Family, Finances and the Future: Cyril Mouaikel earns recognition

Managing Director and Branch Manager at RBC Wealth Management Cyril Mouaikel sits in his office. Emil Lippe/NNY Business

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What The SECURE ACT Means For Your Retirement

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Business
SECURE Act paperwork sits on a conference table at Morgia Wealth Management in Watertown. 

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Weather Woes

Sarah O’Connell

Al Roker, the weatherman on the Today Show for the past 40 years, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable – much like the weather.” While that might work for Al, it’s not a good general principle for enterprises that depend on the weather to venture plan-less. 

    I suppose we’re lucky that in the north country our weather mainly involves water – either too much of it, or not enough of it. Too much water: record snowfalls, high river and lake levels, road and field flooding, event cancellations, etc. Too little water: low river and lake levels, drought conditions for our crops, event cancellations, and so on. As we smugly say when we’re shoveling snow, sloshing through rain or mowing our dusty, dried-out lawns – at least we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or landslides. 

    When weather presents a major economic or physical impact, that’s when the state and federal governments (e.g. U.S. Small Business Administration) may step in with disaster relief loan programs. But for smaller vacillations, business owners, particularly weather-dependent ones, need to develop a backup plan, whether a snow day, an indoor-related activity or off-season events that will bring in other revenue. 

    For example, a couple of years ago a major bass fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence was impacted by higher water levels, but this ended up being popular with the pro fishermen who enjoyed the access into new areas. These events bring millions of dollars into the area as participants and their families and fans patronize motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. 

    With snow conditions also unpredictable, businesses that depend on skiing and snowmobiling have had to come up with alternate ways to stay afloat, as it were. Snow Ridge in Turin has established a year-round schedule of events from music festivals to trivia nights to dirt bike races. 

    We Northern New Yorkers are resilient. We’re going to find a way to cope with whatever nature throws at us. A case in point is the business confidence survey released by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council looking at 2019 where even higher water levels were reported than 2017. It asked local businesses along the lake and river how they felt about the season and their future outlook. In the survey, “73 percent…claimed to be either satisfied, pleased or very pleased with the business they received.” This was more than in the 2017 survey where 63 percent replied similarly. Why, when the water was even higher than two years ago, did business owners feel better? Because many businesses were able to adapt by raising docks or adding docks and pushing better marketing which offset concerns of potential visitors. The “normal” weather of 2018 didn’t hurt either, as tourists left very enthusiastic about their experience and eager to return in 2019 in spite of the high water. 

    As I write, the annual Snowtown USA event is kicking off in Watertown. Newscaster Walter Cronkite was the first to bestow that title on Watertown after the Blizzard of ’77 left the north country reeling under 220 inches of snow in 5 days. The festival, begun in the early ‘80’s featured ice skating, ice sculptures and other outdoor activities. Ironically, the festival melted away in the late 90’s because of poor weather. It was resurrected in 2013 by incorporating indoor activities like the Snowtown Film Festival, bowling tournaments, snow-related crafts at the library, pub crawls, etc. When the weather does cooperate, there are many outdoor events planned as well. 

    And by the way, in November 2014, Al Roker beat the unofficial world record for an uninterrupted live weather report of 33 hours held by a Norwegian weather broadcaster by setting an official Guinness World Record, reporting for 34 hours. 

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties. For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

Do You Need An Environmental Lawyer?

Kevin Murphy

If you are buying or selling real estate you may need to hire an environmental lawyer.  

    If the answer is yes then you may need environmental counsel when any of the following arise:  

  • You want to obtain “bona fide prospective purchaser protection” for your property acquisition but are not sure what is required. You need assistance in drafting environmental provisions in a contract of sale in order to protect yourself from risk and future liabilities.
  • The parties to a commercial real estate deal cannot figure out a fair method for allocating the costs to clean up environmental contamination and need creative, workable solutions.
  • “Everyone knows” the property is contaminated because of a leaking tank or an asbestos problem, but no one knows what to do. The lender tells you a Phase I environmental site assessment needs to be prepared, but you know you shouldn’t rely on a Google search to find a qualified environmental consultant.
  • The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment report tells you there are “recognized environmental conditions,” and you do not know how to proceed or if you should proceed.
  • A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment confirms the presence of contamination and you do not know how to proceed or if you are required to report the findings to anyone.
  • You do not know whether environmental insurance is available to resolve some of the difficult problems in the deal.

You need an environmental attorney when you or your client wants to know:  

  • Whether and how the development of the property could meet the requirements of the New York State Brownfields Cleanup Program.
  • How to get the best estimates of the costs of, and how to evaluate the adequacy of, proposals to clean up the property.
  • Whether there is a potential claim against the prior owner for failure to disclose an environmental liability that he knew or should have known about and should have disclosed to the client/purchaser.
  • If there is a viable claim against prior owners in the chain of title.
  • Whether there is a potential claim against an adjacent property owner for contamination on the property that the client now owns. What the scope of your liability is for property damage and personal injury to nearby properties from contamination migrating from your property before and after purchase.
  • If completion of a Phase I ESA is all that needs to be done to obtain “bona fide prospective purchaser” protection.
  • How to get a “no further action” letter from a government agency to meet a lender’s requirements.
  • What the impact of contamination is on the value to your property.
  • Whether, even after cleanup, there is an actionable “stigma” attached to the property.

Reflecting Back on 50-Years of Environmental Conservation

Randy Young

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this year with a series of regional and statewide events to mark the occasion. DEC was established on the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970. Since that time, DEC has played a major role in nearly every environmental milestone in New York’s history, including the remarkable recovery of the bald eagle, recovery of trout waters from the effects of acid rain, and the largest addition to the Adirondack Park in more than a century, completed in 2016. 

    “For 50 years, New York State has set the national standard for environmental excellence by advancing responsible and proactive policies to protect the planet,” said Basil Seggos, DEC Commissioner. “This year, DEC is reflecting on 50 years of national leadership on the environment and renewing our commitment to tackling the tough challenges the future will bring, particularly climate change, the most pressing threat to our air, land, and water.”  

    Prior to DEC, New York’s Conservation Department was the primary agency responsible for enforcing environmental regulations and protecting the state’s vast natural resources for more than a century. Funding for the Conservation Department came from the Conservation Fund, which raised money primarily through the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. In 1970, according to a survey of Americans at that time, 70% agreed that air and water pollution were serious problems where they lived (https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations Policy & Politics, Richard Nixon and the rise of American Environmentalism, written by Meir Rinde, June 2, 2017). In response to growing national support for strengthening environmental protections, Governor Nelson Rockefeller consolidated all environmental programs under the newly created DEC and unveiled it to the public on the first ever Earth Day. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed later that year in December by President Nixon. 

    “While there is much to celebrate, our work is not done. DEC’s mission to protect public health and New York’s environment is, and will always be, an ongoing endeavor. In the next 50 years, environmental challenges will continue to emerge, and DEC’s steadfast commitment to meet those challenges head on will be stronger than ever before,” said Seggos. “From policies and programs that are effectively reducing waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and the threat of emerging contaminants to investments to revitalize our communities and increase their resiliency, to the Thin Green Line of Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Forest Rangers patrolling and protecting our precious natural resources and public lands, DEC’s more than 3,000 experts are working across the state and around the clock to ensure the health and prosperity of current and future generations of New Yorkers.” 

    As part of DEC’s year-long anniversary celebration, the agency is releasing a commemorative logo that will be used on the DEC website, in printed materials, and other promotions throughout 2020. DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife will incorporate the logo in the yearly Habitat Access Pin to commemorate the anniversary. The new Habitat Access Pin will be available at license issuing agents statewide beginning in August. Beginning in January, the agency’s history of significant environmental accomplishments will be memorialized on DEC’s website, via email, social media channels using the #DEC50 hashtag, and in the Conservationist Magazine and Conservationist for Kids. DEC will also host a series of regional and statewide events throughout the year, including launching a new Geocaching Challenge – DEC will designate 50 properties across the state where geocaching canisters will be hidden with information inside on how to receive a prize. 

    For the latest updates on #DEC50 and DEC’s yearling celebration of the agency’s 50th anniversary, visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/9677.html. 

Five Tips For Starting Fresh With Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

As we start with 2020 it’s a great time to think about how you can freshen up your business to grow and have a greater impact this year. There are a few simple things that you can do to start your business off right:

Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Small business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. Long hours, no sick leave, and being the one in charge of all the moving parts can wear on you after a while. Frequently your needs get pushed to the side so that your business can succeed. While this can be necessary, it also means that occasionally you do need to take care of yourself. Take time out for you, whether it’s an actual “unplugged” short vacation (scary, right?), or a weekly yoga class, or even a Saturday hiking in the mountains with your family, do what you need to refresh yourself. You’ll return to your business rested and more able to see the big picture.

Tip 2: Get Organized
Getting organized will help you cut down on wasted time. Have you found yourself looking for a file for over an hour since you didn’t put it in the right folder? (Speaking from experience on that one). Or do you frequently forget tasks? During one of the slower times in your business, it can be a good idea to declutter, get your systems back in place, or try a new time management technique. I’ve found the yearly file cabinet purge and restructuring is really helpful for when business gets too busy later. There are also a lot of apps that can help you get organized. A couple of my favorites are Quickbooks Self-Employed for keeping track of business income, costs, and mileage; Cozi, a free calendar system; and Colornote which allows you to set Post-it note reminders on your phone. Also see what tasks are “time wasters” and see if there are any that you can outsource. Getting a bookkeeper to keep track of the giant box of receipts, or a Virtual Assistant to help with scheduling and returning emails may be more cost-effective than you think if they allow you to spend more time on tasks that create sales.

Tip 3: Improve Your Customer Service
Take a moment to see if there are any things you can do for your customers to improve their experience. For example, do all of your employees greet your customers with a smile? Now might be a good time to check in about that. Ask your customers if there’s anything you can do to improve, either off-line with conversations or comment cards, or online by getting Google or Yelp reviews. If there’s something that you can improve on, they’ll tell you. More reviews also help bring more people to your website. Do you have really great customers who refer a lot of business to you? Maybe get them something special as a thank you.

Tip 4: Get To Know Your Finances
If you feel like you don’t have a good handle on your expenses or know the streams of income that are most important to your business, it might be a good time to get your bookkeeping in order. Whether you keep books by hand, Excel, or use a software program like Quickbooks, it is very important to know your profit margins and overhead expenses. Making sure you do your data entry in a timely manner can save a lot of headaches at tax time and can help you keep a better eye on changes you might need to make in your business. For example, your prices may have to change to match with different costs. Take a look at your numbers and see how you feel about where you are.

Tip 5: Meet With the SBDC!
Would you like to do some of these, but just don’t know where to get started? That’s what we’re here for! The Small Business Development Center offers FREE confidential business counseling, and we can help you with any of the above tasks, and more. Just contact the office closest to you. You can reach the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262. We’d love to help.

For The Love Of Community: Superheroes without Capes

Lt. Col. Jamie Cox

The people who’ve made Northern New York home have come from all over America. The vast majority have generational connections to the north country. However, some arrived on orders from the Army. Others journeyed north to raise their family. A few came to be part of something special. 

    There is an extraordinary breed of individuals amongst us who rise above the the rest. They are servants to the community. 

    The list of whom they serve unfortunately runs long. There are victims of domestic violence, families struggling with food insecurity, people who fight mental health conditions, individuals who have become casualties of the opioid crisis, infants born to homeless mothers, veterans in search of work opportunities, adolescents struggling with self-identity, and seniors who can’t afford much needed prescriptions. 

    These selfless servants carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The stories they hear from their clientele haunt their dreams. And despite the low pay and lack of benefits, they continue to perform miracles day after day. 

    For most who serve, it is a calling: a vocation to help the most vulnerable members of our community. The paychecks they receive are reliant on the generosity of good people, philanthropic foundations and companies who embrace corporate responsibility. When funding dries up, they learn to do more with less. 

    They are desperate for career and job skill training, a cost of living pay raise, benefits, and a clean and professional facility to conduct their business. 

    When they see nationally renowned charitable organizations throwing lavish parties for donors and executives, our local servants cringe at how that image imposes itself on their own company. They fear the effects of the economy on people’s ability to give. They know societal philanthropy is decreasing year after year. 

    And yet they continue to serve. 

    The employees of nonprofit organizations throughout NNY serve to give friends, neighbors, and even strangers hope for a better future. They are passionate to make our part of the country a better place for everyone to live. They do it for the children, seniors, arts, environment and individuals and families in crisis. It’s a willingness to live a simpler life because the sense of fulfillment and pride is more than any paycheck could convey. 

    So to all of those who serve, thank you. Thank you for holding the hand of a teen who’s going through violent withdrawals from drugs and for providing care for toddlers while their parents work. Thank you for teaching people to read and for hugging the senior who’s not able to leave their home. Thank you for driving the veteran to his appointment in Syracuse and for teaching people how to interview for a job. Thank you for feeding the hungry and for educating our children about the dangers of substance abuse. Thank you for guiding teens who have identity challenges and bringing music to our communities. Thank you for protecting victims of domestic violence and for filling propane tanks in the winter. Thank you for saving the river, lake and our forests. Thank you for sacrificing your financial security and for incurring greater personal debt to pursue a life in service to others. 

    Thank you from all of us to all of you who put our neighborhoods and communities ahead of yourselves. You deserve more. You are all – truly – superheroes. 

Lt. Col Jamie Cox, a combat decorated and wounded US Marine Corps (Retired) aviator, is currently the President and CEO of the United Way of Northern New York. He can be reached at Jamie.Cox@unitedway-nny.org.

The Basics of Special Needs Trusts

Timothy Doolittle

Special Needs Trusts (“SNTs”) are an essential tool both when a person with disabilities has assets to protect and when that person’s parents are considering their estate plan. Whether the person with the disability has funds, receives funds from a personal injury settlement, or receives funds and property as a gift, the money must be managed carefully. SNTs (or Supplemental Needs Trusts as they can be referred to) are the best tool to use for asset protection for those with disabilities. 

    The primary goal of an SNT is to preserve a disabled person’s access to needs based public benefits when receiving a lump sum or inheritance. These benefits might otherwise be lost when the individual acquires resources over a given threshold. A person who is disabled may be receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on a monthly basis and may have Medicaid coverage to pay for the costs of healthcare. Medicaid and SSI are means-tested and impose limits on resources, so an influx of money from an injury settlement or inheritance could result in a loss of benefits access. 

    An SNT makes it possible to avoid this loss of benefits. When properly drafted in accordance with the law and when properly structured and maintained, SNTs allow money to be used for the benefit of someone who is disabled without jeopardizing benefits access. The assets held in the trust are not counted as resources for Medicaid or SSI calculations but can be used to supplement and enrich the quality of life of the person who is disabled, beyond what governmental benefits provide for. When SNTs are created, it is important to know what specific type of trust must be used. There are two primary kinds of SNTs: first-party trusts and third-party trusts. The unique situation of each person will dictate which type of trust will need to be created. 

    If the money or property being put into the trust comes from the person who is disabled, the trust is a first-party trust. This situation can occur if the individual receives a windfall inheritance, receives a personal injury settlement, or if they simply have built up assets based on gifts from family members. A third-party trust can hold assets that are deposited in the trust directly by any third-party source, like a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, etc. 

    A first-party special needs trust can be established only by the disabled individual, parent, grandparent, guardian or court. They also can only be established for someone under the age of 65. In some situations, courts would monitor these trusts. The main drawback of a first party SNT occurs when the individual with a disability dies. At that point, the SNT must contain terms that names the state providing Medicaid benefits to the individual as the primary beneficiary of the SNT’s assets. This is known as the “Pay-Back” provision, to allow the state to pursue reimbursement for the costs of care expended during the individual’s life. 

    A third-party SNT can be created by anyone who wants to leave money to someone who is disabled. Third-party SNTs can be funded up to any amount, with any type of asset. The trust can be used for virtually any purposes to benefit the person with special needs, except for that the person’s own money cannot be held in the trust. Often times, parents of a child with disabilities will set up a third-party trust as part of their estate plan, to ensure any inheritance meant for the child will not affect their public benefits. 

    Upon the death of the disabled beneficiary of the third-party special needs trust, the money and property can transfer to any other relatives or beneficiaries that the trust creator chooses. Because the money and assets in the trust never belonged to the person who was disabled, the state has no ability to require a pay-back provision. 

    Special Needs Trusts can provide very important protections for someone with disabilities. If you are in a situation that calls for a Special Needs Trust, reaching out to a qualified attorney well versed in the area is a must. 

Timothy Doolittle primarily focuses his practice on estate planning, as well as asset preservation for individuals. Mr. Doolittle is a magna cum laude graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Honors College. Mr. Doolittle is admitted to practice in New York State and is a member of the New York State Bar Association. Contact Mr. Doolittle by emailing TDoolittle@WladisLawFirm.com.

Revolutionize Your Resolution

Jessica Piatt

With the arrival of the New Year you might be inspired by the occasion to set personal resolutions to better yourself. In fact, you might resolve to travel more, learn a new skill, dedicate more time to reading or even working out. But what about your business? 

    If you want to grow your business in 2020, then you should be making New Year’s resolutions for your business, not just yourself. 

    I’m not talking about lofty goals with desired results set haphazardly. I’m talking about real resolutions. While resolutions are often derived from goals, the two are not the same. A goal is the object of one’s ambition, an aim, or desired result, whereas a resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. This year ditch the dusty goals you know you’ll abandon by mid-March and instead revolutionize your resolution by committing your company to a decision and taking immediate action. By making resolutions for your organization (and following through with them) you are deciding to better your business. 

    Decisions are made with intent and often with a strategy to deploy them. You should set your resolutions in the same way. They should be both intentional and SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. 

    When you set your business resolutions for 2020, there are two important statements to keep in mind: your mission and vision statements. Your business’s mission statement defines your organization. It is the reason for its existence; thus, it should be the driving force behind everything your company does. Your business’s vision statement describes where your business aspires to be. It serves as the guide for choosing courses of action. Both your mission and vision statements are vital to the development of your organization and should be considered when making New Year’s resolutions for your business. 

    Maintaining that your resolutions should be SMART and should consider your mission and vision statements, here are a few ideas to get you started on revolutionizing your resolutions in 2020.  

Invest in Your Employees 

    This year resolve to invest in your company’s most valuable asset, your staff. By investing in your employees, you make your staff part of the long-term growth for your organization. Business resolutions with a focus on employees through areas such as communication, training, development and recognition, can have a significant impact on productivity and office culture.   

Inspire Loyalty 

    Now, depending on your business or industry, this category can vary but whether it’s your customers, members, or clients, maintaining healthy relationships with your consumer basis is vital for growth. In 2020, set a resolution with your customers, members, or clients at the center of your decision. Consider improving customer service or enhancing retention rates. Your resolution in this area should focus on inspiring loyalty.  

It Starts with You 

    If you want to incite change in your work world, recognize that it first starts with you. Become an example of the change you want to see in your workspace. Your action will inspire others to do the same. 

Change is kindled by a decision. No matter what you resolve to do in 2020, setting SMART goals will prevent you from giving up on your New Year’s resolution in the first quarter and considering your mission and vision statements will propel your business forward. SMART goals with a foundation of your mission and vision statements will help you to achieve your resolutions for a more prosperous year. 

Leadership Honored at 9th Annual 20 Under 40 Awards

The 2019 20 Under 40 Award Recipients pose for a portrait at the luncheon on Friday in Watertown. Julia Hopkins/NNYBusiness

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