Enjoy the Outdoors Year-Round

Judy Drabicki

Northern New York has a well-deserved reputation as a great place to raise a family. Part of what makes it great are the year-round opportunities to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities. The four seasons, combined with vast amounts of New York state lands for hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or horseback riding, pristine waters for fishing, and abundant wildlife for viewing or hunting set the stage for adventure, exploration, and good, quality family time. Let me be clear, my idea of family is broad and includes a couple with a dog, blended families, and all other combinations that individuals choose to define themselves as a family. Regardless, my point is this—the family that plays together, stays together.  

    Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, a multiyear outdoor recreation campaign to connect families and visitors to the outdoors, estimates that New York state lands accommodate more than 75 million visitors per year. 

    Region 6, which includes eastern Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, Tug Hill and eastern Adirondacks has 11 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) totaling 18,795 acres in Jefferson County alone. These state lands provide wildlife habitat management and wildlife-dependent recreation. Several are located within a 20-minute drive of Watertown. 

    Lakeview WMA, in Ellisburg on State Route 3, is part of the largest natural fresh water barrier beach system in New York state. Lakeview is open to the public year-round, and some of its most beautiful areas can be seen by boat. DEC has provided boat launch sites for canoes or car top boats with a 10-horsepower limit.

    As stewards of the land and the wildlife, sometimes we must carefully manage public access to state lands to provide habitat and nesting opportunities for species that depend on these areas. Perch River WMA, which encompasses 7,800 acres in the towns of Brownville, Orleans and Pamelia in Jefferson County, is one such area where we balance public access with natural resource protection. This restricted wetland and refuge area provides habitat for several of New York’s endangered and threatened species, including bald eagles, black terns, and northern harriers (marsh hawks). By late August, the nesting and brooding season is mostly complete and the fall migration period has not yet begun. That’s when we open access to the public and it’s traditionally a huge draw for bird watchers of all ages. 

    Bird watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Young people between the ages of 12 and 18 can get involved in the State’s “I Bird NY” beginning bird challenge. This past spring, more than 100 young people completed the challenge and became I Bird NYers.

    In September, Rich Schmitt of Rochester took his 13-year old son and the child’s 14-year old friend hunting at Perch River WMA. He wrote to us in an email that the boys ended up with eight blue-winged and three green-winged teal. “It’s always fun to see the younger kids have a successful hunt,” said Mr. Schmitt.

    For the nature observer and hiker, we have many miles of well-marked trails in all areas of the five-county area of Region 6. In May, we cut the ribbon on new improvements at the John Young trail, which make it more accessible to visitors. This newly accessible, 2,000-foot trail is located within the Tug Hill State Forest at Barnes Corners. Our focus is on inclusion, and accessibility improvements invite people with mobility issues and families with children in strollers to our state lands.

    Camping is an amazing opportunity to live off the “grid” for a short amount of time. Visitors can choose from three DEC campgrounds in Region 6; or find primitive camp spots on state lands. Even teenagers sometimes reluctant to spend time with their families enjoy sitting around the camp fire after enjoying a meal cooked over a propane camp stove or sitting quietly around the fire taking time to gaze at the stars. And don’t forget, every fourth grader in New York is eligible to visit one of the state’s day use areas at a DEC campground for free.

    These opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and many more, can be found on our DEC website, at www.dec.ny.gov where a drop-down menu under Recreation provides a treasure trove of information about available opportunities. Our regional office is also more than happy to take your phone calls at 315-785-2239 to help visitors find a great place to recreate with their families.

                Whether it’s active or passive, back country or front country, on land or water, I recommend that all New Yorkers—and visitors, too—do their family’s physical and mental health a favor and enjoy New York’s great outdoors!

Arts Play Role in Community’s Vibrancy

Rande Richardson

During the holiday season we are especially aware of the important role the arts play in the vibrancy of our communities. You surely have a yuletide carol or two that reaches deep within you and touches you in a way nothing else can. While, rightly so, much focus is placed on nonprofits that serve basic human needs, supporting, sustaining and nurturing our arts and cultural nonprofits must remain in our focus. They are an important enhancement to quality of life and bring us closer together within communities and across communities.

    I recently attended two nonprofit-sponsored arts performances over a weekend. Not once did I think about the political affiliation of the performers or the audience. Not once did I care to think in what ways we were different. At both, there was a multi-generational element. This all speaks to the fundamental human enjoyment of the arts and the way they touch, move and inspire us. The arts are a great unifier with a universal language.

    We are fortunate to have opportunities to enjoy varied expressions of the arts. We have second-to-none, live symphonic experiences provided by the Orchestra of Northern New York. We have both participation and performance through local theatre groups. Arts organizations introduce and develop a love and appreciation among children and youth. Stage Notes and Watertown Musicales combine both youth arts engagement and purposeful civic mindedness. 

    Throughout the year, nonprofit organizations and events such as the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund at the Clayton Opera House, Thousand Islands Piano Competition, Community Performance Series, Ogdensburg Command Performances, Norwood Village Green Concert Series, Clifton-Fine Summer Arts Series, Disabled Persons Action Organization and Trinity Concert Series and others bring programming that we would be a lesser community without. Volunteer groups such as Northern Choral Society, the Clayton Community Band and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Ensemble offer especially memorable moments. Local schools bring their students together to produce amazing musicals and concerts. There are other arts organizations, including within our north country colleges and universities, venues for all the various expressions of the arts and humanities.

    We recognize the importance of the arts, not only to fulfill something fundamentally human, but also in the way they indirectly support our local economies. Nationally, the arts contribute a large share to the country’s gross domestic product. Locally, there are many who benefit indirectly from arts and cultural opportunities. People being recruited to relocate here often ask what types of entertainment options are offered. Increasingly, arts programs are tied to involving children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, at-risk youth, and numerous arts in healthcare programs. Just recently the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council awarded a grant to launch a music therapy program for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Many would agree the arts are not an add-on; they are not just nice things to have around. In many ways, they reach into a special place of the heart, soul and mind. They represent the best things of our human existence. We must do all we can to make these opportunities both accessible and appealing. Each year, although the Community Foundation makes substantial investments in the arts, we pay special attention to those that are provided free of charge to people of all ages across the vast geography of our region. The Orchestra of Northern New York this season is offering free admission to  those 17 and under. The annual concert in Thompson Park is fully underwritten, and Sackets Concerts on the Waterfront Series is open to the public.

    I hope you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts in ways that have enhanced your life. If you’re able, consider supporting the arts and nonprofit organizations that bring them to our communities. Fill the seats, show your appreciation, bring your children. We never want to live in a community without the special something the arts offer us. Through the will of the people, may they continue to unite us to sustain them and sustain ourselves to better face the many challenges life presents. In this way, it will help make our days, and those of our friends and neighbors, more merry and bright during the holidays and all year long.

 

2017 Class of 20 Under 40 Announced

[Read more…]

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.

Nonprofits Not Place for Political Gamesmanship

MEME PROVIDED BY BOB GORMAN Watertown City Council candidate created this meme in his opposition to ACR Health’s syringe exchange office. In it he also falsely accused City Councilman Steve Jennings of selecting the location.

[Read more…]

Breaking Misconceptions: New executive director focuses on fundraising, educating

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Heather Spezzano, Director of the Jefferson County SPCA, watches a kitten play in the kitten room at the facility.

[Read more…]

Excelling in Leadership: Personal and professional growth bonds NNY businesses, communities

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Kylie Peck, President & CEO of the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce, helps to coordinate the Jefferson Leadership Institute .

[Read more…]

A New President, A New Plan

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Ty A. Stone poses in front of the John W. Deans Collaborative Learning Center on Jefferson Community College Campus.

Ty Stone sees Jefferson Community College as integral part of Northern New York development. [Read more…]

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.

ESPRI Taking Shape in Helping Reduce Area Poverty

Eric J. Hesse, right, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs director, earlier this year met with community advocates during a training session for the Watertown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. Hesse, a retired colonel who spent 10 of his 26 years in the military at Fort Drum, outlined the state’s role in helping the local ESPRI effort. Meeting with him were task force chairs, left to right, Kevin Hill, Workforce Development, Krystin LaBarge, Education, Carolyn Mantle, Education vice chair, John Bonventre, Transportation, and Angie King, Housing.

[Read more…]