January 10, 2008


‘I’m just here to steer the ship’

New Legislature chair wants to see county projects _developed together


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Newly elected Chairman of the Cortland County Legislature John Daniels (D-Cortlandville) listens as County Administrator Scott Schrader explains the duties of the county auditor during the Legislature’s Jan. 3 organizational meeting.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The new chairman of the Cortland County Legislature, John Daniels, wants to see the county leave behind the piecemeal process it has used in the past in examining possible facilities expansion and to think about the county’s needs collectively.
This will require the strong leadership of committee chairs and the input of every involved party in order to do it correctly, he said.
Daniels, a Democrat representing Cortlandville, could face either a strongly bipartisan Legislature or a deeply divided one, having received the support of all but one Republican legislator but only two Democrats when he gained the chairmanship on Jan. 3.
“I’m just here to steer the ship, not tell it where to go,” Daniels said Tuesday afternoon.
An independent contractor and former industrial manager-turned code enforcement officer, as well as a former chair of the Legislature’s Buildings and Grounds and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, Daniels and the rest of the Legislature are faced with the task of making or creating much-needed space for cramped departments.
But Daniels wants to make sure the county is not going through the process one piece at a time — he prefers a comprehensive approach.
The county agreed to purchase a property on River Street for a relocated Department of Motor Vehicles office, as well as two parcels on south Main Street, for which a use has yet to be identified.
Daniels pointed to the Area Agency on Aging, which is looking into possibly relocating to the south Main Street properties. After all, Daniels said, the population of county residents over the age of 60 will experience a nearly 27 percent increase between 1990 and 2015, with a 72 percent increase in the size of the population for those age 85 and older in that same period.
Moving the kitchen, offices and other components of the Area Agency on Aging out of the County Office Building would free up space, but Daniels wondered how much would be opened up if another small office — or two or three — could be moved out of the office building and relocated to one of the county’s newly-acquired properties.
“You have to look at that and have some kind of a plan to move forward,” Daniels said.
The county has paid for numerous engineering studies about the space needs of certain departments and the space constraints of the County Office Building. What Daniels wants to see is somebody picking up those studies and figuring out what they mean when taken together.
The new chair of the General Services (formerly Buildings and Grounds) Committee, Legislator Chad Loomis (D-8th Ward) is a professional planning engineer with Cornell University.
“He’s reviewed all those studies and he’s going to try to tie them together,” Daniels said. “We’ve been studied to death.”
Possibly another 1,000 square feet could be tagged on to the proposed River Street DMV office to accommodate a small department, and enough space would be opened up in the County Office Building to allow the Health and Mental Health departments to consolidate operations in the office building instead of being spread throughout the city.
Daniels said it is more economical to increase the size of projects that are being built.
“Let’s give ourselves some breathing room — let’s give ourselves a chance to grow,” Daniels said.
He said the Legislature should at least be discussing the possibility of utilizing the eminent domain process to acquire properties. No matter what the process, communication with the neighbors is essential, Daniels said.
Daniels has chosen Legislator Tom Williams (R-Homer), a former state trooper and a code officer, to lead the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and work with the jail studies in the same manner Loomis will work with the office building studies.
“For the jail, it’s going to take two years, close to that, to get everything in place,” Daniels said.
Both Loomis and Williams were instrumental in Daniels’ bid for the chairmanship, Loomis making the nomination and Williams upsetting chances for a Republican to take the chair. But Daniels said their experience makes them good fits for their new positions.
In all, though, Daniels said he wants to see the right people doing the right job. Legislator Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet), who owns a heavy equipment company, will be chairing the Highway Committee, an important subject for rural residents.
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) will chair the Health Committee. The choice of the Democratic caucus for chair of the Legislature, Daniels said Tytler would be the “perfect” choice for chairing the Health Committee, given her role as director of communications for a nonprofit organization that provides services for people with disabilities.
Perhaps most importantly, Daniels wants the Legislature to be brainstorming to find creative solutions to the space problems, and he pledged to listen to anyone — whether legislator, department head or regular county employee — who brings him an idea, no matter how well developed.
“My management style is that I work with everybody,” Daniels said. “I’ve already started going to the different departments and just saying hello to everybody. It might take a couple weeks, but I’m going to get together with everybody.”
Despite rumors that he supported replacing County Administrator Scott Schrader, Daniels said Schrader has done a “super job.”
“I think he’s a sharp guy, but he’s not perfect,” Daniels said, acknowledging there has been friction between Schrader and legislators in the past that could be addressed constructively, without spending nearly a year searching for a new county administrator.
Daniels said he also supported redefining the scope of County Auditor Dennis Whitt’s duties, an issue that was brought up by Williams at the Legislature’s Jan. 3 organizational meeting.
Daniels said he is not a micromanager but will spend as much time working as Legislature chairman as it takes to get the job done.
“If you have the right people in the right jobs, they can do their jobs,” Daniels said.




Friday deadline looms to register for primary

Staff Reporter

Friday is the deadline to register to vote in the state’s Feb. 5 presidential primary, but it is already too late to switch party enrollments.
County Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe said although the deadline is a bit earlier than normal because of the Feb. 5 primary election, registration has increased compared to last year.
To register for the primaries, Cortland County residents can go to the county election office at 60 Central Ave., Room 102, the post office, or print out a voter registration form that can be found online at ccboe.html and send it in by mail.
Those that are sent by mail must be postmarked by Jan. 11, Howe said.
The 2008 presidential election is Nov. 4.
“There has been a slight increase but much more interest in switching parties,” Howe said. “We are a closed primary state.”
That means residents can only vote within the party they are registered in. It is already too late to switch party registrations.
Those who are registering for the first time or are registering in a different county can choose a party, so long as it is submitted before the deadline Friday.
“It has been an abnormal amount of people who want to switch parties,” Howe said. “You can do it, but you can’t vote in the primary. The change won’t take place until after the November 2008 general election.”



Business leaders encouraged by Spitzer plan

Staff Reporter

Local business owners and officials say they are eager to hear more details about a $1 billion upstate economic development fund and other ideas proposed Wednesday by Gov. Eliot Spitzer during his State of the State address.
Anthony Barbetta, president and owner of Essex Steel, which is located in the Finger Lakes East business park on Route 13 in Cortlandville, said the fund sounds like a good idea, despite a lack of specifics.
It could help bring more businesses to the park and help businesses like his own with expansion plans.
Barbetta said Essex Steel is interested in adding onto its facility so it can make its own steel beams rather buying them already fabricated, but it is hard to get low-interest loans for the project.
“Low-interest loans are not possible for me once you’ve borrowed that much money to build a facility,” he said, noting equipment alone would cost $1.5 million. “Once loans get to be larger and larger on your balance asset they (banks) don’t want to loan.”
Spitzer did not provide much information about the $1 billion upstate revitalization fund, saying he will detail the plan next week at his State of Upstate address in Buffalo.
But he did say the fund would invest in businesses, shovel-ready business parks and agribusinesses.
Spitzer unveiled some other plans to help the upstate economy and the state’s economy in general, including creation of a bipartisan commission to review the root of property tax problems.





Dryden approves permits for TC3 dorms

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — After much debate and a public hearing, the Town Board approved a special use permit Wednesday, providing additional conditions are met, that would allow Tompkins Cortland Community College to build two four-story residence halls.
A special use permit was required because the dorm project is not a typical use covered in the standard building permit process.
The discussions focused on the college preparing its request using state laws on stormwater management that had applied in Dryden, but the town passed stricter laws that went into effect this year.
TC3 President Carl Haynes said the two buildings, each with 134 beds, are needed.
He said in June there was a waiting list of 100 students and by the end of the summer the waiting list had grown to 300.
“Some we accommodated in the community,” Haynes said; others had to be turned away.
It would be another four or five years before the college would consider an additional growth in residence halls. The college has five dorms.
Haynes also said the college has been working to address some of the neighborhood issues, such as noise, drainage concerns and foot traffic on Lee Road, despite a fence at the end of Lee Road to discourage foot traffic.
John Caruso, the site engineer for the project from Passero Associates of Rochester, said one of the benefits of the placement of the new buildings is that it creates a courtyard with their orientation to the most recently built hall added in the fall of 2006.
“It keeps the noise here so it doesn’t go down to Lee Road,” he said.