Monday, February 18, 2019

Not-for-profits, others, criticize bill that would ban gun raffles in New York

Bill would ban gun raffles in New York
Gun raffles are major revenue sources for some nonprofit organizations and volunteer fire departments, but a bill introduced in the state Legislature could prohibit the events.

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn Democrat, introduced the measure that would ban gun raffles. Twenty-nine of Simon’s Assembly colleagues, all Democrats and nearly all of whom represent downstate districts, cosponsored the legislation.

Under New York state law, it is legal to hold gun raffles and to award firearms in a game of chance. Simon’s bill would end the practice....Many organizations, especially in upstate, hold gun raffles to generate revenue....

Kevin Foster, a captain with the Aurelius Volunteer Fire Department, explained that gun raffles and other fundraisers are necessary because of the property tax cap. The cap limits property tax levy growth to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less....

Other organizations have generated revenues from gun raffles. The Magee Fire Department in Seneca County collects roughly $15,000 from its annual gun raffle, according to Chief Craig Reynolds. Waterloo Rifle & Pistol Club raises $10,000 to $12,000 each year from its gun raffle.

Claiming a prize from a gun raffle.... isn't different than buying a firearm at a retailer.

A winner at a gun raffle must submit to a federal background check before being permitted to collect the firearm. Under New York law, you must be age 18 or older to purchase a long gun and at least 21 years old to buy a handgun.

(A)nyone with a criminal record wouldn't be allowed to receive a firearm won at a raffle.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New Assistant Schuyler County Attorney Named

Watkins Glen, NY--Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman has announced his appointment of Vinton Bovier Stevens, an Elmira native, as an Assistant County Attorney.

The appointment was unanimously approved by the Schuyler County Legislature at its February 11 meeting.

As an Assistant County Attorney, Stevens will join Getman in representing Schuyler County in civil litigation, family court prosecutions and related matters.

Stevens has been an attorney since 1999. Prior to joining the County Attorney’s office, he practiced law in New York City, Chemung and Tompkins Counties.

Getman said, “I am honored to have an attorney with Vinton’s education and experience join our office. I am confident that he will represent Schuyler County government effectively and ethically.”

Stevens stated “I am proud to be joining County Attorney Getman’s office. Having known Mr. Getman and his staff for a number of years, I have been impressed with their integrity and commitment to the taxpayers, children and families of Schuyler County.

In addition to Getman and Stevens, the Schuyler County Attorney’s staff consists of attorney Kristin Hazlitt, of Hector, as well as secretaries Maryann Friebis and Brandy Bower.

Stevens is a graduate of Notre Dame High School, in Elmira, and attended college at the University of Rochester. He is a 1998 graduate of Temple University School of Law.

In addition to his attorney duties, Stevens serves as Vice Flotilla Commander of the USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, and as a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ithaca.

The County Attorney is the legal advisor to all county officials and prosecutes and defends civil actions by and against the county. In addition, the County Attorney prosecutes family court cases involving child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency and child support violations.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

Zombies 2.0: $9 Million announced in grants for communities dealing with vacant and abandoned properties

New York State officials have announced “Zombies 2.0,” the expansion of a grant initiative to address the growing statewide issue of “zombie homes”-- vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding.

This program is intended to provide up to $9 million in grants to New York State municipalities to address housing vacancy and blight. The grants will provide funds to municipalities to increase housing code enforcement, track and monitor vacant properties, and bolster legal enforcement capacity to ensure property lenders comply with local and state law.

Grants are expected to be awarded in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 based on scale and severity.

Earlier grants under the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative provided nearly $13 million in grants to local municipalities. The 2019 grant will allow previous recipients to continue their work or will give first-time grantees the opportunity to secure funding to support their property clean-up efforts.

Applications are due Friday, March 8, 2019. Awards are expected to be announced in April.

For more on the “Zombie property” initiative, click here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Schuyler officials taking extra steps to help property owners avoid tax foreclosure

Watkins Glen—Over the next few weeks, some tax delinquent Schuyler County residents will be getting a personal letter from County Treasurer Holley Sokolowski and County Attorney Steven Getman.

The letter is a personal plea: Please pay your back property taxes before February 20.

That’s the date after which, if taxes are not paid, a Schuyler County Court Judge may enter a judgment ordering the property seized and sold at public auction.

In an attempt to prevent that, Sokolowski and Getman are sending the letters, with handwritten notes on the envelopes, to approximately eighty property owners who still haven’t paid their back taxes.

“The letter reminds them of the deadline and provides options to avoid the foreclosure,” Sokolowski said. “Eligible property owners can pay the full amount due or arrange for an installment agreement.”

“It's the job of the county to collect taxes, but the main focus here is keeping people on their property and in their homes," Sokolowski said.

The letters also mention some of the services county tax dollars support, including law enforcement, public health, roads and bridges and social services.

The letters. Getman said, are based on research that found people are more likely to respond to personal letters and handwritten notes than to form documents.

“A form letter may look like junk mail and get tossed,” Getman explained. “Handwriting shows the letter deserves more attention and sends a message that this is important.”

The letters are only the latest step in the county’s efforts to collect overdue taxes while keeping people in their homes.

According to Sokolowski, each November, the county mails out Foreclosure Notices and Petitions to properties with back tax liens from the prior year. Those notices go out by both regular and certified mail to property owners, mortgage holders and others with identified interests in the delinquent properties.

“The county also publishes a list of the delinquent taxes in two local newspapers and, in certain cases, posts warnings on the properties that they could be sold for back taxes,” she noted.

Only after each of those steps occurs, Getman explained, does the court enter a judgment foreclosing on the property.

After the court issues the foreclosure, the properties, if unredeemed, are sold at a public auction.

“The law requires the county to take every step to enforce the property tax laws and ensure that everyone pays their fair share,” Getman said.

"This is really just another way to do that, above and beyond what the law requires, while making sure we're keeping people in their homes and businesses."

As County Treasurer, Sokolowski is the chief fiscal officer of county government and enforcement officer for unpaid property tax liens.

As County Attorney, Getman is the chief legal advisor for county government and responsible for the prosecution and defense of civil actions brought by and against the county, including tax matters.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Volunteer for children: CASA training scheduled

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a citizen who receives special training in advocacy and is temporarily appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Family Courts of Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler counties.

Invest your time to help the children of the Southern Tier. CASA has set the following dates for the next volunteer training class:

Intro/Orientation: 9 - 10 a.m. February 27

Class Dates: 9 - 1 p.m. March 6, 13, 20, and 27

Location: 102 Chemung Street, Painted Post, NY

Refreshments are provided.

Call the CASA office at 607-936-CASA to receive an application packet and reserve a seat in this series of training classes. You may also apply online here.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Cuomo's bail reform plan causes controversy

Officials and others weigh in on Governor Cuomo's bail reform plan
As part of his renewed push to reform the criminal justice system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to eliminate cash bail for minor offenses.

Some on the law enforcement side said the proposal is not a well thought out plan, but others see it as a way to level the playing field for people accused of minor crimes.

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While not entirely against it, Defense Attorney Robert King of Robert King Law Firm admits the plan isn't foolproof. “There’s too many times that judges are setting too high of bail. There’s too many times where trials are postponed too long. I think the governor's heart is certainly in the right place,” said King. “The law is not black-and-white, so to say this is what you have to do all the time there’s going to be times where it’s inappropriate.”

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Gates Police Chief Jim VanBrederode said without bail suspects won't have a reason to come back to court and that could delay a case, and add to the backlog that already exists.

According to VanBrederode, there are nearly 830 outstanding warrants in Gates along and many date back a decade. “Justice delayed is justice denied, because behind every crime there is a victim. It's really not fair to the victim when the cases end up at a standstill,” he said. “It's going to create a problem with the criminal justice system; it's going to slow the system down even more and it's just going to create a bigger backlog in our opinion.”

In at least one other state, a similar bail plan backfired on the defendants:

Last year Maryland's courts approved changes to the state's bail system, instructing judges not to deny defendants the possibily of release if they were too poor to afford a cash bail demand. The intent was that defendants be jailed prior to trial only if they were flight risks or a danger to the community, not simply because they didn't have enough money.

Unfortunately, at least in Baltimore, the plan is backfiring. WBAL-TV, the local NBC affiliate, reports that the number of people detained in jail is rising, even as the number of arrests is dropping. Comparing March 2017 to March 2018, the station found that the average number of people jailed each day jumped 31 percent, from 655 to 856...

What's happening is easy to explain: Instead of making cash bail affordable, Baltimore's judges are choosing not to grant it at all in many cases where they previously would have.

The above article also touches upon the idea that eliminating cash bail for minor offenses could constitute an another "unfunded mandate," forcing counties to expand pretrial services and monitoring programs.