Attention Educators: Ag teachers needed!

Jay Matteson

BY: Jay Matteson

September 22 was National Teach Ag Day.  I had never heard of the day. But as I learned more about its purpose recently, it became necessary to share this story with you. National Teach Ag Day is organized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  A small part of the observance is to say thank you to the existing ag teachers across the United States for the fantastic job they do.  The primary reason for National Teach Ag Day is to highlight a gaping demand for ag teachers.

    The website for Teach Ag Day is www.naae.org/teachag/index.cfm. The website makes very clear the purpose of the day is to “bring attention to the career of agricultural education, get students thinking about a possible career in agricultural education, and support agricultural teachers in their careers.”  There is currently a national shortage of agricultural educators at the high school level. Mrs. Tedra Bean, the Belleville Henderson High School Agricultural teacher recently told me, “there are 40 schools interested in starting agricultural education programs, but they don’t have agricultural teachers.”  Bill Stowell, ag educator at South Jefferson High School supported Mrs. Bean’s statement, adding that recently 24 ag teachers were added across New York state.

    Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Bean indicate that ag education programs at the high school level have three components: classroom instruction; FFA membership and participation; and supervised agricultural experiences.  The classroom instruction includes regular classroom instruction and laboratory learning.  Classroom instruction may cover sciences, business development, and a variety of other courses that develop the knowledge base of the student.  Laboratory instruction involves hands-on learning that may include handling animals, plants, food products, and technology. FFA brings a great opportunity to build leadership and communicative skills as well as the critical tools of time management. FFA (www.ffa.org) also allows students to join with thousands of students across the U.S. sharing common interests in a dynamic and large youth-led organization.  Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to go into fields of their interest and gain true work experience. They may work in a number of fields that could include communications, farming, agribusiness, veterinary, environmental stewardship, and many other agricultural related career paths.   All three components combine into an ag education program that is a powerful tool to prepare students for the many career opportunities that exist in agriculture. 

    Those who graduate from college with a degree in agricultural education have more than one career opportunity they can pursue. Yes, there is tremendous opportunity to become a high school agriscience teacher with the huge demand that exists. College graduates might also follow a path towards being an ag literacy coordinator, an ag education professor in college, farm business management instructor, or a variety of other possibilities.  Here in New York state students graduating high school could pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and then go on to SUNY Oswego to obtain their masters degree. There are many ag education programs across the nation to look into. The Teach Ag Day website mentioned earlier provides many resources for those interested to look at. 

    In addition to the ag programs at South Jefferson and Belleville Henderson schools, there are ag programs at Carthage, Indian River and Alexandria schools in Jefferson County.  In Lewis County ag programs exist at South Lewis, Beaver River and Lowville school districts. St Lawrence County has ag programs at Canton, Gouverneur and Edwards Knox schools along with a specialized program through BOCES called the St. Lawrence Agriculture Academy.   Unfortunately Oswego County does not have an ag education program despite their agricultural industry.

    With so many schools across the nation showing an interest in developing agricultural programs in their schools, and ag teacher positions going unfilled, students will take a second look at this opportunity.   Workforce development is critical to any industry, including agriculture, and having a robust offering of agricultural classroom opportunities in our high schools is important if we want to maintain our food supply.  At the core of providing educational opportunities in agriculture, is the all-important agriculture teacher. Thank you for doing what you do.

Internship Savings: SUNY Potsdam’s Center for Applied Learning generates $550,880

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Toby White, Director of Experiential Education,provides students looking for internships acquire more information and resources.

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Breaking Ground: New facility to increase program capabilities

PHOTO PROVIDED BY: Jason Hunter / SUNY Potsdam
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, left center, and SUNY Potsdam President Kristin Esterberg participate toss dirt in the air during a groundbreaking ceremony for SUNY Potsdam’s new Child Care Center.

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What is “Assessed Value?”

Lance Evans

By: Lance Evans

The word “assessment” is defined as “the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something.”  In real estate, the terms “assessment” and “assessed value” are used frequently and are interchangeable.  

                Frequently people ask why a property is on the market for more than the assessment and if, after the property sells, the assessment will be adjusted to reflect the purchase price.

                I  spoke recently with Brian Phelps, the city of Watertown’s assessor for the past eleven years. We talked about his experience, what an assessor is, and what his or her job is. 

                Assessors are certified by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. They need to take a basic certification class and then need to take continuing education periodically.

                Mr. Phelps, who has 20 years of experience as an assessor, began his career as one of three elected assessors in the town of Champion. At one point, prior to being hired by the city, he was employed by three different towns in three different counties. This allowed him to see different systems and ways of doing his job along with a wide variety of properties and economic factors.

                Assessments are, at their core, opinions of value. They differ from an appraisal, which looks at an individual property. The assessor looks at the properties as a whole. His/her estimate of the value of real property is converted into an assessment and is one component in the computation of real property tax bills.

                While properties are treated similarly, assessments allow for differences like square footage, lot size, and features like a pool, porch, deck, etc. They also take into account the general condition and upkeep a property has. Variations like a big upgrade or a decline in maintenance can affect the assessment. An assessor  has access to building permits and he evaluates these based on how they impact the quality and condition of the property.

                His job is to “hit the value” with his assessment. Since he has access to property sales, I asked him what happens when a property sells. Does that automatically mean a change in the assessment? His answer was no.

                Before going further, it is important to note that the city of Watertown assessments reflect 92 percent of a property’s value. This means that if a property is assessed at $92,000 and sells for $100,000, the assessment was right on target. 

                When there is a large variance (higher or lower) in the price versus the assessed value, it could trigger a review of the assessment. Mr. Phelps pointed out that what usually has happened is that what was sold is not what was valued in the assessment. There are times when a buyer pays more than a property would normally be valued.

                For instance, in a “hot” market where properties are selling very fast and have multiple offers, the price paid can easily be much higher than the assessment. Similarly, if an area has suddenly experienced a quick drop in market value, properties can sell well below assessment.

                Either way, the assessor looks at the reasons surrounding the difference between the assessed value and the actual sale price and may adjust it accordingly. Mr. Phelps looks at the property as it was valued and what actually sold.

                Outside of a city-wide revaluation, the main way an assessment changes is a physical change to the property like an addition, something that markedly improves the value, or something that causes a dramatic drop in value. 

                Earlier, I noted that the assessment is only one component of how the real property tax bill is calculated. The other portion is the tax levy that the municipality, county Legislature, and local school district set as the amount that needs to be collected. The levy is the amount of money needed to fund government operations after accounting for state aid, sales tax and other income sources.

                According to Mr. Phelps, the total value of property in Watertown is roughly one billion dollars. If the City Council determines that the amount needed from property tax is ten million dollars, then the City’s portion of the property tax will be $10 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. In the earlier example of a property assessed at $92,000, then the bill would be $92.

                Next month, I will be looking at how appraisals work and how they differ from assessments and how they can help determine the market price for a property.

Finding Your Food: Regional food hubs connect consumer with food

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Peter Martins displays a handful of strawberries at Martin farm on Needam Road in Potsdam.

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Realtors Advocate For Property Owners and Buyers

Lance Evans

The month of May saw Realtors from our area join their counterparts across the state and nation to advocate for consumer friendly real estate issues and oppose measures that would hurt property owners and buyers.

    During the week of May 15 to May 20, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) held its annual Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Attended by approximately 8,500 attendees from across the country and around the world, the week included about 200 meetings and events that covered many real estate topics and allowed Realtors to take an active role in advancing the real estate industry, public policy, and the Association. 

    The tri-county area attendees included Jennifer Dindl (Humes Realty and Appraisal), Carolyn Gaebel (Bridgeview Real Estate and Gaebel Real Estate Services), Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate), Brittany Matott (County Seat Realty), Al Netto (Weichert Realtors, Thousand Islands Realty), and Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty), along with myself. During the week there were NAR and Women’s Council of Realtors committee meetings, idea exchanges with other Realtors and staff, and information and updates that will assist all of us in better serving the area’s real estate consumers.

    On May 18, we met with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and joined colleagues from around the state while meeting with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Charles Schumer. We focused on three main issues.

    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), of particular interest to our area, is slated to expire on September 30. Without reauthorization, NFIP cannot issue or renew policies in 22,000 communities where flood insurance is required for a mortgage. The NFIP was created to provide incentives for communities to rebuild to higher standards and steer development away from flood zones. In exchange, communities gain access to flood maps, mitigation assistance and subsidized insurance to prepay for future damage and recover more quickly from flooding. The NFIP was last up for reauthorization in 2008. There were 18 short-term extensions and a two-month shutdown before Congress reauthorized the program in 2012.

    We asked our representatives to pass the “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act,” which passed the House unanimously last year, and to enable consumers to meet federal requirements with private plans that often offer better coverage at a lower cost than the NFIP.

    Tax reform was also on our list of issues. While no tax reform legislation had been introduced as of our meetings, there were several plans that had been discussed. Some of these would lower tax rates and raise the standard deduction, but would pay for these changes by scaling back existing real estate tax provisions. Proposals that limit itemized deductions, even if not directly changing rules applicable to mortgage interest, could have serious negative consequences for homeowners. 

    PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analyzed a blueprint-like tax reform plan and noted that home-owning families with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would face average tax hikes of $815 in the first year after enactment, while non-homeowners in the same income range would see an average cut of $516. Currently, homeowners pay 83 percent of all federal income taxes, and this share would go even higher under similar reform proposals. Homeowners should not have to pay a higher share of taxes because of tax reform.

    Further, proposals limiting tax incentives for homeownership would cause home values everywhere to plunge. Estimates provided by PwC show that values could fall in the short run by more than 10 percent, with a larger drop in high-cost areas. It might take years for home values to rebound from such a significant decrease.

    The final issue we spoke about was protecting sustainable homeownership.   We asked our representatives to responsibly reform the secondary mortgage market. Failure to do so, while limiting costs imposed on homeowners, ensure proper loan disclosures, and fund necessary system upgrades for federal housing programs hurts the very fabric and underpinnings of our society.

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac act as a backstop for mortgages and help to safeguard 30-year, fixed rate mortgages ensuring families are not shut out of homeownership. We asked that these entities not be dismantled without identifying a viable replacement.

    The week was productive and informative. It is important that our representatives hear from Realtors advocating for property owners. The information we received at the meetings will assist us as we work for housing opportunities in the area.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

The Trails to Economic Upswing

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Lynette Lundy-Beck stands near the Seaway Trail in Chaumont where a new informational kiosk about the trail and the village of Chaumont was placed recently.

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A River between us and the largest population in Canada

Sarah O’Connell

By Sarah O’Connell

Every spring, the Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show attracts over 17,000 people to explore destinations; St. Lawrence County was among them. Caribbean, African, Canadian, U.S. and East Asian destinations handed out brochures, provided tastings and talked with people, spreading awareness, ensuring their destination was top of mind in the traveler’s decision-making process.

    The St. Lawrence County booth included a display on the expanded Ogdensburg International Airport, which caught the eye of many. They were very interested in the low-cost direct flights, the opportunity to clear customs at the border and fly a domestic flight to their final US destination.  For many of them, Ogdensburg is closer than Ottawa, so price and convenience are selling points.  They were interested in the opportunity to spend the night before they flew, to take advantage of park- and-ride opportunities, have a nice meal and then do their shopping on their return drive.  Likewise, they were excited to hear that you can now get to Baltimore from the Massena Airport.

    It was interesting to talk to Canadians about what brings them over the border, what discourages them, and what excites them. Like many of us, Canadians are very sensitive about their dollars. Given the current value of their dollar, they still expressed their continued visits to shop for groceries, gas up their vehicles, and take advantage of discounted retail shopping and shipping! Not everything is cheaper, but some things still are.  The year-round Vermont ski area exhibiting next to us had a sign that read ‘Canadian at Par’. I asked them how maintaining that promise has impacted their business. He said that Canadian customers are too important to their company, they need to continue that loyalty and offering that commitment is the best marketing message they can send.

    Some expressed concern over discrimination at the border, while others mentioned ease. People were especially excited about golfing here, the price and ability to get tee times.  Nearly every rack card promoting cycling was taken. The wide shoulders, minimal traffic and beautiful scenery is desirable to them.  They were interested in the diversity and affordability of live entertainment offered through Ogdensburg Command Performance, the Orchestra of Northern New York, Community Performance Series at SUNY Potsdam and all of the festivals going on. They expressed that the closeness made it possible to take a drive to explore new places.  Several families were thrilled by the idea of a short drive with the kids to get away, and feel like they are ‘in a different country’. Robert Moses State Park in Massena  with the soon-to- be- open Nature Center, the Eisenhower Locks, Hawkins Point Visitors Center, campgrounds and cabins, trails and safe cycling all sounded idyllic as a summer escape from the city.

    Approximately 40 percent of Canada’s population lives within 200 miles of our border. In St. Lawrence County, we have two international bridges (Prescott-Ogdensburg and Cornwall-Massena).  What an opportunity?

To Buy or Rent, That is the Question!

Lance Evans

A recent Watertown Daily Times article cited a study by SmartAsset comparing average rent to home prices by county nationwide.
    In New York state, Jefferson County ranked 8th in terms of being more viable to buy than rent. According to the study, the break-even point, the point when the amount paid in rent exceeds the cost of purchasing a home, is 1.4 years. For the comparison, SmartAsset used an average price of $222,146 for a Jefferson County home with an average monthly mortgage of $558 versus an average monthly rent of $1,492.

    A little lower on the list was Lewis County at 22nd with a break-even point of two years. The average home price used was $178,887 with a monthly mortgage payment of $464 and $1,066 monthly rent.

    Coming in at 33rd in the state was St. Lawrence County. Using an average home price of $138,283, a monthly mortgage payment of $346 and monthly rent of $1,105, SmartAsset estimated that the break-even point was a little over two years.

    For the analysis, SmartAsset assumed a mortgage rate of 4.5 percent, closing costs of $2,000, and a 20 percent down payment when it created the above comparisons. A higher rate, a lower down payment, etc. would change these calculations.

    A similar study, done by ATTOM Data solutions came out in January 2017 and noted that in about two-thirds of the nation’s counties, it is more affordable to buy a home than rent. ATTOM compared rents of fair market three-bedroom properties to the monthly payments on median priced homes in 540 counties. The calculations included the cost of mortgages, property taxes, and insurance. The report also noted that in about a quarter of the markets surveyed, rents are surging faster than home prices.  In fact it noted that, on average, rents for a three-bedroom property rose 4.2 percent nationwide.   

    While ATTOM did not look at St. Lawrence or Lewis counties, Jefferson County was included.   Like SmartAsset, ATTOM found that it was more affordable to buy than rent in the county. They estimate that a buyer will spend about 26.8 percent of the average wage when buying a median priced home ($129,000) in Jefferson County while it takes 44.8 percent of wages to rent a three-bedroom dwelling at a median rent of $1,492. ATTOM’s study showed that in other areas of the state, for instance many of the Hudson River Valley markets, it is less expensive to rent.

    The analysis incorporated recently released fair market rent data for 2017 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and public record sales deed data from RealtyTrac in counties with at least 900 home sales in 2016.

    A third analysis by realtor.com showed that in all three counties, it is less expensive to buy than rent. In fact, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties are numbers three and four in the state with Jefferson County buyers using twenty-two percent of income while renters used thirty percent. St. Lawrence County had a narrower gap of 6 percent with a buyer needing to spend 16 percent of income to buy and 20 percent to rent. Lewis County was also less expensive to buy with a 2 percent gap.

    Clearly, it is currently less expensive to buy than to rent in our area. So what should you do? Look at your circumstances including income and debt, consider the alternatives, and if you think you might be interested in buying a property, check with a mortgage professional and an area Realtor.

    Jennifer Stevenson, licensed real estate broker and owner of Blue Heron Realty in Ogdensburg, has been nominated as 2018 secretary-treasurer of the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) a not-for-profit trade organization representing more than 53,000 of New York State’s real estate professionals.

    Ms. Stevenson, a member of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors since 1989, has served in many capacities at the local, state, and national levels of the Realtor Association. She is a past president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors and served on the Association’s board of directors for over 25 years. In addition, she has chaired several NYSAR committees, and participates in the National Association of Realtors meetings. Locally she serves on the Ogdensburg City Council, is active in Rotary, and participates on St. Lawrence County’s Fair Housing Task Force among other activities. The elections will take place on September 27 at the NYSAR Board of Directors meeting.

May Small Business Startup: Tactics

 

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
 Kevin Daniels, owner of Tactics Live Adventure & Escape Games, stands in the Outbreak Laboratory at his new downtown business at 5 Market St. in Potsdam.

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