is made up of six members, including four legislators and two non-legislators. Each conference leader appoints one legislator, while the Assembly Speaker and Temporary President of the Senate each appoint one additional non-legislator.

“Redistricting is always a critical undertaking for New Yorkers and for the state’s electoral process,” Barclay said. “I have every confidence that Phil Palmesano will be a strong voice on this task force. His diligence, experience and knowledge will serve our Conference well as the panel conducts its work.”

“I am honored to represent our Conference as part of the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, and I thank Leader Barclay for the trust and confidence he has placed in me,” Palmesano said. “The redistricting task force plays an essential role in how voters choose their elected leaders and the makeup of congressional and legislative seats. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the panel and getting started on the job ahead of us.”

Palmesano was elected to the Assembly in 2010 and represents the 132nd Assembly District, which includes the majority of Steuben County, all of Schuyler and Yates counties and portions of Chemung and Seneca counties.

He was appointed Assistant Minority Leader in 2020 and is the Minority’s ranking member on the Assembly Energy Committee. In addition, he also serves on the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Corrections, Insurance, and Ways and Means committees.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Anchor union leader admits embezzlement

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced Tuesday that Brian Arnold, 49, of Pine City, NY, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. to embezzlement of union funds. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan K. McGuire, who is handling the case, said the defendant served as Financial Secretary with Steelworkers Local Union 104M, which represents approximately 75 workers at Anchor Glass Container Corporation, from September 2015 to August 2018. As financial secretary, Arnold was responsible for collecting dues checks, recording all receipts, maintaining receipts and disbursement records, writing and signing checks, and preparing an accurate account of all money received and paid out to report monthly to the union membership.

Between April 2016 and August 2018, Arnold embezzled $33,224.15 in union funds. The defendant made unauthorized purchases with the union’s debit card; made unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the union’s checking account; and wrote unauthorized checks to himself from the union’s checking account.

The plea is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 10, 2020, before Judge Geraci.

Montour Falls man pleads guilty in porn case

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, June 10, 2020 -- U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced Tuesday that Michael J. Truesdail, 39, of Montour Falls, NY has pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. to possession of child pornography involving prepubescent minors.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan K. McGuire, who is handling the case, said that on March 27, 2019, a federal search warrant was executed at the defendant’s Henry Street residence. A number of electronic items were seized including two computers, a hard drive, an SD card, and two thumb drives.

Officials said a forensic analysis recovered more than 8,000 images and 10 video files, some of which depict children engaged in sexual activity with other children and with adults.

The plea is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Guyton.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 10, 2020, before Judge Geraci.

Palmesano to Cuomo: Drive-through graduation ceremonies are not enough

Note: Governor Andrew Cuomo, days after this article appeared, decided to permit stadium graduations, but with a limitation of 150 participants.

CORNING, June 4, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I -Corning) Thursday sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo petitioning him to allow high school seniors across the state to experience the culmination of their high school careers: in-person graduations.

Palmesano also signed on to a letter sent by his colleagues in the Assembly Republican Conference to the governor petitioning for the same thing.

Palmesano cited declining COVID-19 infection rates, particularly Upstate, and his strong belief that education officials could collaborate with public health leaders to ensure safe ceremonies.

“As I said and you know well," Palmesano wrote, "these kids have sacrificed and lost so many of the final opportunities and experiences of their senior year in high school. Experiences like class trips, sports, club events, athletic signings for college, yearbook signings, their proms and end of year fun and get- togethers. Governor Cuomo, they’ve missed out on enough.  Don’t take their high school graduation ceremonies away from them too."

Earlier Thursday, the governor announced that he would allow drive-through graduations. Palmesano said the proposal was inadequate.

“Our kids deserve a better send-off than that,” said Palmesano.

Palmesano’s letter concluded by saying:

“Governor, through your actions, you have the opportunity to deliver a strong message of perseverance to our high school seniors. Allow our seniors to have graduation ceremonies, celebrate their accomplishments and bring much-needed closure to their high school careers. They deserve this. We owe it to them and we should make it happen for them.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Mayors in Watkins Glen, Odessa fly in face
of late ruling before Cuomo OKs reopenings

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 29, 2020 -- The mayors of Watkins Glen and Odessa objected Friday to New York State's Thursday evening delay on Phase 2 reopenings by urging businesses to move forward as though the edict did not exist.

They were not alone. Government leaders from a number of locales in the affected Upstate regions -- the Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier, the Mohawk Valley, Central New York and the North Country -- were pushing back with sharp criticism of Governor Andrew Cuomo's waffling, with some urging businesses to open anyway.

Half a day later, Cuomo had reversed himself and given the green light for businesses to open under Phase 2 guidance and safety restrictions.

Both Watkins Mayor Luke Leszyk -- saying he was speaking from a personal viewpoint, and not an official one -- and Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer took to Facebook to voice their objections to the state's Thursday night move -- before Cuomo gave the green light.

In a posting on his personal Facebook page, Leszyk wrote: "Despite the indecision of our governor and their lack of guidance I would say that we are officially in Phase 2 of reopening. I would like to include outdoor seating for our restaurants, though that wasn't included, but I feel makes sense. If any businesses get pushback or complaints I will take full responsibility. Watkins Glen is on its way to being back ..."

Leszyk said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn called him early Friday morning to complain about the Facebook message, and asked him to retract it. Leszyk declined to do so. O'Hearn was particularly upset about the restaurant seating reference, the mayor said, and expressed the fear that if businesses did not comply with the state, the county might suffer consequences. (Leszyk added that he was not advocating outdoor seating at this time, but rather expressing a personal opinion.)

"He said I was putting the county at a big liability risk -- that we could go backward," said Leszyk. "But I am a citizen, and have the right to express my opinion. Businesses have to use best practices. Ultimately, the county runs the Department of Health and can come down and cite you and pull your permit, or the ABC can pull your liquor license. So business owners should keep that in mind."

But if any businesses chose to reopen despite the state edict not to, "I'd back anybody who does it," he said.

He wouldn't be doing so in an official capacity, he added, but "I won't be encouraging enforcement -- unless somebody was putting people at risk."

Odessa Mayor Messmer, meanwhile, wrote on the village's Facebook page that "Odessa is now in Phase 2 and all businesses in this category can open as planned. Use common sense, social distancing, masks, hand sanitizer, perhaps outdoor seating for our minimal venues, and all other businesses feel free to open up as well.

"I will assume responsibility and defend you. It's time to get things moving!

"The Governor's office is dragging their feet, and quite frankly, have no authority over Odessa or private businesses, so we will open using current CDC guidance and items as mentioned above, and any precautions you deem necessary as a business owner."

In a subsequent phone call, Messmer said the state "is backpedaling. People were counting on opening. The Governor can't keep jerking people around. He's acting like King Cuomo. I think it's bogus. He's showing a complete lack of leadership."

O'Hearn,meanwhile, confirmed that he was most concerned by Leszyk's reference to outdoor seating, and says he cautioned the mayor that whether he was speaking officially or not, "you can't separate the two" -- that if a mayor speaks, people think of him as the mayor.

He also cautioned that any businesses that felt compelled to open in the face of the latest state order should consult legal and insurance representatives before doing so.

"All I can say is we're not in Phase 2, according to the Governor," O'Hearn said at midmorning Friday -- about four hours before the Governor gave the go-ahead. "That's the best I can tell people at this point."

Despite what mayors were saying, he noted, rules regarding the pandemic are "driven by the state. We're being governed by Executive Orders, like it or not. This is not a home rule issue." He said mayoral objections were, accordingly, "great sound bites."

Then, at his 1 p.m. press conference, the Governor said that experts had studied appropriate data and that businesses were free to open that afternoon.

By then, most businesses in Watkins Glen had opted to remain closed. Leszyk said he hoped they would be opening Saturday.

Photos in text:

From top: Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk, Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer and Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. (File photos)

O'Mara, Palmesano, Friend seek release
of funds for local road and bridge work

Warn that prolonged slowdown on projects will have severe economic consequences

ELMIRA, May 27, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) are calling on the Cuomo administration to give counties across the region the go-ahead to start this summer’s local road and bridge projects.

They said that the local transportation work remains on hold awaiting the release of state funding as well as the necessary state authorizations that counties are required to have before moving forward with projects.

In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the area state lawmakers highlighted the importance of the work to local economies across upstate, rural New York. They urged the governor to immediately direct the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to release approximately $743 million in local transportation aid enacted earlier this year as part of the 2020-2021 state budget, including funding through several key programs including the Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), PAVE-NY, BRIDGE-NY, and Extreme Winter Recovery.

They warn that the state cannot afford to risk the economic consequences of a prolonged slowdown in local road and bridge work.

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend wrote in their May 27th letter to Cuomo, “As you know, over the past decade we have worked closely with county and town highway superintendents and local transportation leaders from throughout New York State to help lead the ‘Local Roads Matter’ advocacy campaign that has continually highlighted the fundamental role that this system plays as a foundation of local economies.

“Furthermore, we have appreciated working together with you and your administration to strengthen New York State’s support for local roads, bridges, and culverts through the CHIPS, PAVE-NY, and BRIDGE-NY programs, as well as other capital programs and initiatives like the Extreme Winter Recovery allocations that have made an enormous difference for the quality and strength of local communities and local economies, and to help ease the burden on local property taxpayers.

“Now that New York is beginning to reopen and as we all look forward to getting our local economies moving again, we believe it should be a top priority to maintain a strong state commitment to local transportation infrastructure as one effective and commonsense way to reinvigorate economic sectors that have been hit so hard by the COVID-19 response.

“To put it simply and straightforwardly, we do not believe New York State can afford to risk the consequences of a further prolonged slowdown in local road and bridge work.”

Since 2013, O’Mara, Palmesano, Friend and many of their legislative colleagues have joined county and town highway superintendents and other local transportation leaders from throughout New York to promote a stronger state commitment to local transportation infrastructure through the “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign.  Over the past seven years, largely through a series of “extreme winter recovery” allocations distributed through the CHIPS funding formula, and together with the PAVE-NY and BRIDGE-NY programs established in 2016, important increased state support has been provided for New York’s counties, cities, towns, and villages.

In their letter to the governor, O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend wrote, “We listened with great interest to your May 26th daily briefing during which you urged the federal government to fully recognize the importance, effectiveness, and common sense of infrastructure development as a surefire way to create jobs and stimulate the economy. We could not agree more -- and we could not agree more that it would be an equally important way for New York State to truly begin jumpstarting local economies upstate and downstate. While your May 26th briefing largely focused on downstate initiatives and projects, we are confident that you fully recognize that local transportation infrastructure projects remain the lifeblood of so many upstate, rural economies.”

Photos in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Downtown Montour Falls shortly before the start of the Memorial Day service, with a flag raised by the village's Fire Department standing sentinel above Shequagah Falls.

Memorial Day service pays homage, but minus a keynote, bagpipes, band & crowd

MONTOUR FALLS, May 25, 2020 -- Memorial Day in the age of the pandemic brought significant changes to the observance Monday.

While gatherings that traditionally attracted crowds in Watkins Glen and outside Odessa were not mounted this year, one staged annually in Montour Falls was held -- but trimmed down.

The Village Board decided to honor America's war dead with a ceremony at the same locale at which one is held annually -- Shequagah Falls Park.

But in order to maintain social distancing, the event was not announced publicly, so only a relative handful of spectators showed up. Mayor John King was present to emcee the brief ceremony, while Village Trustee Jim Ryan read a list of the 34 veterans in the area who died in the past year.

There was the placing of a wreath by Mayor King at a memorial marker near the park's sidewalk, and a 21-shot salute by an Honor Guard from American Legion Post 676. Taps were played by Noah Brewster, an alumnus of Odessa-Montour High School.

There was no bagpiper on hand as in most years, nor a keynote speaker, nor a vocalist to perform the National Anthem, nor the O-M school band. And there were, by design, very few spectators. The event, Ryan pointed out, was only mentioned publicly in the Village Board meeting minutes, which apparently few people read.

Mayor King, who like Ryan was sporting a face mask, said safety concerns were paramount in the event's planning, but that the board felt the day merited a ceremony.

In his remarks, the mayor -- who lowered his mask to be heard above the noise of the falls --said Memorial Day was "a time to come together as one body to say Thank you, we are grateful" to those who have given their lives in service to their country.

Photo in text: The American Legion Post 676 Honor Guard was part of the service.

Left: Montour Falls Mayor John King presided at the ceremony. Right: American Legion Honor Guard member Jim Tobey after the service.

Left: A wreath was placed in front of a memorial marker during the ceremony. Right: Village Board member Jim Ryan reads the list of 34 area veterans who have died in the past year.

O'Mara to Cuomo: Deliver the resources needed to protect nursing home residents

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, May 20, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and members of the Senate Republican Conference Wednesday stepped up their ongoing calls for the Cuomo administration to take full responsibility for the COVID-19 nursing home crisis.

O’Mara said, “Governor Cuomo can’t just issue another directive or another unfunded state mandate out of Albany and leave this nursing home crisis to be addressed at the local level. Not now, when we have already lost thousands of seniors. Not now, when this virus remains an extreme danger to the elderly in nursing homes. Not now, when our localities, local care facilities, and local caregivers on the front lines are already overburdened, overwhelmed, and under pressure.

"It is long past time for Governor Cuomo to order his administration to take full responsibility for this crisis and deliver the resources necessary to protect this vulnerable population.”

O’Mara and legislative colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, have continued to pressure the Cuomo administration to play a larger and more direct role to protect nursing home residents and staff from COVID-19.

The governor has come under increased scrutiny for the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes where, according to recent state reporting, deaths total more than 5,000. GOP senators said that state-regulated nursing homes and other congregate care facilities throughout New York have for years continually faced budget cuts that resulted in staffing shortages, and that the COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated an already tenuous situation.

“The front lines of this nursing home crisis in Steuben County and other hot spots throughout New York have led to important shifts in state policies," said O'Mara, "but it has also highlighted the frustration at the local level with the response of the Cuomo administration and overall state policies. We repeatedly called for aggressive and decisive actions by the state Health Department to test, isolate, and prevent spread, but kept running into the roadblocks of existing state policies and directives -- and now that includes new, costly state-mandated testing that our rural facilities simply cannot afford or administer."

Some nursing home operators say they can’t comply with the latest state directive to test employees for COVID-19 twice a week. Facilities would have to pay between $75 to $150 per test, they say. According to some estimates, the cost for a nursing home in a rural upstate area to comply with the state’s testing mandate could total as much as $90,000 per week.  And if the employees were to quarantine awaiting results, as is usually required, they would only be able to work three or four days a week. Nursing homes also reported that state labs currently lack the capacity to process twice weekly tests, and many expressed health concerns for staffers over the repeated testing.

The state provided 320,000 testing kits this week to nursing homes, but that does not cover the two tests per week requirement for the entire workforce across the state. It remains unclear if the state will continue distribution at this scale.

O’Mara and his Senate GOP colleagues are calling on the Cuomo administration to immediately:

--Provide all necessary test kits directly to the facilities that have been scrambling to access them.
--Utilize the National Guard to assist in administering tests and cleansing facilities to provide critical relief.
--Use short swab or saliva tests.
--Provide PPE to nursing homes, long-term care and adult day care facilities.
--Create a long-term care specific staffing pool; and
--Create regionally based long-term care facilities for COVID-positive nursing home residents.

O’Mara has also joined legislative colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to call for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 nursing home crisis.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

O'Mara: Stay focused on public health

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, May 15, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) Friday welcomed the start of the Phase I reopenings across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and urged area residents to continue adhering to public health requirements so that local economies can keep moving forward.

O’Mara said, “It’s very positive that we have reached this important mile marker on the long road back to reopening. It’s the result of strong regional teamwork and public outreach that will continue to serve us well throughout the important weeks and months ahead. This emergency has called for all hands on deck and we’ve responded. Now we want to keep pushing forward, reopening more of our local economies, and getting more workers back on the job as quickly as possible.

"We can’t risk any setbacks. That means, number one, we all have to keep listening to our local public health departments and their critical messages for keeping COVID-19 under control. We’ve achieved the beginning of this reopening because of personal responsibility and enormous sacrifices. Keep holding the line. We also need the Cuomo administration to help our regional reopenings move forward with greater clarity, common sense, and fairness, and I will continue working with area colleagues to keep pushing the state to recognize specific regional needs, concerns, and suggestions. This reopening is a badly needed first step but there’s a lot of work facing us to fix what’s broken and keep meeting the needs for assistance.

Since the beginning of the state shutdown in mid-March, O’Mara has maintained a “One-Stop” webpage on his Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov., that has gathered, in one place, links to a range of information and resources being issued by numerous federal, state, and local agencies and organizations.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Danks Burke: Let's focus on more problems

Special to The Odessa File

BIG FLATS, May 15, 2020 -- As the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions begin to reopen with the lifting of the COVID-19 pandemic "PAUSE," Leslie Danks Burke, candidate for State Senate in the 58th district, is calling out Senator Tom O'Mara for publicly announcing that the state should focus on public health demands and the need to get upstate back to work.

"I'm glad Mr. O'Mara is paying attention to the rapidly increasing death toll in nursing homes and the thousands of Southern Tier and Finger Lakes residents who are newly unemployed on his watch," Danks Burke said. "These tragedies demand real attention.

"My heart also lies with the children who aren't eating because schools are closed, with veterans who are struggling without easy access to suicide prevention programs at the VA, with innkeepers who've poured their life into businesses that they now see evaporating before their eyes, with parents facing their children each evening, knowing they can't help their own kids succeed in school because school's happening on the internet and there's no internet service or money to pay for it, with farmers who are selling their animals because they're facing bankruptcy. ... We have a lot more than two things that need attention."

Photo in text: Leslie Danks Burke

Feds launch op as Covid-19 fraud cases surge

Special to The Odessa File

lBUFFALO, NY, May 13, 2020 -- Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recently announced the launch of Operation Stolen Promise, a national operation aimed at combatting COVID-19 fraud and other related criminal activity. The operation enhances collaboration with multiple federal agencies, along with business and industry representatives.

Surging criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials say, requires an equally robust investigative response to protect the American public.

“The unfortunate reality is there are criminal enterprises actively exploiting Americans while they are at their most vulnerable,” said HSI Buffalo Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly. “But these heartless criminal groups should be forewarned that while some aspects of regular life have been temporarily paused, HSI and CBP are still actively and aggressively pursuing those who operate these illicit schemes.”

“CBP and HSI are partners in combating cross-border illegal activity,” said Buffalo Field Office Director Rose Brophy. “We will continue to work together to protect the public from those who are attempting to profit from this pandemic.”

Locally, HSI Buffalo special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Office of Field Operations have seized approximately 6,000 fraudulent COVID-19 test kits, 3,400 N95 masks, and thousands of purported treatment pills to include Hydroxycloroquin Sulfate, Lainhua Qingwen Jianonang, Levofloxacin, Avelox, Chloroquin Phosphate, Azithromycin, and Chloroquine. More than $110,000 in illicit funds tied to COVID-19 fraud has been seized.

Criminal organizations that have historically engaged in financial scams, officials said, are pivoting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic and the associated stimulus package for illegal financial gains. These networks are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment and prohibited testing kits, medicines, and hygiene products, as well as running illicit websites to sell their merchandise. In the coming weeks, HSI Buffalo anticipates that financial fraud scams involving financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks, and traditional boiler room criminal operations will increase. All these fraud scams impact and burden government public benefit agencies that are in the process of distributing aid and providing assistance.

As of May 4, HSI special agents nationally opened over 315 investigations nationwide; seized over $3.2 million in illicit proceeds; made 11 arrests; executed 21 search warrants; analyzed over 19,000 COVID-19 domain names; and worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize 494 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE).

About that asymptomatic COVID-19 case

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 12, 2020 -- Public health officials announced Tuesday that after several weeks without a new case of COVID-19 in Schuyler County, notification had been received of one new case in an asymptomatic individual.

The message from health officials Tuesday about the case -- the 10th in Schuyler County -- was as follows:

"We received notification of one new positive confirmed case of COVID-19 today in an asymptomatic individual. It is important to remember that as testing is expanded it is likely we will find more positive cases, especially asymptomatic cases (people who test positive for the virus, but don’t have any symptoms). While this may seem bad, it is good that these cases are being identified. It allows us to place individuals who test positive into isolation and put their contacts in quarantine to stop the spread of the virus.

"Contact tracing for this individual is currently in progress and we are in the process of identifying individuals who may have been exposed and putting them in quarantine. Based on our investigation so far, we do not believe the individual produced any public exposure risks (by) limiting unnecessary trips into public places and ... wearing a face covering when outside the home. We will provide additional details with tomorrow’s update after the contact investigation is complete.

"Please remember to wear face coverings in public, wash your hands frequently, and limit contact with people outside your home. The cloth face cover isn’t to protect you -- it protects other people in case you are infected and don’t know it yet. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you don’t feel sick. It is very important that we all continue these protective actions."

O'Mara to Cuomo: Fix New York State's broken unemployment insurance system

ELMIRA, May 9, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara Satuday joined his colleagues in the Senate Republican Conference to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to fix New York’s broken unemployment system.

O’Mara and his colleagues proposed a series of recommendations to remedy failures at the Department of Labor (DOL).

O’Mara said, “My offices have been fielding a flood of calls and emails from area workers who have lost their jobs and, for several weeks or longer now, have been unable to access and receive the unemployment assistance they need and deserve. It’s become a desperate situation and it’s past the time to get it fixed. The Cuomo administration needs to redouble the effort to get this essential aid to everyone who needs it to support their families and survive this public health crisis.”

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment has skyrocketed to 1.76 million New Yorkers, and constituents, growing increasingly hopeless, have frantically called Republican state Senate offices reporting that they cannot get proper or timely assistance from DOL, or that they filed nearly two months ago and have not received a single check. Tearful callers say they cannot afford to put food on the table.

While the State has reportedly spent nearly $88 million on high-end firm Deloitte to overhaul the DOL call system and for 200 firm employees, desperate unemployed New Yorkers still cannot get through or have legitimate filings stuck in the system.

Since DOL has been unable to fix or properly address these issues on their own, the Senate GOP is calling for the following immediate steps to be taken:

-- The Governor must streamline application certifications and allow applicants to “certify” upon application, while still providing appropriate safeguards to help ensure that benefits only go to eligible New Yorkers;

-- In addition to the 3,000 employees currently working phones, the DOL must collaborate with other state agencies to train thousands more of the state’s workforce, who are staying at home, to rapidly field calls and help New Yorkers file to receive benefits immediately;

-- The State Comptroller, who oversees payments, contracts, and finances in the state, should be empowered to provide Emergency Oversight and Assistance to DOL;

-- The Comptroller should conduct an immediate, fast-track audit of the DOL’s procedures and administration of the program; and

-- A State Legislative Joint Committee should conduct an immediate review and investigation into DOL’s failed handling of unemployment benefits throughout the pandemi.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

O'Mara to Cuomo: Focus on short-term

Warns ‘government by executive order’ has gone too far

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, May 7, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) Thursday urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to keep his administration’s response to the COVID-19 emergency “laser focused on the short-term public health demands of this crisis and the need to get upstate back to work. We can’t afford to draw attention and resources away from the immediate crisis by engaging now in grand and radical ideas to remake education and health care.”

O’Mara was responding to Cuomo’s announcements this week that the state will join forces with the Bill Gates Foundation to “reimagine” education in New York and with Google to transform the state’s health care system.

Both moves are raising concerns among O’Mara and legislative colleagues, as well as state education and health care leaders, that Cuomo could try to implement far-reaching changes without input from the Legislature, stakeholders, and the public at large.

Since the state shutdown began in mid-March, Cuomo has issued hundreds of executive orders that effectively allow the governor to make state law unilaterally. A recent Buffalo News report, for example, estimated that Cuomo has already authorized nearly $3 billion in spending on the COVID-19 response and some question whether the spending is being done with the appropriate, independent oversight.

According to O’Mara, expanding unilateral action by the governor is troubling.

“We have been witnessing state government by executive order," he said. "While I agree that the immediate COVID-19 response has demanded an ability to respond swiftly, Governor Cuomo is going too far too fast unilaterally and it raises serious and significant legislative concerns.

"The Cuomo administration needs to keep state resources and manpower laser focused on the immediate COVID-19 response. We need to weather this storm with fiscal responsibility and strict priorities. We do need to look ahead, but now is not the time to take state resources away from this public and economic emergency to pursue grand ideas and radical reforms for education, health care, or any other cornerstone of New York State’s long-term future. There will be a time for all of that.

"Now is not that time and it can’t be Governor Cuomo alone making those long-term reforms. It requires the involvement of the Legislature, education and health care stakeholders, and the public at large.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

O'Mara backs 'Reopen & Reset' strategy

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, May 5, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and his Senate Republican colleagues announced this week that they will be putting forth a “Reopen and Reset” strategy for the upstate regions they represent.

While Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to focus on plans for the calibrated, short-term reopening of local economies along regional boundaries, O’Mara and his colleagues want to also begin setting rebuilding priorities for post-coronavirus government in New York State throughout the coming year and into the foreseeable future.

O’Mara, whose 58th Senate District covers most of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, said that he and other state Senate Republicans are discussing and developing strategies for upstate’s post-coronavirus communities and economies focusing on several cornerstones, including the steady rebuilding of increasing numbers of economic sectors, regulatory and tax reform, and mandate relief, among others.

Said O'Mara: “Right now we are witnessing state government by executive order and that will need to change as soon as possible. I have stressed throughout the ongoing COVID-19 response that we also need to be ready, once we weather this storm, to start an open and full discussion on the best ways to move forward for this entire state, upstate and downstate. It is going to require a restructuring of New York government, strengthening the state-local partnership, and getting back to work rebuilding New York with the right priorities, long-overdue commonsense reform, and fiscal responsibility.

"I look forward to continuing to join my Senate Republican colleagues throughout the weeks and months ahead to put forth strategies and work to ensure that our upstate regions don't get left behind in the unprecedented rebuilding and restructuring effort that we're facing.”

One action O’Mara and his colleagues would like New York State to take immediately is to align the businesses on the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESD) “essential business” designation with that of the federal government’s essential businesses list. They argue that this move to more directly align New York’s reopening with the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “Opening Up America Again” guidelines would allow more small businesses, industries, and manufacturers to reopen safely.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Palmesano, colleagues: Local governments should get federal assistance for PPE buys

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 5, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and his Assembly Republican colleagues are calling for federal assistance to reimburse local governments for needed PPE's (personal protective equipment) purchased for volunteer emergency medical service (EMS) workers and volunteer firefighters.

They’re also seeking federal funding to cover lost wages for emergency volunteers forced to quarantine due to potential exposure to the coronavirus.

The lawmakers are also sponsoring a bill which would create the New York State Volunteer Fire Protection Emergency Reimbursement Account, a state fund that would reimburse volunteer fire companies, districts, departments and EMS for coronavirus expenses.

“Volunteer emergency service workers are the backbone of our rural communities," said Palmesano. "They have our backs no matter how dangerous the circumstances. Protecting them must be a bipartisan priority in Albany and Washington. We can’t ask them to continue their selfless service without providing them with the resources they need to protect themselves and their families.”

Palmesano joined his colleagues in sending a letter last week to President Trump, Senator Charles Schumer and the New York State congressional delegation urging federal action.

“Many volunteer emergency districts and volunteer fire companies host fundraisers to help balance their budgets," said Palmesano. "Obviously, they have been unable to host such gatherings. Even though our state revenues are strained, providing help for our volunteer emergency service workers must remain a priority. We also need the federal government to step in and provide additional assistance.”

Additionally, Palmesano is encouraging the federal government to ensure volunteer fire departments are eligible for disaster relief programs, including loans and grants.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Town of Catharine Dumpster Day is May 16

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 30, 2020 -- The Town of Catharine will host a Dumpster Day on Saturday, May 16, from 9 a.m. to noon for town residents only at the town barns.

Household items (NO GARBAGE), tires without rims, appliances, and scrap metal will be accepted.  The town will not be accepting electronics for recycling.

For more information, call 594-2273 or check out www.townofcatharine.com

O'Mara to Cuomo: Don't forget Upstate

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 20, 2020 -- At his daily COVID-19 press briefing at the Capitol Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of a “Reimagine New York Task Force” to begin working on restructuring New York State government in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cuomo said the new task force will be charged with developing plans for public transportation, housing, public safety, health care, social equality, and the use of technology.

In doing so, however, the governor explicitly stated that the task force will focus “primarily on downstate New York.”

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) urged the governor to include the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and all of Upstate New York, in the planned restructuring of New York government.

O’Mara said, “I encourage the governor to keep looking ahead and recognizing that a restructuring of New York State government is at hand, because I’ve recently called for that very same post COVID-19 future for New York government. But it baffles me why Governor Cuomo would only include downstate New York.

"Upstate New York also deserves better public transportation, better housing, better public safety, better health care, better technology and all of the other areas the governor highlighted for the future of downstate New York. Believe me, from high taxes to unfunded state mandates, Upstate New York deserves and needs to be fully included in this ‘reimagining’ of state government. This restructuring is long overdue.

"Clearly, we will need to keep reminding the Governor and the downstate-controlled State Legislature that Upstate’s still here and there’s a few things we can imagine too I look forward to helping make sure we will not be forgotten moving forward.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara.

Palmesano, colleagues seek farm assistance

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 16, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and his Assembly Republican colleagues sent a letter to the governor and Senate and Assembly leaders Wednesday seeking state relief for the state’s agricultural industry.

Farmers across the state, Palmesano says, are finding it immensely challenging to keep their farms operating as the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has cut demand for their products and slashed their revenues.

“The men and women who work tirelessly every day to feed our state and our nation deserve our assistance during this unprecedented crisis," he said. "Recently adopted policies advanced by the administration and Assembly and Senate Democrat Majorities have increased labor costs and imposed costly mandates and burdensome regulations on our family farms. These policies put our family farms in a vulnerable position even before this crisis.We need to take action to help our farmers get through this challenging time.”

Highlights from the Assembly Minority’s proposal include:

--Suspending DMV registration requirements for agricultural vehicles.

--Eliminating tolls, hauling permits and highway use fees for vehicles transporting agricultural products.

--Suspending the 60-hour overtime threshold and the 24-hour rest requirement for farm laborers for one year.

--Extending the Milk Producers Security Fund.

--Allocating new federal stimulus funds to Cornell Cooperative Extensions, which can assist in emergency service delivery.

--Allocating new federal stimulus funds to expand rural broadband.

--Providing state-funded vouchers for food banks to purchase agricultural products from local producers.

Efforts to promote state assistance come on the heels of Palmesano and his colleagues writing President Trump and top administration officials earlier this week seeking emergency federal aid for the state’s farm families.

“With 98 percent of farms in New York state being family owned, we should be working together to pursue every avenue we can to help farm families get through this crisis,” said Palmesano.

Area airports get $4.6 million in funding

Special to The Odessa File

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15, 2020 -- Rep. Tom Reed has announced $4,638,156 in funding is being released to airports throughout his district. The funds are being released by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We care about making sure our airports have fair access to the funds they need to function,” said Reed. “Our infrastructure is of vital importance, and it is critical to maintain its capacity. That is why we were proud to fight for this funding and will continue to fight for the needs for our district and our region.”

The allocations are as follows:

--Canandaigua Airport: $30,000
--Corning-Painted Post Airport: $30,000
--Chautauqua County/Dunkirk Airport: $30,000
--Elmira/Corning Regional Airport: $2,494,192
--Hornell Municipal Airport: $20,000
--Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport: $1,775,964
--Chautauqua County/Jamestown Airport: $69,000
--Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport: $30,000
--Penn Yan Airport: $69,000
--Finger Lakes Regional Airport : $30,000
--Wellsville Municipal Airport, Tarantine Field: $30,000
--Dansville Municipal Airport: $30,000

This allocation is part of the Airport Improvement Program. For more information, visit https://www.faa.gov/airports/aip/.

Palmesano, GOP colleagues petition Trump, Schumer for ag aid for NY's 'hurting' farms

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 13, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and his Assembly Republican colleagues have sent a letter to President Donald Trump, Senator Charles Schumer and top administration officials urging them to push Congress to authorize a new relief package to help New York State’s agricultural industry.

They’re also pushing the officials to ensure that farmers are eligible for benefits previously appropriated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Particularly here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region, our family farms power our economy," said Palmesano. "Generation after generation, they feed their neighbors. They sell their products all over the world. It’s a tradition that defines us. Ninety-eight percent of all farms in New York state are family farms. They’re hurting right now, and we need to step in with the relief they need to continue operating.”

Palmesano and his colleagues want the federal government to ensure that farmers are eligible for disaster loan funding and are seeking federal reimbursement for any actions the state must take to support farm families. They are also seeking a larger state share of the aggregate CARES Act Funding.

Most importantly, the lawmakers are urging both houses of Congress to pass a new stimulus package that also provides critical assistance for New York's agricultural industry, an investment that will produce ripple effects across the economy.

“New York state is the global epicenter of this crisis, we’re one of the nation’s leading agricultural producers and our country isn’t going to have any sort of economic resurgence without thriving, fully-operational family farms," said Palmesano. "Agriculture is our state’s number one industry. That’s why we’re asking the administration and Sen. Schumer to make this a priority in Washington on both sides of the aisle.”

“Bad policies in this state made our farm families vulnerable to any crisis," he added. "Increasing their labor costs, crushing them with mandates and stifling them with regulations created a bad situation. Now, they’re in crisis. We need to do the right thing and provide them with the help they deserve before it’s too late.

“Remember, no farms, no food.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

O'Mara, colleagues urge Cuomo to exempt essential state workers from wage-hike freeze

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 13, 2020 -- Members of the New York State Senate Republican Conference, led by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Monday sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging the governor to immediately move forward with a scheduled salary increase for corrections officers and other state employees that New York has designated “essential” to the COVID-19 response.

The governor recently froze a scheduled 2% salary increase for a large segment of the state workforce including many workers on the front lines that the state has designated “essential,” including state corrections officers and other law enforcement officers, nurses and other staff at public hospitals, and direct caregivers in nursing homes and mental health care facilities, among others.

O’Mara and his Senate GOP colleagues believe that these frontline workers should be exempt from the governor’s freeze.

In their letter to Cuomo, Senate Republicans wrote, “Thank you for your ongoing leadership in recognizing the essential workers on the front lines throughout our communities who, day in and day out, night after night, are providing truly courageous, heroic, inspiring, selfless, and life-saving service. Their commitment to our common good has been remarkable. The very fact that those workers unable to work remotely are risking their personal health and safety to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers at large deserves and demands our recognition and, more importantly, support.

“Recognizing this service in these unprecedented times, then, we appreciate this opportunity to urge you to immediately provide an exemption for essential workers unable to work from home, and unable to take adequate social distancing precautions on the job, from your freeze of their scheduled two-percent salary increase. These include corrections officers, law enforcement officers, nurses and other public hospital staff, and direct caregivers in nursing and group homes, and mental health care facilities.

“Of course this list doesn’t cover everyone on the front lines, but we know who they are. It’s the least we can do to show our respect for and admiration of their personal sacrifices ... In short, we hope you will agree that New York needs to put actions of support behind our words of support for the state’s essential workforce working daily on our behalf.”

In addition to O’Mara, the following Senate Republicans signed the letter: George Amedore, George Borello, Phil Boyle, Rich Funke, Patrick Gallivan, Joseph Griffo, Pamela Helming, Chris Jacobs, Daphne Jordan, Andrew Lanza, Betty Little, Robert Ortt, Patty Ritchie, Sue Serino, James Seward, and James Tedisco.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

O'Mara: Final State Budget adds to burdens Upstate is facing from COVID-19 pandemic'

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, April 3, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) says the final 2020-2021 New York State budget negotiated and approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat majorities of the state Senate and Assembly unnecessarily and unfairly adds too many additional burdens for Upstate New York communities, economies, governments, schools, taxpayers, and workers.

With the state facing rapid and unprecedented fiscal upheaval, O’Mara said the final budget enacts too many actions that have nothing to do with the coronavirus response and threatens Upstate communities with fiscal and economic burdens and uncertainties even after the COVID-19 response is completed.

Over the past few weeks, O’Mara has called on the governor and state legislative leaders to adopt a streamlined budget that straightforwardly focused on the coronavirus response and continued meeting the state’s short-term obligations, and then state lawmakers could reassess the state’s fiscal condition later this year to move forward with a more comprehensive, balanced, and restrained financial plan with hoped-for additional federal resources.

The new state budget cuts and freezes a range of state aid, including freezing Foundation Aid to local school districts at current levels despite the state receiving $1.2 billion in federal stimulus school aid. It authorizes billions of dollars in new state borrowing that O'Mara said will burden future generations of taxpayers.

The budget does accept nearly $6 billion of federal stimulus Medicaid funding that fortunately, O’Mara said, was conditioned on the state not shifting additional Medicaid costs to counties. However, as one way around this cost-shifting restriction, the governor and the Democrat legislative majorities created a $50 million charge to counties for so-called “distressed hospital” aid.

The budget also gives Cuomo unprecedented powers to unilaterally revise the state’s fiscal plan throughout the coming fiscal year, including the authority to make additional cuts as he sees fit upon revenue deviations of as little as one percent.

O’Mara said that too many of the actions will hit Upstate especially hard. He added that the budget includes policies and other actions that should not have been acted on during the current coronavirus crisis or as part of the state budget at any time. These actions include new mandates on economic development projects receiving state incentives that will impose cost increases on many already-hard-pressed Upstate employers; taking away local decision-making, including bypassing local zoning, in the siting of future renewable energy projects like wind and solar farms; a permanent ban on the exploration and development of natural gas in New York State; and a ban on polystyrene (Styrofoam) single-use containers that O'Mara said will jeopardize thousands of Upstate manufacturing jobs while out-of-state businesses will still be able to send and sell products in New York State with polystyrene packaging.

O’Mara added that the budget eliminates a proposed small business tax cut while it continues a tax cut for the Hollywood film industry worth $420 million annually.

O’Mara further noted that while the final budget is full of non-budget policy moves, the governor and downstate Democrats largely ignored the need to reform the state’s controversial No-Bail law by failing to give judges the full discretion necessary to keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

O’Mara released the following statement in reaction to the 2020-2021 state budget:

“This is not the time for hard-edged politics and out of respect for the men and women on the front lines working around the clock to combat and control the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll be restrained in my response. All of New York has one priority right now. We must get this public health emergency under control. We will have plenty to say and do about this budget at the appropriate time moving forward. For now, the coronavirus response is paramount to having any hope of getting our feet back under us and finding some solid ground. Right now we all need to keep responding to COVID-19 with the seriousness and personal responsibility it demands.

“But Upstate does not get a fair shake in this budget. It is the product of one-party, downstate Democrat control of state government, period. It will add fiscal and economic burdens on top of a pandemic already falling hard on Upstate New York communities, schools, economies, governments, taxpayers, and workers.

“We could and should have enacted a budget that simply kept this state running and meeting its obligations throughout this emergency. Then, once we weathered this storm, we could get to work assessing the damage, determining who and what needs repair, better calculate the federal response, and have an open and full discussion on the best way to move forward for this entire state, Upstate and downstate. That would have been common sense. That would have been responsible. That would have been fair. That’s not what happened here.

“For Upstate, in addition to doing our part to beat the pandemic, we are going to have to confront picking up the pieces of this budget and that’s what we will do in the months ahead.  One thing is absolutely clear: Upstate needs to reclaim a voice in this state government.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Schuyler urges potential visitors: 'Stay home''

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, March 30, 2020 -- As part of the effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Schuyler County officials are asking potential visitors to the county to follow state and federal instructions and stay home until our nation defeats the pandemic.

While Schuyler County officials say they welcome seasonal residents and visitors, Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued a State of Emergency and Schuyler County has done the same.

"This has been done to protect both county residents and potential travelers during this unsettling and frightening time," the County said in a press release, adding:

"In normal times, Schuyler County emergency services and medical facilities are capable of providing excellent care. However, because Schuyler County is rural and has a population of approximately 18,000 people, its emergency and medical communities are limited in their ability to serve a large number of patients. Statewide, reports have surfaced that hospitals near New York City are already reaching capacity and workers on the frontlines are falling ill."

There is currently no travel ban in New York State, nor is there a state requirement that individuals coming back into the state or between counties within the state be quarantined for 14 days.

"However," the press release said, "travel between communities has been flagged as a factor in spreading the virus. For example, the state has seen reports of New York City residents retreating to their second homes in the Hamptons, stressing local hospitals and preventing local businesses from providing necessary goods and services.

"On Tuesday (March 24) the White House urged anyone who has been in New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has become widespread in the city.

"In response to federal and state action, county officials will continue to focus efforts on decreasing population density, which has been proven to slow the spread of the virus."

Schuyler County Public Health Director Deborah Minor has alerted any visitor to follow the same precautions set forth for all community members:

--Stay home as much as possible.
--If you must go out into our community, practice social distancing by maintaining six feet from one another.
--If you are ill, isolate yourself and call your healthcare provider.
--Wash your hands often.
--If you have symptoms, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, seek testing.

Meanwhile, the press release said, Legislature Chairman Carl Blowers thanked county employees for their efforts in fighting the virus and members of the public for their forbearance.

"Together we will get through this and protect those at highest risk for serious illness," said Blowers. "Thank you for your understanding in these unusual times.”

O'Mara, Palmesano urge Cuomo: Take aid, don't pass Medicaid costs to the counties

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 30, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I) Monday urged Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat leaders of the State Legislature to accept more than $5 billion in federal COVID-19 response assistance and not enact a 2020-2021 state budget this week that requires county governments and local property taxpayers to pick up more of the cost of New York’s Medicaid system.

The lawmakers stressed that now is not the time for the state to begin requiring counties to cover a larger share of the Medicaid system that already costs taxpayers more than $70 billion a year.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Palmesano and Friend said: “Governor Cuomo appears to be teeing up action later this week that will remove the cap on local Medicaid costs. That misguided action would leave our counties and local property taxpayers having to pay millions upon millions of dollars more annually for a Medicaid system that is already overburdening local budgets. That’s not fair. That’s not responsible Now is not the time to add to local burdens when this coronavirus pandemic is already shutting down local economies and leaving in its wake a future of fiscal uncertainty, at best, for county governments and local property taxpayers.”

Before the coronavirus crisis, New York was already preparing to deal with a state budget deficit of more than $6 billion, largely resulting from overspending in the Medicaid program.  In response, the governor reconvened a Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) late last year. The MRT recently issued recommendations for cost savings in the state’s Medicaid program, including the removal of the cap on the growth in local Medicaid costs first enacted by the state in 2012. The cap has produced more than $7 billion in savings for local governments

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend said the COVID-19 pandemic is already putting an enormous strain on county budgets and with the inevitable loss of sales tax and other revenue that will result from shuttered economies regionally and statewide, many local governments could already find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) updated a report Monday estimating that the pandemic’s economic impact on local governments could be $2 billion.

The recently enacted (Phase III) federal response package is set to deliver approximately $5.2 billion in assistance to the state and local governments. The governor, however, remains critical of the federal response, contending that accepting the federal aid prevents the state from taking any of the short- and long-term Medicaid cost-saving measures recommended by the state MRT

According to Cuomo, it is more effective in the long run for New York to reject the one-time federal funding and begin implementing the MRT’s short- and long-term savings actions, including shifting a greater share of the cost of Medicaid back to the local level

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend acknowledged there will need to be even greater federal COVID-19 assistance for New York, the hardest hit state in the nation.  They also agree that the previously approved (Phase II) federal assistance package prevents the state from shifting Medicaid costs to localities, which they believe is a positive move

Nevertheless, they argue that the governor and the Legislature can still accept the $5.2 billion in federal assistance and start moving forward with some of the MRT’s savings recommendations -- but not anything that shifts additional costs to county governments and local property taxpayers. Additionally, NYSAC estimates that by rejecting the federal assistance, local governments statewide stand to lose nearly $1.5 billion in federal aid, including $400 million for counties outside of New York City.

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend said: “It is important for our local governments that the federal stimulus package affords that protection and prevents states from shifting costs to localities during this unprecedented crisis. That doesn’t mean New York State has to walk away from this urgently needed federal support. The federal government will need to step up more for New York State in the months ahead; however, we can and should put this initial federal aid to good use, begin moving forward with reasonable and necessary Medicaid cost savings for the long term, which we believe the state can absolutely do, and not pass more of the Medicaid buck back to counties.

"We need to enact a fair and responsible bare bones budget that addresses the coronavirus response, meets existing obligations, and doesn’t contain any pet projects or politically motivated policy moves unrelated to the deficit or the crisis. Once we have weathered this storm, we can get to work assessing the damage, determining who and what needs repair, and have an open and full discussion on the best way to move forward for the entire state, upstate and downstate.

The lawmakers pointed to 2009 and the federal response to the Great Recession, when then-Governor David Patterson accepted federal stimulus aid that contained similar restrictions and still moved forward with numerous state-level deficit reduction actions and cost savings.

Photos in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. 

Odessa fire truck crashes; sole occupant OK'

Special to The Odessa File

ODESSA, March 25, 2020 -- An Odessa Fire Department pumper was involved in a motor vehicle accident on Middle Road in the Town of Veteran in Chemung County shortly after noon on Wednesday.

The fire department reported that the truck was being operated by a 23-year veteran firefighter when a portion of the roadway collapsed, causing the truck to go off the roadway. The driver, who was the sole occupant of the vehicle, was not injured. The pumper sustained substantial damage in the accident but was driven from the scene to a repair shop.

The Millport Fire Department, Erway Ambulance, Chemung County Emergency Management, Chemung County Highway Department and the New York State Police responded to the accident.

"We are thankful," the Odessa department said in a press release, "that the safety features built into this truck helped prevent our firefighter from being injured during this incident.

"The pumper truck will be out of service for repairs for an unknown amount of time. During this time fire protection in the Odessa fire district will not be affected as the Odessa Fire Department will be utilizing a pumper loaned to us by a neighboring fire department."

U.S. Attorney Kennedy: COVID-19 online scammers possess 'rotted hearts and souls''

Special to The Odessa File

BUFFALO, March 23, 2020 -- Cautionary messages regarding coronavirus-related scams on the Internet are making the rounds through various sources.

For example, in a press release out of Buffalo, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. on Monday urged the public "to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or contacting the NCDF e-mail address: disaster@leo.gov."

Added the press release:

"In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of coronavirus fraud schemes.

“'My message to those who seek to exploit the pandemic for their own personal gain by stealing others’ money, or identity, or both, is simple,' said Kennedy. 'We have a treatment for you and that treatment includes prosecution and federal prison. While others may get sick from the virus, most will recover. Sadly, I am not so sure these predators will ever recover from their affliction -- as it seems to have rotted their hearts and souls.'

"Some examples of these schemes include:

--Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.

--Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

--Malicious websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.

--Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.

--Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

"In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19," the press release added, "Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the coronavirus, direct the prosecution of coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities. U.S. Attorney Kennedy appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rudroff to serve as Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator for the Western District of New York.

"The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.

"To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus."

Beyond that, an area financial institution sent out this note.:

"Cyber criminals are opportunistic and historically have looked to exploit a variety of emergency situations. Sadly, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is no exception. Cyber criminals are attempting to lure victims via phishing, fake mobile apps and online news stories, with the goals of stealing your credentials, installing malware like ransomware, committing financial fraud, and much more. Cybersecurity experts warn that as the outbreak continues to intensify, the volume of hacking attacks will likely rise.

"A common attack uses phishing emails containing links or attachments that claim to contain important information about the virus. Once opened, these can infect the PC with malware. Also, be wary of social media posts and pseudo-news articles about COVID-19 as well. For information, it is best to go right to an authoritative source. If searching through Google, make sure you are going to a reputable organization’s website for information. One major attack happening right now is the "Map of people who have tested positive," which appears to come from John Hopkins University, but it does not. The actual address for the John Hopkins site is: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.

"Sites or catch phrases actually in use now and to be wary of include those that start with the following or something similar:

--Someone in your immediate area has tested positive.
--Click here for a cure.
--Covid-19 tax refund.
--The virus is now airborne.
--Map of people near you with COVID-19

"These will change quickly when people do not fall for them, so please stay alert!"

O-Mara maintaining 'one-stop' webpage to help us access COVID-19 info and updates

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, March 20, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) wants area residents to know that he continues to maintain a “One-Stop” webpage on his Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov, compiling information and updates from state, federal, and local agencies and organizations on the COVID-19 public health crisis.

“This emergency calls for all hands on deck. Across local, state, and federal agencies and organizations, safety recommendations and response updates continue to be shared. Pay attention to them. To help facilitate this access, my office will maintain a "One-Stop" webpage to compile, in one place, a range of COVID-19 information,” O’Mara said. “The page doesn’t include everything under the sun, because the speed and volume of information being thrown at all of us can be overwhelming. I understand that. We are simply trying to point to sources of straightforward and commonly held information, recommendations, resources, and updates.”

O’Mara’s webpage provides links to the New York State Department of Health, which has also established a toll-free Novel Coronavirus Hotline (1-888-364-3065), the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), county health departments and offices for the aging, hospitals, food banks, chambers of commerce and other agencies and organizations covering O’Mara’s 58th Senate District.

Added O’Mara (pictured at right): “Above all, let's remember that there are health care professionals, emergency services experts, first responders, business leaders, educators, librarians, service organizations, government officials at every level, and incredible, incredible volunteers -- throughout the public and private sectors -- working around the clock to combat and control this threat, and provide diligent public outreach. I can only commend their commitment and dedication. To do our own part as individuals, then, practice the seriousness and personal responsibility that this emergency demands. Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for staying strong, smart, and safe -- and we will get through this together.”

O’Mara’s “One-Stop” page can be found near the top of the home page on omara.nysenate.gov.

State government offices, including O’Mara’s, have been advised to have staffs, as broadly as possible, work remotely until further notice. O’Mara said that constituents should continue to contact his offices in Albany, Bath or Elmira by email (omara@nysenate.gov) or by phone, and a response will be returned. The phone numbers for O’Mara’s offices follow: Albany (518-455-2091), Elmira (607-735-9671), and Bath (607-776-3201).

O’Mara said, “Throughout the challenging weeks ahead for all of us, my offices will continue to be available to constituents. Like everyone else, we will have to adjust and accommodate the ongoing public health and safety requirements and recommendations, and we will absolutely do our part. Nevertheless, we will be available, we will be monitoring the situation on the ground locally across the communities we represent, and no one should hesitate to reach out to us if they believe we can be helpful in any way.”

Schuyler County Sheriff's Office adopts procedural changes due to coronavirus

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, March 17, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office issued the following explanaton Tuesday of changes in its procedures in response to the coronavirus pandemic:

"When calling 911 or our non-emergency number, you will be asked to provide a call back telephone number. A Deputy will most likely contact you via telephone before arrival to assess the need for an in-person interview. For minor reports, Deputies will likely provide you with the report number and complete the report without personal interaction.

"If needed, please be prepared to step outside of your residence to meet a Deputy in an open environment. This is consistent with the recommended social distancing to prevent the spread of illness.

"Additionally, the lobby to the Public Safety Building is now closed to the public. A telephone in the foyer will connect you with the 911 Center for walk in service. A Deputy will respond to interview you.
 
"We will continue to respond accordingly to emergency calls for service.

"The Civil Department will operate on an appointment-only schedule. No walk-ins will be allowed. Please call (607) 535-8226 during normal business hours to schedule an appointment.
We would like to thank everyone in advance for their cooperation, and we will return to normal operations as soon as permissible."

Photo in text: Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman speaks at a press conference Tuesday at which public health officials provided updates on actions being taken to inform the public and protect it and staff in the county from COVID-19.

State representatives, local highway officials rally in Albany for road-bridge-culvert funds

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, NY, March 4, 2020 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and a group of state Senators and members of the Assembly Wednesday joined a statewide coalition of county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders to call for increased state support for local roads, bridges, and culverts.

Hundreds of local highway superintendents and highway department employees representing nearly every region of New York State have been in Albany this week for their annual “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign. As part of this effort since 2013, O’Mara, Palmesano, and many of their legislative colleagues have joined the local roads representatives to promote a stronger state commitment to local transportation infrastructure.

The group notes that overall since then, largely through a series of “extreme winter recovery” allocations distributed through the state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding formula, and together with the PAVE-NY and BRIDGE-NY programs established in 2016, important increased state support has been provided for New York’s counties, cities, towns, and villages.
Nevertheless, with Cuomo touting in his recent 2020-2021 proposed Executive budget that “New York State is forging ahead with the nation’s most aggressive $275 billion infrastructure program,” the Local Roads Matter coalition is again calling on the state to strengthen its commitment to local transportation by increasing CHIPS base aid for the first time in seven years.

Among other studies, they point to an October 2017 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimating that locally owned bridges alone need at least $27.4 billion in repairs.  An earlier report from the comptroller called 32% of New York’s local bridges deficient and 40% of local roads fair or poor, and getting worse.  Last September, a new report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation research nonprofit, found that 10 percent of bridges across the state are in poor/structurally deficient condition – the 12th highest rate in America.

According to TRIP, nearly 12 million vehicles cross a poor/structurally deficient bridge in New York State every day.

In a March 2 letter to Cuomo and legislative leaders, O’Mara, Palmesano and their Senate and Assembly colleagues wrote, “We believe that New York State’s investment in local transportation infrastructure must be a foundation of the nation’s most aggressive infrastructure program in order for this program to achieve its envisioned goals ... We once again stress that New York State’s direct investment in local roads and bridges through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) remains fundamental to the mission highlighted above. It deserves priority consideration in the final allocation of the record level of state investment the Executive proposes for the 2020-21 fiscal year. CHIPS is the key difference for local communities, economies, governments, motorists and taxpayers throughout the Empire State, including New York City and surrounding metro areas, and we should no longer ignore this fact. This session, perhaps more than ever before, we believe the opportunity exists to strengthen past successes and, most importantly, revitalize our investment to address the tremendous, still unmet needs and challenges facing the effective maintenance and improvement of local roads, bridges and culverts in every region of New York State.”

This year the group is calling for increasing state base aid for CHIPS by $150 million to a total of $588 million, noting that the CHIPS base level has remain unchanged at $438 million since 2013. The group also seeks the restoration of a $65 million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation that Cuomo eliminates as part of his 2020-21 proposed state budget and calls on the governor and legislative leaders to:

    -- Achieve the past practice of mutual five-year Capital Plans between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) with parity as a priority that benefits both upstate and downstate;
    -- Achieve upstate-downstate parity in the percentage funding increases proposed for the five-year MTA Capital Plan and a two-year DOT Capital Plan;
    -- Double PAVE-NY local funding from $100 million to $200 million annually; and
    -- Double BRIDGE-NY local funding from $100 million to $200 million annually, with additional funding for culverts.

    Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano at the podium during rally of highway representatives in the State Capitol. State Senator Tom O'Mara is left front, in an orange shirt. (Photo provided)

Senate OKs organ donation legislation

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 28, 2020 -- The State Senate has given final legislative approval to legislation co-sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) to try to increase organ and tissue donations in New York State by giving New Yorkers the opportunity to register as organ and tissue donors when they apply for or renew a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

"It’s one of the most important life-saving actions that any of us can take. One donor can save up to eight lives and positively impact the lives of 75 others through eye and tissue donations,” said O’Mara, who has long supported legislative efforts to bolster organ and tissue donations. “We’re hopeful that this latest effort to make it easy for New York’s sportsmen and sportswomen to register as organ donors can make a real difference in bringing attention to and encouraging donations.”

The state Assembly two weeks ago unanimously approved the legislation (S7318/A7915), where co-sponsors include area Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning).

The measure now goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo for final action.

More than 400 New Yorkers die annually waiting for an organ transplant. Nearly 10,000 people are on the waiting list for transplants and more than 1,500 of them have been on the list for more than five years. However, according to the New York State Organ Donor Network, New York currently has the second-lowest donor registry enrollment rate in the nation. In total, only 11% of eligible donors are currently enrolled in the New York State Organ and Tissue Registry.

Schuyler County supports centralized arraignment plan for local criminal courts

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Legislature has endorsed a process for implementing a centralized arraignment program for after-hours arrests.

The vote took place on Monday, February 10. All legislators in attendance supported the measure.

According to a press release issued by County Attorney Steven Getman, the plan is supported by a number of county officials involved in the legal system, including Sheriff William Yessman, District Attorney Joe Fazzary, Public Defender Wesley Roe and Getman. It was developed with input from town and village justices and the New York State Office of Court Administration.

Under the plan, anyone arrested within the county when courts are no longer in session, and not given an appearance ticket, will be arraigned in the lobby of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office in Watkins Glen, as opposed to a town’s jurisdiction. Town and village judges, prosecutors and public defenders will be placed on rotating on-call schedules for arrests made at night, on weekends or during holidays. There is state funding for implementing the plan, which will pay for the cost of installing a judge’s bench in the sheriff’s office lobby.

“Arresting officers must currently maintain custody of an arrestee until able to locate a local court and justice able to conduct the arraignment, which is a process that often consumes officer time and can result in the arraignment occurring outside of the times when the Schuyler County Public Defender is able to appear as counsel for the defendant,” the resolution noted.

“Those charged with a crime are entitled to the assistance of legal counsel at all important stages of their case including at the initial criminal arraignment,” it continued.

A centralized arraignment part, known as a CAP, is not mandated by the state, but many rural counties have found it to be the most effective way of ensuring compliance with the requirements for counsel at arraignment.

The plan, which will be implemented later this year, is what the press release called "the county’s latest effort to improve court efficiency, conserve law enforcement resources and protect the rights of criminal defendants."

Other efforts have included an intermunicipal agreement with Tompkins County for that county to assist in administering the Schuyler County assigned counsel plan to provide legal representation to indigent criminal defendants and certain family court litigants.

That agreement, prepared by Roe and Getman with input from Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn and representatives of Tompkins County, has -- the press release noted -- been praised by the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services as “a model approach ... consistent with statewide efforts to help municipalities identify opportunities for cost savings through inter-municipal cooperation, reorganization, and regionalization.”

A copy of the resolution supporting the plan is available here: https://tinyurl.com/Schuyler-centralized

Palmesano rises in Assembly leadership ranks

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay taps Palmesano as Assistant Minority Leader

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 2, 2020 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) will be serving his colleagues and his constituents in a new leadership capacity. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski) has tapped Palmesano to serve as the Assistant Minority Leader of the Assembly Republican Conference.

Palmesano will assume a greater role in managing internal operations, promoting Conference priorities, and fostering productive relationships with advocacy groups and members across the aisle.

“I’m grateful to Leader Barclay for the trust and confidence he has placed in me," said Palmesano. "I look forward to working with him and all the members of our conference in this new leadership role. I will work tirelessly to use this new responsibility and opportunity as another way to fight for the important priorities of the residents I have the privilege to serve in the 132nd Assembly District.”

“Phil Palmesano is among the most highly-regarded members of our Conference and has earned the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle," said Barcley. "He has done tremendous work for the people of his district and here in Albany and I’m pleased to appoint him as Assistant Minority Leader. His intelligence, experience and diligence will be valuable in this important leadership position, and I look forward to working with him to move our agenda forward.”

Palmesano has emerged as a leading voice in the state Legislature on issues ranging from transportation infrastructure, corrections, services for our state's most vulnerable citizens -- the developmentally disabled -- and promoting organ and tissue donation.

He will continue to serve as the ranking member of the Energy committee, in addition to serving on the Corporations, Corrections, Insurance and Ways & Means committees. He will also continue serving on the bipartisan Legislative Commission on Rural Resources.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Shoreline redevelopment eyed

Village, county seek interest level through REOI as time nears for the old treatment plant to be decommissioned

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 22, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board gave the go-ahead Tuesday night for the release of an REOI (Request for Expression of Interest) regarding a "Waterfront Redevelopment Opportunity" -- a redevelopment on the site of what will soon be the former Wastewater Treatment Plant on the southern shore of Seneca Lake.

The village, in partnership with Schuyler County and the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), is -- according to the REOI -- "seeking expression of interest proposals from qualified developers to partner with us for a rare development" at the "opportunity" site -- two village-owned parcels upon which the treatment plant sits, and county land upon which the Village Marina restaurant sits on the edge of the county-owned Seneca Harbor Park.

The old treatment plant will go defunct with the activation in the near future of the joint Watkins Glen-Montour Falls treatment plant along the canal, across from the Watkins Glen school property. The new plant is scheduled to go online in a couple of months. The Village Board, in fact, approved the payment of invoices for that canal project Tuesday night in the amount of $927,852.72, bringing the total paid thus far -- with grants and loans providing the impetus -- to almost $23 million out of $32 million budgeted for the project.

The REOI will be released -- published -- today (Jan. 22) with responses due by March 17. It is in essence an effort to find out what interested developers might be out there -- a process that County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn, who was present at the Village Board session, called "exciting."

The move is the culmination of committee and public meetings, work by the Larson Design Group, and debate over what kind of development the public wants and might accept.

The responses to the REOI will not bind the village and county to any one developer, but could lead to some definitive plan and result.

According to the REOI, the project site "is composed of three extraordinary parcels on the Seneca Lake waterfront at the terminus of Porter Street in the Village of Watkins Glen. The parcels consist of a 0.438-acre parcel owned by Schuyler County currently occupied by the Village Marina restaurant and large charter boat launch. The other two parcels, with a total area of 1.274 acres, are owned by the Village of Watkins Glen and are currently occupied by the Village wastewater treatment plant."

Among the project objectives:

-- A year-round operation. It "must incorporate features that generate year-round economic activity and benefit village residents and visitors through all four seasons."

--A lease. "The Village and County are seeking a private developer with interest in entering into a long-term land lease agreement. The Village and County will retain ownership of their respective parcels and allow the selected developer to construct, improve and operate proposed commercial facilities on the property."

--Design oversight: "The Village and County will be involved in the design development process for all proposed improvements."

--Developer responsibilities: "The selected developer shall assume responsibility for operating all constructed improvement at the project site. This includes, but is not limited to, all construction costs, operating costs, maintenance costs, tenant rental administration and property administration occurring after completion of construction."

The REOI document goes on to explain that "upon decommissioning of the Village wastewater treatment plant, the developer shall be responsible for demolition of the facility and preparing the site as necessary to accommodate the proposed development."

Among "desired design parameters":

1. A multi-use multi-story commercial facility of 30,000-60,000 square feet "providing space for commercial enterprises including but not limited to specialty retail stores and/or restaurants and dining spaces."

2. A second-floor restaurant space.

3. A design "consistent with existing Seneca Lake waterfront architecture."

4. A first-floor breezeway "and/or walkway ... to allow public access to the waterfront."

5. Public Green Space: There should be as much as possible "to allow Village residents and visitors access to the waterfront. Landscaping in these areas is encouraged."

Among "required design parameters":

--A Waterfront Walkway "running the entire length of the project site that allows public access along the entire lake frontage."

--Public Gathering Areas. "Bistro seating and a public fire circle area are encouraged."

--Public Restrooms. "These may be located in the main building or in a separate building on site."

--Large Vessel Boat Launch. The developer must "maintain the location, function and access to the existing large vessel boat launch" between the Village Marina restaurant and the treatment plant.

The document says the village and county "recognize that public assistance may be needed to induce redevelopment of the site. The Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency is prepared to provide reasonable assistance to the selected developer based on demonstrated need."

The tentative project schedule:

Selection of a Developer: April 2020.
Developer Agreement Executed: June 2020.
Design Development, Permitting and Approval: June 2020-April 2021.
Demolition and Development Construction: Construction Season 2021.

The REOI, the document adds, "is intended to allow the Village an opportunity to gauge the financial viability and level of commitment of interested developers. The Village reserves the right to use this REOI process in place of a follow-up Request for Proposals when making a developer selection.

"The Village and project stakeholders," it added, "reserve the right to forgo any formalities and reject all Expressions of Interest."

Photos in text: From top: Deputy Mayor Lou Perazzini ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Luke Leszyk; trustee Tony Fraboni; and trustee Nan Woodworth. Trustee Laurie DeNardo was absent.

Two charged in drug bust upon traffic stop


SCHUYLER COUNTY, Jan. 8, 2020 -- Two people were charged with drug and weapon offenses Tuesday afternoon following a traffic stop in Odessa.

The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office said that deputies stopped a vehicle on Railroad Street in the village at about 1:24 p.m. "after a Vehicle and Traffic Violation was observed."

According to a press release: "A Sheriff’s Office K-9 alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a quantity of methamphetamine, a set of brass knuckles and drug paraphernalia. Amber L Cosgrove, 38, of Pine Valley, is being charged with one count of Criminal Possession Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, a Class A misdemeanor, Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle in the Second Degree, as well as other traffic violations.

"Michael J. Depue, 45, of Elmira Heights, was also arrested and charged with one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, a Class D felony, and one count Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, a Class A misdemeanor.

"Both parties were issued appearance tickets to appear in the Village of Odessa Court at a later date."

Annual photo

Members of the Schuyler County Legislature posed along with other county officials for the group's annual photo on Thursday, Jan. 2, following the Legislature's annual organizational meeting in the County Office Building. Front from left: County Attorney Steven Getman, Deputy Clerk of the Legislature Jamee Mack, Clerk of the Legislature Stacy Husted, and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. Rear from left: Legislators Jim Howell, Gary Gray, David Reed, Michael Lausell, Carl Blowers, Mark Rondinaro, Van Harp and Phil Barnes.

Matt Hayden is sworn in as Schuyler County Judge by his father, Carl, while Matt's wife Denise and children Jack and Beatrice observe.

Matt Hayden sworn in

Starts his 10-year term as the new Schuyler County Judge

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 31, 2019 -- With the paintings and photographs of past Schuyler County Judges overseeing the proceedings, and with well over 100 people filling the spectator area of the County Courtroom, Matthew Hayden was sworn in Tuesday afternoon as the new County Judge -- the start of a 10-year term in which he will preside in County Court, Family Court and Surrogate’s Court.

All manner of local dignitaries were present to observe as Hayden took the oath of office administered by his father, Carl, Chancellor Emeritus of the New York State Board of Regents and a man who, in remarks preceding the oath, attested to the pride he and his wife Cindy have in their son and in Matt’s wife, Denise, “for all they’ve accomplished together.”

The senior Hayden said that an independent judiciary is “one of the great achievements of American democracy” and of paramount importance, especially today with the stridency of partisan politics seemingly trying to impose its will in the courtroom.

“Party politics has no part in what occurs in this place, this courtroom,” said Carl Hayden, noting that independence of the courts from political interest “is the cornerstone of our freedom.”

“I can guarantee you,” he added, “that Matt will be independent. He was independent from the day he took his first step ... marching to his own drummer” -- for example, chasing snakes as a child when others would run from them.

When Matt decided to settle in Schuyler County, Carl said, “he chose well,” and once arrived, “went all in.” The county judgeship -- earned through a long campaign against three challengers -- has landed Matt “in the right place, at the right time, and in the right job.”

He then had Matt stand with his family -- Denise, son Jack and daughter Beatrice -- as the oath was presented by Carl and repeated, his hand held high, by Matt, who promised to “support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York” and “faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Schuyler County Judge, to the best of my ability.” When it was concluded, the room erupted in applause.

“I’m so honored to be standing before you at this bench,” said Matt, who then gave credit to his parents, his wife and children, other jurists before whom he has appeared as the Schuyler County Chief Assistant DA, “and my colleagues.”

Then Matt, in his judicial robe, came down from behind the bench and mingled, dispensing hugs and handshakes. One attendee after another came forward to shake his hand, while others went to the far side of the room where crackers, cookies, vegetables and shrimp were available.

The day was a celebration, and the room -- often a somber gathering place where justice is dispensed -- was party central for an afternoon, with cameras, for this day, allowed to record what was occurring therein.

Photos in text:

Top: Matt Hayden visits with Maggie and Calvin Coffey after the swearing-in ceremony.
Second: Judge Hayden engages in an animated discussion with former County Judge Dennis Morris. Morris's retirement opened the door to this past year's judicial campaign.
Third: Denise Hayden takes a picture, one of many being snapped in the courtroom.
Bottom: Carl Hayden, left, and Matt Hayden visit with Junior Specchio before the ceremony.

Judge Hayden visits with former Schuyler County Judge J.C. Argetsinger, left center, and Chemung County Judge Richard W. Rich, right, after the ceremony.

Schuyler projects share in REDC awards


SCHUYLER COUNTY, Dec. 19, 2019 -- Six Schuyler County projects will receive more than $1.2 million as part of the distribution of $88.9 million to 109 Southern Tier projects in New York State's annual Regional Economic Development Council awards. Three more projects shared jointly by Schuyler with other nearby counties total more than $300,000.

Statewide, more than $761 million is being distributed in this, the ninth annual round of the initiative. Since its 2011 introduction, more than $6.9 billion has been awarded to more than 8,300 projects.

The Schuyler County projects:

--The Village of Montour Falls will receive $750,000 for improvement to its wastewater collection system.

--Montour Falls will also receive $25,000 for a climate vulnerability assessment that includes the Catharine Creek levee system, and $15,000 for a street enhancement plan.

--The Seneca Lake Wine Trail will receive $150,000 for a tourism campaign aimed at building awareness of the region and visitation during winter months.

--The Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development will receive $185,000 for a Festival of Lights featuring nighttime, colorfully themed lantern figures. The festival's goal: to enhance tourism year-round.

--Watkins Glen International will receive $150,000 for an advertising campaign attracting out-of-staters to the track and region. It will focus on NASCAR travelers.

Schuyler will, in conjunction with Chemung and Steuben counties, also share $52,500 "to provide tools for communities to elevate and flood-proof historic stuctures," and $50,000 "to identify prime brownfield sites in need of revitalization and result in a guide for stakeholders to promote sites to developers, stimulating the local economy."

In addition, Schuyler will share $200,000 with Chemung, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties as the Southern Tier Network builds "redundant fiber optic loops" that, among other things, will "reduce the potential for internet outages."

The Legislature chamber sported a festive bow on each desk. From left: legislators Jim Howell, Carl Blowers, David Reed and Michael Lausell.

Sales tax, vetting process, and internet service dominate Legislature's meeting

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10, 2019 -- Sales tax, opposition to the state’s bail and discovery reform laws, questions about the county vetting process, and a discussion of the need for internet service in the western part of the county were all on display at Monday night’s monthly meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature.

The meeting -- the final monthly meeting for outgoing Chairman Dennis Fagan -- also saw the presentation to Fagan of a Certificate of Recognition by Clerk of the Legislature Stacy Husted. The reading of the certificate by Husted was met with a standing ovation by the other legislators and by members of the public in attendance.

Sales Tax: Fagan, meanwhile, announced that sales tax revenue through the first 10 months of the year was up $310,000, or 3.3%, over last year’s record take. October alone was up 6.4%. Fagan said the county should realize “close to $12 million” for the full year, nearly equivalent to the county property tax.

“It’s extremely important to us,” he said. “We want to continue to support economic development in the county, as well as tourism.”

Internet Service: That prompted a discussion on the need for internet service in the western part of the county -- particularly in Districts 7 and 8.

Fagan's sales tax report is “great news,” said attendee Paul Bartow, who ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature from District 7 in the November election. “It puts us in a good position. It’s time to start thinking about the outlying areas,” where “individuals are suffering greatly. Let’s get internet service out there. We can’t always focus on the county seat.”

That argument, echoed by county resident Alan Hurley, resurfaced again during the public-be-heard portion of the meeting, leading to some fireworks as Legislator Phil Barnes, frustrated that he seemingly couldn’t respond to Hurley’s nonstop debate style, complained that Hurley wouldn't "shut up!”

That prompted Bartow to chastise Barnes, who ultimately apologized, but then said to Hurley that “you don’t listen.”

The bottom line was that both Hurley and Bartow want more done for the residents on the west side of Seneca Lake -- with internet service a potential boon to self-employment, to sales tax (with the advent in the state of internet sales taxation), and thus to the quality of life.

Barnes argued that work is being done through a Southern Tier Network of several counties to establish that internet service, but that there are various obstacles that it takes time to hurdle.

The bottom line, said Fagan in bringing the conversation to a close, was that the county holds the same goal espoused by Hurley and Bartow: expanded internet service. “We’re trying to do that,” he said.

The Getman question: Hurley and Bartow also questioned legislators as to the county’s method of vetting potential hires such as County Attorney Steven Getman, whose history while employed in a similar capacity years ago in Seneca County was raised repeatedly during Getman’s campaign for Schuyler County Judge. He finished second in the four-person race, won by county Chief Assistant District Attorney Matt Hayden.

Barnes and Fagan said Getman underwent the normal interview and background-check process, with both saying that after being hired as Assistant County Attorney, he performed well, which in turn led to his appointment as County Attorney. With Getman present at the meeting in his capacity as County Attorney, the two legislators answered in careful and laudatory tones -- avoiding a discussion of what Getman might or might not have done in Seneca County. (Questions about a lawsuit in which Getman was named there years ago were raised during his run for judge, which prompted Getman, late in the campaign, to issue a statement decrying dirty politics.)

The discussion Monday night faded with neither Hurley nor Bartow pushing the matter hard, and Barnes and Fagan saying that even after any difficulties in Seneca County, Getman had served various villages and towns well. “They had no problem with him,” said Barnes, with Fagan adding that Getman had had to quit those jobs when Schuyler County hired him.

“He came highly recommended,” said Fagan, noting that the Seneca County experience “became a problem only when he ran for the judgeship” this year. “His work has been exemplary.”

The board also:

--Set its year-end meeting for Monday, Dec. 30 at 9 a.m., and its 2020 organizational meeting for Thursday, Jan. 2 at 9 a.m.

--Passed a resolution “imploring the state of New York to immediately amend or delay implementation of bail and discovery reform laws that will endanger the people of New York and reverse decades of bipartisan progress in reducing crime.”

The long and detailed resolution also says, in part:

“Whereas ... the State of New York (has) enacted sweeping criminal justice reforms including the elimination of cash bail for many specific enumerated crimes and the imposition of stringent discovery mandates on police and prosecutors, and

“Whereas, under bail reform beginning January 1, 2020, judges will be stripped of their discretion to set bail for many specific enumerated crimes, which means those suspected of committing these crimes can no longer be held in jail after their arrest, regardless of the strength of the case against these defendants, or the length of the potential sentence faced by these defendants, or the extent of the harm allegedly caused by these defendants, and instead these defendants will be released back in the general public, and

“Whereas, these crimes include those that result in the deaths of innocent people, including several subcategories of homicide and manslaughter, resulting in those responsible for these deaths being released back in the community of grieving families, and ...

“Whereas these crimes include Promoting an Obscene Sexual Performance by a Child, Possessing an Obscene Sexual Performance by a Child, Failure to Register as a Sex Offender, and Patronizing a Person for Prostitution in a School Zone, resulting in suspected child predators being released and returning into our community ....

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Schuyler County Legislature hereby implores” the state to amend or delay implementation, and “Be it further resolved” that improvements be implemented that include giving a judge “discretion to impose bail when appropriate.” It also called for increasing "the discovery timeline from 15 days to a minimum of 45 days”; a phase-in of the reforms in stages, and repeal of a provision “that makes the new discovery mandates applicable to violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.”

The legislators also urged “all counties in New York to urge their state representatives to take immediate action” on the reform issues.

Photo in text: From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, Legislator Phil Barnes, and County Attorney Steven Getman at the meeting.

Counties awarded communications grants


Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, NY, Dec. 8, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) have announced that regional counties are among those statewide that will share $45 million in state funding to help enhance and support local emergency communications systems.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “These timely and important public safety and emergency response grants should make a great difference to local emergency response teams. Emergency preparedness, response and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”

Counties throughout New York State utilize the funding to undertake infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades. The assistance is part of the latest round of funding through the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program, a competitive grant program supporting regional communications partnerships throughout New York.

The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services administers the program. To date, the state has awarded more than $500 million for interoperable radio communications and emergency services dispatching services.

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said that regional counties they represent as part of New York’s 58th Senate District, and 124th and 132nd Assembly Districts, are receiving the following awards through the grant program:

    -- Chemung County, $515,695;
    -- Schuyler County, $422,876;
    -- Seneca County, $410,827;
    -- Steuben County, $796,257;
    -- Tioga County, $385,432;
    -- Tompkins County, $656,292; and
    -- Yates County, $328,425.

Local counties prevail in tower-site appeal


Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, NY, Dec. 8, 2019 -- Schuyler and Chemung Counties have again prevailed in their five-years-long court battle against an adjoining landowner regarding the counties’ use of the Terry Hill Emergency Tower site (and right of way), owned by Schuyler County, near Beardsley Hollow Road in Chemung County.

On December 5, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld the prior judgment affirming Schuyler and Chemung County’s continued right to use the site and related easement for emergency radio and voice communications.

The County of Schuyler was represented on appeal by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman. Chemung County was represented by Syracuse attorney Gabrielle Figueroa. Elmira attorney Scott Moore represented appellant William Hetrick, the adjoining landowner.

According to court records, both counties had used the site for radio and voice communication for over 50 years. In 2012, the two counties began to update and replace the emergency communications tower at the site. Hetrick objected to the upgrade, arguing that it violated a restrictive covenant related to his land. In October 2014, the counties sought a declaratory judgment from Chemung County Supreme Court. The counties maintained that the use of the property was proper and necessary for public safety. Hetrick then filed a counterclaim. In March 2018, Supreme Court Justice Judith O’Shea ruled in the counties’ favor O’Shea held that the new tower and equipment were consistent with the deed language, as was continued cooperation between Schuyler and Chemung counties.

O’Shea’s judgment was unanimously affirmed in the Dec. 5 ruling.

“We are pleased with the appellate court’s decision,” Getman said. “A ruling against the counties could have eliminated a critical public service from Schuyler County.”

The site is the single transmission site for the entire Schuyler Public Safety Communication system, Getman explained. The county uses this system to dispatch nine volunteer fire departments, three ambulance services, multiple police agencies and local highway departments, he noted.

Various Schuyler County agencies assisted in gathering information and providing evidence to support the counties’ case during the litigation, including: Emergency Management Director William Kennedy, the County Administrator, the Clerk to the Legislature, the County Clerk, the County Treasurer, the Highway Department and County Buildings and Grounds.

Hetrick has approximately 30 days to attempt to seek leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals.

High-speed chase ends in man's arrest


WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 1, 2019 -- A Beaver Dams man was arrested on two felony charges, a misdemeanor count and various traffic infractions Saturday night following a high-speed chase through Watkins Glen that veered north, south again into the village and up into the hills before he was apprehended.

Village police said Brandon S. Fuller, 28, was charged with two counts of Reckless Endangerment, both Class D felonies; one count of misdemeanor Unlawfully Fleeing a Police Officer, 3rd Degree; Leaving the Scene of a Personal Injury Accident; Reckless Driving; Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the 3rd Degree, and Driving While Intoxicated. He was arraigned in Watkins Glen Village Court and committed to Schuyler County Jail in lieu of bail. Additional charges are pending.

According to a police press release, the incident began shortly after 8 p.m. when Village Police responded to “a possible domestic dispute on South Madison Avenue in the village.

“Upon arrival, an officer came in contact with an unknown male subject in a black Ford pickup truck," the release said. "The male subject proceeded to start the vehicle and take off on the officer. The officer called out a pursuit and pursued the suspect South on South Madison Avenue, then East onto 6th Street as the suspect vehicle collided with another vehicle at the intersection with Franklin Street. (The suspect vehicle suffered heavy front-end damage; the second vehicle suffered heavy rear passenger-side damage. Only minor injuries were reported at the time of the accident.)

“After the impact," police added, "the officer lost sight of the suspect vehicle, but a witness pointed toward State Route 14 North. The suspect vehicle traveled at a high rate of speed North on SR 14 North, turning onto State Route 14A, then back southbound on State Route14, back into and through the Village of Watkins Glen at speeds of 80 plus MPH.

“The suspect vehicle then turned onto State Route 329, County Road 17, County Road 16 and State Route 414 South, where the pursuit continued until the suspect vehicle ceased to operate.” There was no word as to whether the vehicle ran out of gas or succumbed to the damage it had sustained in the Watkins Glen accident.

Village Police said they were assisted by the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police, Watkins Glen Fire Department, Schuyler Ambulance, and Scotty’s Towing.

O'Mara: Dem 'reforms' raising red flags, weakening state's criminal justice system


O’Mara co-sponsors legislation to impose a one-year moratorium on the implementation
of new bail reform laws


Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Nov. 22 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) has joined legislative colleagues, law enforcement agencies, county district attorneys, and others in calling on New York State to delay the implementation of several criminal justice reform laws set to take effect on January 1, 2020.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that these new laws will put public safety at risk,” said O’Mara, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We have heard direct testimony from the men and women on the front lines of law enforcement in our communities that these laws, as they stand, are unworkable and will jeopardize the safety of crime witnesses and crime victims, especially the victims of domestic violence.”

The actions, pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, have raised alarms throughout New York’s law enforcement community.

O’Mara is currently co-sponsoring legislation (S.6853) calling for a one-year moratorium on the implementation of the new laws so that statewide public hearings can be held on the measures.

He has also continued to voice his opposition to the new laws reforming New York’s bail, discovery, and pretrial detention processes, commonly known as the “bail reform,” approved last March as part of the 2019-2020 state budget. Among other provisions, the new laws eliminate cash bail and pretrial detention for nearly all misdemeanors and nonviolent felony cases. O’Mara and other opponents believe that the move will result in the mandatory release of 90% of those arrested, regardless of their criminal history.

Judges will only have the power to set bail if they determine that a defendant is a flight risk. A defendant’s criminal history, or the fact that they may pose a clear physical threat to another person, can no longer be considered. O’Mara charged that it is creating a system of criminal justice in New York State that releases violent criminals back into the community without supervision and fully capable of threatening their victims, the victim’s family members, trial witnesses, and others.

Beginning on January 1, 2020, O'Mara said, judges will be required to release defendants from custody without bail for the following crimes:

    -- Manslaughter in the second degree
    -- Aggravated vehicular homicide
    -- Criminally negligent homicide
    -- Assault in the third degree
    -- Aggravated vehicular assault
    -- Making a terroristic threat
    -- Criminal possession of a gun on school grounds/criminal possession of a firearm
    -- Criminal sale of a firearm to a minor
    -- Arson in the third and fourth degree
    -- Money laundering in support of terrorism in the third and fourth degree
    -- Promoting or possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child
    -- Aggravated cruelty to animals, overdriving, torturing and injuring animals, animal fighting
    -- Unlawful imprisonment in the first degree
    -- Coercion in the first degree
    -- Grand larceny in the first degree
    -- Criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first and second degree
    -- Criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first and second degree, or near/on school grounds
    -- Specified felony drug offenses involving the use of children, including the use of a child to commit a controlled substance offense and criminal sale of a controlled substance to a child
    -- Criminal solicitation in the first degree and criminal facilitation in the first degree
    -- Patronizing a person for prostitution in a school zone
    -- Failure to register as a sex offender
    -- Obstructing governmental administration in the first and second degree, or by means of a self-defense spray device
    -- Bribery and bribe receiving in the first degree, bribe giving for public office
    -- Promoting prison contraband in the first and second degree
    -- Resisting arrest
    -- Hindering prosecution
    -- Tampering with a juror and tampering with physical evidence
    -- Aggravated harassment in the first degree
    -- Directing a laser at an aircraft in the first degree
    -- Criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree
    -- Enterprise corruption and money laundering in the first degree.


Said O’Mara: “Where in the name of justice are New York Democrats headed? Governor Cuomo’s Parole Board has been releasing cop killers, murderers, and other violent felons all year long. Democrat senators are pushing legislation to grant parole hearings to dangerous inmates sentenced to life without parole, to let felons sit on juries, and even to have state taxpayers foot the bill to set up voter registration programs in state prisons. It is a dangerous and disturbing trend of rolling over backwards for criminals to radically redefine criminal justice in New York State at the expense of victims and their families and loved ones, communities and neighborhoods, and taxpayers.”

O’Mara participated in a public hearing in Albany in late October where a number of local district attorneys, including Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore, highlighted numerous fears over the upcoming changes, including their ongoing ability to protect witnesses and a lack of resources to handle ever-increasing caseloads. In fact, according to O’Mara, the new bail reform law stands as another, onerous unfunded state mandate on localities and local property taxpayers that Cuomo refuses to address or even acknowledge.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York has estimated it will cost $100 million for extra staff and other resources for offices outside of New York City to comply with the new discovery laws.

In addition to the one-year moratorium legislation, O’Mara will also co-sponsor the following legislative proposals:

> S.6839 giving judges discretion to set bail in domestic violence cases;
> S.6840 allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a danger to the community when determining bail; and
> S.6849 repealing criminal justice reforms enacted in the 2019-20 state budget including bail and discovery changes.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Map showing water lines and tanks around Watkins Glen. The intake is on the western shore of Seneca Lake, with water heading first to the Steuben Tank.

Watkins Glen aging water system upgrades carry a large price tag, but not all at once

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 20, 2019 -- The Village of Watkins Glen is facing some long-term decisions as it tackles the need to upgrade its water system -- to the tune, a water study concluded, of up to $16 million.

MRB Group -- an engineering, architecture and grant-services organization hired by the village earlier this year to conduct a study of the needs of the Watkins water system following a call by the State Health Department to upgrade in the areas of monitoring and turbidity -- put that price tag on a multi-phase project it says the village, like many similar communities, is facing as its aged infrastructure reaches a point where band-aid fixes no longer will meet modern-day demands.

Three representatives of MRB Group presented their findings at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Village Board in Village Hall. They were Shawn Bray, project manager; Bill Davis, team leader; and Johanna Lang-Bentley, project engineer.

Bray outlined the circumstances leading to the study, including the state-ordered corrections; and Davis listed the various costs to fix everything in the system, which could total $16 million, although “it could be $15 million by the time you streamline.”

Mayor Luke Leszyk made clear afterward, though, that while he knows the price tag “will be a topic of concern” among village residents, “there is no way we will put that burden on the taxpayers, no way we will leap into a $16 million debt.” The village is currently nearing completion, jointly with Montour Falls, of a $32 million wastewater treatment plant on the canal, with Watkins and Montour splitting the cost 70-30. That project was made possible largely through loans and grants.

Leszyk said the village had “almost reached everything the Health Department wanted” regarding its water distribution shortcomings, and in fact just passed a Health Department follow-up inspection. The MRB study “gives us a plan for the future,” he said -- a list of things that will need addressing over a period of years.

The matter of cost had been raised by MRB’s Davis, who asked how a village the size of Watkins Glen would pay for all of the recommended fixes if it chose to tackle them soon. “It’s possible,” Davis said. “Not cheap, but possible.” What the village needs, he said, would be a zero-interest 30-year loan from the Environmental Facilities Corp., as well as grants from various -- often very competitive -- sources.

A “fall-back position,” he said, might be a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan, where a 38-year plan would come with a 2.4% interest, requiring “a higher user cost” than an EFC loan would create.

Various system needs, MRB said, include a new intake filter; a new Raw Water Pumping Station; a redundant 500,000 gallon water tank near the Steuben Tank, which is the nearest to the water intake; and replacement of some 20,000 feet of pipe. There are, Bray and Davis said, flow and pressure issues, aging water intake pipes, and an aging distribution system.

They urged the Village Board to take action toward the possible zero-interest loan and the various grant opportunities soon. If the grants don’t come through, Davis added, the village could choose to “go back and pick and choose” which of the needs should be addressed first.

And Bray said MRB would “circle back after Thanksgiving” to provide assistance in whatever direction the village chooses to move.

Leszyk, though, said that village supervisors will be drawing up a prioritized list of water system problems, to be addressed one by one over years, with the study serving as a focal point in the grant application process. “If we go for a grant on the intake” part of the system “or on the filtration system,” he said, “we can say the (needed) study is already done.”

The water intake and pumping station are on the west side of the lake, along Salt Point Road. The station draws the water out of the lake, and pumps it to the Steuben Street tank (where the main filtration occurs), which distributes water from there to the Padua tank and to residences and businesses. The intake is cleaned every year by a diver who clears away mussels that can clog it. Mussels, Davis told the Village Board, are less of a problem in the Finger Lakes than in the past, but still need addressing. The Steuben Tank is 26 years old; the Padua tank recent.

“Every municipality has aging problems,” said Leszyk, “many a lot worse than ours.”

Tuesday’s presentation by MRB was “the first time we had seen the study,” he said, “the first time we had seen the price tag. We knew it would be high because the study was comprehensive; took into account everything.”

But not everything will be addressed soon. Most items on the list, the mayor indicated, will have to wait their turn.

Photos in text: From the top: Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk at Tuesday's meeting; MRB's Shawn Bray and Bill Davis.

Info meeting set on Falls, Glen strategic plan

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 4, 2019 -- A public information meeting on Monday, Nov. 18 will provide community members with the Two Village Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan for Montour Falls and Watkins Glen.

The plan, says Amanda Arnold Rodriguez of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), "combines community member feedback and ideas with past project reviews, professional data analysis, and future economic projections. The Plan uses the information to set realistic, attainable, and community-vetted goals and projects."

The plan's goals, she added, "will assist in maintaining successfully completed projects, supporting ongoing community and economic initiatives, and developing new projects and goals to enhance and sustain the growing and transitioning local economy in both communities and the combined region.

"We invite all community members to learn about the plan and provide their feedback on the plan before it is finalized and implemented."

The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the Watkins Glen Community Center, Boat Launch Road.

For more information, call 607-535-6862.

The Mill Street Bridge above Shequagah Falls as reconstruction neared completion. (Photo by Phil Barnes)

Ribbon-cutting marks bridge reopening

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, Oct. 26, 2019 -- A ribbon-cutting was held on Friday, October 25 at 2:00 p.m. at the historic Mill Street Bridge -- spanning the gap above scenic Shequagah Falls near downtown Montour Falls -- as residents and dignitaries celebrated the reopening of the newly refurbished crossing.

“We are thankful," said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, "to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Transportation for including this project in the BridgeNY program. This is but the latest example of the collaborative partnership between the county and state. This has resulted in huge improvements to our infrastructure without burdening our local property taxpayers. We are proud and excited to reopen this fully restored historic structure!”

The ribbon-cutting included remarks by County Legislators Phil Barnes and Dennis Fagan, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, State Senator Tom O’Mara, and representatives from the NYSDOT Hornell office, and also featured a ceremonial first car over the bridge as part of the ceremony.

The bridge is owned by Schuyler County, but located in the village of Montour Falls. The Schuyler County Historical Society provided the following details about the original ribbon-cutting celebrating the bridge’s initial construction:

Schuyler County Supervisors approved plans in the early 1940s for a new, larger Mill Street Bridge 12 feet longer than the previous bridge on a new location 20 feet west of the previous structure. The new bridge was officially opened in 1949. Earl Vedder, Marshall, led the participating groups: the Montour Falls Fire Department, the Legion Cadets’ band from Watkins Glen and the Drum and Bugle Corps, Montour Falls. Charles Parks, town superintendent, stretched a scarlet ribbon midway across the bridge. After the marching bands and the Fire Department lined up on the bridge, a car driven by George Barton Jr., and carrying his mother, Mrs. George Barton Sr., Mrs. Barton Jr., and Mrs. J. Lynn Gibbs drove on and came to a stop before the ribbon. Mrs. Barton Sr. and Mrs. Gibbs cut the ribbon and the car became the first vehicle to transverse the bridge.

Photos in text: Two stages of the project on the Mill Street Bridge. (Both photos by Phil Barnes)

Trappler's appeal application is denied

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Oct. 22, 2019 -- The New York State Court of Appeals has denied Alice Trappler’s application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. This decision, says the Schuyler County District Attorney's office, effectively exhausts Trappler’s state court appeal remedies.

Trappler was convicted in Schuyler County Court in 2013 at a jury trial on charges of 2nd Degree Murder, Burglary and Conspiracy in the April 2012 shotgun slaying of Daniel Bennett in his Town of Dix home. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Bennett was the father of Trappler’s child and was supposed to be in Steuben County Family Court on a paternity matter the morning after he was murdered.

Trappler was charged with conspiring with Thomas Borden (her ex-husband) to kill Bennett. Through investigation, law enforcement determined that Trappler had provided the murder weapon -- a sawed off shotgun -- to Borden shortly before he killed Bennett.

Evidence against Trappler was presented at trial in the form of text messages between Trappler and Borden, and GPS coordinates. In one message Trappler told Borden, “Just talked to jeff…aholes been fishing till ju[s]t [sic] now.” Borden later tells Trappler, “Watching tv now mayb asleep in an hour.” Trappler responded, “Think we should stop txting ... towers traceable??"

GPS coordinates, the DA's office showed, proved that Borden was in the vicinity of Bennett’s home when this exchange occurred. In the early morning hours after Bennett was murdered and shortly before Bennett was to be in Family Court, Trappler texted Borden, “Wonder if he will show up this time lol.” During the investigation, Borden was located by police just outside of Philadelphia. He escaped from the clutches of the police and jumped in front of a commuter train, resulting in his death. Trappler proceeded to trial, where a Schuyler County jury found her guilty after deliberating a little over four hours.

Trappler appealed to the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department in the fall of 2018. Her appeal was denied in April of this year. In her application for leave to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals, Trappler’s lawyer argued that the Appellate Division erred in affirming her conviction. Specifically, counsel argued that the Schuyler County Court should not have permitted the jury to hear testimony from Nathan Hand, a co-conspirator. He also claimed that the evidence was not legally sufficient to support Trappler’s conviction.

Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary argued that there were no questions of law existing that would trigger the Court of Appeals’ authority to review the case.

Photo in text: Alice Trappler (File photo)

New law enhances voting opportunities

To the Editor on October 16:

All democracies gain strength when voter involvement increases. For this reason, the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County applauds our New York State government for the passage of the new Early Voting Law. The law greatly enhances voting opportunities by establishing a 10-day period during which we all may vote before the regular Nov. 5 Election Day.

Beginning on Saturday, Oct. 26, and through Sunday, Nov. 3, Schuyler County voters may vote in the Legislative Chambers in the Schuyler County Office Building at 105 Ninth St. in Watkins Glen. This is the only early-voting polling site in the county.

The New York State League of Women Voters is offering online information about the new law as well as dates and times for early voting in every county in the state. The site is www.nyearlyvoting.org.

The Schuyler County Board of Elections has posted information about early voting at schuylercounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/7636/2019-Vote-Early. You also may call the Board Elections at (607) 535-8195 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The Board of Elections website is at www.schuylercounty.us/128/Board-of-elections.

We encourage all eligible citizens to register to vote and exercise this precious civil right in the 2019 election cycle.

League of Women Voters
of Schuyler County

Lewis running for Town Supervisor post


Special to The Odessa File

TOWN OF CATHARINE, Oct. 1, 2019 -- Richard J. (Rick) Lewis has announced he is running for the position of Supervisor of the Town of Catharine.

Born and raised on Oak Hill Road in Alpine, Lewis has been a resident of the town for more than 45 years. He is a Life Member and Commander of the Odessa American Legion.

Lewis was elected twice as Justice for the Town of Catharine, and says that by serving the community he developed "a unique understanding of the people that live here as well as the laws governing the operation of local government."

He says he "believes that the purpose of town government is to provide services to the residents that ensure safety, security, a sense of well-being and decent roads," adding that as a taxpayer, he knows "the importance of keeping taxes low and spending tax money wisely."

Education:
BS (Engineering), U.S. Military Academy, West Point.
MS equivalent (Management), U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
MS (Administration), Central Michigan University.

Background:
Lewis has 35 years of operational, supervisory and policymaking experience in small and large, geographically dispersed, highly diversified organizations -- including 20 years experience as an Officer in the U.S. Army. He says he is well versed in the budget process, always completing programs on time and under budget, and has awards and citations for supervisory and management skills. He has been inducted into the Sigma Iota Epsilon National Management Honor Society.

Applicable experience:
--Twelve years as a Program Manager in a Science and Technology firm overseeing multi-million dollar government programs.
--Ten years as a trained, certified Materiel Acquisition Manager for the U.S. Army (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation).
--Fifteen years as Commander/Chairperson/Leader/Organizer of Civic, Fraternal and Veterans Organizations that serve the local community.

Finally, Lewis says he "would work hard to resolve any issues that people might have, and would take any suggestion or problem seriously."

Photo in text: Rick Lewis (Photo provided)

Eslinger seeking Town of Dix Justice post


Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 12, 2019 -- Democrat Brian T. Eslinger has announced he is running for the position of Town of Dix Justice on the November 5 ballot. He will also be running on an independent party line, “Fair & Balanced.”

The Town of Dix covers the Village of Watkins Glen (Dix 1 & 2), Montour Falls, Beaver Dams and Millport (Dix 3).

According to a press release, "Brian is known for his campaign last November against the eight-year incumbent Philip Barnes as he ran for the District 6 Schuyler County Legislative seat." Of a total of 985 votes, "Brian lost by only 4 votes. Both Brian and Phil received accolades for their civil and professional campaigns. They were based on the issues, and each candidate portrayed dignity and respect to each other."

Eslinger and his partner David own The Blackberry Inn Bed & Breakfast and Guest House in Watkins Glen.

"Brian’s core beliefs," the press release said, "are centered in family, faith, community and service. Brian served a two-year term as the Chairperson of the Schuyler County Lodging and Tourism Association; he is a member of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, the New York Farm Bureau, the Finger Lakes Tourism Association, and the Schuyler County Democratic Committee, and served a four-year term on the Village of Watkins Glen Planning Board appointed by (D) Mayor Sam Schimizzi. In April of 2019 Brian was reappointed to a consecutive four-year term on the Village of Watkins Glen Planning Board by (R) Mayor Luke Leszyk.

"The role of a Town Justice is to serve the Law and the Community. Brian is committed to treating all people with respect and dignity. He will work closely with the resources of the State of New York Unified Court Systems and will do his due diligence to understand the facts and the law and be fair and balanced to all people."

Photo in text: Brian Eslinger (Photo provided)

Water-quality article on blog prompts
alarm in Glen, firm response from Board



WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 3, 2019 -- The water in Watkins Glen, the village mayor declared Tuesday night, is safe to drink.

The need for such a remarkable assurance from Mayor Luke Leszyk came at a Village Board session in response to a blog by environmental writer Peter Mantius, a Watkins Glen resident, that reported on a University of Michigan study that included Watkins Glen and Montour Falls among communities whose water it said contains a questionable amount of toxins.

The blog reportedly went viral locally, although the turnout at Tuesday's meeting was sparser than some had expected -- and the public portion of the meeting was shorter than anticipated due to Mayor Leszyk's refusal to let it get out of hand.

Talking at the meeting's outset, Leszyk intoned that it was "a privilege, not a right" to speak there. "The Board isn't on trial here," he said, urging any speakers to "be brief," and adding: "Don't be rude, judgmental or disrespectful."

Those words were in apparent anticipation of questions and possibly demands regarding the article by Mantius, which can be read here.

It dealt with a complex set of test measurements that concluded, in its lead paragraph: "Public drinking water in Watkins Glen, Montour Falls and Seneca County contains elevated levels of the cancer-linked PFAS class of chemicals found in dozens of stain-repellent household products like Teflon and Scotchguard, recent tests show."

Mantius was present at Tuesday's meeting, and expressed surprise at the level of concarn voiced by some residents to his article. "I'm surprised this story created as much alarm as it did," he said.

That concession came after Leszyk -- responding when resident Barb Cook asked what the Board was "planning to do" regarding the reported toxin levels -- said he was "not going to go into great detail here." The board, he said, would be taking "a proactive" approach and conduct its "own tests."

He said the Board is "trying to get as much information as possible," and termed the blog information "concerning," although he added that the village has -- with the exception of results following the large August 2018 storm --been meeting Department of Health requirements. He said the water tested by the University of Michigan laboratory "did not come from our plant," and that he had no idea at this point what water source was utilized.

When asked by resident Stacy Gray if he is "positive the water is safe to drink" in Watkins Glen, Leszyk answered succinctly: "Yes, it is."

When resident Brian Eslinger -- a member of the village Planning Board -- suggested an assuring message should be published for the village residents, Leszyk said a press release would be issued "once we have more information."

He said he wishes the blog -- headlined "Tap Water in Watkins Glen, Montour Falls, Seneca County Tests Positive for PFAS Chemicals" -- had "been more conservatively released," but said he can "understand the motivation" of writers who present facts in a fashion designed "to get people to move" on a given subject -- sometimes by utilizing "fear."

He said the village is working with the state Department of Health regarding "our own testing" and asked of the public: "Let us do our work here."

Mantius felt the Board was moving in the right direction, but urged that it not take Department of Health pronouncements on blind faith, saying the department has dragged its feet regarding water quality in the past (detailed in his article). "We need the DOH to take this seriously," he said, urging the Board to "hold (DOH's) feet to the fire."

Photos in text: Mayor Luke Leszyk (top) and writer Peter Mantius at Tuesday's meeting.

League session to focus on early voting law

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 1, 2019) -- The League of Women Voters of Schuyler County is inviting the public to a reception on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Atwater Vineyards, Route 414, Hector.

Kathy Smith and Elaine Schmidt from the League of Women Voters of the Rochester Metropolitan Area will speak about New York State’s new early voting law during the reception. The social event also is an opportunity to learn more about the goals of the Schuyler League, organizers said.

The reception will be from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Wine tastings, a cash bar and refreshments will be offered.

Reservations are requested by calling (607) 535-6680 or by emailing judyphillips@stny.rr.com by Monday, Sept. 9.

A view of the construction site from a point on the Watkins Glen High School side of the canal. The wastewater treatment plant will serve both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls.

Work progresses on water treatment plant


WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 21, 2019 -- Construction of the upcoming wastewater treatment plant along the canal across from Watkins Glen High School is taking shape.

The facility, which will serve the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls -- replacing Watkins' aged treatment facility on the Seneca Lake shoreline and Montour Falls' old and aging plant along Marina Drive -- is nearing completion after being developed for years.

The cost is $32 million, achieved through grants and loans.

The latest payment approved by a Joint Project Committee -- with representation from both villages -- was for a little more than $1 million, bringing the amount paid to just under $15 million.

Once the new plant is on line, officials of both villages will oversee demolition of the old treatment facilities, clean up the sites, and decide how to redevelop the properties with an eye toward economic development.

"Both sites," Montour Falls Mayor John King has said, "are prime waterfront locations that can be redeveloped for retail, hotel, restaurant and recreational uses, consistent with the long-term master development plans for our respective communities."

Photos in text: The new wastewater treatment plant construction site, in a view snapped from across the canal.

Scene from a video presented to the Town of Montour Board snapped at a festival similar to the one proposed for Havana Glen Park.

Montour Town Board mulls proposal for Chinese silk lantern fest at Havana Glen

MONTOUR FALLS, Aug. 14, 2019 -- The Town of Montour Board Tuesday night took under consideration a proposal for a Chinese-style silk lantern festival on the grounds of Havana Glen Park in the summer of 2020 and possibly in the late summer, autumn and early winter of succeeding years.

The festival -- featuring silk figures as high as three or four stories affixed to metal frames and emanating colorful lights in a theme format -- such as Cinderella or, perhaps, of local derivation, such as racing -- would be overseen by two partnering entities, All Parks Solutions (APS) and an organization called DDM.

Chinese lantern festivals have been successful in various parts of the world -- in California, Ohio and Tennessee in the U.S., and in Dublin and London among overseas locales. And such events date back some 2,000 years in China -- where the workers who create these festivals are recruited.

Lest anyone think of small lanterns draped along a walkway, think again: this is a huge display. In the words of one article covering an Ohio festival, “while they are called lanterns, they are really huge sculptures created by hand using silk fabric, steel frames, and tens of thousands of LED lights.”

According to on-line accounts, they are not only huge, but colorful and thematic -- sometimes reflecting the history and architecture of China, and other times reflecting American culture. They require a large space -- hence a park like Havana Glen -- and an infrastructure, and paved walkways so the visiting public can walk easily through the panorama of color and soft music without getting stuck in muddy terrain.

These festivals are normally located in larger population centers, but Judy McKinney Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), has envisioned this as something that can both play off existing tourist traffic, attract new visitors and succeed on its own smaller terms.

She introduced two people to the Montour Town Board: Lisa Ferraro, recently retired Chief Administrative Officer for Corning, Inc., who is on the SCOPED board and heads up its Business Attraction Committee; and Robert Montgomery of Ottawa, representing All Parks Solutions, a moving force behind these festivals. He addressed the board, explaining the festival and outlining its potential impact

The board, all present, includes Supervisor David Scott (pictured at right) and members T.J. Riley (left), Lester Cady, Donna Taber and Robert Simpson.

As agreed with SCOPED in their preliminary talks, APS would -- unlike in big cities, where it shares the risk and cost with the municipality in which it is setting up a festival -- shoulder the entire production cost. To do that, APS and DDM would pocket all recipts rather than split with the municipality, in this case the Town of Montour. But the town would benefit in other ways: assuming a good turnout at the festival, which initially would go from July to October, and in succeeding years from late summer to winter, there would be increased sales tax, and increased attendance at local eateries, motels and other businesses. Call it the ripple effect.

The proposal calls for set-up of the festival -- again, involving large metal frameworks covered with silk and lighted colorfully by thousands of LED lights, all in a theme -- next June, with the walk-through festival covering most of the park grounds and including the creek. The festival would last to October, with evening hours utilizing the lighting effect, going until 10:30 p.m. There would be an effort to attract local residents, tourists and -- through a regional marketing campaign -- visitors from surrounding counties.

If that pilot program proved successful, subsequent festivals -- each year with new structures, new theme and new lighting -- would start with a July setup and run from August until possibly Christmas and beyond.

Construction would be accomplished largely by about 40 Chinese nationals brought to the U.S. on work visas. They are artisans long experienced in silk lantern festivals. Once they are done, three or four would remain through the festival period to maintain it. During setup, said SCOPED’s Cherry, there would also be jobs for 15 or 20 local workers.

“I really, really think we can do this,” said Cherry, with the festival becoming what she sees as a winter destination, in essence expanding the tourism season by “building a cachet. They need to get the numbers, though” -- a steady and profitable turnout. The attraction -- at least in this region -- would be “extremely unique,” she said. “What does this mean for our future? It could be our calling card.”

She said while other sites in the area have been considered, Havana Glen Park is ideal because of its trees, infrastructure, walkways, creek, and off-the-beaten track locale -- all adding to the mystique of the colorful show. “An open field doesn’t work,” she said.

She said Montgomery’s APS outfit and its partnering DDM offer “a quality experience”-- a conclusion easily reached based on their successful track record. “It’s a spectacular opportunity for Montour Falls -- not just the Town of Montour,” Cherry added. “It could put it on the map regionally.”

Any nearby residents concerned by disrupting lights and music would find, she said, that what the festival offers is something “tranquil. It’s not designed to get you jazzed up. It’s for families” looking for a wholesome and inspiring experience.

The town board listened closely, asking questions and reserving judgment until further discussion by its members can be held. The town clerk, Deborah Riley, expressed concern about regular park visitors -- such as campers, or those using the pavilions -- being disrupted or displaced.

Both Ferraro and Montgomery said they would work with such people, perhaps getting them other camping sites at comparable prices.

Photos in text:

From top: Speaker Robert Montgomery; board members T.J. Riley (left) and Supervisor David Scott (right); scene from video presentation; SCOPED's Judy McKinney Cherry.

Saks accepts nominations from 2 parties

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 1, 2019 -- Watkins Glen attorney Jessica Saks has accepted the nominations of the Independence and About Justice parties in her bid to become Schuyler County Court Judge.

“I thank the Independence Party of New York for the confidence they have shown in me,” said Saks. “In addition, I will be eternally grateful to the dozens of volunteers who gathered the necessary signatures to form the About Justice Party and to the many more people who signed petitions to allow me to get on the ballot.

“I make only one pledge: that I will be fair, open-minded and impartial for the people I seek to serve,” she added.

If elected, Saks will become the first woman elected to a countywide judicial office in Schuyler County. She is facing Matt Hayden, Steven Getman and Dan Fitzsimmons.

Raised in Schuyler County, Saks is a graduate of the New England School of Law. From her law office in Watkins Glen, she specializes in family law, criminal defense and civil litigation.

She is the president of the Schuyler County Bar Association, a board director of My Place: A Play and Learning Center, a past member of the Nominating Committee for the Arc of Schuyler, and serves as the Attorney for Child Liaison for Schuyler County.

Further information can be found Saks's website at SaksforJudge.net and on the Facebook page “Saks for Judge.”

Saks seeks to succeed Judge Dennis J. Morris, who retired in May.

Photo in text: Jessica Saks (Photo provided)

U.S. District Court rules in favor of Watkins School District in suit brought by Hansen

ROCHESTER, July 25, 2019 -- Eight months after the Watkins Glen School District and its former superintendent, Thomas J. Phillips, filed for a summary judgment in the case of Hansen vs. Watkins Glen School District et al in the U.S. District Court for Western New York, the court has come down on the side of the district.

The 21-page decision effectively short circuits, at least for now, hopes that Hansen had held to make the district pay, through its insurance, damages for an alleged violation of her civil rights, personified by her arrest by handcuff at the school on two occasions in 2016. An appeal is likely, though, says her attorney, Jacob McNamara of the Ithaca law firm of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk.

"We are looking closely at the court's decision and Ms. Hansen is likely to appeal it," McNamara wrote in an emailed statement. "The court never recognized the issue of whether Ms. Hansen's First Amendment rights were violated. The focus of this case was not only the original restriction that Superintendent Phillips issued to Ms. Hansen -- it was that the Superintendent issued a second, broader, more threatening restriction to Ms. Hansen when she complained about his actions to the Board of Education.

"This second restriction constitutes retaliation and reflected an issue that needed a jury's assessment. But rather than sending this case to a jury, the court took a material dispute between Ms. Hansen and Superintendent Phillips and, as a matter of law, sided with the superintendent's version of the facts.

"The court's decision to side with the superintendent's account about a material dispute is, most notably, why the court is in error and why this error should be redressed on appeal."

That could take another 18 months to conclude, he indicated.

The convoluted case stems from three actions by Hansen in 2016 and the district's response to them:

--Her attempt to gain access to a State of the District meeting run by Phillips with staff, and attended by a majority of the School Board members (with a resulting argument that the majority constituted a quorum and the meeting thus should have been open to the public);

--Her attempt to attend a public School Board meeting not long after, in the face of an edict issued by Phillips banning her from the school without his permission. She was arrested outside the school by Village Police when she arrived for the meeting and refused to leave school grounds; and

--Her attempt to watch a school tennis match without Phillips' permission (at which time she was arrested again by Village Police after refusing to leave).

She ultimately received a favorable ruling from then-Village Court Justice Connie Fern Miller, and brought suit against the village and school district. Phillips was named in the suit, although he was protected from potential financial harm through a resolution approved by the School Board -- standard, it was explained at the time, in such matters.

While no monetary terms were ever announced, sources have confirmed that the village settled out of court with Hansen, leaving her to pursue a ruling in U.S. District Court against the school district for a much larger sum of money. But the District Court has now -- many months after receiving the case and eight months after the motion was made for summary judgment -- rejected arguments brought by her attorneys related to First and 14th Amendment violations and a Monell Claim relating to a violation of civil rights.

The court's arguments included this:

--"Qualified immunity protects public officials when they make reasonable, even if mistaken, decisions."

--"There is no indication that (Phillips) was acting with anything other than his discretion."

--"There is no indication in the record that Phillips would have denied Hansen permission (to attend school functions) when she requested it. Indeed. the one time that she sought to attend a parent/teacher conference, Phillips gave her permission."

Phillips is quoted in an email as responding thusly: "Thank you to the school attorneys, the insurance company and their attorney and the School Board for ensuring the integrity of the district and the financial interests of our community."

Photos in text:

Top two: Hansen is confronted by Phillips and then arrested by Village Police upon her arrival to attend a public School Board meeting on March 21, 2016.

Bottom: Hansen is arrested by Village Police alongside the school tennis courts while attempting to watch matches there on May 4, 2016. (File photos)

Legislature, town officials agree to work on animal control pact with Humane Society

WATKINS GLEN, July 5, 2019 -- Members of the Schuyler County Legislature and Supervisors of a half-dozen towns in the county have "agreed to work together toward an agreement with the Humane Society of Schuyler County for dog sheltering services when stray dogs are recovered in any of the towns in Schuyler County."

The news, in a press release from Legislator Michael Lausell, follows a week in which such services in five towns were announced as being terminated while those towns turned toward a private entity for such service. A sixth town, Dix, was included in early reports with the other five, but said it was trying instead to reach agreement with the Humane Society.

"It is our shared goal that this agreement will be completed in the near future," said the press release. "In the interim, services will continue as they have, under the agreement between the towns, Schuyler County and the Humane Society. The County is continuing to fund and staff the animal control officer position through the Sheriff's department to capture and transport stray dogs to the local shelter."

The following elected officials attended the meeting Wednesday of the Legislature:

--David Scott -- Town Supervisor, Town of Montour
--Harold Russell -- Town Supervisor, Town of Dix
--Alvin White -- Town Supervisor, Town of Hector
--John VanSoest -- Town Supervisor, Town of Catharine
--Gary Conklin -- Town Supervisor, Town of Reading
--Donald Deroschers -- Town Supervisor, Town of Tyrone

--Schuyler County Legislators Dennis Fagan, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro, Jim Howell and Michael Lausell

--Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman

Also present:
--Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn
--Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman
--Clerk of the Legislature Stacy Husted

Public Health cautions: potential exposure to Hepatitis A virus at Schuyler restaurant

Risk of infection low, but clinics planned in Montour Falls

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 25, 2019 -- People who ate at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant (3 N. Franklin St, Watkins Glen) between June 11 and June 21 were potentially exposed to hepatitis A, the Schuyler County Public Health Department announced Tuesday.

Most people do not get sick when an employee at a restaurant has hepatitis A, but there is still a risk, Public Health said in a press release, adding: "People who may have been exposed should receive treatment to prevent infection."

“While the risk of infection is low, anyone who may have eaten at the restaurant during this timeframe should check their immunization status and come to one of our clinics or visit their healthcare provider if necessary,” said Schuyler County Public Health Director Deborah Minor, RN, MPH.

As a result of this potential hepatitis A exposure, Schuyler County Public Health is advising anyone who ate food at the restaurant between June 12 and June 21 to receive a free hepatitis A vaccine during one of the upcoming vaccine clinics. The clinics will be held at the Schuyler County Human Services Complex, 323 Owego St., Montour Falls, on the following days and times:

  • June 26 from 2-7 p.m.
  • June 27 from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
  • June 28 from 12 noon to 4 p.m.

The hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin is only effective within two weeks of exposure to the virus, the department said, adding: "People who ate at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant between June 12 and June 21 (and have not been previously vaccinated against hepatitis A) should receive the hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin as soon as possible. Pre-registration for the clinic is encouraged. Visit www.health.ny.gov/go2clinic to pre-register. If you cannot pre-register, please bring your driver’s license or another form of identification.

"Those who ate at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant on June 11, may have been exposed but will not benefit from hepatitis A vaccine to prevent infection from this exposure ... are encouraged to monitor themselves and their families for symptoms for 50 days after consuming the food. Symptoms may include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, or jaundice. If you have any symptoms, contact your healthcare provider and be sure to tell them that you may have been exposed to hepatitis A."

The owner and staff at the restaurant are complying with all recommendations from the state and local health department, the press release added. The restaurant is currently open and there is no risk to eating there at this time.

For more information:

From left: Watkins Glen Village Clerk Lonnie Childs, Treasurer Rhonda Slater, and Trustee Laurie DeNardo at Tuesday night's Watkins Glen Village Board meeting.

Village Board handles a variety of issues: stop signs, noise, brush and the WWTP

WATKINS GLEN, June 19, 2019 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Tuesday night dealt with matters involving stop signs, noise, filling pools, road disruption on Magee Street, the brush pile behind the Community Center, work on the new wastewater treatment plant, and the absence of a Code Enforcement officer with the departure of the old one.

The stop sign issue was raised by resident Barb Cook, who said a stop sign near her house was ill-placed, with cars often braking hard if stopping at all, and then screeching out again. Trustee Lou Perazzini noted that there are a number of such signs placed in previous years to control speed on streets, which he said "isn't the purpose of stop signs." He wants a study to determine the need for a number of them, particularly at four-way stops.

A suggestion that the speed limit on side streets be reduced was rejected since it recently was raised back to 30 mph from 20 when the state rejected reduced limits except in a school zone.

The noise issue was raised by resident Tony Compese, who said the Village Marina was projecting loud music late on the night of the recent Cardboard Boat Regatta -- prompting a debate over the right of the marina or any other business to "piggyback" on an approved special event such as the regatta or Vintage Weekend. Compese, concerned about other noise infringements -- as there have been in the past -- said he thought the matter was handled well last year with businesses alerted through a letter from the Code Enforcement Officer, Greg Larnard. But Larnard has "moved on" from his current job, village officials said, leaving such chores in limbo. But Mayor Luke Leszyk agreed with a suggestion that Larnard's old computer might be searched to find the letter form and a list of businesses it was sent to, so that the practice might be replicated.

The pools issue stemmed from a request from the fire department that its tanker might be used to fill the pools of department members, who would pay any cost for metered water used. That prompted a debate, with two village officials saying such permission would "send a bad message." Mayor Leszyk pointed out that "these guys are volunteers" and that such a service might be seen as "a reward for volunteering," although he added that he was "neutral about it." The board voted 3-0 against it, with Perazzini abstaining.

The brush pile behind the Community Center has been a point of contention with various contractors dumping debris from jobs there. The general sense of the Board was that it should be reserved for village residents -- and it was decided that a policy to that effect would be relayed to the contractors.

Work on the new Wastewater Treatment Plant along the canal opposite the high school property is making headway, with concrete pouring of floors planned on three different days in the near future. More bills for the $32 million project -- a facility shared by Watkins Glen and Montour Falls -- were approved by the board, as they had been by the Joint Project Committee at an earlier meeting. Those bills totaled $840,131.43, said Trusteee Tony Fraboni, bringing the total paid to date to $11,810,503 -- leaving a little over $20 million yet to be covered.

Magee Street, meanwhile, is undergoing disruption for surveying, engineering and renovation work. It was announced that the first block of the street will be closed soon for a two-week period as work intensifies.

Photos in text:

From top: Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk and Trustees Lou Perazzini and Tony Fraboni at Tuesday night's Village Board meeting.

Local meth 'Queenpin' draws probation

WATKINS GLEN, June 1, 2019 -- Julie I. Miller, 33, of Montour Falls -- after pleading guilty to the unlawful manufacture and possession of methamphetamine -- received a sentence from outgoing Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris Thursday of five years probation and forfeiture of $370 in cash found in her possession at the time of her arrest.

The District Attorney's office called Miller the local "Queenpin" of the meth trade for being "the major meth cook and distributor in Schuyler County at the time of her arrest" on June 14, 2018.

Her arrest, officials said, came after a search of her home found "methamphetamine manufacturing materials, a significant amount of methamphetamine, and scales and other drug packaging materials." She was charged with a B Felony, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 3rd Degree, and a D Felony: Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the 3rd Degree. She pleaded guilty on Feb. 7, 2019, with no plea bargain offered.

"At sentencing," the DA's office said in a press release, "Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden argued that the defendant should be sentenced to state prison."

It added that Hayden "described how her manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine was known to be poisoning our community." The defendant, the release noted, "acknowledged in a statement to law enforcement that she would cook methamphetamine almost every day and that she would sell methamphetamine from her apartment."

The Schuyler County probation department recommended incarceration, and Hayden agreed. The sentencing potential for the B felony offense, the DA's office said, "was up to 9 years in prison, with additional post-release supervision." It added that "during the sentencing, even the defense attorney acknowledged that his client was 'a prolific meth cook' " who "had previously failed while on probation. But (the attorney) also argued that because the defendant has sought drug treatment, and had been doing well while in treatment, that the court should sentence her to probation."

Judge Morris (whose term as County Judge ended, as long planned, with his retirement at midnight the same day) agreed with the defense attorney, sentencing Miller to 5 years probation, with the defendant forfeiting "the $370 in cash that she was found to possess when arrested."

Fitzsimmons seeking County Judge post

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 20, 2019 -- Daniel Fitzsimmons became the fourth candidate to announce entry into the race for Schuyler County Judge Monday.

A press release announced that Fitzsimmons, a longtme Schuyler attorney, "has named a committee to advise and oversee his campaign": John P. Callanan Jr., David and Kate Lamoreaux, Paula Fitzsimmons, Marie Fitzsimmons, Paul E. Clifford, and Damir and Theresa Lazaric. It will be co-chaired by former Schuyler County Legislator Bob Fitzsimmons and local veterinarian Dr. Kirk Peters.

Previously announcing runs for the County Judge position being vacated soon with the retirement of Judge Dennis Morris were Matthew Hayden, Jessica Saks and Steven Getman. The election is in November.

Fitzsimmons, his press release said, "previously served eight years as a Judge in the Town of Hector and ran two successful campaigns with both the Democratic and Conservative Party nominations in 2010 and 2014. Fitzsimmons, a registered Republican, says he will request the nomination of each of the political parties. His Campaign Committee spans the political spectrum, including locally respected Republican, Democratic and Green Party members as well as independent and unaffiliated citizens from the fields of education, health care, industry and public safety."

Fitzsimmons, who was born and raised in Schuyler County, opened his law practice in Watkins Glen in 1996. In 2000 he started the Schuyler County Law Guardian Office, "which is responsible for representing the best interests of children in Schuyler County Courts," the release said, adding:

"The Law Guardian Program is administered by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. The retired Director of the program, Jack Carter, said: 'Attorney Fitzsimmons was appointed the Schuyler County Law Guardian in 2000 and he remained in that position with the advice and consent of every Schuyler County Court Judge until his appointment as Principal Court Attorney in 2018. He also served as a Continuing Legal Education instructor where he wrote curriculum and trained hundreds of other attorneys.'"

In 2018 Fitzsimmons was recommended by the current County Court Judge to the position of Principal Court Attorney. That appointment was confirmed by the Sixth Judicial District. Fitzsimmons currently serves as the legal adviser to the Judge and Staff of the Schuyler County Courts.

Four generations of the Fitzsimmons family reside in Schuyler County, including Fitzsimmons' three adult children and one grandchild. In addition to his legal career, he is a Captain licensed by the United States Coast Guard. He currently serves on the Schuyler County Youth Board and is the Vice President of the Schuyler County Bar Association.

Photo in text: Dan Fitzsimmons (Photo provided)

Village updates set at May 20 League event

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 1, 2019 -- Burdett Mayor Dale Walter, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer and Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk will describe exciting changes and events in their villages on Monday, May 20, at a luncheon hosted by the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County.

The public is invited. Reservations are due by Wednesday, May 15.

The luncheon will be at noon at the Montour Moose Lodge, Route 14, south of Montour Falls. The cost is $15.

Reservations are required by calling (607) 535-6680 or by emailing rebekah@watkinsglenchamber.com .

The luncheon will include a brief annual business meeting of the League of Women Voters. Information on the League’s activities and how to join will be available.

Community meeting seeks 2-village ideas

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, May 19, 2019 -- The Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) in partnership with the Village of Montour Falls and the Village of Watkins Glen will host a  community meeting to gather community member ideas, project suggestions, and other comments about the futures of both villages.

"We encourage respondents to be creative and dream big," SCOPED said in a press release. "The community’s input will build on the planning efforts completed to date and will contribute to creation of a Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Date of Meeting:
Thursday, May 30, 2019
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Montour Falls Fire Hall, 111 Lee Street, Montour Falls

Prior to the meeting, the Online Interactive Program, found at https://wikimapping.com/SCOPED-Regional-Strategic-Plan1111111.html, will be available through Friday, May 24 at 5 p.m. Community members having issues accessing the program can visit one of two locations for personal access and computer access -- the Montour Falls Library (406 Main St, Montour Falls) or the SCOPED office (910 South Decatur Street, Watkins Glen).

Community members who would like to attend the meeting, but are unable to, are encouraged to complete the online interactive program and contact SCOPED at 607-535-4341 for more information on how they can get involved.

For more information on the Two Village Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan, contact Amanda at 607-535-6862.

Appeals Court entertains Trappler appeal; Fazzary argues against drive for new trial

ALBANY, April 25, 2019 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary stood before a five-judge Appeals Court panel Thursday in Albany and argued against a move by convicted murderess Alice Trappler for a new trial.

Trappler was represented at the hearing by Attorney Thomas J. Eoannou, who was given 10 minutes to argue on behalf of his client. "I believe a new trial should be ordered," he told the judges.

Trappler was sentenced in 2013 to 25 years-to-life in prison after being found guilty in a jury trial in Schuyler County Court of 2nd Degree Murder, Burglary and Conspiracy in connection with the April 2012 shotgun slaying of Daniel Bennett in his Town of Dix home.

Trappler was not present at the murder scene, but Fazzary -- through circumstantial evidence that included extensive text messages -- wove a prosecution that convinced the jury to convict.

Eoannou said the verdict should be vacated primarily because the prosecution "improperly admitted hearsay statements" -- a charge that Fazzary disputes. Eoannou also criticized Fazzary for failing to use a text -- "I wonder if he'll show up to court. LOL" -- in its full context in reference to a Family Court hearing involving Trappler and Bennett regarding the custody of their infant daughter. He said there was reference in that text exchange to the possibility of the hearing occurring: "We'll be ready for whatever he brings to court."

Bennett was murdered before the hearing could be held -- a fact that itself, because of the timing -- is one of the many circumstantial pieces that Fazzary insisted in his rebuttal paints an undeniable tapestry of conspiracy.

Eoannou also referred to testimony by Nathan Hand, present with the shooter, Trappler's ex-husband Thomas Wesley Borden, that showed the plan had supposedly been to beat up Bennett. But, said Eoannou, Borden "flipped the script" after drinking shortly before the murder and announced to Hand that he planned instead to kill Bennett. This showed, the attorney said, that Trappler didn't know the murder would take place.

Fazzary, who exceeded his 10 minutes by about five -- for the judges asked several questions regarding his arrival at conspiracy -- said Hand joined the plan late, and didn't know of the murder while Trappler did. He also pointed out a couple of times that the murder weapon was Trappler's -- given to her by a boyfriend -- and that when asked how it ended up in Borden's possession, Trappler said he must have taken it from her house, "but moments later said Borden had never been there."

When one of the judges seemingly pressed him on the matter of conspiracy, indicating she was having difficulty connecting the dots, Fazzary said the evidence "was overwhelming," and proceeded to tick off several aspects of the case that he said supported it. As the custody hearing had neared, he said, Trappler was "panic stricken" -- triggering the murder. And he said she showed "consciousness of guilt" when she urged her parents by phone to get to the boyfriend who had given her the gun, saying if he talked "it's my demise."

Trappler was the only person with a motive for murder, Fazzary insisted. Arriving at conspiracy was "not a leap of faith." In the end, he said, the jury -- having heard her testimony -- "didn't believe her and took just four hours to convict."

The Appeals Court -- the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, whose hearings are aired online -- will now take the Trappler issues under advisement, issuing a decision at an undesignated future date.

Photos in text:

Top: Handheld device shows District Attorney Joe Fazzary addressing the Appeals Court.
Bottom: Alice Trappler (File photo)

Bartow plans run for Schuyler Legislature

TYRONE, April 22, 2019 -- -- Democrat Paul Bartow has announced his candidacy for the office of Schuyler County Legislator from District 7, Tyrone and Reading.

Bartow is president of the Schuyler County Historical Society and a former educator at SUNY Oswego, Monroe Community College and James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA). Additionally, he operates Paul Bartow Carpentry, an individually owned business established in 1995 which focuses on design-build projects.

Bartow is a resident of Tyrone, having returned in 1992 after attending graduate school. He also attended the Watkins Glen Central School District before pursuing his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Fine and Applied Arts.

Election Day is November 5th. Early voting begins on October 28th.

Photo in text: Paul Bartow (Photo provided)

Convicted burglar gets 12-year prison term

WATKINS GLEN, April 12, 2019 -- A 31-year-old Trumansburg man was sentenced Thursday in Schuyler County Court to 12 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision after pleading guilty to charges involving two daytime home invasion burglaries.

Justin L. Georgia had been indicted on two counts of Burglary in the Second Degree, Class C Violent Felonies. His guilty pleas were entered on Jan. 7. The cases were prosecuted by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden. No plea bargain offer was made.

Georgia was sentenced by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, who could have imposed consecutive sentences of up to 30 years in prison, since each count carried a 7-to-15-year sentence, Georgia being a Second Violent Felony offender. He had previously served time in state prison on two other burglaries, from 2010 to 2017.

This time, the first burglary occurred in a home on Steam Mill Road in the Town of Hector on Feb. 20, 2018, "where the defendant kicked in a door and proceeded to ransack the house, stealing jewelry and currency," the DA's office said in a press release. Georgia was arrested on March 13, 2018, but freed on bail. On July 2, 2018, "he committed another daytime burglary of a home on Mount Road in the Town of Hector. At that home, the defendant stole jewelry and currency as well as various other items of value."

Hayden argued for a longer prison term -- with consecutive sentences -- but Judge Morris opted for concurrent sentences and the 12-year term. In addition to five years of post-release supervision, Georgia was ordered to pay $7,781.80 in restitution.

Leszyk takes oath of office as new mayor; Perazzini, Woodworth, Decker start terms

WATKINS GLEN, April 2, 2019 -- Luke Leszyk was sworn in Monday evening as the new mayor of Watkins Glen, as were trustees Lou Perazzini and Nan Woodworth.

The three won four-year terms last month, Leszyk outpolling trustee Laurie DeNardo and Perazzini and Woodworth outpolling Planning Board member Brian Eslinger. Woodworth was already a trustee, appointed last year to finish the term of Kevin Thornton following his resignation.

They were administered the oath of office by Village Clerk Lonnie Childs, who then relinquished the duty to outgoing Village Justice Connie Fern Miller for the swearing-in of the new justice, Steven Decker. Decker, a retired village Police Sergeant, ran unopposed in last month's election.

Both Leszyk and Perazzini were dressed in suits and ties for the occasion, with the new mayor assuring the audience -- about 40 packed into the board meeting room -- that the attire would in the future be more casual. He also expressed the hope that future board turnouts might be just as large as Monday's.

Following the oaths, County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn updated the board -- in particular its newest members -- on the Clute Park development plans, where the Stantec architectural firm has been selected to design the project. The project tentatively involves a new pavilion, new bathrooms and an ice rink, among various improvements, with funding from various grants totaling $4.8 million. VanHorn explained how the county is the lead agency, but that all matters will be channeled through the Village Board in what she called "a partnership."

Accordingly, she said, the county needs the village to sign off on a Notice to Proceed, which will serve as a commitment to Stantec as it develops its park plans. Leszyk said he would look over the paperwork and get back to VanHorn shortly.

The board also heard from resident Tony Compese, who urged the board to express its "concern" regarding the Woodstock 50 festival being planned for Aug. 16-18 at Watkins Glen International in the Town of Dix. He cited a "disruption of the normal tourist business" along with "stress on our infrastructure" as reasons for that concern, and said such an expression to the county "would help establish legal standing if we need it later" should something go awry with the festival.

Leszyk said "it goes without saying we don't have anything to do with" the festival, but "we can express our concern" while also examining a possible insurance agreement with the Town of Dix.

"They're probably still going to move ahead with it," Leszyk said of the festival. But such mass gatherings, he added, are "not as beneficial to us as people sometimes think."

Photos in text: Mayor Luke Leszyk (top) and trustees Lou Perazzini and Nan Woodworth are sworn into office.

Left: New village justice Steven Decker and outgoing justice Connie Fern Miller shake hands after Decker was sworn in by Miller. Right: County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn addresses the village board.

O'Mara: Budget is bad news for taxpayers

Adds Palmesano: It's the 'worst budget I've seen in my years in Legislature'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 1, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) Monday said that the 2019-2020 state budget approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities welcomes back “a tax-and-spend approach to government that’s bad news for taxpayers, job creators, and workers.”

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, meanwhile, called it "the worst budget I have ever seen in my years of serving in the state Legislature."

Since the beginning of the year, O’Mara has been calling for state leaders to make tax relief a priority in the new state budget. Instead, he said the budget adopted Monday relies on more than $1 billion in new taxes and fees to support significant new short- and long-term state spending. The new taxes will include a new sales tax on internet purchases that will affect all consumers.

O’Mara said the budget also sets in motion new state spending commitments that will become increasingly expensive, including a system of public campaign financing, electoral reforms like early voting, tuition assistance for illegal immigrants, and others.

And while O’Mara has long supported making the state’s two-percent local property tax cap permanent, which the new budget does, he said that New York continues to ignore the urgent need to roll back unfunded state mandates in order to give the cap any hope of ever producing property tax cuts for local taxpayers.

“Tax-and-spend government has been a disaster for New York State in the past and it’s about to make a mess of things again," said O'Mara. "We needed to stop taxing, spending, regulating, and mandating New Yorkers to death. Yet here we go again with a tax-and-spend approach to government that’s bad news for taxpayers, job creators, and workers, especially upstate.” He noted that the last time state government fell under one-party, Democratic control for two years beginning in 2009, taxes and fees were increased by $14 billion to support upwards of $14 billion in new state spending.

Added Palmesano: “This budget is, quite, frankly, the worst budget I have ever seen in my years of serving in the state Legislature. There are new, taxpayer-funded handouts for undocumented citizens and criminals. There is no property tax relief; in fact, the new freeze on STAR exemption benefits will actually increase school property taxes. There are new, costly mandates imposed on family businesses and local municipalities. At a time when assaults on correction officers are skyrocketing in our overcrowded prisons, the governor and Senate and Assembly Democrat  majorities doubled down on compromising public safety and agreed to close three more correctional facilities. And to add insult to injury, at a time when we’re pouring billions into the mismanaged MTA, we’re cutting funding for local roads and bridges upstate, while creating a $100 million per year taxpayer-funded campaign system. It’s disgraceful and unacceptable.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

O'Mara, Palmesano rip budget road funds

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 1, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Monday said that the new state budget enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities “pulls the foundation out from under local roads and bridges throughout this state.”

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said: “It didn’t take long for Governor Cuomo and a State Legislature under one-party, Democratic control to show their true colors. In a state budget allocating hundreds of billions of dollars, including billions of dollars alone for downstate mass transit, state Democrats cut funding for one of government’s fundamental responsibilities, which is the improvement and maintenance of local roads and bridges. This budget delivers state government at its worst.  It pulls the foundation out from under local roads and bridges throughout this state. It turns its back on local infrastructure, local economies, local property taxpayers, and local motorists. It’s a disgrace.”

The final 2019-2020 state budget adopted earlier Monday includes no additional funding for CHIPS base aid and cuts the $65 million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation that O'Mara and Palmesano said "has made a real difference for counties and local highway departments across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide."

Earlier this year, over 600 local highway superintendents and highway department employees representing nearly every region of New York State rallied in Albany as part of the annual “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign. O’Mara and Palmesano have helped lead the campaign in the Legislature since 2013 and helped deliver funding increases over the past decade for local roads, bridges and culverts through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).

This year the group called for increasing state base aid for CHIPS by $150 million to a total of $588 million. They also sought the restoration of a $65 million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocaion enacted last year but not included in Cuomo’s proposed 2019-2020 state budget.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Burdett 18-year-old faces several charges

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, March 22, 2019 -- Logan J. Teemley, 18, of Burdett, NY, was charged Thursday by the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office with a Class D felony, Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, following a report of a house being shot on Lisk Road in the Town of Hector -- with other charges added later.

Teemley, the Sheriff's Office said in a press release, "was arraigned in the Town of Hector Court, where he was remanded to jail in lieu of $500/$1000 Bail/Bond. The investigation also uncovered other crimes it is alleged Teemley is responsible for, and as a result Teemley was also" charged with "Unlawful Imprisonment in the First Degree, a class E Felony; Coercion in the Third Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor, and Menacing in the Second Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor. Teemley was rearraigned in the Town of Hector Court and remanded to jail in lieu of $5000/$10,000 Bail/Bond."

Teemley is a senior at Odessa-Montour High School, a point alluded to when the Sheriff's Office added:

"Although the investigation has not involved any threats to the Odessa-Montour Central School, the Sheriff’s Office is working in conjunction with school officials to ensure the safety of the students. If any students or parents hear of any threats being circulated, they are urged to call the Sheriff’s Office as 607-535-8222. Tips can be left at 607-535-8224 or emailed to tips@co.schuyler.ny.us."

Photo in text: Logan J. Teemley (Photo provided by Sheriff's Office)

Short-term rental operators cautioned

WATKINS GLEN, March 19, 2019 -- Watkins Glen Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the Village Board Monday night that only a little over half of short-term rental operators in the village have filed required applications under a recently enacted Local Law. That law requires registration and accompanying payment of $400 for two years.

Larnard said there are 60 short-term operators, and that 35 have submitted applications under the law, which went into effect in early February. Fourteen of the 35 have undergone inspections, and three have been granted permits by the Planning Board.

"Next," said Larnard, "will be a letter to operators" informing them of "the need to abide by the law, and if that doesn't get their attention," then the village will begin legal proceedings that could lead to "a fine up to $1,000 a day from when the law was put on the books. Those not complying are looking at quite a fine."

First warning letters will be going out this week, he said, with each operator being given "a chance to comply" before any legal proceeding is instituted. "If they're planning on operating a short-term rental at all, they need to reply," he concluded.

Woodstock 50 and the memory of 1973 dominate talk at Legislature's meeting

WATKINS GLEN, March 12, 2019 -- The specter of 1973's Summer Jam raised its head again Monday night at the Schuyler County Legislature's monthly meeting when area residents who remember that festival expressed fears of a repeat at August's proposed Woodstock 50 at Watkins Glen International.

While nothing on the agenda dealt with Woodstock 50, the matter took center stage at the outset during the public participation portion of the meeting.

Tony Compese of Watkins Glen kicked off the discussion by questioning why promoter Michael Lang, as reported in an area newspaper, would be announcing a performance lineup and selling tickets for the festival if he didn't have the blessing of the Legislature -- which is among the government bodies that have yet to sanction a Mass Gathering permit for the event.

"It's still being looked into," said Legislator Phil Barnes, running the meeting in the absence of Chairman Dennis Fagan, who is recovering from hip surgery. "We're gathering facts, listening to people. There are a lot of pros and cons. There are so many details left undone at this time. It's truly a work in progress."

Added County Administrator Tim O'Hearn: By selling tickets, Lang "is proceeding at his own risk. He knows full well the requirements. I assume if he sells tickets then he's confident he can meet the regulations." Those involve health, safety, law enforcement -- a raft of rules from various departments like Emergency Management and the state Department of Health.

Compese responded by saying the county "may be inviting the wrong people and giving Watkins Glen the wrong image. It won't be beneficial to the other kinds of tourism we have here."

Legislators Mark Rondinaro and David Reed then reacted. Rondinaro said that "plans and contingencies" are being studied with the intent that Summer Jam "doesn't happen all over again." Other festivals elsewhere, he said, have demonstrated "it's not the same era. I think there's a difference between now and '73."

Reed said the Legislature has not voted to accept or reject the festival proposal. He said WGI has handled as many as 200,000 visitors in the past, "back in the days of open-wheel racing," so it can handle a crowd officials anticipate at 100,000. "My concern is the effect it may have on the residents and towns around it. We're not going to say yes or no until all our concerns are met."

John Cecci, a resident near the track, said that with 80 bands being planned for the three-day festival -- Lang's announced number -- "it will be mostly rap and hip hop. It's the wrong crowd. There will be no quiet time."

Gary and Regina Westervelt also expressed concern that if a fire occurs during the festival on their property -- their family experienced vandalism there in 1973 -- it could in turn set off a propane explosion that Gary said would be felt for "two-and-a-half or three miles."

Legislator Barnes responded by saying he "can't stress enough: it's a work in progress. It's tying up our own people," some of whom "want a decision tomorrow on whether it's a go or not. But there's not enough information yet to make a conscientious decision." The county has until 45 days before an event to issue a permit.

Grover White of Route 16 near the track then asked: "What are you gonna do when this blows up in your face? What are you going to do to protect us?"

"Duly noted," answered Barnes.

"It's not our liability; it's yours," White went on. "What are you gonna do with the other 200,000 or 300,000 who show up?"

Gary Westervelt then asked how large the liability insurance is, to which O'Hearn said it was "substantial," although he could not recall exactly how large. He said the applicant is WGI, which is "what the Legislature wanted" because after the festival "WGI will still be here."

Westervelt said that if the liability coverage were $10 million, "it's not much nowadays." It could dissipate "real quick if things go wrong" -- such as with that suggested propane explosion.

There was discussion of the police presence on festival weekend. It would be "both on site and off site," said O'Hearn, who added that part of the alarm being voiced by residents is "a fear of the unknown." A lot of that will be alleviated, he said, at a meeting at 6 p.m. on March 27 in the Performing Arts Center at the old Watkins Glen Middle School on Decatur Street, when various festival stakeholders answer questions from the public that thus far haven't been answered. The county "needs that information by then," he said. Until then, "we can what-if this to death."

Compese responded to O'Hearn's "fear of the unknown" comment by saying "I actually know the fears" involved in the festival proposal. "I've gone through it," he added. "I know exactly what I'm expecting. It isn't pretty."

Photos in text: From top: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn; Watkins Glen resident Tony Compese; county residents Gary and Regina Westervelt; and Legislator David Reed.

O'Mara, Palmesano hail winter road aid

ALBANY, Marach 7, 2019 -- A day after State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) joined legislative colleagues and local transportation leaders from across New York State for the annual “Local Roads Matter” rally at the State Capitol, the state Thursday announced $128 million in new state funding to repair local roads damaged this winter.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “The ‘Local Roads Matter’ coalition continues to make itself heard in Albany and we appreciate the opportunity to help lead their ongoing fight for greater state investment.  More than 600 county and town highway superintendents and highway employees travelled to the Capitol this week to help make the case once again for a stronger state-local partnership. It is the only answer to providing the local transportation infrastructure that our taxpayers, motorists, farmers, businesses, and communities deserve and need.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new extreme winter recovery funding to support 91 paving projects and repair approximately 1,000 lane miles of pavement statewide, including across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.

O’Mara and Palmesano said that $7.1 million is being provided for the following projects to renew nearly 100 lane miles of roads in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins, and Yates counties:

    -- $950,000 to resurface Rt. 366 from Route 13 to the Village of Freeville Line in Tompkins County;
    -- $650,000 to resurface Route 417 from the Interstate 99 Gang Mills exit to the Interstate 99 Erwin exit in Steuben County;
    -- $540,000 to resurface Route 417 from the Addison Village limit to just east of County Route 85 (Freeman Road) in Steuben County;
    -- $1.3 million to resurface Route 417 from the Tuscarora town line to east of County Route 102 in Steuben County;
    -- $850,000 to resurface Route 223 from Route 13 in the Village of Horseheads to east of Langdon Hill road in the Town of Erin, Chemung County;
    -- $1.5 million to resurface Route 79 from Route 414 to Route 227 (excluding the village of Burdett) in Schuyler County; and
    -- $1.3 million to resurface Route 14A from Lake Street to the Windmill Farm in Yates County.

Palmesano, who also represents a part of Seneca County, said that $1.0 million to resurface Route 96A from Route 96 (Village of Interlaken) to Route 414 in Seneca County is also included.

Over 600 local highway superintendents and highway department employees representing nearly every region of New York State have been in Albany this week as part of the annual “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign. As part of this effort since 2013, O’Mara, Palmesano, and many of their legislative colleagues joined local roads representatives and other local leaders from across New York at a rally Wednesday to call for increased state support for local roads, bridges, and culverts.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, in the center with the banner, and the Local Roads Matter coalition at the State Capitol rally on Wednesday, March 6. (Photo provided)

Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi and Trustee Gary Schmidt share a laugh.

Village Board OKs Local Law on tax levy
as it looks ahead to public vote on LOSAP

WATKINS GLEN, March 5, 2019 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night approved a Local Law that will permit it to override the state’s 2% tax-levy hike limit if the need arises.

And it might, Village Treasurer Rhonda Slater pointed out, if -- as the board hopes -- the public approves a proposed service award program for active volunteer firefighters in the Watkins Glen Fire Department.

The program, called LOSAP (Length of Service Awards Program), would financially reward firefighters “for the services they provide to the community,” according to a fact sheet distributed at the meeting.

Edward J. Holohan of Penflex, Inc. -- an Albany-area firm that provides actuarial and administrative services essential to the success of a LOSAP program -- outlined it, explaining how firefighters can earn $500 a year if they reach a designated number of incentive points. The money is placed by the village in an account, with the idea to grow it until the payout age of a volunteer: 60. The program would be overseen by the State Comptroller's Office.

The Watkins Glen Fire Department has about 40 members, but Chief Charlie Smith III said only about 13 respond to alarms regularly. If all 40 members earned the incentive, it would amount to $20,000 a year, but more realistically, Holohan said, the number earning the incentive will be smaller.

The tax cost of the LOSAP program on a home worth $100,000, said Mayor Sam Schimizzi, would be $13 a year or less -- possibly less than $10. He said the $500 incentive could under law be higher -- as high as $700 -- but “we wanted to get everybody on board, and see how it works.

“It’s a good thing in my view,” he added, and then to the general population sadded this: “Please vote.”

The issue will be on the ballot in conjunction with the March 19 village election -- at which the mayor’s seat is being contested, as well as two trustee seats. The only incumbent running is Nan Woodworth, recently appointed to the board to fill a vacancy.

Trustee Laurie DeNardo is running for mayor, having gained more votes than Schimizzi in a Democratic Caucus, while retired trooper Luke Leszyk is running on the Republican ticket. Brian Eslinger, a member of the Planning Board who barely lost a race for the Schuyler County Legislature in November, is running along with Woodworth and Lou Perazzini for two trustee seats.

******

The board also heard from Eslinger on the issue of short-term rentals. He said that only 20 owners of such establishments had met a 30-day deadline (from Feb. 1) for paying the newly required registration fee of $400 for two years. Under law, he said, others should not be allowed to book reservations until or unless they comply, and wondered what village officials might be doing to address the matter.

He was told that Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard was studying the issue, and that letters calling for compliance would likely be sent out soon.

*******

Mary Churchill, who chaired the village Planning Board in the 1980s, pressed the board on the planned renovation of Clute Park, asking specific questions.

“Who holds tha land title to Clute Lakeside Park?” she asked. The village, said Mayor Schimizzi.

“Who is the lead agency in any work at the park/” The village, said Schimizzi.

“Who signs any contracts relating to work at the park?” The village.

“Is it possible to get a vote on the park renovations on the ballot for March 19? I’m asking on behalf of many residents who have asked about it.” I’m not sure, said Village Clerk Lonnie Childs, who promised to look into it.

Churchill went on to criticize the committee that is presenting two sessions Wednesday -- at 4 and 6 p.m. -- at the Village Hall board room on the Clute Park plans. The timing, Ash Wednesday, will prevent a number of religious residents from attending either session, said Churchill, while the locale could prove to be too small. The former Middle School’s auditorium would have been a better site, she suggested.

The two engineering/architectural firms considered the best among RFP (Request for Proposal) respondents will outline their proposals at those Wednesday sessions.

******

Note:
Schimizzi, at the beginning of the meeting, called for a moment of silence in remembrance of village resident Rocco Scaptura, who had died that morning.

******

Photos in text: From top: Edward Holohan of the Penflex administrative firm; Trustee Nan Woodworth; and trustee candidate Brian Eslinger.

Charities to receive grant funds for homeless

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Feb. 27, 2019 -- Rep. Tom Reed on Wednesday announced $854,406 in grants to provide the Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler with funding to assist homeless people.

“We care about helping people in our communities struggling with homelessness,” Reed said. “This grant enables the Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler to continue their important work assisting homeless people in our area.”

Charles Nocera, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, said “On behalf of all the community-based organizations serving people who are homeless in the Southern Tier, I can say that we are collectively ‘relieved’ to learn that we will be able to continue providing much needed affordable and safe permanent housing.”

Tyrone man sentenced to weekends in jail after being found guilty of sexual abuse

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 22, 2019 -- A 33-year-old Tyrone man was sentenced Thursday in Schuyler County Court to weekends in jail and 10 years probation after being found guilty in a November trial of sexually abusing his 13-year-old stepdaughter, who officials say has intellectual disabilities.

According to the Schuyler County District Attorney's office, Shawn M. Wheeler's sentence handed down by County Judge Dennis Morris was significantly different from that recommended by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden, who argued that Wheeler -- who is required to register as a sex offender -- should be sentenced to the maximum of 7 years in state prison with 10 years of post-release supervision.

The Schuyler County Probation department also recommended the maximum sentence, the DA's office said, adding in a press release: "The defendant has never taken responsibility for his actions, and he said nothing at sentencing."

The DA's office did not specify how many weekends in jail were included in the sentencing. The County Court office could not be reached for clarification.

The press release also said: "In arguing for the maximum sentence, Hayden declared that the defendant had targeted the victim due to her suffering from significant intellectual disabilities. He further argued that the defendant betrayed his position of trust, because the victim was (the defendant's) 13-year-old stepdaughter.

"Hayden," the release said, "described how as a result of this sexual assault the victim has been separated from her mother, and has been removed from her siblings, resulting in punishment above and beyond the horrors of the sexual assault. Hayden described the acts of the defendant, which included the defendant having the victim perform oral sex on him, as evil and heinous, and that the defendant deserved no mercy."

Morris found Wheeler guilty on November 29 of Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree -- a Class D Violent Felony -- and three separate counts of Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree. The verdict stemmed from a four-day bench trial conducted earlier in November, prosecuted by Hayden.

Photos in text:

Top: Shawn M. Wheeler (Photo provided)
Middle: Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris (File photo)
Bottom: Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden (File photo)

O'Mara rips legislation aimed at banning gun raffles; says it's government intrusion

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Feb. 21, 2019 -- Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) says he is strongly opposed to legislation introduced in the New York State Legislature that would prohibit volunteer fire departments, police clubs, sportsmen’s clubs, Elk, Moose and similar lodges, and other groups and organizations from holding gun raffles as fundraisers.

“These popular, successful, and safe fundraisers have long been held by fire departments, police clubs, and other groups across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout New York State'" O'Mara said in a press release. "They are used to help raise funds to purchase badly needed equipment for volunteer firefighters, assist vital community charities, and provide scholarships to outstanding area students, among many other admirable initiatives."

O'Mara also noted that a recent gun raffle sponsored by the Canisteo Police Club in Steuben County drew hundreds of participants and raised funding to support several worthwhile community endeavors, including programs to provide bike helmets for area children and to send local youth to conservation camps. This year, part of the proceeds from the raffle are also going to support the Nicholas F. Clark Scholarship Fund honoring slain New York State Trooper Nicholas F. Clark, a Canisteo native who was killed in the line of duty last July.

O’Mara, who said that he would continue urging his legislative colleagues to reject the measure, added, “These raffles are popular and safe. The legislation fails to note that raffle winners cannot claim any firearm as a prize without undergoing a background check.        
For New York State government, under the guise of gun control and safety, to prevent the Canisteo Gun Club and other clubs and organizations across this region from ever again holding a gun raffle to support these important community efforts would be big government at its intrusive and overreaching worst.”

The legislation (A1413) is sponsored by Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn Democrat, and is currently in the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. It has 29 Democratic co-sponsors. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the state Senate yet, O’Mara noted.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

New Assistant County Attorney appointed

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 15, 2019 -- Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman has announced his appointment of Vinton Bovier Stevens, an Elmira native, as an Assistant County Attorney.

The appointment was unanimously approved by the Schuyler County Legislature at its February 11 meeting.

As an Assistant County Attorney, Stevens will join Getman in representing Schuyler County in civil litigation, family court prosecutions and related matters.

Stevens has been an attorney since 1999. Prior to joining the County Attorney’s office, he practiced law in New York City, Chemung and Tompkins Counties.

Getman said, “I am honored to have an attorney with Vinton’s education and experience join our office. I am confident that he will represent Schuyler County government effectively and ethically.”

Added Stevens: “I am proud to be joining County Attorney Getman’s office. Having known Mr. Getman and his staff for a number of years, I have been impressed with their integrity and commitment to the taxpayers, children and families of Schuyler County.

In addition to Getman and Stevens, the Schuyler County Attorney’s staff consists of attorney Kristin Hazlitt of Hector, as well as secretaries Maryann Friebis and Brandy Bower.

Stevens is a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Elmira, and attended college at the University of Rochester. He is a 1998 graduate of Temple University School of Law.

In addition to his attorney duties, Stevens serves as Vice Flotilla Commander of the USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, and as a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ithaca.

The County Attorney is the legal advisor to all county officials, and prosecutes and defends civil actions by and against the county. In addition, the County Attorney prosecutes family court cases involving child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency and child support violations.

Photos in text:

Top: Assistant County Attorney Vinton Bovier Stevens.
Bottom: County Attorney Steven Getman. (Photos provided)

Part of the group of residents on hand for Monday night's Schuyler Legislature meeting.

Summer Jam casts a shadow

Dix residents recount 1973 experience, caution Legislature; O'Hearn assures them concerns are being 'taken seriously'

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2019 -- Summer Jam raised its ugly head at Monday night’s Schuyler County Legislature meeting.

The session, attended by about three dozen people, mostly from the Town of Dix in the vicinity of the Watkins Glen International racetrack, expressed concerns about the proposed Aug. 16-18 Woodstock 50 festival at WGI.

One, Charlie Ector of Townsend Road, said at first that he was “a little bit opposed to what may be going on at the racetrack” in August. Then, warming up, he said “we opened that can of worms in ’73” -- the year of Summer Jam, when an estimated 600,000 people flooded into the county for a weekend of concert music and left behind extensive damage.

"It’s like Pandora’s Box,” said Ector. “Once opened, you can’t close it again. There are people who live up there” near the track. “You shouldn’t just look at dollar signs.”

Another resident, farmer Gary Westervelt, said he too had experienced the fallout from Summer Jam, when “from Thursday on, there was no police protection” as the roads and fields in the area were overrun by concert-goers who left trash that “wasn’t cleared for two years.” He pointed to the “lawlessness” of that weekend as vandals “cut fences and burned hay bales. Lots of crops were destroyed” with “damages in the thousands of dollars. You should not have this concert.”

He pointed to the recent Phish concerts, where some residents had “raw sewage in their basements. Is this something we want in our community? I don’t think we should.”

When Westervelt wondered how concerts had returned to the track after being essentially banned after Summer Jam, County Administrator Tim O’Hearn jumped into the discussion, saying that such a ban was “a misconception” -- that in fact existing laws at the time (and since) have been strengthened to control mass gatherings.

“You can’t prohibit mass gatherings,” he said -- although any such gathering that fails to meet health and safety standards can be blocked. If a general ban existed, he said, there could -- for example -- be no NASCAR races at WGI. The Local Law was strengthened after Summer Jam, he said, and “more restrictions were put in over Phish.”

Byron Thompson, long involved in emergency services, said that WGI does “a fabulous job” with NASCAR weekends, but that a Phish concert brought people defecating and drinking “in our yard” and an encounter with a menacing driver. “Who,” he asked of the proposed Woodstock 50, “is gonna protect my property and especially my family? You really need to look at this and talk to people in the community.”

Verne Alexander, who lives on Route 329, said that while he understood State Police were going to provide security, and that a limited number of tickets would be sold (one report said 110,000), “it was supposedly limited at Summer Jam, too. What will you do if 600,000 show up? Five hundred troopers are not gonna stop them.”

When asked by another attendee if he could explain the Legislature’s role in all of this, O’Hearn said the promoter of Woodstock 50, Michael Lang, would need approval from the State Department of Health, from Emergency Services, and from State Police as well as from the Legislature, which is obliged to accept or reject the proposed festival no later than 45 days before its scheduled start. The festival plan will also require a State Environmental Quality Review by the Legislature to judge whether it would be environmentally sound.

He said he had been “tasked” by the Legislature to “coordinate discussion and gather information” regarding the proposed weekend -- and that the process is in its “early stages.” A public meeting where more information could be shared will probably be held in late March, he added.

The Legislature, he said, would take all gathered information into account before rendering its judgment.

When asked if there might be pressure brought to bear on the Legislature to approve the concert plan, O’Hearn shook his head. “Not so,” he said, reminding everyone that “we canceled the Phish concert” last summer after a massive storm and resultant flooding left health concerns that precluded the music. Fans were sent home before the concert -- being set up -- could begin.

“We want to assure people,” O’Hearn said, “that we’re taking this seriously” -- but that the process will play out, giving the promoter every chance to “prove he can do what he says.”

The meeting took a turn toward the personal when Legislator Phil Barnes -- who had told the Dix Town Board last week that information he had received indicated as many as three “high ranking State Police officials” would be at the Legislature meeting to discuss Woodstock 50 -- said that his “integrity has been brought into question” with word earlier Monday that there was no such presentation on the agenda. O’Hearn had said Monday morning in response to a county statement that State Police officials were not coming that he was aware “of statements made, but I have no control over them, nor a statement even. The agenda is what it is.”

Now Barnes, visibly upset, said that he had understood through meetings of various law enforcement officials that State Police officials did want to meet with the Legislature and had intended to do so -- but that the plan “went South” over the weekend when they determined that any such meeting should not be a give-and-take with the public, but rather an executive session with legislators.

Then he added: “I’m tired of being thrown under the bus. I’m just tired of being maligned ... I’m just an old cop looking for the truth. If you lose your integrity, you lose everything. I’m picking my fights.” Accordingly, he asked for an executive session at the end of Monday’s public meeting. When pressed by County Attorney Steven Getman as to what it would be about (for there are specific reasons for such a session), Barnes said: “About me ... How about that?“

Sales Tax: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan said the final sales tax figures for 2018 are in, with the county total reaching $11,445,000, which he said was 6.9% -- “about three-quarters of a million dollars” -- above the previous year. “This,” he said, “helps us keep the tax levy down.”

Photos in text:

Topo Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes makes a point.
Second: Dix resident Gary Westervelt addressing the Legislature.
Third: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.
Bottom: Dix resident Charlie Ector talks to the legislators.

O'Mara: 'Restore critical upstate funding'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 11, 2019 -- With local officials from across New York State at the Capitol Monday testifying before the state Legislature’s fiscal committees on the impact of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019-2020 proposed state budget, Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) urged Cuomo and legislative leaders to restore a proposed cut to critical state funding for area municipalities.

In his 2019-20 proposed Executive Budget released last month, Cuomo calls for the elimination of Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funding for most of the towns and villages across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide. AIM is the largest single source of state revenue sharing for these localities.

Among those local officials present in Albany was Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer, attending the New York Conference of Mayors' Winter Legislative Meeting. Messmer said before departing for Albany that he, along with 175 other mayors and municipal officials from across the state, would be advocating for their budget priorities, including a restoration of the AIM funding.

"Every dollar the governor takes away from small villages like Odessa is just another kick in the teeth from Albany," said Messmer.

Said O’Mara in a press release Monday: “Governor Cuomo’s surprising and unexpected proposal to eliminate state revenue sharing for towns and villages puts our local governments and local property taxpayers at risk. The state’s new Democratic legislative leaders should immediately reject and promise to restore this Cuomo cut. Senate Republicans will continue to stand up and speak out for our municipalities and local taxpayers. We will continue to oppose any state government actions that put them at risk. We will continue to wage the fight on their behalf. History warns, however, that some state Democratic leaders may not share the same level of commitment and that’s a major red flag at the start of 2019 state budget negotiations.”

It’s estimated that the Cuomo cut would, unless restored, result in the elimination of AIM for 1,328 of New York’s 1,465 towns and villages.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Red Cross honors O'Mara's 'dedication'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 6, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) has been named a “2019 New York State Legislator of the Year” by the American Red Cross of New York State.

O’Mara recently received the award in Albany as part of the annual Red Cross Advocacy Day at the State Capitol on January 28.

This year marks the first time the Red Cross has selected “Legislator of the Year” honorees. In addition to O’Mara, three members of the state Assembly were honored as part of the inaugural class: Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes, Richard Gottfried, and John McDonald III.

According to the Red Cross, O’Mara and this year’s other “Legislator of the Year” honorees are recognized for their “unwavering support of our mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.”

O’Mara has enjoyed a long association with the regional and statewide Red Cross, including as a past Chairman and member of the Board of Directors of the Chemung/Schuyler Chapter of the Red Cross, and a member of the cabinet for the “Sound the Alarm” fire safety campaign. He has been a strong supporter of legislation and other state-level initiatives and investments supporting the Red Cross.

Clara Barton founded the first chapter of the American Red Cross in Dansville, New York in 1881. Since then the organization's supporters, volunteers and employees have provided compassionate care for millions of people affected by disasters, support for members of the military and their families, health and safety education and training, and international relief and development, and have collected much of the nation's blood supply. More than 95 percent of Red Cross workers are volunteers.

Photo in text: American Red Cross/Finger Lakes Chapter Executive Director Brian McConnell, right, congratulates Senator Tom O’Mara following this year’s “Legislator of the Year” awards ceremony in Albany. The Finger Lakes Chapter covers Chemung, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties. (Photo provided)

Tipped-wage credit draws rally support

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) rallied with industry workers, family restaurant owners and fellow lawmakers Tuesday in an effort to protect the tipped-wage credit.

The credit, a press release from Palmesano's office said, is "a tax provision that helps workers earn a living wage while helping restaurant owners keep their doors open and their neighbors on the payroll."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to revoke the credit and "compromise the livelihoods of service industry professionals and restaurant owners alike," said the press release.

Tip credits allow restaurants to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage as long as the tips make up the difference.

“Our message is simple," Palmesano is quoted as saying. "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The tipped-wage credit helps hardworking service industry professionals earn a good living. Additionally, eliminating the credit for family restaurant owners would increase their business costs and jeopardize jobs for tipped workers at a time they’re already dealing with a very difficult economic climate.

"The last thing we should be doing is taking action that will hurt workers and job creators. If the tipped wage credit is eliminated, it will hurt the very workers they claim to want to help.”

Palmesano noted that if restaurant owners face increasing labor costs, they will have no choice but to lay off workers and pass costs on to consumers.

“In the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region," he said, " the hospitality and tourism industries are important sectors of our economy. We should be looking for new ways to reform regulations, provide tax relief and spark investment. Revoking the tipped wage credit would do exactly the opposite by hurting small business owners and employees alike.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (underneath the "tip" on sign top right) rallies with lawmakers and restaurant industry representatives in Albany. (Photo provided)

O'Mara votes against 'extreme action' expanding abortion in New York State

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) has voted against legislation known as the “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA) approved Tuesday by the Senate and Assembly, and expected to be swiftly signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Said O’Mara: “Far from simply codifying the federal protections afforded to all women under Roe versus Wade, this new law is an extreme action by Governor Cuomo and a State Legislature now under one-party Democratic control. It continues to impose on all New Yorkers a radical left, liberal political agenda by significantly expanding abortion, legalizing abortion right up until a baby’s birth, authorizing non-doctors to perform abortions, and even outlawing current protections afforded to the pregnant victims of domestic violence. It is a disturbing, extreme, radical action that I strongly oppose along with many of my constituents and many, many New Yorkers.”

Earlier Tuesday, O’Mara joined his Senate Republican colleagues at a Capitol news conference to protest one specific provision of the RHA that eliminates criminal penalties for criminals who commit domestic violence against pregnant women, and to announce the introduction of legislation restoring the penalties.

Livia Abreu, an army veteran from the Bronx who was stabbed repeatedly by her fiancé during a domestic violence attack in May 2018, an attack that critically injured Abreu and killed her 26-week-old fetus, joined O’Mara and the Senate GOP.

The Senate GOP’s proposed “Liv Act,” named after Abreu, which O’Mara will co-sponsor, would establish the crime of assault on a pregnant woman by expressly recognizing that violence against pregnant women is a felony. Passage of this legislation, O'Mara said, would ensure that there would still be a criminal statute in New York that recognizes that violence done to a pregnant woman puts her reproductive freedom at stake.

According to O'Mara's office, 38 states currently have laws holding perpetrators accountable for violent attacks against pregnant women that result in the loss of their babies, including California and Massachusetts. It said another eight states, including Colorado, enhance existing criminal penalties for crimes committed against pregnant women.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Palmesano blasts Cuomo's cuts to localities

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) expressed deep disappointment Tuesday with a provision in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal which would slash millions of dollars in state aid for towns and villages called AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) funding. Over 1,300 municipalities would see their AIM funding slashed to zero.

Palmesano noted that the funding cut would total nearly $60 million.

“AIM funding is extremely important," said Palmesano. "Local government officials rely on AIM to help complete infrastructure projects, hire municipal workers and balance budgets. To threaten to revoke aid that they’ve come to rely on is irresponsible.”

Palmesano said the funding is particularly important for municipal officials attempting to provide needed services while shouldering unfunded mandates from the governor.

“We have a governor who consistently tells municipalities that they need to pay for new things without helping them foot the bill," the Assemblyman said. "It makes it very difficult for them to remain compliant with the tax cap. The last thing they need is a funding cut, particularly when the money is such a small allocation in the context of a $176 billion budget.”

Palmesano said he will work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Legislature to reverse the cuts.

“Budgeting is about priorities. The governor is sending a toxic message to public servants and property taxpayers,” said Palmesano.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Schuyler suit proceeds after guilty plea
in 'Big Pharma' opioid kickback scheme

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Jan. 12, 2019 -- The former chief executive of Insys Therapeutics Inc., one of the pharmaceutical companies being sued by Schuyler County and other area municipalities over prescription painkillers, pleaded guilty on Wednesday, January 9 to participating in a nationwide scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe an addictive opioid medication.

Michael Babich, who resigned as the company’s CEO in 2015, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy and mail fraud charges. The government alleges that, from 2012 to 2015, Babich and others conspired to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys, a prescription opiate for managing severe pain in cancer patients.

Insys is one of the big pharmaceutical companies being sued by various New York State municipalities, including Schuyler County. In May of last year, Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman (pictured at right) filed a nearly 250-page Summons and Complaint for damages to the County arising out of the fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of opiates in the County.

“This plea is potential evidence to Schuyler County,” Getman said. “A criminal conviction establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and, in certain circumstances, can establish civil liability for fraudulent activity.

“Under the plea, Insys paid doctors kickbacks in the form of fees to participate in speaker programs that were actually sham events,” Getman noted. “The allegation that Insys created a sham ‘speaker program’ is part of our complaint.

“Schuyler County’s lawsuit will move forward to seek reimbursement for expenses related to the opioid crisis as well as to provide the County with financial aid to fight addiction, overdoses, drug-related crimes and drug deaths.”

In 2017, the County Legislature voted to retain the firm of Napoli Shkolnik to work with Getman, as special counsel, to bring an action against the manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for damages to the County.

According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, that lawsuit was filed at no risk to the County, as Napoli Shkolnik will work on a contingency basis that will cover all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By going forward with litigation, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers and hold manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic,” O’Hearn said.

Schuyler County is one of several New York municipalities filing lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York are suing pharmaceutical companies for what they are claiming are deceptive marketing practices.

Also, in February 2018, New York State officials filed a lawsuit against Insys alleging that it deceptively promoted Subsys for unsafe uses and violated state law by downplaying the drug’s addictive risks.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s Summons and Complaint can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/378949245/Summons-and-Complaint-The-County-of-Schuyler-v-Purdue-Pharma-L-P

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman (File photo)

Italian American Festival future takes center stage at Village Board session

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 8, 2019 -- The Watkins Glen Italian American Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9-11 this year -- an event at Clute Park that festival president Louis Perizzini said “will be something to behold.”

Somewhat ominously, he also painted it as the festival’s “last hurrah as you know it” -- a precursor to a year off while Clute Park undergoes project construction in 2020. As for 2021, he seemed to say at first that there might be no festival, but amended that to suggest “a smaller festival,” possibly at an alternate, undetermined site.

That was the mixed message Monday night delivered by Perazzini on behalf of the festival committee to the Watkins Glen Village Board -- which reacted with surprise; alarm at the suggestion that the festival might be moved, shrinking or even ended; and assurances that the festival committee would be included as much as it wants in discussions regarding the upcoming Clute renovations.

And therein lies another complex layer of the story. What, exactly, is going to happen at Clute, and when? What space might be left at the park for an event as large as the festival has been for years?

The festival committee's’s intentions were broached after a presentation by County Planner Kristin VanHorn to the Village Board -- an update on the plans at Clute, which call for $4.8 million in upgrades and enhancements. She said the RFPs -- Requests for Proposals -- have been received “for the whole shebang” from “local, state and even national firms” regarding the project. A local committee composed of village and county officials will review these on Jan. 15, she said, and follow with in-person interviews by the end of January. After that, “we’ll get an engineer on board for designs.”

There will be no construction until the autumn of 2019, she said, followed by construction throughout 2020, with “the park fully open in 2021. There will probably be one season of disruption at the park.”

This was followed by a cautionary note from Mary Churchill, who said she had formerly served on the Village Planning Board. She was concerned about the trees in the park and the fact that the land might prove unstable for heavy development since it was a landfill before it was a park. And regarding the proposal to replace the pavilion with a two-story structure with a restaurant on the second floor, she asked: “Why privatize the only public space we have?”

Mayor Sam Schimizzi responded that the Clute Park plans are “a concept right now; nothing’s for sure. And input is good. We’ll take it into consideration.”

VanHorn told Churchill that the committee too is concerned about the trees -- 125 of which populate the park north of Rt. 414. “The general consensus of the committee,” she said, “is to save as many as possible” and to replace each one lost with three new ones.

That all led to Perazzini, who told the board that the Clute Park plan as published on-line indicated the festival would not have the room it has experienced in the past, and that accordingly the festival committee was looking ahead with certainty only to 2019 -- although it would not disband, taking 2020 off and then determining, based on the ultimate Clute renovations, what it might do in the future.

“The park needs upgrading -- bathrooms, the whole shooting match,” he said. “That is no problem.” But 2019, he said at first, could be the festival’s last “because of the construction as we know it” -- as presented on-line. Or, Perazzini added, it could be the last in its longstanding configuration; that a reduction in size and possibly a move to another site might be in its future.

“The plan that came out is what the people think is going on” -- how the park will be developed, he said. The published plan includes not just the two-story pavilion, but a nearby ice rink as well.

“If not, you need to clear that up," he said. "You need to put out somehow that you’re still working on it.”

That prompted a question from Mayor Schimizzi: “Why can’t you continue in the park?”

To which Perazzini responded: “Nobody’s consulted us” regarding the park projects. And he pointed to a nearby table, said it was of finite size, and that the park space utilized by the festival for craft and food vendors was like that table. “We need to know what we have to work with,” he added. “We need to know where we stand; how small we need to go.”

While trustee Gary Schmidt said that “seven public meetings were held last year” regarding the park and trustee Laurie DeNardo said the Downtown Revitalization Initiative process -- which is providing some of the park funding -- included public meetings, Schimizzi took a different tack, reiterating: “Everything is in concept form. Nothing is final.”

VanHorn then reentered the discussion, saying the plan publicized is “a master plan, a guideline for development; just a plan” although “we don’t want to venture too far away” from it because of previous public support for it. The plan, she said, “helps guide the discussion” as the park project progresses.

Schimizzi suggested that a representative from the festival committee should attend the project committee meeting on the 15th, and “can be part of everything, as far as I’m concerned. The last thing we want is for the Italian Festival to stop.”

Perazzini said that with the 2020 construction, the festival and its committee can “take a little break. A year off is not going to break anybody’s heart. Hopefully, in 2021, we can get back to what it was ... or smaller.”

To which Schimizzi reiterated: “We don’t want to see the Italian Festival end.”

In other business:

--Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the board he was busy preparing for implementation of the short-term rental regulations approved by the Village Board late last year. There are, he said, 104 or 105 such rentals, which will be covered by the amended Local Law once the state approves it. "We're waiting for New York to bless the law and send it back to us" so that "we can put it into effect," he said.

--The board approved a state-required Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy for the village.

--Trustee Nan Woodworth was present by Skype. She is visiting in Texas, but her disembodied head was present at the meeting on a laptop screen turned to face the audience and other board members. Village Clerk Lonnie Childs said Municipal Law requires visual contact if a member is to participate and vote at a meeting.

--The board received an update from 4 Guys Fire Trucks regarding the pumper damaged in a rollover near Burdett several weeks ago as it was en route to a barn fire. The 4 Guys letter explained that the pumper, now at the company's plant in Pennsylvania, has yet to be assessed -- and that because of a complicated work schedule, "it may be a year or more before the truck is completed."

The board also heard from Watkins Glen Fire Chief Charlie Smith III that a temporary replacement -- a used (2001) pumper truck obtained from the Gang Mills Fire Department for $78,000 -- is being readied and "will hopefully be running calls by the end of the week."

Photos in text: From top: The Italian American Festival's Louis Perazzini; Schuyler County Planner Kristin VanHorn; Mayor Sam Schimizzi; Trustee Nan Woodworth, present by Skype; and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

Area legislators urge tastings-proposal veto

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Dec. 20, 2018 -- A group of Finger Lakes-area state legislators Thursday urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto legislation that was delivered to the governor for final action this week calling for the establishment of uniform standards for tastings of New York manufactured beer, wine, cider, and liquor.

The legislation (S9040/A11203) received near-unanimous approval by both houses of the Legislature in the closing days of the 2018 legislative session in late June. Following the Legislature’s action, however, numerous wine industry stakeholders sounded the alarm that if enacted, the new law will result in burdensome, unnecessary, unreasonable, and otherwise objectionable new requirements and costs.

The legislation was delivered to Cuomo on Monday, December 17.

Thursday, state Senators Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Pam Helming (R,C,I-Canandaigua), Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R,C-Canandaigua), and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) urged the governor to reject the proposal.

In a joint statement, the legislators said, “It was never the intent of the legislation or its sponsors to create potential hardships for a growing industry which we have supported for years. However, it has become clear to us and to many others within the affected industries that the legislation as currently written will have unintended consequences including increased costs and lost jobs.

"We hope Governor Cuomo will agree that we cannot risk the positive impact state policies and programs over the past several years have had on our wineries and craft beverage producers. Working together on state-level tax and regulatory relief has helped spark remarkable growth for these industries throughout the Finger Lakes region and statewide. These regulatory and tax reforms, and other actions, have strengthened their economic outlook and position for the future. New York State cannot afford to take any steps to jeopardize this progress. Approving this legislation would be a serious step in the wrong direction.”

Specifically, the measure calls for the establishment of uniform standards governing tastings of New York manufactured beer, wine, cider and liquor, as well as authorizing craft beverage producers to implement a new charge for tastings.

If enacted, the area lawmakers and industry leaders said, the new law would prohibit anyone under 21 years of age from handling open containers of alcohol, including during the production process, or from serving alcohol at on-premises tastings at wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries. Numerous wineries and craft beverage producers employ regional college students, for example, to work tastings and other events. This provision alone would lead to layoffs, limit opportunities for young workers, particularly those studying viticulture or pursuing a career in craft beverage manufacturing, and prove to be a significant and unintended hardship on producers.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

From left: Village Trustees Gary Schmidt and Nan Woodworth; Police Sgt. Steven Decker.

Watkins Village Board OKs Local Law designed to regulate short-term rentals

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 18, 2018 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night passed a Local Law amending the Village Zoning Code to regulate short-term rental properties -- the vote following a lively public hearing at which short-term rental owners made it clear they thought they were being discriminated against.

The two-hour meeting also saw the Board stymied as to what path to follow with the loss three weeks ago of a fire truck -- damaged when it flipped onto its side on the way to a barn fire outside Burdett.

And it heard from former mayor Bob Lee, upset with plans to alter Clute Park -- turning it, in his view, from cherished family destination into an operation robbing the public of a rare village-based green space.

The Zoning amendments

The Local Law tackled the growing issue of short-term rentals, attempting to bring them into compliance with all existing housing laws -- and imposing a $400 application fee every two years. Short-term rental owners present seemed unified in the belief that long-term rentals should be held to the same standards -- to as many details regarding building conditions as were being demanded of the short-terms.

“We’re not making these laws just for the hell of it,” said Mayor Sam Schimizzi. “We’re trying to level the playing field” following growing complaints of the virtually unregulated rise of short-term units.

As for applying similar standards to long-term apartments -- many of which, the short-term contingent insisted, are in disrepair -- Schimizzi said it’s “something we have to work on.”

When one such critic asked if there could be a minor word change in the document, she was assured by consulting attorney William N. La Forte that to do so would require the board to start again with advertising and another public hearing -- which it had already done before. The board clearly wanted the issue settled on this night.

“So,” said one woman, “whatever comments we’re making, you’re not making any changes.” Her accusation was met with a shrug by La Forte and Schimizzi.

The board, which tabled the issue at a meeting in September and again in November, had settled at that last meeting on the matter of commitments already made by short-term rental owners prior to attainment of a newly required permit -- application for which is required within 30 days. Any housing commitment prior to or during that 30-day window will be honored. And once the village has a permit application in hand, the short-term operator can continue unabated until and after approval is granted. Only a permit rejection would alter that.

But there were still questions about Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, electrical questions such as whether older houses would be held to the same hard-wiring regulations as new construction (yes, the board said, after some initial confusion), and when the board might turn its similarly detailed attention to both long-term rentals and, indeed, to every residence in the village. “This should be just a start,” said one observer.

The fire truck

Watkins Glen Fire Chief Charlie Smith III told the board the damaged engine, out of service since the accident, would be sent to its Pennsylvania manufacturer -- 4 Guys Fire Trucks -- this week, where a determination will be made as to whether the vehicle should be repaired or replaced. Also factoring in to that decision will be whatever action is taken by the insurance company, Perry and Carroll, which had an adjuster recently examine the truck.

Smith estimated the loss of the truck would run from 12 to 18 months, prompting Mayor Schimizzi to say the board needed “to act ASAP” to replace it, possibly by purchasing an available used truck from the Gang Mills Fire Department or, in the alternative, renting one by the day.

The other board members said they were not opposed to getting a replacement vehicle, although Trustee Laurie DeNardo pointed out that there was mutual aid available from other area fire departments.

“Yes, but they might be out on another fire” when one breaks out in Watkins Glen, Schimizzi noted.

That’s fine, said Trustee Tony Fraboni, “but we need to know where the money is coming from.” Added DeNardo in opposing any immediate action: “We don’t know what we’re talking about financially.”

“We have to do something,” said Schimizzi, noting that budget considerations would appear minor “if the town burns down. We can’t be waiting on the insurance company. I want to do something before our next meeting” -- possibly at an emergency session.

“One way or another, we need to replace that truck,” the mayor added, and raised the matter again later in the meeting, when the board was expressing its final concerns for the evening.

“My concern -- a big one -- is the fire truck,” Schimizzi said. “We’ll set up something, figure a way to pay for it.”

The former mayor

Bob Lee, who was mayor from 1986 to 2005, said he had heard that plans for Clute Park -- where grants, Downtown Revitalization Initiative money and other funding sources are expected to lead to a winter ice rink/summer splash pad and new climate-controlled pavilion with bathrooms and changing rooms (and possibly containing a restaurant) -- will rob it of its green-space charm.

“Put the grant money someplace else,” he said. “It’s a sin to take that green space away from the public. I will be very vocal about it. We need to fix the park up for the people who use it. That and Lafayette Park are the village’s only green spaces.”

Trustee Laurie DeNardo said that while it was true a restaurant was in the current plans, “we’re saving the green space.” She said she would gladly have a cup of coffee with Lee to discuss it further.

Added Mayor Schimizzi, in possible reference to the restaurant: “Just because it’s in the plans doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

Lee also said he had heard that a village property owner along the lake was planning to charge the village rental for the lake intake -- but said the pumphouse there is village property.

“Nobody came to us to say anything,” said Schimizzi. “It’s my understanding that it’s village property. I don’t see how they could charge us rent.”

“Was this a street rumor?” asked DeNardo.

Since there was no further information, the matter was dropped at that point.

In other business, the board:

--Approved the use of the Community Center on January 4th by the school district for a fund-raising event for the girls varsity swim team.

--Heard park manager Michelle Hyde say the village would start taking reservations for camping spots in the park on January 4th.

--Approved a resolution naming the Village Hall Court Room in honor of the late Nicholas J. Dugo, a longtime Watkins Glen High School teacher who served as Village Justice for 28 years.

--Approved an updated Village Zoning Map to incorporate a greater contrast in colors to differentiate one zone from another.

--Approved Joint Project Committee invoices for the new Wastewater Treatment Plant in the amount of $828,646.63, bringing expenditures on the $32 million project to almost $8 million.

--Was given its first look at a proposed Local Law designed to strengthen animal protection rules. The board will review it and, should it wish, schedule a public hearing and enactment.

Photos in text:

From top: Former Mayor Bob Lee; Mayor Sam Schimizzi; Atty. William La Forte (right) and Streets Superintendent Don Perry; Fire Chief Charlie Smith III; Trustee Tony Fraboni; and Trustee Laurie DeNardo.

Morris will retire from bench on June 1

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 13, 2018 -- Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris has notified the Bar Association of his intent to retire on June 1, 2019, well ahead of the end of the 10-year term he won in a November 2011 election.

Morris said he cannot officially announce his retirement until 90 days before the date, but that he wanted to give advance word -- including to the district office in Binghamton, which will likely provide visiting judges to cover his role between June 1 and the general election in November. In that election, the office -- which includes Surrogate’s Court and Family Court -- will be available again for a full 10-year term.

He said an alternative would be an interim appointment from June to November by the governor. But he said it hasn’t happened here since 1982 and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not exhibited such a tendency.

Morris, who also has been serving as Acting Supreme Court Justice for two years, said coverage of other areas by visiting judges is a common practice -- that he has done so, including in Chemung County.

Morris, 67, when asked why he was retiring, said “it just seemed like it was time.” He said he notified the Bar Association last week.

“My intention was to let people know,” he said -- which includes anyone interested in running for the office. And according to word circulating, several people are considering such a run. He said he couldn’t comment on that, though -- a limit on politics being part of his job.

Once he retires, among his pursuits will be his artwork -- Civil War scenes (diographs) created by computer using toy soldiers as subjects on a tabletop created to resemble Gettysburg. He has sold many such works -- including at a re-enactment weekend at Gettysburg. He intends to go there again in 2019 after his retirement.

“In the past three or four years I haven’t been producing as many as in the past,” he said of his diographs, a situation he plans to correct. Examples of his art can be found at https://diographics.com.

Morris, who lives outside of Burdett with his wife Julie, is a graduate of Grove City College with a Bachelors degree in History, and has a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Akron.

His most significant case likely came when he presided at the trial of Alice Trappler of Addison following the shooting death in 2012 of Daniel Bennett. Trappler was found guilty of orchestrating the murder, enlisting her ex-husband to kill Bennett in his Town of Dix home. Trappler had had a relationship and a child with Bennett. She was sentenced by Morris to 25 years to life in prison.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris. (File photo)


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro

   
   

Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


Odessa Officials, Offices

Village Board Members

Pictured below, from left: Mayor Gerry Messmer and Village Board Trustees Anne Centurelli, Thomas Letteer Jr. and Sally Hill.

Mayor: Gerry Messmer

Trustees: Anne Centurelli (594-2304), Thomas Letteer (594-2296), Sally Hill (594-2539), and Aubrey Tomassi (215-2764).

Village Clerk: Pam Kelly, 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-2100

Department of Public Works: Steven Siptrott -- 607-857-6426

Village Justice: Ronald Goossen (594-2273)

Municipal Building: 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-2100, e-mail villageofodessa@stny.rr.com

Dutton S. Peterson Memorial Library: 106 First St., Odessa, 594-2791

Montour Falls Village Offices

Mayor: John King

Trustees: Philip J. Smith, James P. Ryan, Steven Lawton, Vincent Chicone

Village Clerk-Treasurer: Alyssa Hammond, P.O. Box 812, 408 W. Main St., 535-7367

Village Garage: 535-9580

Village Justice: Donald Spaccio, 408 W. Main St., 535-7362

 

Town of Catharine Offices

Supervisor: Rick Lewis

Town Board: Ronald Hoffman, Jamee Mack, Glenn Bleiler, C. Michael Learn

Town Clerk: Diane Sidle, 594-2273; office at 106 Grant Road, Odessa

Town Justice: Ronald Goossen, 594-2273

Historian: Carol Fagnan, 594-2062

Website: http://www.townofcatharine.com.

 

Village of Watkins Glen Offices

Mayor: Luke Leszyk

Trustees: Tony Fraboni, Laurie DeNardo, Nan Woodworth, Lou Perazzini

Village Clerk: Lonnie Childs

Village Justice: Steven Decker

Code Enforcement Officer: Darrin Stocum

 

State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address: http://schumer.senate.gov/webform.html


Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451
Website: http://gillibrand.senate.gov/

State Senator Tom O'Mara. -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976
www.omara.nysenate.gov

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano -- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791
Website: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Phillip-A-Palmesano