October 20, 2021

Retired state Sen. Seward reflects on his 34-year tenure

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Clerk Ryan Black checks in books Wednesday at Groton Free Library as part of the building is blocked off behind him for an addition and renovations, partly funded by state grants arranged by Sen. James Seward (R-Milford). Seward, who has retired after a 34-year career in the Senate, said he always liked to give libraries a little bit extra.

Furniture will be delivered to Groton Public Library within the next couple weeks and put into the newly renovated space — a space that retired state Sen. James Seward helped make happen.

“He’s just an incredibly kind man,” said Sara Knobel, the library director. “I am so grateful for the library. Our expansion and renovation wouldn’t happen without him. He’s been very good to Groton, it’s not just the library it’s all of Groton.”

Seward, who spent 34 years serving the greater Cortland County area, said he was able to accomplish many of the tasks he wanted to during his time. Of his accomplishments, Seward said three really stuck out.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

“One of the priorities I’ve had is to be very involved in our local communities,” Seward said. “I worked with local officials and local residents when they needed me or a concern was identified.”

One of the ways he said he’s helped communities is by providing funding through various grants for projects.

“I’ve been very involved with a number of new and renovated buildings at SUNY Cortland,” he said. “SUNY Cortland is part of our economic base in Cortland County. It seemed like every budget year we were able to get major renovation grants or funding for SUNY Cortland.

He’s also been able to help get more and more funding for the libraries in his district, including the $700,000 for the Groton Public Library. He arranged $200,000 to help renovate Homer Town Hall.

Homer Supervisor Fred Forbes said he was grateful for that funding and for everything Seward has done.

“Over the years, he and his staff have been super to work with,” Forbes said. “I couldn’t have asked for a more responsive person than Seward. He’s just been a class act.”

But Seward didn’t just focus on getting funding for projects — he listened to what projects constituents opposed, too. That included when the state considered putting a low-level radioactive waste dump in Taylor in the late 1980s.

Seward said while sitting on the Energy Committee in his first 12 years he was able to squash the commission that was seeking a place for the low-level radioactive waste.

CUTTING ELECTRICITY COSTS FOR BUSINESSES

Also while on the Energy Committee, Seward said he helped enact Power for Jobs, which provided low-cost electricity to employers, especially manufacturing companies.

“That has benefited many companies and employers in Cortland County, the district and the state,” Seward said.

SCHOOL TAX RELIEF PROGRAM

“My No. 1 complaint with people contacting me was over property taxes, specifically school taxes,” Seward said.

Seward said in the late 1990s he helped develop the STAR program to provide homeowners, particularly senior citizens, a break on their school taxes and the state would make up the difference.

“I got letters from a number of senior citizens who told me the only way they could afford to stay in their homes was the STAR program,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”

MORE TO BE DONE

But there are two things Seward also wishes he had achieved: expanding broadband into rural areas and keeping people from leaving the state.

Many areas of the 51st District still lack access to high-speed internet and while a lot has been done at the state level to expand it, “more needs to be done.”

He also said people relocating from New York to other states has been a “disturbing trend” going on for decades.

“The weather may have something to do with it, but primarily people leave to seek a more affordable place to live and a place with more economic opportunity,” he said.

He said the state needs to be more affordable and needs to have more economic opportunity.

Seward said he’ll be sticking around and alluded to some future work in the community.

“I’ve considered serving our region of the state really an honor of a lifetime,” he said.

Knobel said she’s happy with how Seward has helped the community.

“A lot of people can talk big, but don’t get things done,” she said. “He does. It’s big shoes to fill.”