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Montour Falls names new clerk, treasurer

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, Nov. 15, 2022 -- Mayor James Ryan has announced the appointment of a new Village Clerk and a new Village Treasurer in Montour Falls.

Accoarding to a press release: "Mayor Ryan has made a historic change in his administration by separating the Village Clerk-Treasurer title into two positions. Working closely with Schuyler County Civil Service, the Village now has solidified these into two separate functions."

Ryan has appointed Emily Byers as Village Clerk. Emily has worked for the Village as Deputy Clerk for the past decade and in that time "has proven herself many times over to meet the challenges of Village Clerk. While serving as Deputy Clerk she has worked with every aspect of the Village operations and has been a solid first point of contact with Village residents. Her depth of knowledge about our community is a valuable asset that we call upon daily."

Ryan has appointed Laurie Thompson as Village Treasurer. "Laurie has over 17 years experience in a wide range of financial realms," the press release added. "She has demonstrated success with both financial and operational management. She has surpassed the Civil Service Educational requirements, as she has an AAS in Accounting from Corning Community College, completed additional course work in accounting from Elmira College, and course work in Business Management from SUNY Empire State College."

Ryan said he and the Board of Trustees "thank outgoing Clerk-Treasurer Alyssa Hammond for her dedication to Montour Falls. Alyssa served our community for 19 years, working her way to Village Clerk-Treasurer. Alyssa and her family have relocated out of state to pursue a new job opportunity "

Photo in text: Village Clerk Emily Byers, Mayor James Ryan, and Village Treasurer Laurie Thompson. (Photo provided)

Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Carl Blowers (left, District 5) and Legislator Phil Barnes (District 6) -- both unopposed for re-election -- were among the candidates present.

Candidates take stage to meet the public

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 24, 2022 -- Candidates ranging from the national (seeking a seat in Congress) to the local (town council and supervisor races) appeared Monday night on the Watkins Glen Elementary School's auditorium stage to talk about themselves and answer questions from the audience.

The event, sponsored by the Watkins Review & Express, did not generate much interest, the audience numbering only a few dozen. And none of those spectators submitted written questions, a staple of such gatherings in the past.

Democrat candidate for Congress Max Della Pia was on hand, as was current Congressman Joe Sempolinski, who was representing the Republican candidate in the upcoming election, Nick Langworthy.

Della Pia and Sempolinski shared the stage, each introducing himself (and in Sempolinski's case, talking mostly about Langworthy), each answering three questions from moderator Judy Phillips, and then each offering a summation.

That was the pattern with each subsequent pairing:

--Sara Lattin, Chief of Staff to the absent State Senator Tom O'Mara, alongside Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. O'Mara and Palmesano are running unopposed for re-election for two years.

--Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Carl Blowers and Legislator Phil Barnes, each running unopposed for re-election to four-year terms, Blowers from District 5 and Barnes from District 6.

--Town of Hector Council candidates Paul Bursic (a Democrat) and Ben Dickens (a Republican). They are contending to fill the final year of an unexpired council term.

--Town of Hector Supervisor candidates Justin Boyette (a Democrat) and John White (a Republican). They are contending to fill the final year of an unexpired term.

Other candidates running unopposed were mentioned from the podium: Republican Holley Sokolowski for four years as County Treasurer; Republican Kyle Reed for the final year of a Town of Cayuta unexpired term; Liberty Party candidate Brian Ervay for the final year of a Town of Dix unexpired term; Republican Joshua Navone for four years as Town of Hector Justice; Republican Timothy Povoski for a two-year Town of Orange Council post, and Jason Switzer for four years as Town of Reading Highway Superintendent.

Where there were contests, there were differing viewpoints on issues of the day. For instance, Sempolinski and Della Pia differed to varying degrees on inflation, immigration and support for Ukraine. The Hector candidates, on the other hand, focused on zoning, budgets and short-term rentals.

Both Lattin and Palmesano attacked the Democrats' bail reform program, with Palmesano also focusing on the move by the state to cut the overtime threshold on farms from 60 hours down to 40. And Blowers and Barnes discussed internet access and the move being undertaken to bolster ambulance service in the county.

Election Day is November 8th.

Photos in text:

Top: Max Della Pia, a Democrat running for Congress, on stage at the Meet the Candidates night.
Bottom: Republican Joe Sempolinski, the current Congressman, on hand to represent GOP candidate Nick Langworthy.

From left: Town of Hector Council candidates Ben Dickens and Paul Bursic, and State Senator Tom O'Mara's Chief of Staff, Sara Lattin.

From left: Town of Hector Supervisor candidates John White and Justin Boyette, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

Area public libraries awarded state grants

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Oct. 13, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) have announced that public libraries in Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties have been awarded state library construction grants.

O’Mara and Palmesano said the grants are awarded through the state’s Library Construction Grant Program, which is distributing $14 million in capital funds from the 2020-21 state budget for this year’s awards to libraries throughout New York.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “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 throughout the COVID-19 response when our public libraries have been centers of public outreach and information. We are always hopeful that these grants will help local libraries better afford and address their renovation needs. Public libraries, especially in many rural, upstate communities and regions, are New York’s leading digital literacy educators, just one of many vital community roles our libraries fulfill. This role is likely to expand in future years. These ongoing investments will help more and more of our public libraries stay ahead of the curve to continue meeting the increasing demand. It’s an investment in education, economic growth and quality communities.”

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 $1.5 billion. More than 50% 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. They also do not have sufficient space to house the library's collection and lack sufficient space for public access computers.

The construction grants help libraries and library systems make renovations and upgrades, including broadband infrastructure, 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 and Palmesano announced the following grants to area libraries:

> Arkport Public Library (Steuben County), $63,792 for exterior work to gain energy efficiencies, and interior work to improve accessibility and gain energy efficiencies, including the renovation of public spaces;

> Cohocton Public Library (Steuben County), $37,469 for Community Room renovations to improve overall space availability and accessibility as well as increase energy efficiencies;

> Dormann Library (Bath, Steuben County), $48,750 to complete the library’s roof replacement;

> Southeast Steuben County Library (Corning, Steuben County), $95,925 for the installation of Solar Shades, window replacements, and a cargo elevator upgrade;

> Wimodaughsian Free Library (Canisteo, Steuben County), $9,862 to renovate a storage room and install a public space kitchen to support programs, and to install an ADA accessible bathroom;

> Watkins Glen School District Free Public Library (Schuyler County), $212,348 for the removal and replacement of all existing roof materials, replacement of two roof exhaust penetrations, and supervision and project management;

> Dundee Library (Yates County), $59,958 to upgrade the library’s HVAC system, original (1920) storm and wood-sash windows (1977), and lighting, and rebuild exterior concrete stairs.

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

O'Mara blasts state's decision to lower overtime threshold for NY farm workers

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Oct. 1, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara on Saturday blasted a decision by state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon to approve a controversial recommendation lowering the overtime threshold for farm workers in New York State from 60 to 40 hours.

Reardon handed down her decision to approve the recommendation late Friday.

A three-member Farm Wage Board, by a vote of 2-1, handed down its final recommendation to lower the threshold during a virtual meeting on September 6.

Board member David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau, voted against it.

Governor Kathy Hochul, together with Reardon, had 45 days to either approve or reject the board’s recommendation.

O’Mara has been a strong opponent of the Farm Wage Board since voting against the legislation creating it in 2019, when it was enacted by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat-led majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

Said O’Mara: “Governor Hochul and her Cuomo-appointed labor commissioner had the opportunity to choose the future of farming over the so-called ‘progressive’ ideology that is driving this state into the ground. They have rejected thousands of farmers, farm workers, farm advocates, agricultural representatives, community leaders, and legislators, including me, who have spoken in near-unanimous opposition to this move. They have rejected the industry’s top advocates, including the New York Farm Bureau, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Grow NY Farms, and numerous others. They have decided to undermine an industry and a way of life that has defined the regions we represent.

"It will change the face of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations. It will risk the future of high quality, local food production. It will spark the loss of more family farms and the livelihoods these farms support across the industry and throughout hundreds of local economies. At the worst possible time, Governor Hochul is mandating an even more uncertain future for family farmers, farm workers, farm communities, and New York’s agricultural industry overall. Add it to the long and growing list of terrible, politically motivated decisions by this governor.”

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

Bergen Farms, Glenview Dairy sign on for renewable natural gas project in Schuyler

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 12, 2022 -- UGI Corp. has announced that Cayuga RNG has entered into an agreement to develop its fourth project to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) in upstate New York. Cayuga RNG is a joint venture of UGI Energy Services LLC, a subsidiary of UGI, and Global Common Ventures LLC.

Cayuga RNG’s fourth project will be constructed at Bergen Farms and Glenview Dairy, both located in Schuyler County in upstate New York. The project will include the construction of a manure digester and gas upgrading equipment at each location. Once completed in the second half of calendar year 2024, the project is expected to produce approximately 150 million cubic feet of RNG annually that will be delivered to a local natural gas pipeline serving the regional distribution system. UGIES’ subsidiary, GHI Energy, will be the exclusive marketer for Cayuga RNG.

“We are excited to increase our portfolio of sustainable energy solutions that will deliver environmental benefits to farmers, communities and customers,” said Robert F. Beard, executive vice president - natural gas, UGI. “Renewables is a platform for growth at UGI and, with this investment, we have committed nearly $250 million to RNG projects across multiple states that will further expand our geographic footprint and earnings capability.”

“Bergen Farms and Glenview Dairy are excited to be involved with UGI in a renewable energy project on our farm,” said Jim Bergen of Bergen Farms and Glenview Dairy. “We expect this to benefit the farm, the local community and the environment. This project will help to reduce odors from the manure generated onsite. The anaerobic digesters that are planned will reduce the amount of methane that is emitted into the atmosphere from storing the manure as well as using the methane to replace fossil fuels.”

O'Mara urges Hochul to reject decision by Farm Wage Board on overtime threshold

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Sept. 7, 2022 -- The state’s Farm Laborers Wage Board Tuesday approved its final recommendation to roll back the current 60-hour-per-week overtime threshold for farm workers to 40 hours in a move strongly criticized by State Senator Tom O’Mara.

The three-member Wage Board, by a vote of 2-1, handed down its final recommendation during a virtual meeting. Board member David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau, voted against it. Governor Kathy Hochul now has 45 days to either approve or reject the board’s recommendation.

O’Mara, who over the past three years has been a strong critic of the Wage Board and its move to lower the overtime threshold, again urged Hochul to put a stop to the "misguided action."

“The Wage Board," he said, "has been moving in this direction from the start and now Governor Hochul has the opportunity to finally reject it. She should listen to the thousands of farmers, farm workers, farm advocates, agricultural representatives, community leaders, and legislators, including me, in near-unanimous opposition.

"The message has been delivered from the industry’s top advocates, including the New York Farm Bureau, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Grow NY Farms, and numerous others. Local, federal, and state representatives have made it known that we fear the undermining of an industry and, equally important, a way of life that has defined the regions we represent.

"If left to stand, it will change the face of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations. It will risk the future of high quality, local food production. It will spark the loss of more family farms and the livelihoods these farms support across the industry and throughout hundreds of local economies.

"Now is no time to risk regulating and mandating an even more uncertain future for family farmers, farm workers, farm communities, and New York’s agricultural industry overall.”

Photo: State Senator Tom O'Mara

--Assemblyman Phil Palmesano weighs in. Column.

Legislators turn to Cayuga Health in move toward new ambulance service in Schuyler

Vote expected to lead to contract; puts aside idea for county-run operation

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 30, 2022 -- The Schuyler County Legislature took a large step toward restructuring ambulance service in the county Tuesday when it voted 6-2 in a legislative committee session to move in the direction of an agreement that would see Cayuga Health Systems provide the service under an initial three-year contract.

Ambulance service has been offered for decades by the Schuyler County Volunteer Ambulance Association, Inc. (SCVAA), a not-for-profit operation headquartered on South Decatur Street in Watkins Glen. The land on which the Association-owned HQ sits is county-owned, leased to it for $1 a year. County Administrator Fonda Chronis has said in the past that the long-term land lease was adopted "because they're supposedly providing service to our residents." The Association-- which owns the headquarters building -- consists mostly of paid personnel, despite its "volunteer" label.

Since early this year, plans were being developed to change that status -- prompted by the county's averred dissatisfaction with the response times and availability of Schuyler Ambulance, a situation that Chronis and Legislator Phil Barnes on Tuesday termed a "crisis."

The vote -- with the two "no" votes coming from Legislator Michael Lausell, who was pointedly opposed, and Mark Rondinaro, absent and thus recorded in the negative -- came near the end of a 105-minute session featuring the various principals involved: Emergency Services Director Kirk Smith, Schuyler Hospital President and CFO Rebecca Gould, and Steve Williams, vice president of the Schuyler Ambulance board and present to speak on that organization's behalf.

The decision by the legislators to move in the direction of Cayuga Health Systems, which oversees Schuyler Hospital, was an evolution in a process in which county leaders, led by Chronis and Emergency Management's Smith, had until recently been leaning toward establishment of a county-run ambulance service.

Chronis said the decision to move toward a Cayuga Health ambulance service came about through general discussions with Schuyler Hospital on a host of subjects. When talks in June with the Ambulance Service for a possible restructuring (including county oversight) fell through, the die seemed cast that something else would happen.

A sticking point with a county-run service was the cost, and a predictable increase in taxes. But the county surged ahead with that idea in early summer, with such a service seemingly the most likely solution -- until the talks with the hospital evolved into a proposed Cayuga Health Systems ambulance service under a proposed three-year contract with the county. The new service would be provided by a new non-profit entity.

By the time of Tuesday's meeting, Chronis had sent a memo to the legislators saying he and the Emergency Services team were recommending the Cayuga Health proposal because it "offers the best chance at long-term sustainability in the most fiscally responsible way, and it allows for plenty of county input to ensure that our goals are met."

The SCVAA proposal was for five years, with the operator being the Association alone; the county would have run the county service "in perpetuity"; and the Cayuga proposal called for the new non-profit contracting with the county. County costs varied over three years, depending on the proposal, with the county-run plan highest and the Cayuga Health plan lowest.

What the move means initially

Legislature Carl Blowers, who directed Tuesday's meeting, calling for comments and questions from each legislator and keeping the discussion moving toward a concrete solution, made it clear the goal was a resolution to "move forward" with one of the three options on the table: written proposals for the county-run service, the Cayuga Health service (referred to as a "collaboration" with the county), or the Schuyler Ambulance service.

And Blowers made clear that whichever option was selected -- it seemed (correctly) that sentiment was heavily in favor of the Cayuga option -- would lead to a "deep" inspection of the details of such a service and a study of its financial aspects on the way to a contract to be presented to the Legislature for a vote at an upcoming monthly full-board session.

When asked when the expected contract would be submitted to the Legislature, Chronis only smiled and said: "Soon."

When asked if Tuesday's move was definitive, or whether an agreement with Cayuga Health might be derailed, Blowers said "I wouldn't say derailed. More like what might be added."

The entire process has been evolutionary, he said, and continues to be -- although Tuesday's decision seems to make the "collaboration" a foregone conclusion.

The legislators:

Each legislator voiced his opinion, with the most personal response coming from Phil Barnes, who attributed poor ambulance response time to the recent loss of a mentor, and who outlined his own recent experience when ambulance service was tied up on a transport when he suffered what was a potentially fatal bee sting.

Laurence Jaynes expressed concern about the contract length, saying he was bothered about what might happen after the three years, suggesting that Cayuga Health, a sizable corporation headquartered outside of Schuyler County, might find the service an ultimately poor business decision and decide to pull out.

Gould responded that Cayuga, while large, is a community-based operation just as Schuyler Hospital is, and that "our intention is to do this for a long time. We see this as needed," and that it will benefit not only the county residents, but the health-care business itself.

Legislator Lausell said he didn't know why just three options were being considered, when there was clearly a fourth: to help Schuyler Ambulance shore up its deficiencies, and to take the time to see if that could be effected. He, along with a couple of speakers in the audience, Paul Bartow and Alice Conklin, said they thought the Legislature was moving too quickly.

Legislator David Reed presented the most cogent argument against a county-run service, saying that any time government enters the picture, "you get twice the cost and half the service."

The decision:

Despite a presentation by Schuyler Ambulance's V.P. Williams that outlined the longstanding service the organization has provided, its willingness to work with the county, its need to "make money" (through such things as transport contracts) "in order to survive," and the ability of the service's operations director, Patti Miller, to stretch out available dollars efficiently, there was little talk from legislators throughout the meeting demonstrating support.

Discussion generally conceded the challenge facing any service when it comes to finding (and keeping) qualified emergency personnel, a problem that runs "both statewide and nationwide," said Chronis and other speakers.

Chronis said Schuyler Ambulance had been less than responsive in the recent past, with the county "always reaching out to them." Barnes pointed out the absence of the board's president and operations director at the meeting, and said the organization's latest proposal to the county came only "at the 11th hour."

Barnes said that problems of response and availability involving Schuyler Ambulance "are not new. This is an old problem." By continuing on that old course, he added, "we're setting ourselves up with a false sense of security. We can't wait" to act.

"It's too late" for the county and Schuyler Ambulance "to work together," he added. "We need to make a decision to get going on this."

About the Cayuga plan

According to the Cayuga Health Systems (CHS) proposal to the Legislature, there would be Ambulance Stations in at least three strategically placed locations in the county, offering coverage over a wide area.

CHS and the county, it said, "desire to have a well-run and sustainable ambulance service" with response times aligned "with national benchmarks for rural areas." It added: "Our involvement in pre-hospital care coordination is squarely within our mission," and "CHS values creating solutions for key constitutents, including Schuyler residents and government."

It also said it is "well positioned to take over operations" based on such things as "Medical Directorship/Leadership Experience, Commitment to Quality & Efficiency, Sustainability and Innovation."

What happens to Schuyler Ambulance?

If Tuesday's move indeed results in a county contract with Cayuga Health Systems, there was one question hanging over the proceeding: "What will happen to Schuyler Ambulance."

In the course of discussion, there was talk that the service would continue with existing contracts for their duration, including with the Fire Academy. Transports would continue in the short term, but as the hospital-run service gained traction and contracts expired, what then?

There was no clearcut analysis, although Blowers alluded in an aside to the hope that Schuyler Ambulance might still be utilized within the new system. That organization will remain in its headquarters on South Decatur Street in Watkins Glen, where expansion and renovations have improved the facility in recent years. And Gould suggested the possibility of utilizing the service as a backup.

Before the vote, Williams said that "Schuyler Ambulance is not going out of business," even if "things don't work out here. ... We're looking at other options to keep it alive."

That was in line with comments several weeks ago by the organization's Board President, Matthew Chapman, who said that Schuyler Ambulance has reserves and the ability to shift its services to outlying  areas (such as Yates County) that are in need of them.

Photos in text:

From top: Schuyler Hospital President and CFO Rebecca Gould talks after the meeting with Legislator Phil Barnes; County Administrator Fonda Chronis, Emergency Services Director Kirk Smith, Legislators Phil Barnes, Michael Lausell and David Reed; and Schuyler Ambulance's Steve Williams.

From left: Legialators Gary Gray, Laurence Jaynes and Jim Howell at the meeting.

Drive sober or get pulled over, say the Schuyler Sheriff's Office, Watkins police

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 19, 2022 -- During the end of summertime and the busy Labor Day weekend, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working alongside the law enforcement community in Schuyler County to decrease impaired driving.

From August 19 through September 5, the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and Watkins Glen Police Department will be participating in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement period. You'll see officers working together during this time to take drunk drivers off the roads. No matter how you plan to celebrate the end of the season this year, make sure you plan it safely.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 11,654 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. On average, more than 10,000 people were killed each year from 2016 to 2020, and one person was killed in a drunk-driving crash every 45 minutes in 2020. So the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and the Watkins Glen Police Department are working together with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is not only illegal, it is a matter of life and death. As you head out to festivities during the end of summer and Labor Day weekend, they caution that you remember: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

"We want our community members to understand that it's our first priority to keep people safe, so we're asking everyone to plan ahead if they know they'll be out drinking," said Sheriff Kevin Rumsey. "We need commitment from our community members that they'll keep the streets free of drunk drivers so that everyone can have a safe summertime and Labor Day holiday. This is an awareness effort to get the message out that drunk driving is illegal and it takes lives. Let's make this a partnership between law enforcement and drivers: Help us protect the community and put an end to this senseless behavior."

During the 2020 Labor Day holiday period (6 p.m. September 4 to 5:59 a.m. September 8), there were 530 crash fatalities nationwide. Forty-six percent of those fatalities involved drivers who had been drinking (.01+ BAC). More than one-third (38%) of the fatalities involved drivers who were drunk (.08+ BAC), and one-fourth (25%) involved drivers who were driving with a BAC almost twice the legal limit (.15+ BAC). Age is a particularly risky factor: Among drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 who were killed in crashes over the Labor Day holiday period in 2020, 44% of those drivers were drunk, with BACs of .08 or higher.

The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office, Watkins Glen Police Department and NHTSA are reminding citizens of the many resources available to get them home safely. "Drunk driving is not acceptable behavior, especially when there are so many safe alternatives to get you home safely," said Sgt. Ethan Mosher of the Watkins Glen Police Department.

The Sheriff's Office and WGPD recommend these safe alternatives to drinking and driving:

--Remember that it is never okay to drink and drive. Even if you've had only one alcoholic beverage, designate a sober driver or plan to use public transportation or a ride service to get home safely.

--If you see a drunk driver on the road, call the Schuyler County Dispatch Center at 607-535-8222.

--Do you have a friend who is about to drink and drive? Take the keys away and make arrangements to get him or her home safely.

For more information on impaired driving, visit www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving.

Palmesano warns of consequences if state lowers farm overtime threshold to 40 hours

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Aug. 15, 2022 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) has joined his Republican colleagues, members of the Farm Bureau, farm workers and farmers in calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to keep the farm overtime threshold at 60 hours.

Members of the Farm Laborers Wage Board are expected to deliver a final recommendation on Sept. 6; however, 70% of public testimony delivered in front of the board was in support of keeping the current threshold at 60 hours.

Palmesano points out:

--The numbers show a devastating picture for New York farmers if Governor Hochul agrees to lower the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours.

--A Farm Credit East study predicts that annual costs to farmers statewide will increase by $129 million, farm labor costs will increase by 42%, and net farm income will decrease by 20%.

--A Cornell University study showed that 70% of migrant workers would seek opportunities in other states to increase their earning potential if the threshold is lowered.

“Farmers have faced historic headwinds and one of the most unfriendly business environments in the country,” said Palmesano. “The Wage Laborer Board has failed to consider that before the Farm Labor Act was passed in 2019, farm labor costs in New York as a percentage of net farm income were already 63%, compared to just 36% nationally. Our farmers have been at a competitive disadvantage for years.”

Palmesano added that more than 98% of farms in New York State are considered family farms -- operations run by the same families for generations. With a decrease of the overtime threshold, he said, "we are in danger of losing them forever in our various communities."

“I have said it before," Palmesano said, "and I will continue to remind Governor Hochul: if there are no farms, there are no farmworkers. If there are no farms, there is no food. Let’s be clear, the fate of the family farm in New York rests squarely in the hands of Governor Hochul.”

Palmesano said he wants residents to call the governor’s office at 518-474-8390 and Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon’s office at 518-457-9000 to ask them to preserve the family farm in New York State and not reduce the overtime threshold.

'It is important to remind them," he said. "No farms, no farmworkers. No farms, no food."

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (File photo)

Odessa takes bond step on water system; sets block party; mayor rips county officials

Legislator Howell updates board, says proposed ambulance service is not only option

ODESSA, Aug. 1, 2022 -- The Odessa Village Board passed a resolution Monday night that approves $9.9 million in serial bonds to cover the cost -- 51% of it to be repaid by USDA grant funds -- of a new, improved water system in the village.

At a meeting marked by a notably vocal reaction to a Schuyler County Legislature refusal to grant $50,000 toward the cost of the fire station planned for construction behind the new village office on Church Street, the board also:

-- Approved annexation of that village office property, at 1928 County Road 15, into the village, after the town of Catharine -- where the property has been -- agreed to the change from one municipality to the other.

-- Heard Mayor Gerry Messmer say the village share of the planned Cotton Hanlon bridge project will be paid for with state CHIPs funds. An agreement has been signed for design services.

-- Heard the mayor say a letter to the Sheriff's Department outlining issues in the village -- including speeding, vandalism and theft-- has elicited no response. "Somebody is going to get killed," said one trustee about the speeding on Main Street, which clerk Pam Kelly said "is worse then ever" now that the road has been newly repaved.

-- Discussed the new sewage treatment facility on the west end of town -- and how the hookups in the village have been completed with no reported problems. The only notable issue, Messmer said, was theft on the treatment site during construction.

-- Discussed an upcoming grant application under the NY Forward program, a sort of mini-DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) whereby the village could, if selected, receive up to $4.5 million to revitalize the business district. This could take the form of storefront rehabilitation or the removal of the old DPW building and a park replacement. Messmer said he thought that with the arrival of sewage treatment and the planned water improvement project, the village stands a reasonable chance of securing the funds.

-- Approved a block party proposed by Erich Thorpe of The Bucket Bar & Grill on Church Street from Main to First on August 15 from 3 to 7 p.m. That portion of Church will be blocked off.

The water project has been on the drawing board for a long time, awaiting the grant approval from the United States Department of Agriculture -- in the amout of $4,959,000 out of a total price tag of $9,900,000. The bond is for the entire amount, for as Messmer explained, the village will be responsible each year for payment up front, with USDA paying back the annual portion of that $4,959,000. The village share of $4,490,000 will be secured on a low-interest loan over 38 years.

The project will include a new water treatment plant on the site of the existing one at the end of Merchant Avenue, and replacement of water mains throughout the village. "Hopefully," Messmer explained, the design will begin in the fall, with bids around February and construction in the spring. The resolution followed an action by the board two months ago at which it named itself the lead agency, and another last month where it declared that the project did not pose any negative environmental impact. The move will now be followed by a waiting period for publication about it, and an estoppel period.

******

The session devolved into criticism of the Schuyler County Legislature after Legislator Jim Howell, a visitor at the meeting, updated the board on several issues -- including the rejection by the county of a request by the board for $50,000 to be used for radiant-heat flooring at the new fire station being planned off Church Street. Howell had introduced a resolution seeking the funds at a meeting of the Legislature's Community Development and Natural Resources Committee last week. There was no second of the resolution -- which was viewed as lacking the economic impact required under the pertinent funding program -- and so it stalled there.

Mayor Messmer -- who has a history of contentious disagreement with the county -- was upset, saying "I can't wrap my head around" such an action when the Legislature saw fit to provide that much money to the recent CLASH Triathlon held in and near Watkins Glen. He said he couldn't see how the Legislature could embrace the one event -- which he noted had no impact on the life or economy of Odessa -- and fail to act on behalf of firefighters who protect a wide area of the county.

"We can't get help from the county administration, we can't get help for the fire department, we can't get help from the police, and here's what bothers me: This board sitting right here, these five people (Messmer, Tom Letteer, Kristine Gardner, Alijia Bailey and Pam Cicconi) have brought $18 million worth of economic development to Odessa with zero help. Zero. You would think that a county administrator and a county legislature would have some interest in five people who brought $18 million into this village to improve it; would see something of value, and want to help out. Are they that short-sighted and narrow minded and ignorant? They don't want to help their own citizens? ... Your peers (he said to Howell) need to know that we don't think much of them ... It's clearly seven other people don't care about Odessa. The shame of it is, if you don't like me, I don't care. It's not about Gerry; it's about the residents and what's right for the people. "

Messmer, a retired Army Lietenant Colonel, said that "in the Army, you can get past tha personal thing." There, "it's about the group and the mission and the betterment of people's lives. They (the county) can't get past that. I understand I might have the personality of a gnat. I got it. But it's about people, and we brought in $18 million. Think what we could do if they'd stand by our side and help us."

And an ambulance update:

Legislator Howell told the Village Board that the county had "pulled the plug" on the Performing Arts Center that had been proposed for the former Watkins Glen Middle School. That money, $400,000, has instead been earmarked for a proposed county-run ambulance service. But Howell said Monday that such a plan is "only one option," that it would cost "seven figures" and that there are "a lot of unknowns" -- including the outcome, which "no one knows."

One possibility, he said, is an improvement in the performance of the existing Schuyler County Volunteer Ambulance Association, Inc. That, he insisted, would need to include a reduction of its "response time" from a "totally unacceptable" 36 minutes to about 14. (However, Schuyler Ambulance says its average response time is actually 10 minutes and 36 seconds.) When asked by a board member who owns the Schuyler Ambulance building, Howell said the county does, leasing it to the the Association for a dollar a year. (When it was pointed out to Howell by a reporter that Schuyler Ambulance says the land is leased for $1 a year and that the Association owns the building -- spending a significant amount in recent years on its upkeep and expansion -- the legislator said he would look into the matter.)

He also noted that a plan -- a new, county-owned ambulance service has been the centerpiece of discussion by legislators -- had been hoped-for by October, but concluded: "That's not going to happen."

"There's a lot of unknowns," he said. "There's a lot of dissension out there, a lot of rumors going around. ... Any opportunity that's a possibility, we're looking at, including Schuyler Ambulance providing more efficiency."

Photo in text: Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer makes a point at the meeting.

School threat response lauded; lack of
police at O-M graduation draws rebuke

WATKINS GLEN, June 27, 2022 -- The response of law enforcement to Thursday's threatened shooting on the Watkins Glen school grounds was lauded Monday at a meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee.

At the same session, the divergent responses at the Odessa-Montour High School and Watkins Glen High School graduations was raised -- with the absence of law enforcement personnel at the O-M service drawing criticism from Legislator Jim Howell.

Legislature Chair Carl Blowers called the police action on Thursday "a textbook case on how these things should happen" -- a reference to the rapid deployment of law officers to the Watkins school campus after receipt there of a call threatening to "shoot up" the school. The campus was put in lockdown, with those students still present -- most of the classes had been released earlier -- secured in rooms and a gym with staff in the building.

The fact that no shooting ensued was a great relief, but there was thought given to postponing the WGHS graduation, set for that Saturday on the school athletic field. But the Village and Schuyler Sheriff's departments promised protection, and in fact placed 12 representatives on and near the graduation site -- including two on the school roof.

Odessa-Montour, by contrast, had no police presence at its ceremony Friday evening, which prompted Legislator Howell, present at that service, to say he was "appalled" at that decision.

Sheriff Kevin Rumsey, present at the committee meeting, said of the police response on Thursday that he was pleased with the multi-agency cooperation, but that he and other participants would be studying the situation to see where operations might be improved.

He said O-M did not request any police presence at its graduation, although in retrospect he wishes he had reached out to them. Howell said that wasn't his fault; that the onus rested with Odessa-Montour.

That in turn raised the issue of a School Resource Officer, long a staple at WGHS but not part of the O-M operation. The two districts shared an SRO years ago, but County Administrator Fonda Chronis said Monday that O-M now "has no interest" in one. A Watkins High School SRO, Jamie Coleman, was involved in both the Thursday response and in protection at the graduation Saturday.

Sheriff Rumsey said he would be reaching out to the superintendents of the Watkins, Odessa and Bradford districts (Bradford had no police presence at its graduation, he noted) to discuss future protection measures. "I want to take a proactive approach, rather than reactive," he noted.

Photos in text:

Top: Schuyler County Sheriff Kevin Rumsey addresses legislators.
Bottom: Legislator Jim Howell at Monday's committee meeting.

Emergency Management Director Kirk Smith speaks at the Legislature committee meeting.

Schuyler takes step toward establishing
a new, county-run ambulance service

WATKINS GLEN, June 27, 2022 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee on Monday took the first move toward establishing a new county-operated General Ambulance Service after talks with the existing Schuyler County Volunteer Ambulance Association, Inc. broke down.

Those talks -- highlighted by a meeting last week -- were held, said County Administrator Fonda Chronis, to try to reach an operating partnership with Schuyler Ambulance, a not-for-profit operation based in a county-owned building on Decatur Street in Watkins Glen that is provided to the Ambulance Association for $1 a year "because they're supposedly providing service to our residents." The Association consists mostly of paid personnel, despite its "volunteer" label.

The basic problem, Chronis said, has been inadequate emergency coverage. "It largely comes down to response time," he said. Kirk Smith, director of Schuyler County Emergency Management, also said the Association has shown a reluctance to cooperate with his department.

At that meeting last week, Chronis said, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on a county proposal for a cost-sharing partnership that would see emergency personnel at the Association become employees of the county, under a union umbrella and with benefits. But the meeting, he added, ended when Schuyler Ambulance "chose not to take" the county offer after "trying to leverage ... hundreds of thousands of dollars from us." The experience, he said, was "disheartening."

"They were not willing to be reasonable and have proper oversight," Chronis said. "We were willing to have a partnership ... but they walked away."

While Legislator Mark Rondinaro questioned rather pointedly whether a serious effort was made by the county to reach an accord, or if it was a matter of "two opposing sides" at a meeting designed by rancor to fail, Chronis said every effort to reach a partnership amenable to both sides was attempted.

The bottom line Monday was approval by the committee of a resolution calling for application to the state for a Certificate of Need -- a precursor to a new service -- which Smith said he has been assured the county should acquire in fairly short order. The resolution passed by the committee -- and thus sent to the full Legislature for enactment at its next meeting -- also called for the use of $400,000 in American Rescue Plan money "to provide initial start-up funding for the creation of said ambulance service."

That money had been earmarked for the operation of a Performing Arts Center in the old Middle School -- a venture from which, Chronis says, the Legislature has "decided to move ... without pursuing it."

Meanwhile, Smith said Schuyler Hospital has been forthcoming in offering its support in a partnership of sorts. It would, for instance, provide a billing service.

The entire plan, said Smith, has been developing since January. "We've done the planning," he said, "and now we're into the decision making." The end goal? "To be up and running."

The General Ambulance Service will need to purchase ambulances -- Smith said his department has its eye on some used vehicles -- as well as supplies such as cardiac monitors and other medical supplies that are, in the wake of the pandemic, difficult to obtain with disruptions in the supply chain. Qualified personnel will also be sought, with the goal of providing emergency service on a 24-hour basis, with a response time cut in half from that provided by the Schuyler Ambulance Association. He said the current response time averages 36 minutes, while the new service envisions a reduction to 18 minutes within its first four months.

When it was suggested that the start-up cost might be significant, given the need for a facility from which to operate, and the current absence of ambulances and their accompanying equipment, Chronis seemed undeterred, saying only, in regard to a headquarters, that he wasn't prepared to comment yet. "The seeds are in place, but they haven't broken through the ground yet."

When asked if any of the cost of the venture will be bonded, Chronis said no, that it will be financed "from our own resources." One source expanded on that by suggesting that Sales Tax revenue might be "reprioritized" toward the ambulance service, and that money saved by the county in recent years might be utilized for a "one-time investment." And Smith said that more American Rescue Plan money is available for a service start-up.

The service as envisioned would provide union employment for its emergency personnel, as well as benefits and retirement -- all of which would, in one legislator's words, provide "powerful incentive."

When asked what the odds were on the planned General Ambulance Service coming to fruition, Chronis said only that "Schuyler County residents will have good service at a date to be determined. But it will be sooner rather than later."

If the plan does move forward, the future of the existing Schuyler County Volunteer Ambulance Association, Inc. is unknown. While Smith suggested the new service might lead to the Association's "demise," others said that might not be the case -- although the Association wouldn't likely be receiving dispatch calls, and the new service would eat into its patient transports, which are key to its revenues.

Photos in text: County Administrator Fonda Chronis and an ambulance parked next to the Schuyler County Volunteer Ambulance Association building on Decatur Street.

Sheriff's Office will take back unwanted prescription drugs at Pancake Breakfast

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 1, 2022 --The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office and the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) are encouraging community members to participate in a Drug Take Back event on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Community members can drop off their expired, unused, or unwanted medications between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Valois Logan Hector Fire Station, located at 5736 Rte. 414 in Hector. While there you can also enjoy a pancake breakfast.

According to SCCUDD, Drug Take Back events "address 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.

"Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health," SCCUDD adds, "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 (607-535-8222) in Watkins Glen or in the foyer at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

SCCUDD is a group of community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities, and implementing environmental strategies.

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

Former Odessa Village Clerk charged with falsifying timesheets; faces two felony counts

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 20, 2022 -- New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Chemung County District Attorney Weeden A. Wetmore and the New York State Police announced in a press release Friday that former Odessa Village Clerk Kristi Pierce has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor for allegedly padding timesheets to boost her pay.

She is charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a Class D Felony); Defrauding the Government (an E Felony); and Official Misconduct (A Misdemeanor). The alleged thefts occurred from 2012 to 2019 and netted Pierce more than $11,000 in pay she was not entitled to, authorities said.

"For seven years, Ms. Pierce allegedly falsified records to make it look like she worked more hours than she actually did and effectively stole from local taxpayers,” Comptroller DiNapoli said. “I thank DA Wetmore and the State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation for working with my office to fight fraud and protect the public trust.”

Pierce, 47, allegedly falsified timesheets to make it appear she worked more than 25 hours per week, which was the minimum needed to accrue vacation time. This scheme, authorities said, made it appear she had qualified for vacation time when she actually hadn’t. They said she then put in for time off "and collected more than $11,000 for days that she was never entitled to." She was employed as village clerk from 2005 to 2019.

Pierce was arraigned before Judge Scott A. Miller in Schuyler County Court.

Law enforcement personnel march into the memorial service. In the front, Sheriff Kevin Rumsey, right, and Undersheriff Andrew Zeigler.

Sheriff's Department Memorial Service honors fallen police from around region

WATKINS GLEN, May 13, 2022 -- Dozens of law enforcement personnel, along with various Schuyler County officials, gathered Friday morning outside the county Sheriff’s Office for a memorial service honoring those police in the area who have died over the years while in service.

The ceremony started and ended with a march to and from the service site by those uniformed officers on hand for the ceremony. Featured during the service were the National Anthem, performed by Emily Peckham, daughter of New York State Police Investigator Retired John Grimmke; a welcome by Undersheriff Andrew Zeigler, an invocation by Sheriff’s Chaplain Michael J. Kelly; keynote addresses by Schuyler County Sheriff Kevin Rumsey and county District Attorney Joe Fazzary; the laying of a memorial wreath, and the placement of flowers, one at a time, into vases at the base of a monument to fallen police.

The names of the fallen read during the service included members of the Chemung County Sheriff’s Department, the Elmira Police Department, New York State Police, the Yates County Sheriff’s Department, and the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department who died in the line of duty. Also honored: members of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department who died while serving, and K-9 members of the department over the years.

As noted in the service program, there was no Rifle Salute by an Honor Guard. “With compassion and understanding of the recent shooting events in our country, we will not be firing a commemorative volley today," it read. Taps were played by Bernie Riley.

The keynote addresses by Sheriff Rumsey and DA Fazzary dealt in part with the changing landscape of law enforcement brought about by technological advancements such as the Internet and social media.

Photos in text:

Top: Flowers representing fallen police were placed in vases.
Bottom: Bernie Riley performed Taps.

Left: Among those on hand for the service were Schuyler County Judge Matt Hayden, left, and retired Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman. Right: This bell rang with the reading of each name of fallen police.

Sheriff Rumsey weighs in on the negative changes brought forth by Internet, media

WATKINS GLEN, May 13, 2022 -- Schuyler County Sheriff Kevin Rumsey focused Friday in his memorial service keynote address on the changing nature of law enforcement in the Internet Age -- bemoaning the accompanying loss of respect for law enforcement personnel.

And District Attorney Joe Fazzary backed him up, saying that when he was growing up "nobody argued with police, and no one disrespected them."

In his speech, Rumsey said in part:

"In preparing for this event today I asked several of my colleagues why they got into law enforcement, and what it means to them to be a cop. The answers ... are pretty unanimous: to help people. To help the community. To help rid our community of dangerous drugs and crime."

Nobody, he said, alluded to going on a power trip or a path of abuse, "and I never once got the answer of 'So I can be killed in the line of duty ... or witness all sorts of bad things, slip into a depresson and decide to take my own life.'

"Yet it seems that is what our media and our society want to focus on. The blood and gore, the war-torn streets where crime is ramped and out of control. Our society wants to focus on the bad actions of a few law enforcement agents across the country who strap on a vest and duty belt every day.

"When I asked my colleagues ... what it means to be a cop in today's society, the answers were common, with the same theme. They told me, 'We're the bad guys. According to the media it's us versus the public.' I also heard: 'It's a greater risk to be a cop nowadays. When you go to a call for help you never know how you are going to be received, even when your reason for being there is to help someone.'

"I asked one veteran who has a little more than 30 years in law enforcement, and he said, 'When I first started on the job, we were called Sir or Ma'am. Not out of fear but out of respect. It was a job that was respected and held in high regard. When you made an arrest it was the criminal's fault for breaking the law. Now it's everyone else's fault they broke the law, and we're the bad guys for making the arrest. It's time for me to go.'

"I believe," the Sheriff continued, "that the impact negative coverage has on our law enforcement is damaging our communities. Like making this 30-year veteran want to leave his life of service to others and take all that knowledge with him because of the publicity a few bad officers get. I personally can remember a time when the civil service test was given for this job and there were over 50 people signed up to take the exam. This last recent test that was given for our Sheriff's Office, we had around 17 names on that list. What happens when no one wants to join law enforcement anymore? I hate to even imagine."

The sheriff took exception to how video is used in this charged atmosphere.

"A video can be captured, edited and posted in a matter of minutes to many various media sites, and it's always of the two to maybe five minutes of a situation where everything goes wrong. The aggressor is the victim, the victim is the aggressor and the peacemaker is the overzealous bully. What happened to the other part of the situation? The part that wasn't captured on video? Or maybe it was, but it was cut out. Because it didn't show enough violence or perhaps it showed how the law enforcement agent was trying so hard to get that person to comply and have their day in court, not on the street. But that wouldn't get enough likes if they kept it in the video ... "

The Sheriff went over a number of changes in police procedure, handwritten reports of yore yielding to "downloading everything to a digital file and sending everything to the court electronically" and the advent of "automation, computer data, online reporting in patrol vehicles, tag readers, tasers.

"When I started in 1986, my statement was taken and accepted by the court. Nowadays, if it's not recorded, then it did not happen. Credibility and integrity are constantly called into question."

Fazzary, who said that in his quarter century in office he’s worked with three sheriffs, five undersheriffs, five officers in charge of the Elmira Police Department “and countless other” law enforcement personnel, noted that times have indeed changed from his childhood, when officers were respected. “Kids don’t fear consequences,” he said, “because, well, there are no consequences” in many cases. “In recent years, police and prosecutors have been targeted by criminals and politicians in the media.”

With bail reform and lawsuits and other offshoots of the changing landscape, “officers are in greater danger every day," he said. "But they keep doing their job.”

And to the gathered assemblage of law enforcement at the service, he said: “I don’t care what they say on TV. You guys are awesome.”

Photos in text: Sheriff Kevin Rumsey (top) and DA Joe Fazzary at the memorial service.

County commemorates May 1 as 'Law Day'

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, April 29, 2022 -- Law Day is Sunday (May 1) and the Schuyler County Legislature has recognized as the Law Day 2022 theme “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change.”

The legislature passed a resolution at its April 11, 2022 meeting, recognizing “Law Day” as an occasion of public acknowledgement of our Nation’s heritage of justice, liberty, and equality under the law.

The resolution was submitted to the legislature by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman.

“The Preamble to the United States Constitution mentions forming ‘a more perfect Union’ first in its list of purposes of the Constitution,” Getman wrote.

According to Getman, “the Preamble serves as an introduction to the highest law of the land. It sets the stage for the Constitution and communicates the intentions of the framers and the purpose of the document.”

In passing the resolution, the legislature found that “promoting public understanding of the roots of our freedom are an important component in the civic education of the citizens of the United States, the State of New York and the County of Schuyler.”

Legislator Jim Howell (R-District IV) moved the motion to floor. It was second by Legislator Mark Rondinaro (R-District VII) and supported unanimously by the members present.

The American Bar Association selects an annual theme for each Law Day. Law Day is an annual commemoration first held in 1957 when the American Bar Association envisioned a special national day to mark our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Law Day Proclamation. Law Day was made official in 1961 when Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day.

A copy of Schuyler County’s resolution “Recognizing and Commemorating May 1, 2022 as ‘Law Day’ in Schuyler County” is available here: https://tinyurl.com/schuylerlawday2022

O'Mara: 'Drug Take-Back Day' is important

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, April 29, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara has reminded area residents that Saturday, April 30, 2022 is the 22nd Annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Law enforcement agencies across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions will operate drop-off centers to allow for the safe and responsible disposal of unused prescription drugs.

“It’s incredibly important that our local law enforcement leaders continue to participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Their ongoing leadership in this overall effort to combat prescription drug abuse has made all the difference,” said O’Mara, noting that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in partnership with local police agencies and other community organizations coordinates the annual events across the nation.

On Saturday, Sheriff’s offices throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions have established drop-off centers to allow people to anonymously dispose of unwanted prescription drugs between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Following is a listing of local collection sites being offered throughout O’Mara’s 58th Senate District covering Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates:

> Chemung County: The Chemung County Sheriff's Office will accept unwanted prescription drugs at the following two locations: Southport Volunteer Fire Department (1001 Carl Street, Elmira) and West Elmira Fire Department (1299 W. Water Street, Elmira).

> Schuyler County: The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office will accept unwanted prescription drugs at the following two locations: Tyrone Volunteer Fire Department at 3600 State Route 226, and the Odessa Volunteer Fire Department at 300 E. Main Street.

> Steuben County: Steuben County Sheriff’s Office will participate at the Steuben County Public Safety Building, 7007 Rumsey Street Ext., Bath.

> Tompkins County: Tompkins County Sheriff's Office will participate at the Kinney Drugs location at 2100 Triphammer Road in Ithaca, and the Kinney Drugs location on Route 96 in Trumansburg.

> Yates County: The Yates County Sheriff's Office will conduct an event at the Yates County Courthouse, 415 Liberty Street, Penn Yan.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

O'Mara: Make voices heard on energy plan

Says public will be ‘shocked’ when they find out where NY’s energy future is heading

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 5, 2022 -- New York State’s Climate Action Council (CAC) Tuesday began a series of 10 public hearings over the next several weeks on a plan that State Senator Tom O’Mara says will “shock” New Yorkers when they begin to find out more about it.

O’Mara and his colleagues in the state Senate Republican Conference have called on all New Yorkers to get involved and submit official public comment on the CAC’s draft scoping plan for implementing New York’s energy future.

The CAC is beginning a schedule of eight in-person and two virtual hearings to receive public input on the plan. Tuesday’s hearing was in New York City. The final, virtual hearing is slated for Wednesday, May 11. Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required, for the in-person hearings. Written comments can also be submitted. Find out more on the CAC website: climate.ny.gov.

O’Mara has encouraged New York's efforts to increase cleaner and renewable power but has been outspoken over the past few years that New York’s push to achieve aggressive renewable energy goals through the “Climate Leadership and Climate Protection Act” (CLCPA), signed into law in 2019, will come at great cost and consequences for local communities, economies, and residents. It’s been estimated that implementing the plan will cost taxpayers upwards of at least $300 billion.

O’Mara said, “New York State is traveling at breakneck speed to radically remake New York’s energy future. It will be enormously expensive for state and local taxpayers, to mention nothing of residential and business utility ratepayers. It holds far-reaching consequences for the state and local economies. People are going to be shocked when they’re hit in the pocketbook. We need a fuller discussion of what these actions potentially mean in the important context of feasibility, affordability, and reliability.”

The CLCPA created the CAC to develop a draft plan for implementing the law. The Senate GOP is highlighting what it calls the plan’s "radical efforts to eliminate reliable, affordable sources of energy. Natural gas hookups and services, as well as those from propane and heating oil, are vital for New Yorkers -- especially in rural communities and during harsh winters -- and cutting off these dependable sources of energy would be costly to residents and businesses and ineffective on a global scale."

Among many other provisions, the GOP says, the CAC blueprint calls for:

--No new gas service to existing buildings, beginning in 2024;

--No natural gas within newly constructed buildings, beginning in 2024;

--No new natural gas appliances for home heating, cooking, water heating, clothes drying beginning in 2030; and

--No gasoline-automobile sales by 2035;

--Installing onsite solar or joining a community renewables program by 2040; and

--Installing geothermal heating by 2040.

New Yorkers have until June 10 to submit formal public comments. They can be made at any of the hearings as well as in writing. New Yorkers can use this link to submit public comments: https://climate.ny.gov/Our-Climate-Act/Draft-Scoping-Plan.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

O'Mara, Republican colleagues urge Hochul, Dem majority to reverse 'pro-criminal' actions

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 29, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) on Monday joined members of the Senate and Assembly Republican conferences, and law enforcement, to renew their calls for a comprehensive package of public safety priorities aimed at protecting crime victims, law enforcement and correctional officers, and communities across the region and state from what they called dangerous "pro-criminal," anti-police actions being enacted in Albany.

At a Capitol news conference, Senate and Assembly Republican legislators urged Governor Kathy Hochul and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities to reverse "pro-criminal" policies like bail reform and strengthen New York’s response to violent crime in the upcoming 2022-2023 state budget.

O'Mara, a member on the Senate Codes and Judiciary committees, said, “We again stand with law enforcement, speak out, and fight against the pro-criminal mentality and anti-police policies that keep going too far in New York State. The Democrat supermajorities in control of the State Legislature show no signs of letting up in their push for a so-called progressive agenda that only stands to embolden criminals and keep making this state, our communities, and our neighborhoods less safe. It has been alarming to district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and criminal justice experts alike. We need to enact legislation that puts crime victims, law enforcement, and safe communities first and begins restoring responsibility, sanity, and common sense to criminal justice and public safety in New York State.”

The rise of violent crimes in cities and communities throughout New York follows an overall pro-criminal, anti-police climate fostered under all-Democrat rule, the Republican lawmakers said.

The GOP agenda continues a push throughout the past two years to strengthen protections for crime victims and their families, law enforcement and first responders, correctional officers, and safe communities.

Photo in text: Republican lawmakers at press conference, with Senator Tom O'Mara standing in the front row, far left. (Photo provided)

Schuyler County participating in statewide move to crack down on impaired driving

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, March 16, 2022 -- Schuyler County police agencies and STOP-DWI Coordinators are participating in special efforts to bring awareness to the dangers of impaired driving.

The statewide STOP-DWI Crackdown efforts started on March 16 and will end on March 20. St. Patrick’s Day Weekend is a notoriously deadly period for impaired driving due to the number of celebrations and drivers on the road. New York State Police, County Sheriffs, municipal law enforcement agencies and STOP-DWI Programs across the state will be participating in special engagement efforts to reduce the number of alcohol related injuries and deaths.

Schuyler County Administrator Fonda Chronis explained: “These crackdown efforts combat impaired driving that too often lead to tragic accidents and death. I want to express my appreciation to Sheriff Kevin Rumsey, his team, and the Schuyler County Legislature for committing resources towards this important deterrent, and I urge our residents to celebrate safely this St. Patrick’s Day.”

The STOP-DWI St. Patrick’s Day High Visibility Engagement Campaign is one of many statewide initiatives promoted by STOP-DWI NY and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. The Statewide STOP-DWI High Visibility Engagement Campaign also targets Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day/End of Summer, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Holiday Season and Super Bowl.

"Local Roads Are Essential" coalition gathers in Albany Capitol. State Senator Tom O'Mara is in the front row, third from left; Assemblyman Phil Palmesano is second from right.

'Local Roads' coalition urges bigger state investment in New York roads and bridges

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 8, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), and more than 60 state Senators and members of the Assembly Tuesday joined the call from county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout New York for increased state support for local roads, bridges, and culverts.

The group held a news conference at the Capitol Tuesday morning and were joined by Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt (R,C,I-North Tonawanda) and Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski).

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep hundreds of local highway superintendents and highway department employees from gathering in Albany to lobby state lawmakers like they did every year for most of the past decade. Nevertheless, the local transportation leaders are still pushing ahead with their annual “Local Roads Are Essential” advocacy campaign sponsored by the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents (NYSCHSA) and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, Inc. (NYSAOTSOH).

They are once again fighting for greater state investment in local transportation infrastructure.

Since 2013, O’Mara and Palmesano have organized legislative colleagues to get behind the effort and raise awareness of the need.

The coalition notes that for the past ten years, largely through a series of “Extreme Winter Recovery” (EWR) 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.

In her 2022-2023 Executive budget, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $32.8 billion, five-year DOT Capital Plan. The proposed Executive Budget holds baseline funding for CHIPS, EWR, and PAVE-NY at current year levels. The governor’s plan increases BRIDGE-NY funding by $100 million and creates a new “Operation Pave Our Potholes” (POP) program that will provide an additional $100 million in 2022-2023.

While welcoming the governor’s commitment to infrastructure investment in the new state budget, the Local Roads Are Essential advocates are calling on New York to strengthen its commitment to local transportation beyond Hochul’s proposals by the following four actions:

1.) increasing the base funding level for the CHIPS program by $250 million to a total of $788 million;

2.) increasing EWR funding by $50 million to $150 million;

3.) distributing the $100 million proposed for the new “Pave Our Potholes” program utilizing the existing CHIPS/EWR aid formula to ensure equity and fairness; and

4.) increasing the five-year, DOT Capital Plan to $44.1 billion, an $11.3 billion increase.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said: “We have always stood together with New York’s county and town highway superintendents, and local leaders, and we will continue to do everything we can to raise awareness and call for legislative support. Local roads are essential to New York’s future. We have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen this state’s commitment. State investment in local transportation infrastructure is a fundamental responsibility and critical to the strength and success of local communities, economies, environments, governments, and taxpayers.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano speaks at the "Local Roads Are Essential" gathering Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany. (Photos provided)

Home test kits, N-95 mask distribution set

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Feb. 17, 2022 -- Schuyler County in in receipt of an additional allotment of home (rapid) test kits and N-95 masks, which will be distributed to residents at the below locations starting Tuesday, February 22 until supplies are exhausted:

--Watkins Glen Post Office during business hours.
--Burdett Post Office during business hours.
--Montour Falls Post Office during business hours.
--Hector Post Office during business hours.
--Odessa Post Office during business hours.
--Beaver Dams Post Office during business hours.
--Public Libraries during regular business hours.
--Schuyler County Transit buses.
--Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce during business hours.
--Security Desk at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls during business hours.

Additionally, the State COVID test site at the Watkins Glen State Park remains open.

'Women of Distinction' nominations sought

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 17, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) is seeking nominations for the Senate's 25th annual "Women of Distinction" program to honor local women making outstanding contributions to area communities.

The Senate's annual "Women of Distinction" program coincides with upcoming Women's History Month celebrations in New York State in March. In addition to the local nominating process, the Senate will also unveil an historical exhibit in the Legislative Office Building in Albany paying tribute to "Women of Distinction" from throughout New York’s history.

O’Mara and his Senate colleagues select one new “Woman of Distinction” honoree from their respective legislative districts annually. This year’s honorees will once again be honored through a virtual awards ceremony later this year.

In 2021, O’Mara paid tribute to Natasha Thompson, President and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, as his district’s "Woman of Distinction.”

"The ‘Woman of Distinction’ tribute is a meaningful recognition. I look forward to this annual opportunity to recognize an outstanding area citizen," said O’Mara, whose 58th Senate District encompasses all of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins County (the city and town of Ithaca, and the towns of Enfield, Newfield and Ulysses). "We all know someone who makes an enormous difference to the community at large. Whether she is a service provider, a teacher going above and beyond the call of duty, a businesswoman, or simply a community resident known for her good deeds, I'd like to see her recognized."

The deadline for submitting a nomination is Friday, March 25, 2022.

Nominations can be submitted online on O’Mara’s Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara and Natasha Thompson, honored in 2021 as a "Woman of Distinction." (Photo provided)

Schuyler County creates business grant fund

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Feb. 15, 2022 -- The Schuyler County Legislature has approved a new local grant program that will support business and building owners looking to improve the front face of their buildings.

The Schuyler County Downtown and Business Improvement ARPA program sets aside a pool of $350,000 to assist with facade and other external building enhancements to improve the pedestrian environment and promote continued investment in Schuyler downtown business districts.

Carl H. Blowers, Chair of the Legislature, remarked, “The Legislature has, once again, come up with an innovative approach to support our business community. Making this funding available will result in highly visible and transformative changes to our downtowns.”

County Administrator Fonda Chronis summarized the program: “This grant will match private investment in facade and building exterior improvements dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000. The state has a similar program, but the reporting and regulations around it are demanding, so many businesses don’t take advantage of it. We’ve worked hard to make this as painless as possible but still be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We believe this will have significant impact on our village downtowns, and I encourage businesses and building owners to apply.”

Added Chronis: “The Legislature has set aside a portion of its American Rescue Plan (ARPA) allocation to help our business community as we near the end of the pandemic. And we worked collaboratively with each village to determine a project radius that would be most impactful. This is another way Schuyler County works with its municipalities to spur economic growth, and after these funds are spent, I believe we will look back at this program as being successful and very impactful.”

To learn more about this Business Improvement grant program, click HERE.

Photo in text: County Administrator Fonda Chronis

Finger Lakes residents await court decision on Bitcoin mining expansion in Yates

Special to The Odessa File

Note: In an Article 78 case heard Tuesday, members of the Finger Lakes community hope to stop Greenidge Generation LLC's construction on new buildings that will house a planned expansion to 32,500 Bitcoin mining machines -- which pose, they say, "drastic ramifications for the environment." The following was published by readMedia.

YATES COUNTY, Feb. 15, 2022 -- Today in Yates County Supreme Court, Judge Daniel J. Doyle heard oral arguments in Sierra Club et al. v. Town of Torrey et al., filed by 33 petitioners including Seneca Lake Guardian against the Town of Torrey.

Petitioners are suing the Town of Torrey for failure to properly follow State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) requirements when it approved Greenidge Generation LLC's application for site plan approval for construction of new buildings for its expanded Bitcoin mining operation.

Permitted to generate electricity for the grid during peak power usage periods, Greenidge has been converted by the private equity firm that owns it to a 24/7 operation producing its own power to mine Bitcoin. Greenidge plans to house its expanded Bitcoin mining operation in these new buildings, leading to 1,000,000 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions each year, equal to that of 100,000 homes.

The oral arguments today focused on Petitioners' motion for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of the expanded Bitcoin mining operation, because the Town of Torrey failed to assess the adverse environmental impacts of Greenidge's Bitcoin mining machines. This, Petitioners say, includes the increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased water withdrawal for power generation, the discharge of heated water to Seneca Lake, and the potential increase of Harmful Algal Blooms. Judge Doyle did not indicate a timeframe for his decision regarding the preliminary injunction.

Bitcoin mining is a fast-growing issue. After China banned it, citing the environmental threats the practice poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, outside speculators are flocking to upstate New York to take advantage of what opponents say are nonexistent environmental regulations. New York now hosts 20% of the U.S.'s Bitcoin mining.

"We hope that Judge Doyle will rule in our favor to stop Greenidge Generation LLC from filling the Finger Lakes with 32,500 climate-killing Bitcoin machines," said Joseph Campbell, president of Seneca Lake Guardian. "Mining is a cancer on our communities that's destroying our natural resources, kneecapping local businesses, and keeping New York from meeting the crucial climate goals outlined by the CLCPA. That's why we're also calling on the DEC to deny Greenidge's air permit renewal and Governor Hochul to impose a moratorium on Bitcoin mining until we can properly assess the environmental, economic, and public health impact. New York cannot be the wild west for this dangerous industry."

Photo in text: Joseph Campbell, president of Seneca Lake Guardian (File photo)

O'Mara, Palmesano rip Hochul on move
to keep mask mandates in effect in schools

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 9, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano released the following critical statements Wednesday concerning the announcement by Governor Kathy Hochul that New York’s mask mandate on businesses is being lifted statewide

From O'Mara came the following:

“New York State governors, first ex-Governor Cuomo, and now Governor Hochul, have been running this state into the ground by executive order and endless mandates.

“Unfortunately, it continues. This move to finally remove the mask mandate on businesses has taken far too long and its delay has taken an enormous toll on local communities, economies, and workers across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.

“New York State already ranks near the bottom in too many categories of affordability and quality of life. Governor Hochul is leading us toward the bottom again as neighboring states, and many places across the nation and around the world, are taking bold steps into a post-COVID return to common sense.

“The continuation of an irrational and unscientific mask mandate for school children, without a definitive end in sight, continues to define New York as a state under the control of extreme executive order, without legislative checks and balances, and ignoring the dire need for local decision-making.”

And from Palmesano:

“The governor’s decision today to end her indoor mask mandate is welcome news and long overdue, but does not go nearly far enough. Continuing to mask our school children makes little-to-no sense as our businesses are allowed to unmask. Just as our neighboring states (PA, NJ, CT, MA & DE) have announced they are ending the mask mandate on kids in their schools, we, too, should be eliminating the mask mandate on our kids in New York schools.

“Gov. Hochul, just like her predecessor, has continued a pattern of failing to provide parents, local governments and school officials with important metrics and guidance justifying her mandates. We cannot continue this executive overreach of power and arbitrary day-by-day policy making from the executive mansion. The executive emergency powers ended. We are no longer in a state of emergency, but this administration continues to govern like we are.

“It is time to return to normalcy for our children and local communities. It is time to restore local control and decision making. It is time to return to responsible governing by working with the Legislature on important issues instead of using an improper overreach of executive power, mandates and regulations as the state Supreme Court has clearly ruled.”

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

County to distribute masks, more test kits

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 4, 2022 -- Schuyler County in in receipt of an additional allotment of home (rapid) test kits and N-95 masks, which will be distributed to residents at the below dates and locations until supplies are exhausted.

Monterey Fire Department: Tuesday Feb. 8, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Human Services Complex, Montour Falls: Wednesday, Feb. 9, drive-through site, 12 noon to 4 p.m.
Burdett Fire Department: Wednesday, Feb. 9, drive through-site, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Hector Presbyterian Church: Thursday Feb. 10, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Odessa Fire Department: Friday February 11, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

In addition:

--Public libraries will have kits starting Wednesday, Feb. 9 during regular business hours.
--Schuyler County transit buses will carry limited supplies for riders.
--Schuyler County Office for the Aging will distribute to clients in need.
--The Security Desk at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls will have kits during regular business hours.

According to County Administrator Fonda Chronis, “The state continues to push out COVID test kits to us, and we are working hard to get them to our residents as quickly as possible.”

Local fire and Emergency Management staff will be on hand to distribute these tests and masks. Adds Chronis: “Testing and masking are critical mitigation steps to slow the spread of the virus. We also are fortunate to have a state rapid testing site right in Watkins Glen. I urge residents who are not able to obtain test kits to utilize this resource.”

Photo in text: County Administrator Fonda Chronis

Montour Falls qualifies for $35,000 in grants

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, Feb. 2, 2022 -- The Village of Montour Falls has completed the required number of NYSERDA Clean Energy Community (CEC) high-impact actions to receive a $20,000 grant.

In addition to the $20,000 grant, Montour Falls will also receive a $10,000 disadvantaged community grant and a $5,000 grant for completing a Community Solar Campaign. In total, the Village receives $35,000 in grant funding. Officials say the village intends to use this money to purchase an electric vehicle for the Department of Codes. This will be the Village’s first major step in transitioning to an electric fleet.

The NYSERDA’s CEC program is aimed at encouraging municipalities to undertake sustainability upgrades, projects, education, and outreach. Different sustainability actions are associated with CEC points. By accumulating points, municipalities can qualify for and receive grants that can be used for additional sustainability development projects. The most recent actions that the village has completed to surpass the $20,000 grant point threshold included an Energy Code Enforcement Training and the Community Solar Campaign.

“Our Village is making great strides in joining other communities around our state in powering their government operations and community with clean energy," said Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan. "As we take a holistic approach on actions to achieve these goals, our village will become a stronger, healthier, and more sustainable place to call home.”

O'Mara blasts Farm Wage Board decision

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, January 29, 2022 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) Friday blasted the decision by the state’s Farm Laborers Wage Board to recommend rolling back the current 60-hour-per-week overtime threshold for farm workers beginning in 2024.

The three-member Board, by a vote of 2-1, handed down its decision just hours after closing the last of four virtual hearings on the issue earlier in the day. Board member David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau, voted against the recommendation.

O’Mara released the following statement:

“It’s clear that this was a preordained decision by this Wage Board. The hours of testimony from farmers, farm workers, farm advocates, agricultural representatives and community leaders were still echoing across this state in near-unanimous opposition to lowering the overtime threshold, and the Board took no time at all before coming out with a disastrous decision.

“It was a charade all along. I and many others warned that this is where the Wage Board was headed from day one. It was put in place only to keep paving the way for the far-left, so-called progressive political agenda that dominates Albany Democrat decision-making. It had no meaningful or serious concern for the future of family farms and agriculture in New York State.

“The Board heard from countless individual farmers and the leaders of local farm communities. It heard from the industry’s top advocates, including the New York Farm Bureau, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Grow NY Farms, and numerous others. It heard from local, federal, and state representatives, like myself, who fear the undermining and ongoing collapse of an industry and, equally important, a way of life that has defined the regions we represent for generations.

“The Board ignored us all. They ignored common sense and caution in favor of continuing this relentless pursuit of an extreme political agenda and philosophy that will drive this state over the edge of a fiscal and economic cliff.

“In fact, Governor Hochul signaled the Wage Board decision in her proposed state budget not long ago by proposing a tax credit for overtime costs. She has clearly been determined to finish what former Governor Cuomo set in motion two years ago.

“If left to stand, it will change the face of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations. It will produce a nightmare of a ripple effect across local communities and economies in every region of this state -- but especially upstate in regions like I represent throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. It will profoundly diminish the future of high quality, local food production. It will spark the loss of family farms and the loss of the livelihoods these farms support across the industry and throughout hundreds of local economies.”

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

County to distribute more Home Tests

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 24, 2022 -- Schuyler County in in receipt of an additional allotment of home (rapid) test kits, which will be distributed to residents at the below locations this Wednesday evening (January 26th) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or until supplies are exhausted:

--Beaver Dams Fire Department
--Mecklenburg Fire Department
--Monterey Fire Department
--Odessa Fire Department
--Tyrone Fire Department
--Valois Logan Hector Fire Department

According to County Administrator Fonda Chronis, “This is the second, and likely final, batch of COVID test kits sent to us from the state for general distribution. The state allocated Schuyler County a limited number of test kits, and we will get them out as quickly and fairly as we can.”

Local fire department staff will be on hand to distribute these tests. Adds Chronis, “Testing is one way to help mitigate the spread of the virus. We also are fortunate to have a state rapid testing sight right in Watkins Glen. I urge residents who are not able to obtain test kits to utilize this resource instead.”

County to distribute Covid Home Tests

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 6, 2022 -- Schuyler County in in receipt of home (rapid) test kits and will distribute them throughout the community next week.

According to County Administrator Fonda Chronis, “The state has sent Covid test kits to all counties so that we can get them out to residents. Schuyler’s Office of Emergency Management has coordinated with community stakeholders to distribute these tests as widely as possible. They’ve worked hard to make sure these tests are conveniently available to as many of our residents as possible. I only wish we had more to give out.”

Tests are free to the public and will be distributed at the below locations/dates/times listed. Distribution is subject to test kit availability as supplies are limited.

--Mecklenburg Fire Department, Monday, January 10, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
--Monterey Fire Department, Tuesday, January 11, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
--Mecklenburg Fire Department, Tuesday, January 11, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
--Tyrone Methodist Church, Wednesday, January 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
--Hector Presbyterian Church, Thursday, January 13, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
--Human Services Complex, Montour Falls, Friday, January 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Additional points of distribution include:

--Local libraries (Hector, Watkins Glen, Odessa, Montour Falls) -- limited number of tests available starting Monday, January 10.
--Test kits will be available at county-sponsored vaccination clinics that take place every Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the Community Center in Watkins Glen.
--Test kits will be distributed to various Office for the Aging clients at services touchpoints.
--Test kits will be available on county transit system buses starting Monday, January 10.

Regional bridge repair funding announced

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Dec. 16, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I- Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) welcomed Wednesday’s announcement that local bridge and culvert improvement projects in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates counties are being awarded state aid through the latest round of funding through the state’s BRIDGE-NY program.

The funding was announced in Albany as part of $216.2 million in assistance going to 109 projects statewide.

O’Mara and Palmesano played an instrumental role in creating the BRIDGE-NY program as part of the 2016-2017 state budget, which has since awarded nearly $500 million to localities. The aid helps localities across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide, undertake bridge and culvert rehabilitation and replacement projects.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “BRIDGE-NY has been an important addition to the increased state support for local transportation infrastructure. We must continue to take important steps to establish stronger state support for local roads, bridges and culverts in critical need of rehabilitation and replacement."

O’Mara and Palmesano said that the following regional projects are included under the BRIDGE-NY funding announced today:

  • $2.299 million to Chemung County for the replacement of the Latta Brook (CR51) bridge over Latta Brook;
  • $1.958 million to the Village of Odessa (Schuyler County) for the replacement of the Cotton Hanlon Road bridge over Deckertown Creek;

  • $4.566 million to Steuben County for the replacement of the Smith Road bridge over the Cohocton River;

  • $3.675 million to Tompkins County for the replacement of the County Road 146 bridge over Taughannock Creek; and

  • $1.462 million to Yates County for the replacement of the Haley Road bridge over Big Stream.

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

State mandates masking or vaccines for all indoor public places, effective on Dec. 13

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Dec. 10, 2021 -- Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday that she is instituting a “mask or vaccinate” mandate for all indoor public places in the state, effective on Monday, December 13 and running through January 15, 2022.

This determinatin, Hochul said, is based on the state's weekly seven-day case rate as well as increasing hospitalizations. "As Governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy," she said. "The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season."

In general, says Schuyler County Deputy Administrator Fonda Chronis, the state is defining an indoor public space as anywhere that is not a private residence. "Each indoor public place must choose between either mandating mask wearing for all employees and the public or requiring vaccines for all," he said in a press release.

This will require, the release added, that "all indoor public facilities in Schuyler County (and throughout the state) choose between mandating masks for all employees and visitors or requiring vaccinations for all. Beginning Monday, December 13, Schuyler County will require all employees and members of the public to wear masks in county facilities and buildings."

New York State will re-evaluate this temporary mandate in mid-January and decide whether to extend it or not.

In the past six weeks, Chronis's press release noted, "Schuyler County COVID-related statistics have increased significantly. Since November 1st, five county residents have died, and we have registered 569 new COVID infections -- 93% of those reported as symptomatic positive cases. The County urges residents to seek vaccination as the best protection against the virus.".

Click here to view more information on this mask or vaccination requirement.

Photo in text: Governor Kathy Hochul (File photo)

Schuyler County officials warn: Be aware of unsolicited property offers; know your rights

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 24, 2021 -- Schuyler County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman are warning property owners to be aware of unsolicited offers to buy land in Schuyler County, often at a deep discount from the actual value.

“Reports have surfaced this month of a company soliciting property owners in the area offering to buy vacant land for cash,” Philbin said. “The offers include a Purchase and Sale Agreement, asking the owner to sign and send back within a short period of time. The quick cash offer they make is always below the assessed value, and sometimes by as much as 15 to 25 percent. That could cost you thousands of dollars, depending the price and your property’s actual value.”

“Many of these buyers are, basically, throwing out nets to see if they can find an owner who doesn't understand the real value of their property or an owner that wants to sell quickly at (almost) any cost. They may be senior citizens, facing a personal situation that is forcing them to consider selling their real estate. These buyers are often hoping to find sellers willing to sell at 85% or less of the true market value.”

Since the offer may be perfectly legal, signing and sending back the agreement, Getman pointed out, would create a binding contract. That contract, Getman said, may obligate the owners to conditions or expenses they did not understand before signing.

“For example, the offer may state the buyer will pay all closing costs, but also require the seller to clear up any liens or encumbrances on the property at the seller’s own expense before the sale,” Getman explained. “That could include mortgages, property taxes or even electric, water and sewer bills. If the sale price does not cover those expenses, the sellers could be left paying out more than they are getting for the property.”

Therefore, property owners should review any documents very carefully and consult an experienced attorney before signing any type of agreement, Getman said.

Philbin and Getman offered several tips to property owners who receive unsolicited offers to buy their land:

  • Never sign anything until you are sure you want to move forward.
  • Have your own attorney review the documents before you sign them. If you do not have an attorney, the New York State Bar Association may be able to refer you to an appropriate attorney via the NYSBA Lawyer Referral and Information Service: https://www.findalawyernys.org.
  • Check out the would-be buyer online. If someone is legitimately interested in buying your home, you should be able to retrieve information about them. Look for any red flags such as bad reviews or lawsuits.
  • Ask for references. If the buyer will not offer any, something is wrong. If their references are sketchy and cannot be verified, you need to rethink doing business with that person.
  • Find out the fair market value of your home before you agree to a price.
  • Consider bringing in a real estate professional to represent you and give you a fair opinion of your land’s value. If the buyer is legitimate they should be willing to discuss terms with your agent.
  • If selling your property seems like a good idea, do not jump at the first offer made (especially if it represents just a small fraction of the land’s worth).

Finally, if you receive anything in the mail about your property that seems questionable, Philbin and Getman said that you can contact the County Clerk or, in the event of possible criminal activity, local law enforcement.

“Keep in mind that this is often totally legitimate,” Getman said. “The goal here is to understand what you may sacrifice for convenience.”

“Know your rights before you sign,” Philbin said.

The Schuyler County Clerk is responsible for all books, files and other necessary equipment for the filing, recording and depositing of deeds, maps, papers in actions and special proceedings of both civil and criminal nature, judgment and lien dockets and books for the indexing of the same as directed or authorized by law.

The Schuyler County Attorney is the legal advisor for county government and its various officials. The County Attorney prosecutes and defends civil actions on behalf of the county and county employees acting pursuant to their official duties.

Photos in text: County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman.

Watkins Glen Parks Manager Craig Bond shows the Planning Board and Code Enforcement Officer Darrin Stocum (left) preliminary plans for the Clute Park campground expansion.

Planning Board handles Lucky Hare Brewing, Clute Park campground-expansion proposals

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 18, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board gave preliminary site plan approval Wednesday night to external changes on the former Orient Hibachi Buffet at 513 North Franklin Street, next door to Maria's Tavern.

The changes were requested by Lucky Hare Brewing co-owner Richard Thiel, who said his company is planning to open a tap room and restaurant on the ground floor of the site, with a target start date of Memorial Day 2022. The site has been vacant in recent years.

The Planning Board approval was granted with the proviso that the building owner, Yong Quin Liu, give his permission in writing. A public hearing on the exterior changes -- which include what Code Enforcement Officer Darrin Stocum called an "accessible entry" -- will be held at the board's Dec. 22 meeting, after which final approval is expected.

Approval of interior work will be run through Stocum's office. He said he has not received specific plans yet, but that it appears the renovation will be significant -- "more than just painting." The owner, he added, has indicated an interest in renovating the second floor for apartment usage.

Thiel said the tap room and restaurant will "give people what they want." What's that? he was asked. He laughed, answering: "more beer." Part of the project is being funded by the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) -- with a mid-year deadline for attainment of a Certificate of Occupancy.

Thiel said that Lucky Hare had tried to secure use of the ground floor of the former Li'l Joe's service station on Franklin Street near the lakefront, but without success. That building, part of the DRI, broke ground in August for a renovation that will result in commercial space and a three-bedroom apartment in the primary building and three commercial spaces in the old repair and service structure adjacent to it.

Lucky Hare has a craft beer and kitchen facility in Hector, a tap room in Ithaca, and a production facility in the Business Park off Route 414 above Watkins Glen.

Clute Park Campground

The Planning Board gave concept approval to Watkins Glen Parks Manager Craig Bond to move ahead in securing a surveyor for a proposed expansion of the number of campground sites at Clute Park.

Bond will move forward with the first of three possible phases that would eliminate under-utilized tenting sites in favor of motor home sites -- both weekend and seasonal. Bond said the expansion could result in dozens of additional sites, revenue from which will help pay for the infrastructure costs entailed in the project.

He said the current, little-used tennis court behind the community center in Clute Park might be eliminated and replaced by some of the new sites. He said the courts are in poor shape, and might be succeeded by courts on the lakeside portion of the park constructed with the use of grant money currently being sought.

Photos in text: The vacant Orient Hibachi Buffet building, and Lucky Hare co-owner Richard Thiel.

Legislators oppose plan to close prisons, debate Constitutional County movement

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 15, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Legislature, meeting in special session Monday morning, unanimously approved a resolution opposing Governor Kathy Hochul's "abrupt, secretive and unsafe prison closures on public safety, economic and environmental grounds."

The closures included six facilities, among them the Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County.

The resolution was an offshoot of a proposal by Legislator Phil Barnes at the last Legislature session a week ago in which he took exception to Hochul's move. County Attorney Steven Getman at that time suggested coordinating with the other affected counties before moving forward. That having been accomplished, Monday's session had the single resolution on its agenda.

The Legislature, however, did discuss another brewing issue: the call for a Constitutional County in Schuyler -- a matter that drew mixed reactions from the legislators heading into a Management and Finance Committee meeting next Monday at which proponents will state their case for its creation. If the committee deems it worth further action, a resolution will be forwarded to the full Legislature for a vote.

The Prison Closures:

The resolution was accompanied by a verbal description by Legislator David Reed, a former Corrections Officer, regarding the Southport prison.

That facility was designed for "the worst of the worst," he said -- for "assaultive inmates" who "would kill you for a pack of cigarettes." To call them "animals," he said, "would be an insult to animals."

He said that breed of inmates shouldn't be returned to the general prison population. If they are, "you're going to get people hurt or maybe killed."

The resolution said in part:

"WHEREAS, Governor Kathy Hochul has abruptly announced that six prisons across the state will close by March of next year, consisting of: Ogdensburg Correctional Facility; Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility; Willard Drug Treatment Campus; Southport Correctional Facility; Downstate Correctional Facility and Rochester Correctional Facility, and

"WHEREAS, Governor Hochul's announcement arrived with no advance warning and no meaningful local input or outreach to corrections unions or local officials, and

"WHEREAS, local officials at the state and county levels have stated that they only learned of these closures from media reports, and

"WHEREAS, such secrecy goes against the promises of transparency and collaboration made by the governor upon taking office, and

"WHEREAS, this announcement appears to disregard a 2005 state law that requires 12 months' notice for a prison closure, and

"WHEREAS, recent reforms that release violent offenders to the streets and close correctional facilities do nothing to protect our state from violent crime, and

"WHEREAS, in the wake of more than 20 facility closures in the last ten years, despite housing fewer inmates, assaults and incidents of dangerous violence within our correctional facilities have continued to rise, inmate-on-inmate violence has increased and attacks on our corrections officers have doubled, and

"WHEREAS, placing more inmates into fewer facilities leads to a rise in assaults, a decrease in social distancing and elevated health dangers to staff and inmates caused by COVID-19, and

"WHEREAS, the closing of these facilities will negatively affect over 1,300 correctional officers who are projected to be displaced, in addition to the negative impact these closures will have on local communities, and

"WHEREAS, two of these facilities, Southport Correctional Facility and Willard Drug Treatment Campus are located in counties adjoining Schuyler County, respectively, Chemung County and Seneca County, and

"WHEREAS, each facility provides employment opportunities to residents of Schuyler County ...

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Schuyler County Legislature hereby opposes and condemns the Governor's abrupt, secretive and unsafe plan to close these six prisons."

Constitutional County:

The move toward Constitutional County status in New Yok State originated in Cattaraugus County, where lawmakers voted unanimously last summer, according to a news report, "to become a 'constitutional sanctuary' where the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights will be protected."

In doing so, the article went on, the county "vowed to use 'all legal means at its disposal' to oppose unconstitutional efforts to infringe on the rights of citizens, whether those attacks come from the federal or state level. Gun rights in particular received special treatment.

"Among other elements," it continued, "the measure declares that no county employees, public money, resources, or buildings would be used to infringe on the rights of citizens or to help other levels of government enforce such unconstitutional restrictions.

"Even the county's mission statement was updated to pay homage to the Constitution and declare the legislature's vision of protecting its constituents from 'excessive and oppressive' governmental mandates."

There appeared to be no such unanimity among Schuyler legislators Monday.

When Chair Carl Blowers said he understood that proponents of the Constitutional County had accumulated an estimated 600 signatures of support on a petition, Legislator Gary Gray said they would have to go much farther -- gain many more signatures -- to obtain his support. The 600 signatures constitute about 8% of the county population.

Legislator Phil Barnes said he thought the Legislature was "obliged to listen to the folks" circulating the petitions, who he described as "very heartfelt" in their stated goal.

Clerk of the Legislature Stacy Husted said there seemed to be some confusion in social media regarding how such legislation might or might not be adopted, and pointed out the need to make it clear there was a protocol to such things: presentation by supporters to the county's Management and Finance Committee (set for next Monday), consideration by the committee of a possible resolution, subsequent consideration of such a resolution (if approved by the committee) by the full Legislature, and either passage or rejection.

Husted also said the only county in the state to adopt such a resolution has been Cattaraugus -- that despite proposals in several other counties, none had reached a vote.

Legislator Michael Lausell said that legislators had already taken an oath to defend the Constitution as part of taking office, and "we can't just jump around" to support another oath.

Legislator Mark Rondinaro said he could see supporting such a sentiment in one overriding county mission statement that superceded varying statements in different sections of the county structure, while Legislator David Reed said that "we already have a Constitutional County in my mind" without moving forward with any ongoing proposal.

Reed also said such county-based legislation would be "a little bit of a feel-good resolution, but one way to fight back, maybe." But he expressed his frustration with oppressive state mandates by wondering if they "will ever stop," and said that government on the state level had "swung so far left, to stupidity."

County Attorney Steven Getman said afterward that the issue is a complex one considering the fact that counties exist as sub-units of state government, created by the state. To try and sue the state over perceived unconstitutional mandates, he said, is "like the hand suing the arm" -- not to mention that reasonable people can have disagreement over what is constitutional and what is not.

But it is those perceived unconstitutionalities -- based primarily in the executive actions by the Cuomo administration after the pandemic struck -- that are fueling the movement. As Legislator Barnes put it, the people pursuing a Constitutional County are "frustrated. Every morning they don't know what their rights will be." Of the state mandates, he added: "When is enough enough?"

Photos in text: From top, legislators Mark Rondinaro, right, and Michael Lausell discuss the prison resolution before the meeting; Legislator David Reed discusses the Southport prison; County Attorney Steven Getman; and Legislator Phil Barnes, right, discusses the Constitutional County movement, with Legislature Chair Carl Blowers in the background.

O'Mara rips Hochul on prison closing plan

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Nov. 8 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) on Monday strongly criticized an announcement by Governor Kathy Hochul that the Southport Correctional Facility is scheduled to close on March 10, 2022.

In a statement, O’Mara said, “Governor Hochul’s abruptly announced decision to close the Southport Correctional Facility comes as a great shock to this community and region. It arrived with no advance warning and, obviously, no meaningful local input or outreach to local officials or the correctional officers union. The surprising decision impacts hundreds of local correctional officers and prison staff, which means hundreds of local families and a devastating toll on already hard-hit local economies. It shows a disregard for Upstate New York’s communities and simply turns a blind eye to an increasingly violent crime wave throughout this state, as well as a currently explosive and dangerous prison environment that threatens correctional officers and prison staff.

"Governor Hochul needs to be transparent about the decision to close Southport. What factors justify closing a ‘supermax’ facility like Southport? What will it mean for public safety across this state? What measures are being considered for the future of the facility itself, but most importantly for the employees and their families, and the community at large? There are plenty of unanswered questions and we will immediately be reaching out to the Hochul administration to get answers. The bottom line is that Governor Hochul should be focused on spreading out the inmate population, decreasing inmate density, and protecting the men and women working in our prisons.

“Despite the recent trend of lowering prison population, we have not seen a correlating reduction of violence within the prisons. We read weekly of violent assaults by inmates on staff and other inmates occurring at Elmira Correctional Facility. We need to focus on safer prisons. The lower prison population should be capitalized on to spread inmates out for greater safety within the system as a whole.”

O’Mara noted that the state has recently invested $20 million into operations at the Southport facility implementing a step-down program to work with the most violent inmates in the state’s prison system to get them ready for reintegration into the general prison population.

O’Mara and many other lawmakers have been critical of former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat supermajorities for actions over the past several years that they believe have focused on emptying state prisons for political gain.

That criticism has continued into the new Hochul administration.

“Governor Hochul has, so far, surprisingly and wrongly continued the radical and politically motivated actions of the former Cuomo administration and the Legislature’s one-party-control, downstate Democrat supermajorities to empty state prisons at any cost, especially the cost of public safety and security," said O'Mara. "Over the past several years up to now, we have seen action after action, from the disastrous bail reform to a radically lenient Parole Board, advancing a pro-criminal mentality over public safety and security and victims’ rights. It has emboldened this society’s criminal element.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

And from Assemblyman Phil Palmesano comes this related statement:

“Gov. Hochul announced the closure of six additional state Correctional Facilities, including Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County, by March 10, 2022. Two of the six facilities are considered maximum security, which harbor the most dangerous criminals in New York state. The closing of Downstate, Ogdensburg, Moriah Shock and Rochester, along with Southport and Willard, will negatively affect over 1,300 correctional officers and sergeants who are projected to be displaced, in addition to the negative impact these closures will have on local communities.

"This is a continuation of the administration’s fast-track state prison closures with only 90-days’ notice. This is in blatant disregard to a 2005 state law that requires 12-months’ notice for a prison closure. The fast-track prison closure process just adds insult to injury to the employees, families and local communities impacted by these closures. Unfortunately, Gov. Hochul has chosen to follow in the footsteps of former Gov. Cuomo, whose dangerous policies and prison closures put correctional officers in harm’s way for years.

“Prison closures are already devastating to the employees, families and local communities, but fast-tracking these closures is simply cruel and shows a complete lack of respect for the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to work a very dangerous job to keep us safe. Although the administration always likes to claim employees will not lose their jobs, 90 days is clearly not enough time for families to uproot their lives, travel hours away for work and find new homes and new schools for their kids. These personal hardships are just compounded many times over by the destructive impact these closures have on the economic well-being of local communities.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Hearing set on proposed county budget

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 4, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Legislature will hold a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed 2022 budget on Monday, November 8. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the proposed budget represents a significant decrease in both the tax rate and the tax levy. The $55.2 million spending plan calls for a tax rate decrease of 3.63%, from a 2021 rate of $7.13 per $1,000 of assessed valuaation to $6.87. The tax levy is going down 2.5%, from $11,323,706 to $11,040,870. And it is being done without cuts to services or staff.

“While we still face much uncertainty in the realm of public health," said O'Hearn, "we have much more clarity about the county’s financial picture than we did during last year’s budget process that resulted in dramatic reductions in spending and revenue projections. As it turned out, drastic threatened cuts from NYS did not materialize, and the tourism economy rebounded much quicker than projected, resulting in a year-end surplus.

"This new-found financial strength will allow the county to invest in areas previously deemed unaffordable -- items such as basic county infrastructure, buildings, machinery, equipment, fleet, and people. After these investments, continued favorable fiscal outcomes, which we believe will occur over the next few years, should allow the county to fund reserve accounts as the way to plan and pay for future infrastructure costs.”

Legislative Chairman Carl Blowers added this: “While we are starting to see signs of a healthy recovery from the pandemic, we cannot lose sight of the fact that many of our residents are still facing financial hardships. I am pleased to be able to support a spending plan that helps ease that burden for our taxpayers.”

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

A view of the future Village Hall on outer Church Street on the edge of Odessa.

Frustrations boil over at board meeting

ODESSA, Nov. 2, 2021 -- The changing face of a pandemic-era village brought concern from one resident and resultant anger from the mayor at a meeting Monday night of the Odessa Village Board.

The meeting was followed by a tour by the mayor, board and other village personnel at the site, recently purchased, that will become the next Village Hall and home of the Fire Department.

The concern at the meeting was voiced by Peggy Tomassi, a longtime village resident who said she was bothered that Odessa's quaint nature has been altered with a change in the face of business -- the closing in years past of a card shop and the emergence of a a different kind of shop featuring "bong selling," as she put it, and whose owner openly is lobbying to run a dispensary under the state's new marijuana laws

"'I'm concerned what Main Street is starting to look like," she said, leaving unsaid the vacancy in what for decades had been a bank.

Mrs. Tomassi -- mother of Odessa Deputy Mayor Aubrey Tomassi -- said she was also concerned about the cost of various ongoing projects in the village, largely water and sewer related, along with the purchase by the village a week ago of 7.5 acres of land containing several buildings that will serve as the new village nerve center. The cost on that: $398,500 for the property, plus a $990,000 bond to cover various improvements and additions on the property, chief among them new fire department bays.

She said she also wishes "we could focus on drugs in the community," apart from the liberalized marijuana laws in the state. She said she can see that some people walking the village streets are "drugged out," and that she feels compelled to lock her doors. "It's sad," she added.

"I miss my bedroom community," she said. "I miss the closeness we had with neighboring towns."

That led to a long discussion led by Mayor Gerry Messmer, who said many of the projects -- funded through bonds and grants -- can pay for themselves through such things as water and sewer charges, and will not affect taxes. He also said the village had to tackle many things itself because such entities as the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development have not been forthcoming with help.

"SCOPED," he said, "has basically turned its back on municipalities," while the county has not been helpful, either. He noted two meetings with the County Administrator that were particularly unsatisfying to him. As for interaction with other muncipalities, he said forging shared services has been unsuccessful, noting that the village would have been charged so much to join the regional wastewater treatment plant between Montour Falls and Watkins Glen that to do so was not feasible. The village has instead embarked on a sewage treatment system of its own, which the Odessa-Montour school has tied into, and which will extend next year along the village's Main Street.

Messmer's criticism extended to the county legislator representing residents of the village -- David Reed of Cayuta -- who Messmer said "has never set foot in this building."

The issue of zoning opened with the mayor saying that without a Planning Board willing to work on it, there was no way to develop that zoning to block from opening in the village any business that might not be welcome by all of its residents. He said that he had tried for three-and-a-half years to get people to commit to working on such a board, without success. The Village Board recently jettisoned the Planning Board, deciding to handle all related issues itself.

When Mrs. Tomassi -- who works in the office of County Administrator Tim O'Hearn but said she was speaking as a resident of Odessa -- returned to the issue of zoning, wondering why existing restrictions were not being enforced, Messmer said such regulations were difficult to enforce because to do so required employing an attorney at $175 an hour on any case taken to court. That, he said, is something not contained in the village's limited budget.

When Mrs. Tomassi suggested that the mayor was saying that despite zoning, it was not going to be enforced, the mayor became visibly angry, shouting at her -- saying "Don't sit there and tell me we're going to ignore zoning." She told him not to shout at her, and he suggested she could run for mayor.

She responded: "We have zoning. Why have it if we're not going to enforce it?"

The mayor, his voice still raised, said "You're not hearing what I'm saying."

Mrs. Tomassi responded in kind: "You're not hearing what I'm saying."

The argument ended with the mayor saying that "you want to be hypocritical and condescending, then you can leave."

She did not, and the mayor then terminated the discussion, turning back to the agenda. The meeting concluded without further confrontation.

After the session, one village employee said "it maybe isn't a good idea to yell at one of your constituents," while another observer said the pressures of the pandemic era, changing state regulations regarding crime and other issues, and strained county-village relations had perhaps left nerves raw.

******

The tour of the soon-to-be Village Hall was on property for which the village closed the week before. The 7.5 acres on the edge of the village on Church Street -- most of it is actually just outside the village limit, in the Town of Catharine -- belonged to the Bentley family. It has a house with attached garage, and other outbuildings: two garages and a storage shed.

The house will serve as headquarters for the Village Clerk. It has various rooms for meetings, a couple of rest rooms, and a large basement that will provide the village with ample storage space. The attached garage might one day become home to a village history museum.

A large garage to the southeast will become the new Community Room once bathrooms are installed and the interior is renovated. The garage to the rear of the others -- which still holds a number of cars belonging to the Bentley family -- will become administrative offices and meeting space for the village fire department. Another attached building, yet to be constructed from that $990,000 bond, will serve as the fire bays, complete with heated floor.

The Village Clerk’s office will, as the plan now stands, be opening after legally required ramps are installed. The other parts of the project will follow as weather permits.

The $398,500 purchase price will, Mayor Messmer said, be recouped by sale of the current Municipal Building, which the village long ago outgrew. That building, which has some structural issues, has already attracted a couple of potential buyers, he said.

The Village Board is also considering -- with discussion in its early phases -- construction of a Youth Sports Facility on the newly purchased property. It would be a roofed building, usable year-around and -- as the board envisions it -- able to pay for itself through rental to organizations around the area.

After the Village Clerk is working at the new locale, the mayor said, he hopes -- perhaps by Christmas -- to hold an open house for village residents to tour the facility.

Photos in text:

Top: Odessa Mayor Gerry Messmer on a video call with Robert Tuttle, who resigned from the board at its last meeting because he is moving out of state. The village is giving the Tuttles an embroidered towel set as held by the mayor. In the background is Deputy Mayor Aubrey Tomassi.

Second: Village resident Peggy Tomassi, who expressed concern about Odessa's future.

Third: Mayor Messmer in the newly purchased property along Church Street that will become the next Village Hall.

Fourth: This garage area on the newly purchased property will become the next Community Room for the village.

Bottom: The kitchen in the new Village Hall building, which was formerly a residence.

Candidates for the Hector Town Council were on hand to answer questions. From left, Democrats Katie O'Connor, Elizabeth Martin and Jessica Rodgers, and Republican Robert Mahaney. Three council seats are available.

Hector, Sheriff candidates featured at forum

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 25, 2021 -- Candidates in the upcoming general election appeared Monday night at the Watkins Glen Performing Arts Center (former Middle School auditorium) to speak on their own behalf before scores of interested area residents at a Meet the Candidates Night.

The event was advertised as "organized by a committee of non-partisan community volunteers" and sponsored by the Review & Express.

A couple of the candidates were unopposed, and spoke briefly: Jim Howell, running for re-election to the Schuyler County Legislature from Distrrict 4, and Theresa Philbin, the County Clerk.

A couple are opposed, but spoke alone since their opponents were not present: incumbent Harold Russell running against Dominick Smith for Town of Dix Supervisor, and David Reed, running for re-election to the County Legislature from District 1 against Howard Cabezas.

Each of the four candidates vying for three seats on the Hector Town Council were present -- Robert Mahaney, Jessica Rodgers, Elizabeth Martin and Katie O'Connor -- and answered questions related to the chief challenge facing Hector (zoning is key, they agreed) and what makes them proudest of Hector (its diversity, friendly people working together). Mahaney is the lone Republican in the group; the others are Democrats.

The major attraction of the night was the appearance of the two candidates for Schuyler County Sheriff: Undersheriff Breck Spaulding and Sheriff's Investigator Keven Rumsey. Rumsey, who defeated Spaulding in the Republican primary, is running on the Republican, Conservative and Community First lines on the ballot. Spaulding is running on the Safe Schuyler line.

Each introduced himself and answered questions posed by moderator Judy Phillips.

On the most pressing area of crime needing addressing: both said drugs, with Rumsey adding that meth is a specific "big problem."

On whether they are for or against large-scale events in the county: Both are in favor -- if they can be done safely.

On what changes need to be made in the operation of the Sheriff's Office: Spaulding said transparency and community outreach, but pointed out that "some changes are being made now"; and Rumsey said "training, training, training," frequently and with other agencies, with an eye toward "scenario-based training."

On the impact of marijuana dispensaries being opened in communities under the state's liberalized marijuana laws, and how they would handle it: Spaulding said it will be "like dropping another bar in the community," requiring greater attention and manpower; and Rumsey saying he was going "to react according to the law," and that existing manpower should be sufficient. "I think we'll be just fine," he added.

In closing, Spaulding said he was like a co-pilot trained to take over a plane. "I've been the co-pilot" to Sheriff William Yessman "for 16 years," he said, "and I'm ready to be the pilot."

Rumsey said he's "not looking to reinvent the wheel. We have a really good" Sheriff's Department. He added: "I'm focused and ready for the responsibility."

****

Photos in text:

Top: Undersheriff Breck Spaulding at the forum.
Middle: Sheriff's Investigator Kevin Rumsey.
Bottom: Moderator Judy Phillips.

Schuyler traffic stop leads to fugitive arrest

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Oct. 21, 2021 -- A Dryden man wanted on an extradtion warrant from South Carolina was taken into custody by a Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputy after a traffic stop Wednesday morning.

According to a press release from the Sheriff's Office, the deputy made the stop at about 10:35 a.m. "on a Black Chevrolet pickup truck on State Route 13 in the Town of Cayuta after a Vehicle and Traffic Law violation was observed. During the course of the stop, the operator, Brent A Gillie Jr., 37, Freeville, NY, was found to have a suspended driver’s license and was charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the Third Degree.

"The Deputy," the release went on, "attempted to identify other occupants in the vehicle and a male passenger stated he had no identification and provided a name which returned with no person found. Other means of identifying the occupant were used and it was discovered the occupant was giving false information as to his identity. The occupant was positively identified as Jeremiah M Recor, 21, Dryden, NY, and had an active full United States extradition warrant from the South Carolina Department of Corrections as a Parole Absconder.

"Recor was taken into custody and transported to the Sheriff’s Office, where he was charged locally with Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor, as well as Fugitive from Justice. Recor was arraigned in front of the Schuyler County CAP (Centralized Arraignment Program) Court and remanded to the Schuyler County Jail without bail."

O'Mara calls for suspension of New York's gas tax, rejection of possible 55-cent hike

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Oct. 19, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) on Tuesday joined other members of the Senate Republican Conference in calling for the immediate suspension of the state’s gas tax, one of the nation’s highest, and in continuing to voice opposition to legislation under consideration by the state Legislature’s Democrat majorities that he said could raise the gas tax by 55 cents and increase home heating costs by upwards of 25%.

The Senate GOP action comes as gas prices continue to climb sharply across the state and when home heating costs are projected to increase by more than 20 percent this winter, even higher in some places. According to the AAA, New York’s latest average gas price is $3.46 per gallon, compared to an average of $2.25 per gallon one year ago.

“New York’s out-of-control Democrat supermajorities enacted a state budget this year raising taxes by nearly five billion dollars and they’ll just keep looking for more. It will be an unending search for more tax dollars to afford more spending and every taxpayer will pay the price at the pump, to heat homes, and in a lot of other places. The ink on the new state budget was barely dry and the Democrats were already eyeing their next tax-hike opportunities, including a potential fifty-five-cents-per-gallon gas tax to help generate revenue to implement an unsustainable, impractical climate change agenda,” said O’Mara, who also joined the Senate GOP in calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to suspend the current gas tax. “The ongoing implementation of these regressive taxes would leave lower- and middle-income families and workers, motorists, truckers, manufacturers and other industries, and seniors among the hardest hit.”

The legislation (S4264/A6967), known as the “Climate and Community Investment Act,” calls for accelerated state-level actions to achieve broad and far-reaching climate change policies. It includes a new 55-cents-per-gallon gas tax and increased taxes on heating oil, propane, and natural gas, which is estimated to increase home heating fuel costs by 26%.

New Yorkers already pay the ninth-highest gas tax in America at 46.19-cents-per-gallon, according to the Tax Foundation. If the proposed gas tax of 55 cents were added, New York would have the highest overall gas tax in America.

New York’s business tax climate has long been noted by the Tax Foundation as one of the nation’s worst.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

3 opioid distributors to pay up to $546,000 in settlement with Schuyler County

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 13, 2021 -- Three major drug distributors will pay Schuyler County up to $546,000 to settle claims they contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis in that county, under a resolution approved by the Schuyler County Legislature at its October monthly meeting.

Meeting on Tuesday, October 12, the county legislature voted unanimously to accept the settlement and authorized Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to execute the necessary legal documents.

According to the resolution, distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation all agreed to the settlement with the county in exchange for being released from a pending lawsuit filed by the county, as well as later claims brought by the New York State Attorney General’s office.

The agreement calls for the three distributors to pay the county over 18 annual installments, with payments expected to begin in 2022, Getman said.

According to Getman, the settlement funds can be used for a variety of purposes.

“Potential uses include supporting police and first responders, treating opioid addiction, funding social services and similar anti-drug efforts,” Getman explained.

The settlement also requires the distributors to implement a process for collecting and analyzing data about opioid sales, Getman noted. It will involve the creation by the companies of a data clearinghouse to establish pharmacy-specific opioid shipment limits that each distributor must follow to properly monitor opioid data.

The motion authorizing Getman to accept the settlement was made by County Legislator Phil Barnes (R, District VI) and seconded by Legislator Mark Rondinaro (R, District VII).

It is the second opioid settlement Schuyler County has been a part of in the past two months. In September, the county legislature authorized Getman to accept up to $121,000 from Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., through a court settlement with the opioid maker. The money will be used to treat, reduce and prevent opioid use.

The settlements stem from a 2018 lawsuit the county filed against approximately 30 defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry. The lawsuit alleged the defendants had long known that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last resort. However, the lawsuit stated, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of opioids’ long-term use.

Schuyler County was one of many local governments that filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York sued the pharmaceutical companies for fraudulent marketing practices.

After the counties sued, in March 2019, the New York State Attorney General’s office brought its own lawsuit on behalf of the state. In July, Attorney General Letitia James announced a tentative deal with the three drug distributors that will deliver up to $1.1 billion to New York state to combat the opioid epidemic. Since then, James has begun a statewide “HealNY” tour related to highlight the settlements, with stops throughout the state, including New York City, Utica and Syracuse.

Schuyler County’s lawsuit against other defendants remains pending, Getman said, with the possibility of more settlements and additional funding to the county still to come. Along with the three distributors and Johnson & Johnson, the defendants named in the county’s lawsuit include: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Actavis Pharma, Inc. and Insys Therapeutics, Inc.

The three companies named in Tuesday’s resolution have issued a joint statement "strongly disputing" any wrongdoing. They described the settlements as "an important step toward finalizing a broad settlement" with states, counties, and local municipalities.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s lawsuit can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/5auyrmdc

A copy of the county’s resolution approving the settlement can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/yrfprewm

Photo in text: Steven Getman (File photo)

Review & Express backs Candidates Night

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 8, 2021 -- A non-partisan, community committee is organizing a Meet the Candidates Night, sponsored by the Watkins Review & Express, for candidates running for county and town offices in Schuyler County.

The event will be Monday, Oct. 25, at the Watkins Performing Arts Center, the former Watkins Glen Middle School auditorium. It will begin at 6:30 p.m., and all are welcome.

“An informed citizenry is a central part of a good democracy,” said Brandon Lawson, Review & Express publisher. “Information about candidates is key to that, and this is why we are sponsoring a Meet the Candidates Night for Schuyler County voters this year. We want people to be informed.”

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Early voting in Schuyler County begins Saturday, Oct. 23. Early voting details are available from the county Board of Elections.

Candidates for Schuyler County Sheriff and Legislative District 1 have been invited to the Meet the Candidates Night to give timed presentations and answer questions from the audience. Also invited to speak and answer questions are candidates for contested offices in the towns of Dix and Hector.

Candidates for uncontested county positions have been invited to speak, but not take questions. Candidates for uncontested town positions have been invited to be introduced in the audience.

Parking lot projects set at county facilities

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 7, 2021 -- Schuyler County parking lots will undergo repair, maintenance and paving over the next two weeks. The schedule below outlines the anticipated closures and/or reduced parking option at the different county facilities.

County services will remain open and available during these projects, although the public is encouraged to plan accordingly as parking could be difficult at times.

This schedule is subject to modification given weather conditions or unanticipated work.

County Court House Complex & Sheriff’s Office (105 9th Street, Watkins Glen):
Parking lot closed on October 12 and 18. Utilize on-street parking on 9th and Franklin Streets. County operations remain open.

Human Services Complex (323 Owego Street, Montour Falls):
Parking is available but limited on October 13, 14, 19, and 20. Entrances and exits may be modified. County operations remain open.

Mill Street Center (106 South Perry Street, Watkins Glen):
Parking lot closed October 15 and 21. Public is allowed to park at Watkins Glen Central School on those days. County operations remain open.

County representatives will be on hand at each project to assist the public while work is conducted.

Elections Board adds hours for absentee voters

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 5, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections will be open extra hours the weeks of October 18th and October 25th for the purpose of absentee voting for the November 2nd, 2021 General Election.

Staff will have applications and ballots available at the County Office Building Board of Elections, which is located at Room B104 on the following dates and times:

Tuesday, October 19 until 7:00 pm
Wednesday, October 20 until 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 23 from 9:00 am to 12 noon

Tuesday, October 26 until 7:00 pm
Wednesday, October 27 until 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 30 from 9:00 am to 12 noon

Absentee voting is available to registered voters who will be absent from Schuyler County on Election Day for the following reasons: business, education, vacation, illness or confinement.

Early voting to take place at County Building

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 5, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections will have a polling site set up from October 23rd through October 31st for the purpose of Early Voting for the November 2nd General Election.

Early Voting will take place at the County Office Building at 105 9th St., Watkins Glen, in the Legislative Chambers, which is located on the 1st Floor.

The building will be open for voting during following dates and times:

--9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 23, Oct. 24, Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.
--8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 25, Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.
--12 noon to 8 p.m. on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.

Early Voting is available for all registered voters in Schuyler County. You do not need an excuse or an appointment. If you have any questions, please call the Board of Elections at 607-535-8195.

Legislature approves 'Social Host' law

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 13, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night unanimously approved a "Social Host" Local Law proposed by local law enforcement personnel and by the Schuyler County Coalition Against Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD).

The law, which will take effect in about two months, after it is filed with the state, will hold "Social Hosts" criminally liable for providing alcohol and drugs to children under 21 years of age or for hosting a gathering where children are permitted to drink or use drugs. The law does not target parents who legally permit their own child to drink alcohol, and provides an exception for medical marijuana.

The law was pitched by District Attorney Joe Fazzary and members of SCCUDD to the Public Safety Committee of Schuyler County, which approved it and sent it to the Legislative Review Committee of the Legislature. The LRC approved it and passed it to the Legislature, which held a public hearing on it Monday night before approving it.

Fazzary, who spoke briefly Monday night, explained earlier that "the intent of the law is not to condemn the consumption of alcohol, but to deter adults from providing children (not their own) with alcohol and drugs or a place to use them."

The law was sponsored by the District Attorney's Office, the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department, the Schuyler County Probation Department, the Schuyler County Attorney's Office, and SCCUDD.

SCCUDD member Aidan Thurston, a senior at Odessa-Montour High School, was the primary speaker at Monday night's hearing, providing data for legislators from SCCUDD surveys that show a significant availability of drugs and alcohol among the county's youth. And alcohol and drug use likely increased with the pandemic, he added, expressing concern about the decriminalization of marijuana in the state.

"The Social Host law is now more important than ever," he told legislators before they voted to approve it.

If found guilty of violating this law, a social host could be fined $250 and spend 15 days in jail. Subsequent violations by the same host would result in more significant sanctions.

Also:

The subject of the Schuyler County Hall of Fame was raised by Legislator Mark Rondinaro, who said some of his constituents have questioned the fairness of the selection process

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said the selections are made by a committee of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, and that those selections are not made annually but rather "as deemed appropriate."

Legislator Jim Howell said he is a member of the committee and that "there is no event planned this year" -- no election or induction. Beyond that, he said, the committee's "entire process is confidential," with not even committee membership publicly known.

Rondinaro responded that the biggest concern expressed to him is why there is no community involvement in the matter. Legislator Phil Barnes added that "people want to know how to nominate."

Photos in text:

Top: Student Aidan Thurston addresses the Legislature.
Bottom: Legislator Jim Howell listens during discussion regarding the Hall of Fame.

Schuyler County to receive up to $121,000 from opioid suit against Johnson & Johnson

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 8, 2021 -- Schuyler County will receive up to $121,000 from Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to treat, reduce and prevent opioid use through a court settlement with the opioid maker.

Meeting in special session on Wednesday, September 8, the County Legislature voted unanimously to accept the settlement and authorized Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to execute the necessary legal documents on the county’s behalf.

According to Getman, the funds can be used for a variety of restricted and unrestricted purposes.

“Possible uses include supporting law enforcement and first responders, treating opioid addiction, funding social services and similar efforts,” Getman explained.

The drug maker also agreed to permanently end the manufacture and distribution of opioids across the nation, Getman said.

The funding is part of a $260 million settlement that Johnson & Johnson reached in New York State to finalize lawsuits brought by Schuyler County, the State of New York and others, pertaining to the company’s alleged role in the increase of use and abuse of opioids.

In 2018, Getman, working with law firm Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC as special counsel, filed a lawsuit against approximately thirty defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry. Along with Johnson and Johnson/Janssen, the defendants included: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Actavis Pharma, Inc. and Insys Therapeutics, Inc.

The lawsuit alleged the defendants knew -- and had known for years -- that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last-resort. However, the lawsuit stated, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of opioids’ long-term use.

Schuyler County was one of many local governments that filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York sued the pharmaceutical companies for what the counties claimed were deceptive marketing practices.

After the counties filed suit, in March 2019, the New York State Attorney General’s office filed its own lawsuit on behalf of the state. In June, Attorney General Letitia James announced the tentative deal with Johnson and Johnson, calling it the largest monetary settlement ever secured by her office.

Schuyler County’s lawsuit against other defendants remains pending, Getman said, with the possibility of more settlements and additional funding to the county still to come.

“Over the past few years, despite its small population, Schuyler County has seen an uptick in opioid and heroin use and overdose,” Getman said. “To date, County officials have expended public resources to help its residents battle opioid addiction and prevent further deaths. This settlement is just one step to reimburse the County for its expenses related to the opioid crisis as well as provide the County with financial assistance to continue this battle.”

Johnson and Johnson has stated the settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by them and the company “remains committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for communities in need.”

The lawsuits by Schuyler County and others are part of a tide of litigation over an epidemic linked to nearly 500,000 deaths over the last twenty years. The cases have drawn comparisons to the multistate litigation against tobacco companies in the 1990s. Those lawsuits were resolved as part of the landmark $206 billion Master Settlement Agreement announced in November 1998 between the tobacco industry and the states’ attorney generals.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s lawsuit 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: Steven Getman (File photo)

Investigators, family seek community input in probe of 2020 Richard Seeley homicide

MONTOUR FALLS, Aug. 17, 2021 -- Law enforcement officials and the family of a man murdered just over a year ago in the Town of Orange pleaded at a news conference Tuesday for information that might lead to a suspect and to justice in the case.

Richard Seeley, 43, was killed in August 2020 in his remote home off Templar Road by an assailant that authorities have not been able to identify. The death had until recently been deemed of "suspicious" nature, but a medical examiner who conducted an autopsy has declared it a homicide.

“There is no suspect at the present time,” said Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary at the news conference, attended by representatives of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and Seeley family members.

The victim’s mother, Deborah Seeley -- who found the body on Friday, August 7 last year after having last seen her son the previous Sunday -- said “We really need help” in finding the killer, adding: “The family needs closure.” Her son “did not deserve to die this way” -- his body left alone for days in his remote home.

Richard Seeley, who Fazzary said was described by family and acquaintances as either “a recluse” or “a hermit,” died of a puncture wound to the chest and lung. State police forensic experts canvassed the homicide scene, gathering evidence. When asked if a murder weapon was found, Fazzary said he couldn’t discuss the evidence.

The investigation, he said, has included “30 leads we’ve run down,” and that while little ground has been gained in finding a suspect, “this is not a cold case.” In the interest of moving forward in the probe, he added, “we’re here today to issue a plea to the media to help spread the word to the community. If anyone has any information, no matter how trivial it seems, please step forward.”

Available phone lines for reporting such information include the Sheriff’s Office at (607) 535-8222, the DA’s office at (607) 535-8383 or an anonymous tip line at (607) 535-8224. There is also an email, tips@co.schuyler.ny.us.

“Somebody heard something,” said Deborah Seeley. “Somebody might have seen something.” If so, “please let us know.”

The investigation, said Fazzary, “has been an ongoing, slow” one, but “not without effort. We’re not going to just let this go.”

The murder marks just one of “five or six” Fazzary has seen in Schuyler County in his 24 years as District Attorney and 29 years with the DA’s office. The last one -- involving the murder of Daniel Bennett and ultimate conviction of Alice Trappler -- occurred in 2012.

“We’re a peaceful, small community, with no gangs,” Fazzary noted, adding that the ongoing uncertainty is “very difficult for the family, which just wants answers -- like law enforcement does.”

Photo in text: Flyer being distributed by law enforcement.

O'Mara: It is important to move forward

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Aug. 10, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) today released the following statement on the resignation of Governor Andrew Cuomo:

“I think we have all been tired of hearing this governor desperately and pitifully trying to hold on to power over the past several months and so it is important for the start of a new era in New York State government. It is critical that a new governor and the Legislature immediately get refocused on governing, on addressing the critical challenges facing local communities here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and throughout this state, on rebuilding New York’s economic and fiscal future, and on restoring public safety and trust.

“It is important to move forward. It is also important that all of the investigations into the misconduct and misdeeds of the Cuomo administration be carried out to their fullest extent for the sake of justice. Too many lives have been shattered and everyone responsible for the cover-ups and illegal actions that have come to define this administration must be held accountable.”

And from Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:

"In light of the numerous scandals and investigations surrounding Gov. Cuomo, the governor announcing his resignation today was inevitable and long overdue.

"This will be remembered as a dark period in New York state history. His resignation is clearly in the best interest of all New Yorkers. However, it is critically important that the numerous investigations taking place continue to completion so answers and accountability can be provided, particularly for the families of those who lost loved ones in nursing homes, the brave women who came forward to share their experiences and for all New Yorkers for having to endure the dark period of cover-ups, illegal activity and total lack of transparency and honesty.

"We have important business and challenges to address on behalf of the residents of the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and all of New York state.

"It is my hope Lt. Gov. Hochul will work in a more collaborative and bipartisan manner in order to put our focus and energy on addressing the needs of New Yorkers who are looking for honest and transparent leadership. I look forward to working with her during this challenging transition as she becomes the first female governor of New York state."

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

O'Mara, Palmesano: Cuomo must go

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Aug. 3—State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Ranking Member on the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, released the following statement on the findings by NYS Attorney General Letitia James that Governor Andrew Cuomo has violated state and federal sexual harassment laws:

“The Attorney General’s investigation should mark the end of the Cuomo administration and a disgusting chapter in New York State government.

"This thorough, independent investigation makes it clear that Andrew Cuomo is not fit to hold public office. It leaves him standing, no matter how he will try to lie about it now, without a shred of credibility, honesty, integrity, or trust. Governor Cuomo needs to resign. He and his inner circle, who have been complicit in Cuomo’s lies and covering up his unlawful behavior, need to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

"As Governor Cuomo continues desperately trying to remain in office, he clearly is living in an alternate universe fabricated upon his sociopathic lying that only he believes to be reality. If Cuomo were CEO of a public company, he would have been removed long ago for far less egregious conduct.The state Assembly Democrat super-majority must immediately move articles of impeachment on to the Senate.”

And from Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:

“The attorney general made it clear that Gov. Cuomo’s behavior fostered a toxic work environment that violated multiple state and federal laws in his repeated sexual harassment of women. These brave women should be commended for their courage in coming forward to share their experiences in the face of intimidation and retaliation from the governor and his staff.

“The governor’s behavior is offensive and unacceptable and he needs to resign immediately. If he does not do so, then it is imperative that the Legislature act now to impeach him and remove him from office.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

D.A., SCCUDD pitch law to legislators that would hold "Social Hosts" accountable

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 26, 2021 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary and several members of the Schuyler County Coalition Against Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) went before the Public Safety Committee of Schuyler County Monday seeking approval of a new local law which would hold "Social Hosts" criminally liable for providing alcohol and drugs to children under 21 years of age or for hosting a gathering where children are permitted to drink or use drugs.

The proposed law does not target parents who legally permit their own child to drink alcohol, and provides an exception for medical marijuana.

The Public Safety Committee approved the legislation after hearing from D.A. Fazzary, Ward Brower (Director of SCCUDD), Maisie Robertson (a sophomore at Watkins Glen High School), Melanie Wysocki (a senior at Watkins Glen High School), and Aidan Thurston (a senior at Odessa-Montour High School who was unable to attend) in a statement read on his behalf.

The next step in the process is for the proposed legislation to go before the Legislative Review Committee of the Schuyler County Legislature. If it passes the LRC, it will then be put on the agenda for a public hearing in September 2021.

According to Fazzary, "The intent of the law is not to condemn the consumption of alcohol, but to deter adults from providing children (not their own) with alcohol and drugs or a place to use them."

The proposed Social Host law is being sponsored by the District Attorney's Office, the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department, the Schuyler County Probation Department, the Schuyler County Attorney's Office, and SCCUDD.

If found guilty of violating this law, a social host could be fined $250 and spend 15 days in jail. Subsequent violations by the same host would result in more significant sanctions.

Photo in text: WGHS senior Melanie Wysocki explains to legislators how similar legislation was adopted in Steuben County in 2015. (Photo provided)

Sheriff's Office, Public Health planning thank-you event on the Courthouse lawn

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 21, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office is holding a community thank-you event on Wednesday, July 28 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on the Schuyler County Courthouse Lawn (918 N. Franklin St. Watkins Glen) in partnership with Schuyler County Public Health.

Free hot dogs, cookies, and bottled water will be given out as a thank-you for the community's support. Community members can also meet Sheriff’s Office and Public Health personnel at the event. COVID-19 vaccine will also be available for those who are interested.

“This is just a small way to thank our community for their support of the Sheriff’s Office,” said Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman.

“This past year has brought unprecedented challenges to government and our ability to provide essential services,” said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn. “Through leadership demonstrated by our first response agencies such as the Sheriff’s Office and Public Health, our community rallied to support their efforts to combat the pandemic. As we reflect on the success of those efforts, this event is one small way we can recognize and thank our citizens. A big thanks to Sheriff Yessman for organizing this!”

“We are so thankful for the community’s support throughout the pandemic and we are excited to be a part of the Sheriff’s Office’s event,” said Schuyler County Public Health Director Annmarie Flanagan, DNP, FNP-C. “We encourage everyone to stop by to say hello, meet our staff, and get a free lunch.”

Community members can stop by anytime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Schuyler County, others file generic drug price lawsuit; case targets price fixing

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 16, 2021 -- Schuyler County has joined with over two dozen municipal governments, and others, in suing the makers of generic drugs over alleged price-fixing.

The county, along with local governments in New York and elsewhere, filed an over 1000-page Summons and Complaint on June 30 against more than fifty companies, seeking injunctive relief, damages, and relief from harms that the complaint alleges resulted from an unlawful agreement among the defendants to allocate customers, rig bids, and fix, raise, maintain, and/or stabilize the prices of all of their generic pharmaceutical products,

The lawsuit follows a vote by the County Legislature in 2020, authorizing County Attorney Steven Getman (right) to join forces with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a New York City law firm “in the investigation and/or prosecution of any legal claim against manufactures 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 lawsuit is pursuing claims in several areas. These include increased health insurance premiums for county employees, additional workers’ compensation costs and higher costs of pharmaceuticals purchased for use by the county jail, 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 fifteen (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 more than fifty pharmaceutical defendants, including Teva, Sandoz, Mylan, Pfizer, Actavis, Amneal, Apotex, Aurobindo, Breckenridge, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Glenmark, Greenstone, Lannett, Lupin, Par, Taro USA, Upsher-Smith, Wockhardt USA and Zydus.

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

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the lawsuit was filed at no risk to the county, as Napoli Shkolnik is working on contingency basis that covers all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By going forward with the 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.

Locally, along with Schuyler County, Chemung, Yates and Livingston Counties are acting as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Other municipalities in New York and elsewhere are part of the case as well. The case is currently scheduled to be heard in Federal District Court in eastern Pennsylvania.

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. That case remains pending in state court.

A related trial, involving Nassau and Suffolk counties, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office, is now underway on Long Island against several companies accused of fueling the opioid crisis. The trial on Long Island will be used as a test for the claims made by Schuyler County and other municipalities in New York, as well as an indicator of what may lie ahead for the drug makers, distributors and pharmacies in other states.

A copy of the June 30 complaint is available here: https://tinyurl.com/schuylergeneric2021PA

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman

O'Mara urges constituents to participate in once-every-decade redistricting process

ELMIRA, July 14, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) is urging constituents to make their voices heard in the redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts to help ensure fair representation in state and federal government for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide.

“Millions of New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to take the politics out of the once-every-decade legislative redistricting process and put it in the hands of an Independent Redistricting Commission.," said O'Mara. "The 2014 constitutional amendment creating the Commission seeks to ensure that no region of the state, special interest or political party gains an unfair advantage in the process. We’ll see how that plays out in the weeks and months ahead but here at the start, there is clearly an opportunity for the public to provide input for balanced government."

Every 10 years, New York State is required to draw new district lines that reflect population and demographic changes reported in the most recent Census. Unlike in previous years when state legislative leaders fully controlled the process, more than 2 million New Yorkers voted in a 2014 referendum to give that responsibility to a new “Independent Redistricting Commission” (IRC).

The IRC announced a new website and a hearings schedule earlier this week to collect input from citizens and devise the best possible redistricting plan.

As part of its charge to revise district lines for the State Senate, Assembly and Congress, the IRC must consider impacts on existing neighborhoods and communities, based on information it gathers from its virtual hearings and written testimony.

O’Mara said, “This Commission, overwhelmingly approved by the voters, holds out hope for a redistricting process that is more open and transparent. It will only be effective if local citizens across this state participate to make their voices heard. We can all play our part to learn more, and join with community leaders, neighborhood groups and others to speak up for the issues that matter most to our communities.”

The new IRC website allows citizen interaction. It allows you to sign up to participate in the hearings or to submit written testimony. According to the IRC, you must sign up through the web portal for the regional hearing encompassing your specific community. The hearing for the Southern Tier/Central NY region is scheduled for Monday, August 9, beginning at 2:00 p.m. The Finger Lakes/Western NY hearing is scheduled for Thursday, August 12 at 2:00 p.m.

For more information, including how to participate and/or submit testimony, go to: www.nyirc.gov/meetings.

Following this first round of virtual hearings, the IRC is required to release its first statewide redistricting proposal to the public on September 15th. The IRC will then schedule additional, constitutionally required hearings in the fall before releasing final maps for legislative approval in early 2022.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Rumsey the winner? Well, yes, sort of

A week after this was written, the official tabulation, including absentee ballots, gave Investigator Rumsey a 213-vote victory and the Republican line on the November ballot.

By Charlie Haeffner
Editor/Publisher


ODESSA, June 23, 2021 -- So ... when is a win not exactly a win (at least not yet, officially or unofficially), but really is?

Convoluted?

Welcome to the world of elections.

Schuyler County Sheriff’s Investigator Kevin Rumsey (right) amassed a 207-vote advantage over Undersheriff Breck Spaulding in the June 22 Republican Primary for Sheriff. Both men want the job being relinquished at year’s end by longtime incumbent Bill Yessman upon his retirement.

The 788-581 vote advantage by Rumsey would seem rock solid -- a clearcut victory to secure the GOP nomination going into the November general election.

But the Board of Elections, which says it can’t distinguish a winner until all absentee ballots are counted and affidavits validated or rejected, won’t say yes, Rumsey is the winner. Not exactly.

The absentees on hand only total about 42, according to Republican Election Commissioner Joe Fazzary, but others can arrive until next week. They won’t be counted until Wednesday, June 30. In the meantime, affidavits will be gone over; the number of which Fazzary was not yet certain.

Those affidavits were coming in from the various election districts. They derived from voters who showed up to vote claiming to be registered as a Republican even if the GOP rolls didn’t list them, or perhaps showed otherwise. None were allowed to vote, but rather to file an affidavit that the Board of Elections must research to determine validity or a lack thereof.

Is there any way that the absentee ballots plus acceptable affidavits would total the 207 votes now separating the two candidates? Or even if there were 207, is there any way they would all go for Spaulding?

Well, no.

“It’s pretty much settled,” said Fazzary. “At this point, I don’t see anything that can change that.” It’s a Rumsey victory, in other words, “unless something totally out of the picture” occurs.

But Fazzary just can’t up and say Rumsey has won; not until all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.

That comes June 30th.

After that, he said, Rumsey will not only have the GOP nod, but likely an independent endorsement on the November ballot, as well, while Spaulding will have an independent line.

So ... to be clear: Rumsey is the winner?

“Essentially he is,” said Fazzary, barring the unforeseen.

He just can’t say so officially or with finality.

Not yet.

Property owners warned of deed 'scam'

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 22, 2021 -- Schuyler County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman are warning homeowners to be aware of a property deed "scam" that may be taking place in Schuyler County.

“Reports have surfaced this month of a company soliciting homeowners in the area who recently have completed real estate transactions, asking them to pay $89.00 for records which contain public information about their own property,” Getman said.

However, according to Philbin, deeds for every parcel of land in Schuyler County are already recorded and kept on permanent record at the Schuyler County Clerk's Office.

“After a real estate closing, the original deed is returned to the property owner or their attorney at no additional charge and if you ever need another copy, you can request one from the county clerk for as little 65 cents per page and often less than five dollars,” Philbin explained.

“All public records can be searched in the county clerk’s office through its indexes Monday- Friday 8:30 AM- 4:30 PM.”

Philbin and Getman also warned that the assessment profile the company is trying to sell includes information that the homeowner does not need, and that could be obtained for free from the County’s Real Property Tax Division or other municipalities.

Currently there is no law against companies selling you your own information, or a limit on what they can charge.

Getman says the best way to protect yourself is to stay vigilant and informed.

"We want the residents of Schuyler County to be aware that the entities marketing such requests are not related to the County Clerk's Office or any other department inside Schuyler County government," Getman said.

If you receive anything in the mail about your property records that seems questionable, Philbin and Getman said that you can contact the county clerk or, in the event of possible criminal activity, local law enforcement.

The Schuyler County Clerk is responsible for all books, files and other necessary equipment for the filing, recording and depositing of documents, maps, papers in actions and special proceedings of both civil and criminal nature, judgment and lien dockets and books for the indexing of the same as directed or authorized by law

The Schuyler County Attorney is the legal advisor for county government and its various officials. The County Attorney prosecutes and defends civil actions on behalf of the county and county employees acting pursuant to their official duties.

Photo in text: County Attorney Steven Getman.

O'Mara: The work of rebuilding can begin

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, June 15, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) released the following statement today on the ending of most COVID-related restrictions across New York State:

“We have said throughout the past fifteen months, and it bears repeating, that communities throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout New York State, could not have kept moving forward without the compassion, perseverance, sacrifice, and undeniable strength of frontline workers, essential employees and volunteers in health care, agriculture, businesses large and small, law enforcement and public safety, education, community and social services, and so many other fields. Our gratitude to all of you cannot be measured and your example will continue to show the way to a better and stronger future.

“We have demonstrated that by working together, pulling for each other, and staying informed, our communities will be resilient and never lose hope in recovering.

“The work of rebuilding and restoring the lives of our communities should begin in earnest now and it needs to be delivered through local decision-making. We have reached the point of being able to fully declare an end to the state of emergency that has ruled our lives since last March. We have reached the point of fully rescinding Governor Cuomo’s unilateral emergency powers.

“It is time to restore legislative checks and balances, and local input."

Schuyler County OKs Youth Hunting Law

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, June 14, 2021 -- Schuyler County has become the latest county in New York State to allow the hunting of deer by 12-and 13-year-olds with a firearm or crossbow for the coming fall season.

Meeting in regular session on Monday, June 14, the county legislature voted unanimously to enact a Local Law that approves a pilot program allowing 12- and 13-year old youths to do so through 2023 under the supervision of an experienced adult hunter.

Prior to its passage, Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman, Undersheriff Breck Spaulding, County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman all endorsed the law. In addition, members of the community, including a retired New York State Conservation officer, spoke in favor of the law at Monday’s meeting. No one spoke in opposition to the legislation.

The law as passed states that “deer hunting is a valued tradition for many Schuyler County families, providing quality food to county residents and reducing the negative impacts of overabundant deer populations on our agriculture, forests, and communities.”

As of June 6, the number of counties statewide that had opted into youth hunting totaled 18, according to the state Department of Conservation website. Other counties in the region that have opted in, the website shows, include Yates, Steuben, Chemung and Livingston.

These counties will be listed in the DEC’s upcoming hunting/trapping guide, which will be released soon. As more counties pass resolutions, they will be added to a regularly updated map on the DEC’s Junior Big Game Hunting website.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s local law can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/schuyleryouthhunting2021A

Photo in text: Sheriff William Yessman (File photo)

Early Voting polling site open in Schuyler

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 12, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has a polling site set up from June 12th through June 20th for the purpose of Early Voting for the June 22nd, 2021 Republican Primary Election.

Early Voting takes place at the County Office Building at 105 9th St., Watkins Glen, NY, in the Legislative Chambers, which is located on the 1st Floor.

The building will be open for voting during the following dates and times:

--Saturday, June 12, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
--Sunday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
--Monday, June 14, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
--Tuesday, June 15, from 12 noon to 8 p.m.
--Wednesday, June 16, from 12 noon to 8 p.m.
--Thursday, June 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
--Friday, June 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
--Saturday, June 19, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
--Sunday, June 20, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Early Voting is available for all registered voters in Schuyler County. You do not need an excuse or an appointment. If you have any questions, please call the Board of Elections at 607-535-8195.

O'Mara: New York heading in too many wrong directions after legislative session

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 11, 2021 -- Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) says that the close of this year’s regular session of the State Legislature will leave New York “heading in the wrong direction on too many of the fundamental responsibilities of government to protect taxpayers, build local economies, create jobs, and keep communities and citizens safe.”

Thursday marked the end of the Legislature’s 2021 legislative session, one that O’Mara said has failed to put the state on course for a fiscally responsible and strong future -- and will leave New York government under the control of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s unilateral, COVID-19 emergency executive powers indefinitely.

O’Mara, who throughout the past year has been one of the Legislature’s most vocal critics of extending Cuomo’s emergency powers, said, “Endless executive orders have failed and keep failing New York’s local communities, families, economies, and workers. It’s unthinkable that the Albany Democrats will continue to let Governor Cuomo sit in Albany, exert total control, and issue directive after directive without any regard for legislative checks and balances, or local input. They are leaving town without declaring an end to the COVID-19 state of emergency in New York State and without bringing an end to Governor Cuomo’s one-man rule.

"At a time when our local communities and economies should be facing an optimistic turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic and fully making their own reopening decisions, they are faced with continuing to be at the arbitrary, non-scientific, non-sensible whims of this governor. The continued mask mandate for children in schools is just the latest outrageous example.”

O’Mara was also critical of the 2021-2022 state budget enacted by Cuomo and the Democrat supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly in April, which he said “went far beyond any reasonable sense of fairness, responsibility, or sustainability for hard-working, taxpaying citizens.”

O’Mara added, “We had an opportunity and a responsibility to utilize a one-time windfall of roughly $13 billion in federal stimulus aid under a fiscally responsible, short- and long-term strategy for the post-COVID rebuilding, restoring, and resetting of local communities, economies, environments, and governments. Equally important, we needed to recognize the fiscal cliffs New York could face for the foreseeable future, steer clear of any massive new taxing and spending, and bolster the state’s emergency reserve funds. That’s not what this budget did. It sets up an economic and fiscal disaster.”

Finally, O’Mara stressed that a growing “pro-criminal mentality” within the Legislature continues to produce careless actions on criminal justice and corrections, and law and order, that pose risks to public safety and security throughout New York.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Watkins man charged in Reed incidents

CORNING, June 11, 2021 -- A Watkins Glen man, Jack L. Kahabka, 21, was arrested by Corning Police Thursday and charged with making terroristic threats and third-degree criminal mischief, both felonies, for alleged threats and vandalism aimed at Congressman Tom Reed.

Kahabka allegedly left threatening messages and a dead animal at Reed's private residence in Corning, and is accused of breaking a window at Reed's campaign office last year.

The accused was arrested without incident, and was expected to be released following his arraignment.

Said Reed in response to the arrest: "We are incredibly thankful that our family can rest easier. ... We continue to be grateful for the remarkable efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement officers. ...We also want to thank the people of our community for their support throughout this ordeal."

Palmesano backs 'Restore Order' plan

Assembly Republicans hope to combat record violence statewide

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 1, 2021 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) joined his Republican Conference colleagues Tuesday in the rollout of the "Restore Order Anti-Crime Initiative."

Assembly Republicans are presenting the plan at a time when violence has risen across New York state. Major cities across the state -- such as New York City, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo -- have seen a rise in crime in the first four months of 2021 compared to 2020. New York City has seen a 17% increase in murders along with an 83% increase in shooting incidents. Homicides are up 50% in Syracuse and a staggering 100% in Rochester. In the state capital, Albany, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies are all up over 15%.

Said Palmesano: "The 2019 dangerous bail and discovery laws advanced by the Assembly and Senate Democrat majorities and the Cuomo administration started a dangerous trend and rise in violence. Our local communities were flooded with criminals violating the law and being released back into the community over and over again. Policies like these were advanced and continue to be advanced without engaging important stakeholders like our law enforcement, district attorneys, crime victims and their families.

“Alarmingly," he added, "the state parole board continues to irresponsibly release dangerous individuals from prison and back into our communities, including murderers and rapists. The majorities continue to advocate for reckless parole reform bills while criminals are being released daily. They are now advocating for ‘elder parole,’ which would allow automatic parole hearings if an individual served 15 years of their sentence and reached age 55, regardless of the crime and sentence they received."

The "Restore Order Anti-Crime Initiative" will have the following components:

• Restore Judicial Discretion (A.5265, Reilly) -- Restores judicial discretion to allow judges the ability to determine whether a violent criminal poses a dangerous threat to the community and can be held without bail.

• Bail for Gun Crimes (A.7066, Barclay) -- Removes all gun crimes from the no-bail list of offenses Democrats established in 2019.

• Parole Reform (A.5737, Barclay) -- Requires a unanimous vote of at least three parole commissioners to grant a prisoner early release. Also allows a majority vote of the Legislature to remove a commissioner from the Parole Board.

• Three Strikes & You’re In (A.5334, Brabenec) -- Authorizes life in prison without parole for persistent violent felony offenders.

• Shooting Into Crowds (A.4259, Jensen) -- Makes it a Class B violent felony to fire into a crowded space with the intent to harm.

• Additional 5 Years for Possession (A.4762, Mikulin) -- Provides for an additional 5-year term of imprisonment for committing a felony while possessing a loaded firearm.

• Bail for Hate Crimes (A.3986, M. Miller) -- Makes a “hate crime” a qualified offense for purposes of bail issuance and denying pre-trial.

“With these common-sense, but important reforms, we can help to rein in the dangerous increase in violence that we are experiencing in our cities and communities across our state," said Palmesano. "Many of my colleagues in the majority have publicly expressed the need to address bail reform. It is my hope that they take the time now to address this with our Conference so violent offenders aren’t allowed back out on the streets to recommit crimes.

"We need to re-instill confidence in our law enforcement officers, rather than undermine them with dangerous and misplaced policy priorities out of Albany. We need to restore order and public safety back into our local communities to protect our families from dangerous and violent crime.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

O'Mara denounces planned parole reform

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, June 1, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C-I, Big Flats) is denouncing any upcoming moves by the Democrat supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly to enact two pieces of pending legislation that would continue to radically reform New York’s parole system and make it easier for more violent criminals to be released from prison.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an interview on Capital Tonight last week, said that the two measures currently awaiting action in the Legislature -- and strongly supported by criminal justice reform advocates in Albany -- could be prioritized by the Legislature as it winds down its session over the next few weeks.

O’Mara, a member on the Senate Codes and Judiciary Committees, said, “What in the name of justice is going on? Over the past two years, this Parole Board has shown a dangerous and disturbing habit of favoring cop killers and other violent criminals over crime victims and their families and loved ones. It has been alarming to district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and criminal justice experts. Now the Democrat supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly are eyeing legislation that would make it even easier to release cop killers, child murderers, serial killers, and other violent criminals. It’s disgusting and disturbing. It’s a pro-criminal mentality that has gone too far and keeps going too far in New York State. We need to stand up, speak out, and work against it.”

One piece of legislation under consideration, the Elder Parole Act (S.15A/A.3475), would allow 55-year-old inmates who have served 15 years of their sentences to automatically be entitled to a parole hearing for consideration of release. If enacted, incarcerated felons would not have to even serve their minimum sentences, irregardless of the conviction or type of crime that was committed. The convicted felon could be paroled if the Parole Board simply determines that there is a reasonable probability that upon release he or she will not violate the law again and that the release is not incompatible with the welfare of society.

The second measure, the Fair and Timely Parole Act (S.1415/A.4231), if enacted, would shift the current standard for discretionary parole toward a presumption of release. Under the legislation, incarcerated offenders, including those who have received indeterminate life sentences, could be granted discretionary release to parole unless the record shows a current and unreasonable risk that the person will violate the law if released that cannot be mitigated by parole supervision. Crimes committed would no longer be a factor in the Parole Board’s consideration of release. In fact, the measure mandates that a criminal’s rehabilitation be prioritized over the impact on crime victims or their families, the seriousness of the crimes committed, the length of sentence, and prior criminal history.

The state Parole Board has come under fire over the past two years by O’Mara and other state legislators for its leniency in releasing convicted cop killers and other violent criminals.

Violent crimes in numerous cities across New York have jumped over the past few years. The homicide rate in the city of Syracuse, for example, increased by 55% between 2019 and 2020, while aggravated assaults were up 15%. According to reports, violent crime has surged in the city of Rochester. And in New York City, according to recent statistics from the NYPD, overall index crime rose by more than 30% since April 2020, including a nearly 20% jump in murders and a 35.6% increase in felony assaults.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

O'Mara, colleagues call for an end to Cuomo's mask mandate for young children

Joined in opposition by regional and statewide parents and child care providers

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, May 24, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara and other members of the Senate Republican Conference Monday joined parents and child care providers from the Southern Tier and throughout New York State to hold a virtual “Unmask Our Kids” rally in opposition to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new mandate requiring children as young as two years old to wear a face covering at day care centers and summer camps.

The new Cuomo executive order was handed down last week and has drawn strong criticism and opposition from providers and parents locally and statewide.

Opponents note that throughout the pandemic, young children at child care facilities were not required to wear masks.

O’Mara said, “Why now, Governor Cuomo? The parents and child care providers we heard from today made it clear that this mask mandate for toddlers is absurd, impractical and, worst of all, endangers the development, health, safety, security, and well-being of our children.

"It’s another outrageous example of the damage being done by an out-of-touch governor, fixated on control, and blatantly ignoring science and medical facts. At a time when we are clearly turning the corner on this pandemic, Governor Cuomo decides to put our children right back in the middle of the fear and uncertainty that we have spent more than a year fighting to overcome. It is an abuse of power and if Cuomo won’t rescind it on his own, the Albany Democrats in control of the Legislature need to act immediately to end it.”

O’Mara said that he and his colleagues would be advancing a legislation amendment calling on the Senate Democratic Majority to repeal the Cuomo mask mandate.

At O’Mara’s request, Adam Donegan, a Corning parent whose 3-year-old daughter attends the Corning Children’s Center, and Amber Thompson, owner of the Country Kids Childcare Center in Big Flats, Chemung County, participated in Monday’s Senate GOP rally.

Both urged the governor to repeal the mask mandate.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County SCOPE, county attorney partner to make free gun locks available

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, May 24, 2021 -- In recognition of June being National Safety Month, the Schuyler County Chapter of Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE), in conjunction with the Office of Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman, is again giving away free cable-style gun locks to Schuyler County families.

The locks can be obtained from the County Attorney’s Office by calling (607) 535-8121 during normal business hours and scheduling a pickup time. One lock will be available per household and will be provided on a “first come, first served” basis. Supplies are limited.

“We are pleased to have the Schuyler County Attorney’s Office as a partner in this National Safety Month program,” said Daneen Phillips, Schuyler County SCOPE Secretary. “The mission of SCOPE is to educate the public on the importance of our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, as well as to make every effort to educate anti-gun politicians. We can help accomplish this by promoting responsible voluntary gun safety measures for gun owners that do not conflict with the Second Amendment.”

“Partnering with County Attorney Getman," Phillips added, "allows SCOPE to participate in a countywide effort to promote gun safety as a critical part of home safety and increase awareness of just one of Governor Cuomo’s many gun laws. We are 100% membership funded and made up of concerned gun owners and conservation clubs across New York State.”

“In particular, this year, we want to focus on getting the message out to women gun owners and their families,” Phillips said. “Female gun ownership has been on a firm ascent and women are considered the fastest-growing segment in the gun-ownership population.”

According to Getman, the giveaway will help ensure that gun owners are in compliance with New York’s strict firearms storage laws, which require them to lock up their firearms while living in a home with someone under the age of 16.

“We encourage county residents to pick up a free lock so that they can securely store their firearm,” said Getman. “The locks fit on most types of handguns, rifles and shotguns. The cable is threaded through the weapon and blocks the barrel or the use of ammunition. It’s secured by a padlock and key.”

“We want to help minimize demands on health care workers and first respondents by emphasizing home safety, and firearm safety in particular, so together we can prevent accidents,” Getman said. “The goal is to prevent a young child or any other unauthorized person from accessing a firearm in the home.”

Phillips and Getman noted that the locks have been donated by SCOPE and, therefore, there is no county charge to the taxpayers for this service.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman

Proposed Local Law OKs hunting program

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 6, 2021 -- Sheriff William Yessman, Undersheriff Breck Spaulding, County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman have all endorsed a Local Law that approves a pilot program in Schuyler County allowing 12- and 13-year-old youths to hunt deer through 2023.

The Resolution and Local Law are on the agenda for introduction at the Schuyler County Legislative Meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday. May 10, 2021 in Montour Falls.

The proposed local law finds that “deer hunting is a valued tradition for many Schuyler County families, providing quality food to county residents and reducing the negative impacts of overabundant deer populations on our agriculture, forests, and communities.”

Under the proposed law, youth hunters aged 12-13 will now be allowed to hunt deer with a firearm or crossbow under the supervision of an experienced adult hunter. Currently, young hunters who are 12 or 13 years old can already hunt big game using archery equipment and can hunt small game with a firearm; however, until now, New York had been the only state to not allow these young hunters to hunt big game.

O'Mara, colleagues call for income tax break for unemployed New Yorkers

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 5, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) is calling for the approval of legislation he co-sponsors to exclude unemployment benefits from state taxable income.

O’Mara said the measure (S5125) would keep New York State consistent with an action already taken by the federal government to exclude the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits from 2020 taxable income. In the last COVID stimulus package, the federal government waived federal tax on up to $10,200 of 2020 unemployment benefits for households earning up to $150,000. Although states were afforded the same option to exclude unemployment benefits from taxable income, New York has so far declined that move and is one of only 11 states to not take advantage of this significant tax break as the May 17 filing date fast approaches.

O’Mara, the Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee, said, “The COVID-19 economic shutdown has already taken an enormous toll on thousands upon thousands of hard-hit unemployed New Yorkers and their families and communities. New York State needs to follow the federal government’s lead and provide a badly needed exemption from state taxes.  We can’t keep piling financial burden upon financial burden and expect workers to ever get back on solid ground again.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Reed's district director takes Albany job

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 3, 2021 -- Alison M. Hunt, longtime staff member and current District Director for Congressman Tom Reed, has been named the new Chief of Staff for New York State Senator George Borrello.

Reed recently announced he would not be seeking re-election.

“Alison brings a wealth of governmental experience to the Chief of Staff role after serving for the past 10 years on the district staff of Congressman Tom Reed,” said Senator Borrello, whose 57th Senate District office is in Jamestown. "Her combination of management experience, policy expertise and engagement in the issues of our communities make her a natural fit for this new role."

Hunt held several positions on the Congressman’s staff, including Field Representative, Director of Constituent Services and Deputy District Director. She was named District Director in 2015, where her responsibilities have included overseeing all state operations and district staff, facilitating policy events and roundtables, spearheading local projects and interfacing with state and local leaders on federal policy and appropriations issues.

Since 2016, she has served as a member of the City Council in Corning, where she serves as Chair of the Capital Project Financing Committee.

“I am grateful for Senator Borrello’s trust in my ability to lead his dedicated staff and help guide his legislative vision,” said Hunt. "In just a year and a half, he has established himself as one of the hardest working members of the Senate and a fierce champion for his district."

Hunt is succeeding Michael Ellison, who has served as Chief of Staff since Senator Borrello won a special election for the seat in 2019.

Photo in text: Alison Hunt

Former Montour Falls Mayor John King at the foot bridge ceremony, next to the sign that named the crossing in his honor.

Montour foot bridge is dedicated, named "King's Crossing" in honor of former mayor

MONTOUR FALLS, April 30, 2021 -- The new foot bridge alongside Route 14 connecting the Catharine Valley Trail extension and Marina Park was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning and with speeches from state and local officials.

The event also marked Arbor Day, with four students from the Odessa-Montour school district helping nurture a newly planted fir tree near the foot bridge by adding compost to the tree's base. The students were Sophie Dupay, Dalton Smith, Zuri Jones and Nolan Bailey.

Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan emceed the dual ceremony, which featured speeches by State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Schuyler County Legislature Chair Carl Blowers, New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton, New York State Office of Parks and Recreation Regional Director Fred Bonn, and former Montour Falls Mayor John King.

King, credited with envisioning the bridge, managed after some obstacles to start the process that resulted in grants and donations -- and help on the private and public levels -- and led to completion of the project and Friday's ceremony. The event was capped by the unveiling of a sign next to the eastern bridge entrance proclaiming it "King's Crossing."

"What an honor," said King. "I've never had anything named after me before." He said he was inspired to seek the bridge for safety's sake -- to eliminate the need for walkers and bikers to go out onto Route 14 to get from one side of the canal to the other. The bridge sits at the southern end of the canal between Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, and is considered the southernmost point of the Erie Canal waterway.

O'Mara called the bridge "a great project, a long time in the making" and "just a great addition to the Catharine Valley Trail."

Palmesano touted the private-public collaboration that led to the bridge completion. "Private-public partnership works," he said, "and this is one of those projects."

Blowers praised King for his "tenacity and persistence" in pursuing the bridge project, while Bonn said "this trail capitalizes on the magic between trails and water." Stratton described the project as "very special."

The Arbor Day tree ceremony was overseen by Marissa Nolan, Cornell Cooperative Extension Schuyler Environmental Educator, while the compost was provided by Heather Gilbert of Finger Lakes Composting.

Photos in text:

Top: Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan emceed Friday's ceremony at the eastern end of the new foot bridge.

Bottom: Helping out at the Arbor Day tree ceremony were, from left, Odessa-Montour school district students Sophie Dupay, Dalton Smith, Zuri Jones and Nolan Bailey. Montour Falls Mayor Jim Ryan is at right. (Photo by Stephanie Specchio)

Among the speakers were State Senator Tom O'Mara, left, and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Carl Blowers.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano walks on the new foot bridge after the ceremony.

Saturday is Law Day, reaffirming our roots

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, April 29, 2021 -- Law Day is Saturday, May 1, and the Schuyler County Legislature has recognized as the Law Day 2021 theme “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

The legislature passed a resolution at its April 12, 2021 meeting, recognizing “Law Day” as an occasion of public acknowledgement of our Nation’s heritage of justice, liberty, and equality under the law. The resolution was submitted to the legislature by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman.

“The Rule of Law rests upon the idea that no one is so important as to be above the law and conversely no one is so insignificant to be beneath the law,” Getman wrote. “The United States was founded on the principle that adherence to the Rule of Law expands, rather than limits, the opportunities for freedom.”

In passing the resolution, the legislature found that “promoting public understanding of the roots of our freedom are an important component in the civic education of the citizens of the United States, the State of New York and the County of Schuyler.”

The American Bar Association selects an annual theme for each Law Day, an annual commemoration first held in 1957 when the American Bar Association envisioned a special national day to mark our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Law Day Proclamation. Law Day was made official in 1961 when Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for celebrating it.

A copy of Schuyler County’s resolution “Recognizing and Commemorating May 1, 2021 as ‘Law Day’ in Schuyler County” is available here: https://tinyurl.com/SCHUYLERLAWDAY21

Photo in text: County Attorney Steven Getman (File photo)

O'Mara, Palmesano: Increased funding for roads, bridges in budget is long overdue

Highlight agreement to provide additional state transportation aid

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 29, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) say that the recently enacted 2021-2022 New York State budget provides significantly increased state support for local roads, bridges, and culverts.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “Local roads are essential. This year’s state budget includes critical steps and increased funding to move forward on this priority. State investment in our local transportation infrastructure is vital to the post-COVID future of local communities, economies, environments, governments, and taxpayers. We have long stood together with New York’s county and town highway superintendents, and local leaders, to do everything we can to raise awareness and call for legislative support. Unmet needs and challenges will remain in the future, and we look forward to continue working together to prioritize the state’s commitment to the effective maintenance and improvement of local roads, bridges, and culverts in every region of New York.”

O’Mara and Palmesano said the new budget increases base level funding for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) by $100 million to a total of $538 million, the first baseline increase since 2013. The budget increases funding for Extreme Winter Recovery to $100 million and for the PAVE-NY program to $150 million. It also creates a new, $100 million City Touring Roads program to provide an additional source of funding dedicated to cities, towns, and villages.

O’Mara and Palmesano said that area counties will receive the following 2021-2022 CHIPS, Extreme Winter Recovery (EWR), PAVE-NY funding (in each category of aid, funding amounts are followed by percentage increases from the 2020-2021 allocations):

County.........2021-22 CHIPS....................21-22 EWR.........................21-22 PAVE-NY

Chemung__$1,993,316.27 (+21.33%)___$348,997.41 (+53.85%)___$562,998.22 (+50.13%)

Schuyler___$1,039,027.93 (+20.67%)___$177,998.85 (+53.85%)___$294,807.68 (+50%)

Steuben___$5,418,385.61 (+22.32%)___$988,567,50 (+53.85%)___$1,516.725.10 (+50%)

Tompkins__$2,466,047.30 (+22.31%)__$450,966.78 (+53.85%)___$689,933.00 (+49.91%)

Yates_____$1,430,430.24 (+22.53%)___$262,998.33 (+53.85%)___$399,716.93 (+50%)

Palmesano, who also represents a part of Seneca County, said that the allocations for Seneca County are: CHIPS, $1,246,310.96 (+22.03%); EWR, $225,998.19 (+53.85%); and PAVE-NY, $349,344.82 (+49.85%).

[NOTE: See the following link for a full breakdown of CHIPS, Extreme Weather Recovery, and PAVE-NY allocations for cities, towns, and villages: https://www.dot.ny.gov/programs/chips/chips-budget]

At the beginning of March, like they have throughout the past decade, O'Mara and Palmesano rallied the support of more than 60 state Senators and members of the Assembly to get behind the call from county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout New York for increased state support for local roads, bridges and culverts.

The annual advocacy campaign, renamed this year as "Local Roads Are Essential," is sponsored by the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents (NYSCHSA) and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, Inc. (NYSAOTSOH).

Since 2013, O'Mara and Palmesano have organized legislative colleagues to get behind the effort and raise awareness of the need.

Among other studies, an October 2017 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated 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.

TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation research nonprofit, has 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 1, 2021 letter to Cuomo and legislative leaders, O'Mara, Palmesano and their Senate and Assembly colleagues wrote, "We once again stress that New York State's direct investment in local roads and bridges through the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) remains fundamental to the mission highlighted above. It deserves priority consideration in the final allocation of state infrastructure investment the Executive proposes for the 2021-22 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 legislative session we believe the opportunity exists to strengthen 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."

According to a recently updated analysis by the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, the local highway system outside of New York City faces an annual funding gap of $1.7 billion.

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

Dundee man arrested after high-speed chase

From news reports

WATKINS GLEN, April 28, 2021 -- A man wanted for burglary led police on a high-speed chase Tuesday through and out of Watkins Glen before he was apprehended.

Village Police said the incident led to a lockdown of Watkins Glen Schools, near where the man was spotted before fleeing authorities just before noon.

Police said the man, Jonathan F. Shearin of Dundee -- a person of interest in a residential burglary -- was spotted walking along South Decatur Street near the school. When approached by police, he fled on foot to a school parking lot, and drove away in a dark SUV.

They said he nearly struck a police vehicle, drove through a yard, ran a stop sign and turned onto Route 414 South, reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph heading out of town. He eventually stopped and fled on foot, but was apprehended with the help of a Schuyler County K-9 dog.

Shearin, who police said was on parole out of Yates County, was treated by emergency personnel and transported to Schuyler Hospital with minor injuries. He was then released to the custody of the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office.

Police said he is charged with burglary, grand larceny, Obstructing Governmental Administration, trespass, Unlawful Fleeing a Police Officer, reckless endagerment, reckless driving, speeding, and several other traffic violations.

Village Police and the Sheriff's Office were assisted by State Police.

O'Mara: 'Take-Back Day' is important
in the fight against abuse and addiction

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 21, 2021 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) on Wednesday reminded area residents that Saturday, April 24 is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

Law enforcement agencies across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions will operate drop-off centers to allow for the safe and responsible disposal of unused prescription drugs.

“It’s incredibly important that our local law enforcement leaders continue to participate in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Their ongoing leadership in this overall effort to combat prescription drug abuse makes all the difference,” said O’Mara, noting that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in partnership with local police agencies and other community organizations coordinates the annual events across the nation.

On Saturday, Sheriff’s offices throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions have established drop-off centers to allow people to anonymously dispose of unwanted prescription drugs between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Following is a listing of local collection sites being offered throughout O’Mara’s 58th Senate District covering Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates:

> Chemung County: The Chemung County Sheriff's Office will accepted unwanted prescription drugs at the following two locations: Southport Volunteer Fire Department (1001 Carl Street, Elmira) and West Elmira Fire Department (1299 W. Water Street, Elmira).

> Schuyler County: The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office will accept unwanted prescription drugs at the following two locations: Tyrone Volunteer Fire Department at 3600 State Route 226, and the Odessa Volunteer Fire Department at 300 E. Main Street.

> Steuben County: The Steuben County Sheriff’s Office will participate at the Steuben County Public Safety Building, 7007 Rumsey Street Ext., Bath.

> Tompkins County: The Tompkins County Sheriff's Office will participate at the Kinney Drugs location at t 2100 Triphammer Road in Ithaca, and the Kinney Drugs location on Route 96 in Trumansburg.

> Yates County: The Yates County Sheriff's Office will conduct an event at the Yates County Courthouse, 415 Liberty Street, Penn Yan.

In 2018, O’Mara sponsored a new law, the “Drug Take Back Act” (S9100/A9576, Chapter 120 of the Laws of 2018), that established an industry-funded, statewide pharmaceutical drug take-back program. It advanced a “product stewardship” approach to the challenge of disposing of unwanted medications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are responsible for all of the costs of the initiative, including public education and awareness, as well as the collection, transport and proper disposal of unwanted drugs. The Act further requires chain pharmacies and mail-order pharmacies to provide consumers with on-site collection, prepaid mail-back envelopes, or other federally approved methods to encourage safe drug disposal.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Palmesano: State budget is 'irresponsible'

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 7 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano reacted to the New York State budget deal critically, saying it significantly and irresponsibly increases taxes, spending and the state debt.

His full statement follows:

“The final budget deal represents a fiscally irresponsible document that significantly increases taxes, spending and state debt and will have a negative ripple impact on our economy and all New Yorkers for years to come. Workers, families and small businesses have continued to make sacrifices and difficult decisions because of state-mandated COVID-19 closures, lockdowns and restrictions.

“Unfortunately, the governor and the Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities did not and recklessly passed a budget that increases taxes by more than $4 billion, spending more than $18 billion to result in a record setting $212 billion budget. The state debt was increased by $8 billion to add up to more than $67 billion. This budget, with their misplaced priorities, will just further stifle private sector investment, job creation and economic growth for our small businesses, farmers, manufacturers and the hardworking men and women of our state.

“New York was already one of the highest-taxed states in the country. This year’s budget just adds to this dubious distinction. This is an irresponsible increase in taxes, spending and state debt, creating a dangerous fiscal policy that will continue the mass exodus of taxpayers to other states. New York has lost more than 1.4 million residents since 2010 and we continue to see a growing out-migration of New York taxpayers and businesses. New Yorkers are moving to places like Florida, North Carolina and Texas to escape our state's costly, burdensome and overbearing taxes and regulatory system.

“Not only did the governor and Democratic majorities vote to significantly increase taxes, spending and debt but they also continue to advance misplaced priorities that are out of touch with families and small businesses across our state. They continue to support a $420 million film tax credit for Hollywood and the entertainment industry, even as they continue to move forward with implementing a $200 million taxpayer funded campaign system. In addition, they created a $2.1 billion “Excluded Workers Fund” that will send one-time state payments of up to $15,600 to undocumented immigrants. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses have been absolutely crushed by state-mandated closures, lockdowns and costly restrictions and we should be prioritizing helping our small business community to ensure they get the help and resources they need to survive and continue to provide jobs for families in their local communities.

“New York’s adopted $212 billion budget is bigger than those of Texas and Florida combined. I am deeply concerned about this irresponsible budget and worry we are heading down an unsustainable path towards a fiscal cliff that will have a devastating impact on our tax base, economy and quality of life for our families, seniors, farmers, small businesses, manufacturers, workers and, especially, our children and grandchildren, who will someday be handed a bill to pay they had no voice in creating. They simply deserve better. Much, much better.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

O'Mara: New York State budget is reckless

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 7 -- State Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, warned that the 2021-2022 state budget that increases state taxes by more than $4 billion and hikes state government spending by a whopping $18 billion could bring New York State to the edge of the fiscal cliff in the near future.

O'Mara called the state’s new $212 billion fiscal plan, which increases state spending by over 8%, roughly four times the CPI, "reckless and irresponsible." The state Senate approved the budget Tuesday night, with the state Assembly expected to follow suit Wednesday. It will be signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

O'Mara said, "This Albany Democrat giveaway goes far beyond any reasonable sense of fairness, responsibility, or sustainability for hard-working, taxpaying citizens. Governor Cuomo and the legislative Democrat supermajorities are enacting an outrageous tax-and-spend plan that will force future generations of taxpayers to foot an enormous bill because the far-left, extremely liberal, largely New York City-based wing of the Democratic party is in control of the agenda and pushing for a wish list that leads to a fiscal and economic train wreck.

"This budget sets New York loose on an irresponsible, radical, out-of-control state government spending spree by blowing through a one-time federal windfall and then hoping to pay for a future of unsustainable spending with higher and higher taxes. In a state long known as one of the highest-taxed, highest-spending states in America, this Albany Democrat vision for New York sets a new standard of recklessness. A new taxpayer-financed fund to deliver lump-sum payments to illegal immigrants is the latest example of just how out of touch it's become."

O'Mara was especially critical of the new, first-in-the-nation, $2.1-billion fund in this year's budget to provide payments to undocumented immigrants who were excluded from receiving federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new fund, being called the "Excluded Workers Fund," could mean that some recipients would be in line to receive one-time state payments of up to $15,600.

Over the past several weeks, O'Mara and members of the Senate Republican Conference have highlighted key priorities for utilizing the nearly $13 billion in federal funding that New York received through the recently enacted American Rescue Plan. The GOP priorities included the rejection of new tax hikes, across-the-board tax relief, and bolstering state reserve funds.

O'Mara said, "We had an opportunity and a responsibility to utilize this one-time federal stimulus aid under a fiscally responsible, short- and long-term strategy for the post-COVID rebuilding, restoring, and resetting of local communities, economies, environments, and governments for the long term. Equally important, we needed to recognize the fiscal challenges New York will face for the foreseeable future, steer clear of any massive new taxing and spending, and bolster the state’s emergency reserve funds. That’s not what this budget represents. It sets up an economic and fiscal disaster."

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Sheriffs' Institute -- which backs Keuka summer camp -- starts membership drive

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 2, 2021 -- The New York State Sheriffs’ Institute -- whose flagship program is a Summer Camp for econmically challenged children each summer at Keuka Lake -- has begun its annual Honorary Membership drive in Schuyler County.

The New York State Sheriffs’ Institute was established in 1979. It is a not-for-profit, tax exempt organization, and contributions to it are tax deductible.

While the Sheriff’s Office is a unit of county government, many of the concerns of Sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies are best addressed on a statewide level. The Sheriffs’ Institute provides centralized training programs and services for all Sheriffs’ Offices, where those programs and services would be unavailable or impractical on a single county basis.

The Sheriffs’ Summer Camp, in its 45th year of operation, serves 840 children from across New York State each summer. The Sheriffs’ Institute pays the entire cost of the camp stay and transportation. Most children attending wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity for vacation travel or a summer camp experience.

The Sheriffs’ Camp program combines summer recreation with activities designed to teach an understanding of, and respect for, our laws and the men and women who enforce them. The strong camper to counselor ratio allows for individual attention with an emphasis on the development of self esteem.

“In these difficult economic times we cannot forget our youth who will not have the opportunity for a summer camp experience or a summer vacation,” Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman said. “By becoming an honorary member you are supporting the Sheriffs’ Summer Camp for economically disadvantaged children.”

In addition, the Sheriffs’ Institute operates a scholarship program that provides one scholarship to each of New York State’s Community College’s Criminal Justice Programs. This program is designed to help attract the best and the brightest to the criminal justice vocation.

For more information about the Sheriffs’ Summer Camp and other Sheriffs’ Institute Programs, visit www.sheriffsinstitute.org or simply google “Sheriffs’ Institute kids” and it will be your first option.

Financial support for many of the Sheriffs’ Institute programs comes from Honorary Membership dues. Invitations for Honorary Membership are extended on a non-partisan basis, and the invitees are selected at random. Any persons interested in supporting the efforts of the New York State Sheriffs’ Institute by becoming an Honorary Member should contact the Sheriff if they do not receive an invitation in the mail, or visit www.sheriffsinstitute.org to download an application.

All donations made to the New York State Sheriffs’ Institute are tax deductible. In addition, the Sheriffs’ Institute is registered with the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau.

Photo in text: The Sheriffs' Institute-financed Summer Camp at Keuka Lake. (Provided)

Reed, in the wake of misconduct allegation, says he will not run for any office in 2022

Special to The Odessa File

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 21, 2021 -- Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) said Sunday that he will not seek any elected office in 2022 -- either in Congress or for Governor.

Reed, the subject of an allegation this past week of sexual misconduct four years ago -- an allegation issued by a former lobbyist, Nicolette Davis, who is now in the Army (see story below) -- issued a statement through his press office that was both apologetic to Davis and explanatory. He said he was at the time in the grip of an alcohol addiction from which he has been recovering for almost four years.

A paragraph at the end of the statement read:

"Tom Reed further announced Sunday he will not be running for any elected office in 2022. When Reed was first elected to Congress in 2010, he pledged to voters to only serve six terms (12 years) and therefore will be retiring from public service on January 2nd, 2023."

Reed had floated the possibility recently of running for Governor against the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, who is himself accused by several women of sexual harassment. Reed had been highly critical of Cuomo, and had called for his resignation.

The apologetic and explanatory statement, "in response to recent allegations regarding misconduct on a political trip to Minnesota in 2017," was as follows:

“First, I apologize to Nicolette Davis. Even though I am only hearing of this matter as stated by Ms. Davis in the article now, I hear her voice and will not dismiss her. In reflection, my personal depiction of this event is irrelevant. Simply put, my behavior caused her pain, showed her disrespect and was unprofessional. I was wrong, I am sorry, and I take full responsibility. I further apologize to my wife and kids, my family, the people of the 23rd District, my colleagues, and those who have supported me for the harm this caused them.

“Second, I want to share that this occurred at a time in my life in which I was struggling. Upon entering treatment in 2017, I recognized that I am powerless over alcohol. I am now approaching four years of that personal lifelong journey of recovery. With the support of my wife, kids and loved ones, professional help, and trust in a higher power, I continue that journey day-by-day. This is in no way an excuse for anything I’ve done. Consistent with my recovery, I publicly take ownership of my past actions, offer this amends and humbly apologize again to Ms. Davis, my wife and kids, loved ones, and to all of you.

“Third, I plan to dedicate my time and attention to making amends for my past actions. In addition to apologizing to those I have impacted, including Ms. Davis, I will be seeking to help those wrestling with addiction in any way I can. To others who may be struggling the way I have, please know that by seeking help your life will be forever changed in an extremely positive way. Though the journey is hard please know the rewards are amazing and you are worth it.

“As I go forward, I will strive to be a better human being, continue to fight for what I believe in, and to make people’s lives better in any way I can. I hope this formal apology is just the start.”

Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed

Former lobbyist accuses Reed of sexual misconduct; he says account 'is not accurate'

Special to The Odessa File

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 20, 2021 -- New York Republican Congressman Tom Reed has been accused by a former lobbyist of inappropriately touching her at a bar in Minneapolis four years ago while he was intoxicated.

Reed says the accusation is not true. "This account of my actions," he responded in a statement issued by his office, "is not accurate."

According to The Washington Post, Nicolette Davis said the incident occurred in an Irish Pub where she and some fellow lobbyists -- she was a junior lobbyist for an insurance firm -- had adjourned after a day of ice fishing. Reed had been with the group on the ice, she said.

She says Reed -- a 49-year-old, 6-term Congressman from Corning who was seated to her left at a table -- rubbed her back outside her shirt and then, through the fabric, unfastened her bra. She said that when his hand wandered to her thigh, she sought help from a man seated to her right. The account says the incident ended when that man "pulled the Congressman away from the table and out" of the establishment.

The Post said Davis, now 29 and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, made contact with the newspaper through a newsroom tip line on Feb. 11, just prior to Reed floating his interest in running for Governor of New York -- a post held by Andrew Cuomo, himself now under pressure to resign for underreporting nursing home deaths during the pandemic, and for the alleged sexual harassment of several women.

Reed is among those who has called for Cuomo to step down, calling sexual harassment "disturbing and unacceptable." When pressed by the Post to reconcile his support of women's rights in the workplace with the allegation by Davis, Reed responded in the statement from his office: "I stand by my record."

Another person at that table in 2017, the Post said, claims to have witnessed Reed with his hand on Davis's back. Davis later reported the incident to a supervisor at her company, but declined to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee -- a decision she says she now regrets.

The Post said the Minneapolis Police Department declined to comment. But a Republican New York State Senator, George Borrello of the 57th District in Western New York near Reed's congressional district, called for a probe of the allegation.

"The accusation made against Congressman Tom Reed, like all sexual harassment allegations, should be taken seriously," Borrello said. "All parties involved deserve to have these claims independently and thoroughly investigated, without political interference."

Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed

 

 


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