January 20, 2012


Issues impacting community examined

Annual Cortland Counts forum looks at city housing, drug arrests, economy, fracking, youth

Staff Reporter

Bernie Thoma provided a bleak picture of the city’s housing stock during a presentation Thursday.
Nearly 85 percent of houses in the city are over 50 years old, and the city lacks enough housing for low- to moderate-income people and senior citizens, said Thoma, senior consultant at Thoma Development Consultants.
“It’s really time to build some new housing that’s affordable,” Thoma said.
Thoma has a contract with the city to write grant applications for housing and other areas.
Thoma was among a group of local and regional officials who spoke at the annual Cortland Counts Community Forum at the Ramada Inn. The event brings organizations together to discuss reports on five tracks: health, youth, sustainability, housing and the local economy.
Four of the five tracks will have “break-out” meetings at the Beard Building at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The sustainability meeting will be Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m.
Thoma said the city needs to develop programs that can ensure stability in its neighborhoods. He said the city needs to establish more programs that encourage home ownership.
“It’s as much an economic development issue as it is a housing issue,” he said. “We need some type of incentive to buy in the city in the neighborhoods where it could be beneficial for everyone.”
As an example, Thoma said the city will receive a community development block grant this year that will help homebuyers willing to rent units to pay for the cost of the house and renovations.
It will be used for six or seven houses in the city.
He said the city is losing potential homeowners, who choose to live in Ithaca or Syracuse due to the lack of options locally.
Other speakers at the event talked about topics included drugs in Cortland County, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, local youth and economic development.
“I thought we had a very diverse group of speakers on a broad variety of topics,” said Joan Martin, project coordinator for Seven Valleys Health Organization.
Sgt. Todd Caufield, of the Cortland County Drug Task Force, talked about the task force, which includes officers from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, city Police Department, SUNY Cortland University Police and the state police.
He said the task force opened 63 new cases in 2011, up 12 from the previous year. He said the average narcotics case investigation can last from two to five weeks.
In 2011, the task force confiscated 1 pound of crack cocaine, 16.5 pounds of marijuana and $25,000 in currency.
Caufield said increased drug enforcement improves community health and reduces the burden on Cortland Regional Medical Center, which handles about 250 emergency room cases related to drugs and alcohol a year.
Mary Jane Uttech, deputy public health director at the County Health Department, outlined the possible health effects that could come with hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking.
Hydrofracking involves blasting water treated with chemicals and sand into shale to crack it so natural gas can be extracted.
She listed health concerns related to water and air pollution, truck traffic and the chemicals used in the process.
Jackie Carlton, executive director of Seven Valleys Health Coalition, provided the closing remarks for the forum and said she was pleased with the annual event.
“It really shows the commitment of people to work together to make this community into a healthy community,” she said.


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