January 24, 2007

Community to honor fallen soldier

FalterShawn Falter

Staff Reporter

As the large extended family of Army Pfc. Shawn Falter gathers in Homer today, the village is rallying to do whatever it can to support the family and honor Falter, who was killed in Iraq Saturday.
“People are calling me all the time saying, ‘Can we bring them food? Do they need this or that?’” Homer Mayor Mike McDermott said this morning. “It’s such a small village, people want to do something, anything, to help out the family.”
Cindy Bacheller, who owns Cindy’s Diner on Route 281, this morning was spearheading an effort to drape Homer and Cortland County with red, white and blue to honor Falter.
“Everyone I talk to wants to help, and I think this is something everyone can do,” Bacheller said. “Whatever you’ve got — banners, flags, ribbons — whatever you can find that’s red, white and blue, put it out, and let’s give this young man a tribute.”
Falter, 25, a 1999 graduate of Homer High School, was killed with four other U.S. soldiers and several Iraqis in an ambush by insurgents in the city of Karbala.
His father, Russell Falter, stepmother Linda Falter, and his mother, Patricia Green, all live in Homer.
One of 13 brothers and sisters, Falter has three older brothers in active service stateside:
l Army Staff Sgt. Jason Sackett, stationed at Fort Riley, Kan.;
l Marine 1st Sgt. John Sackett, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.;
l Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Lucas, an instructor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
All three have taken leave from duty; two have already arrived in Homer while one is expected later today, according to 1st Sgt. Raymond Swift, a casualty assistance officer who is handling press inquiries for the family.
Although no date has been set yet for a funeral or the return of the body, McDermott said he was making arrangements for a police escort for Falter’s body from the county line into the village.
“I spoke with the family and I think they would really like to see something like that, and I think it’s a good way to honor this young man,” McDermott said, adding that he intended to declare a day of mourning in the village on the date of Falter’s funeral.
Meanwhile, the Homer community and its schools remain shaken by Falter’s death.
“We’ve had several discussions about how to honor Shawn, but there’s nothing firm yet, we’re still sort of coming to grips with it,” said Principal Fred Farah. “Knowing the way folks are here, I know we’ll be doing something special.”
The school’s annual military history field day in May likely would be an ideal forum to honor Falter, Farah said, and could be dedicated to the fallen soldier.
Also being discussed are scholarships and gifts from the current student body and from Falter’s 1999 graduating class, Farah said.
Meanwhile at Homer Elementary School, where Falter’s grandmother Alice Heath has been a crossing guard for decades, teachers and staff have been preparing food for Falter’s family, said Principal Ruth King.
“I guess food is usually the first thing we think of, but I know everyone here is glad to support them in any way we can,” King said.
Bacheller said she hoped to have streetlights in downtown Homer wrapped with red, white and blue ribbons soon, and added that all of Cortland County could show its support for Falter by following suit.
“It’s just a horrible thing that he’s gone, but what a wonderful, honorable person, to give his life for us,” she said. “I think this community will respond and show him our gratitude.”

Military confirms soldier died in Karbala ambush

The Department of Defense officially confirmed late Tuesday night that Shawn Falter, 25, a 1999 graduate of Homer High School, was one of five American servicemen killed in an ambush of U.S. troops in the city of Karbala.
According to wire reports, the ambush occurred when gunmen, posing as American and Iraqi soldiers, infiltrated provincial headquarters and began unleashing grenades, mortars and small arms fire.
Officials said the men had American ID badges and were in a convoy of GMC Suburbans. Officials still are unsure if the gunmen were Sunni or Shiite.
Four of the American soldiers killed in the 15-minute battle, including Falter, were members of the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, which was deployed from Fort Richardson, Ala.
A Department of Defense press release said Falter’s regiment was “conducting dismounted operations,” at the time of the ambush, but a spokesperson could not elaborate.
1st Sgt. Raymond Swift, a casualty assistance officer currently speaking for Falter’s family, said he believed Falter had been deployed to Iraq in September.
— Corey Preston


Seward gets GOP’s second-highest post

Staff Reporter

State Sen. James Seward, whose district includes Cortland County, has been elevated to the No. 2 Republican leadership position in the Senate, where he will serve as majority whip.
The appointment of Seward (R-Milford) was announced Monday at the same time as his reappointments to six committees, some of which he said he sees as having taken on a “new importance this year.”


State Sen.
James Seward

In his position as Republican whip in the Senate, Seward’s function is to coordinate votes, line up support for bills when they come to the floor and to act on behalf of Majority Leader Joseph Bruno when needed.
“As majority whip, I’ll be … making sure the votes are there for our agenda moving forward,” Seward said Tuesday afternoon during a telephone interview.
He said some of the legislation Republicans will attempt to enact would provide enhanced property tax relief and a program for civil confinement of sexual predators.
Meanwhile, Seward’s positions on the Senate’s Agriculture and Education committees will allow him to focus on two top areas of concern in the 51st Senatorial District.
Milk prices have dropped significantly in the past year, Seward said, while the cost of materials has risen.
“The focus that I hope to bring is to work towards having a cash infusion for our dairy farmers by having the price paid for milk reflect the cost of operating as a farmer in the upstate community,” Seward said. “When I think about the upstate economy, it’s very intertwined with the agriculture, because only when agriculture is doing well, will the upstate economy do well.”
Seward’s position on the Committee on Education will place him in the middle of the education budget sessions.
“School financing is going to be a big issue in the upcoming budget negotiations, because there’s a lot of talk about reforming how the state distributes aid to the local school districts,” Seward said. “Obviously, my priority in the Education Committee as we go through the budget process is to make sure that our upstate rural school districts receive adequate funding from the state.”

Development planned for MVE parcels

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The town Planning Board was given a sneak peek Tuesday night of what commercial and residential development of the MVE Homes properties near the intersection of Routes 13 and 281 might look like.
Developer David Yaman brought in “sketch plans” of retail stores, business offices, apartments and a restaurant built on a 12-parcel area spread out on both sides of Route 13.
Yaman, who also is acting as a real estate agent for the development, said he presented the rough design in order to inform the Planning Board of what was in the works.
One section would consist of eight parcels totaling about 8 acres. The section extends north and east between Routes 13 and 281 from the Dunkin’ Donuts fast food outlet to the former Rosen scrap yard.
Yaman said several retail operations and a sit-down fast-food restaurant have expressed interest in this portion of the site, although he declined to disclose any names. There is also the possibility of either office space or apartments on some higher elevations within that site.
More retailers and office space are possibilities for a four-parcel, 22.5-acre section of MVE Homes property on the eastern side of Route 13. The site is bordered by Arnold’s Ace Hardware to the south. Only half of the section is developable because of its hillside location, Yaman said.
The preliminary design was drawn up in accordance with new zoning laws that are pending, Yaman said, and include provisions for a significant amount of green space and reducing curb cuts that currently extend along the entire length of the MVE Homes properties.
Yaman said there was the possibility of constructing a new road between Routes 13 and 281 that would be later dedicated to the town. Only two curb cuts would then be necessary, Yaman said.
Once buyers have purchased the properties and created site plans, they would have to come before the Planning Board for approval.
Yaman hoped the first two buyers would be able to present their site plans by February’s meeting.



BDC gives $10K for downtown signs

Staff Reporter

A program to provide matching funds to downtown businesses that wish to upgrade signage has been recapitalized with $10,000 from the Cortland County Business Development Corp. in conjunction with the Cortland Downtown Partnership.
The signage grant program was announced at a brief press conference this morning following the Downtown Partnership’s annual general membership meeting in the Beard Building at _9 Main St.
The program is a renewal of a similar program managed by the now-defunct Cortland City Improvement Corp.
Businesses may apply for up to $500 per location, and BDC Executive Director Linda Hartsock said the money would be reimbursed to the businesses after the first six months of operation with the new signage. Both existing and new businesses can apply for this funding, she said.
Lisa’s Pane di Casa, a new bakery on Orchard Street that plans to open Feb. 1, is the first business to benefit from the signage program. Hartsock said the sign has already been installed.
The signage district follows the boundaries of the city’s Empire Zone, Hartsock said.
Interested businesses would meet with Downtown Partnership Director Lloyd Purdy to discuss the project and determine eligibility. Applicants would be able to work with the Downtown Partnership’s Design and Planning Committee during the review of the concept and materials.
Any new signage in the area, part of which overlaps with the city’s downtown Historic District, would also have to meet the criteria of the city’s code and Historic District Commission.
During the Downtown Partnership’s meeting preceding the press conference, a rough draft of a 3-D model of Main Street cycled on a projection screen.
The mapping system included pictures of the building facades, blended with aerial views of the city and 3-D computer renderings.
Purdy said he hopes to take on a SUNY Cortland student who would work on the next phase of the project, when the various buildings’ square footage, occupancy, and ownership would be displayed at the click of a mouse button.



Sales tax revenue up a bit in 2006

Staff Reporter

Despite uncertainty throughout much of the year, Cortland County wound up exceeding, albeit slightly, its budgeted sales tax revenue for 2006.
The county government wound up bringing in about $29,000 more than the $12.7 million it had projected in sales tax, while overall, including revenue distributed to its municipalities, Cortland County exceeded estimated sales tax revenues of $22.7 million by about $52,000.
This contrasted with 2005, when the county government fell about $200,000 short of its projected revenue, a trend county officials had been concerned would play out again in 2006.
“Basically we were expecting that December of ’06 was going to perform like it did last year (2005), which was less than it had historically,” said County Administrator Scott Schrader. “But it looks like December of 2005 was an abnormality because we did pretty well. And that’s despite the lack of snow, which is kind of surprising.”
Both Schrader and County Treasurer Don Ferris were pleased that the county had met its estimated revenues, as both had been tentative to predict a windfall and were cautious of another underperformance through much of 2006.
“It hit the projection and that’s better than I expected,” Ferris said. “The true test now will be how we do the first quarter of this year that’ll give us a better handle on how we’re doing in terms of a general trend.”