January 25, 2007

Serving together

Family recalls fallen Homer soldier


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Lucas talks with the press this morning about the loss of his brother Pfc. Shawn Falter, who was killed Saturday in Iraq.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — In a phone call home late in 2006, Pfc. Shawn Falter expressed his desire to give up his own leave time to allow a fellow soldier to return home to his wife and children, family members said this morning.
“He called home and said, ‘Mom, he’s got a wife and kids — I think I might just want to stay and let him go home,’ and of course my mom said, ‘Shawn you have a family to see, too!’” said Marsha Novak, Falter’s stepsister. “That was just so Shawn, always giving, always worrying about other people.”
Falter was killed in action Saturday in Iraq.
Novak and Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Lucas, Falter’s older stepbrother, spoke on behalf of Falter’s large family at the American Legion in Homer.
Falter, 25, who had been working in a construction job locally after graduating from Homer High School in 1999, joined the Army in 2005 to follow in the footsteps of three older brothers, Lucas said, but also because he was looking for a challenge.
“I think he really wanted to do something bigger, he wanted to be a part of a larger purpose,” Lucas said.
Besides Lucas, Falter has two biological brothers in the service, Army Staff Sgt. Jason Sackett and Marine 1st Sgt. John Sackett.
Lucas served a term in Iraq prior to the war, he said, and both of Falter’s other brothers served during this conflict.
When Falter decided to join the Army in summer 2005, he kept his decision quiet at first, likely because he knew each of his brothers would try to influence him to join their particular branch of the service, Lucas said, and because he was reluctant to tell his stepmother.
“He actually didn’t tell my mom until she was out visiting me in Colorado because he knew she wouldn’t like it,” Lucas said. “I think Shawn just had a strong desire to serve.”
Falter joined the Army, and was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, with close friend and fellow 1999 Homer graduate Luke Pless.
Both Lucas and Novak said the family’s thoughts and prayers were with Pless, who is serving in Iraq.
Pless’ mother, Theresa Blake, said this morning that her son and Falter had been friends for a long time.
“They just wanted to join together, stay together,” Blake said. “They both wanted to be based together.”
Lucas said he and Falter and other family members were able to spend time together — hanging out, golfing, “doing brother stuff” — prior to Falter’s deployment to Iraq in September.
“I told him, ‘When you get there, always take care of your buddies, keep your head down and get home safe,’” Lucas said. “He was a little uneasy about it, but Shawn would always do his duty, that’s the type of person he was.”
When asked how Shawn would like his country to remember him, Lucas said he thought his brother would want continued support for his fellow soldiers.
“I think he’d want the nation to support the men and women in harm’s way, and he’d want the government to continue to give them the equipment they need,” he said.
Falter’s family, which includes a total of 12 brothers and sisters, his father, Russell Falter, his stepmother, Linda Falter, and his mother, Patricia Green, have gathered in Homer — where his mother, father and stepmother live — and are comforting one another, Lucas said.
The family is still unsure when Falter’s body will be returned, but has decided to have a funeral and calling hours at Grace Christian Fellowship Church on Fisher Avenue in Cortlandville.
Anyone wishing to donate money in Falter’s memory is encouraged to direct donations to the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit that provides housing that allows family members of American servicemen and servicewomen who are hospitalized to be close to their loved ones.
“Shawn actually e-mailed us an article about them just before Christmas saying, ‘Wow, look at this, this is the sort of thing we need to be supporting,’” Novak said. “Here he is in the middle of all this, and he’s worried about these men and women who are injured — we’re sure he’d want us to support them.”



Man dies in early morning crash

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — An elderly Cortlandville man died in a two-car crash early this morning, police said.
State Police said that Tyson D. Smith, 88, of 751 Hoy Road, died after he failed to yield the right of way to an oncoming pickup truck.
Smith was traveling south on Highland Road in a 2002 Buick LeSabre when he pulled onto Route 222 and was struck by a 1998 Dodge pickup traveling west, police said.
Michael A. Levick, 38, of 39 Mildred Ave., Cortland, who was driving the pickup, was unable to avoid the collision, police said.
Levick was injured and transported by ambulance to Cortland Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
The safety of that section of Route 222 has become an issue for many Cortlandville residences recently. The state Department of Transportation agreed to lower the speed limit from 50 to 45 on Jan. 3 after many people complained about fender benders and cars traveling too fast. As of this morning the road is still posted as a 50 mile per hour zone.
Donna Carr, of 3766 Fairview Drive, was home at the time of this morning’s accident. Although she did not see the crash, Carr said she has seen many accidents at the intersection in front of her home and believes lowering the speed limit to 45 won’t solve the ongoing problems.
“At this intersection people just don’t slow down,” she said. “I think the speed needs to be lower than 45.”

Burned-out downtown buildings a concern

Mayor meeting today with the manager of properties that burned in October 2005

Staff Reporter

City officials are concerned about the appearance of two fire-damaged buildings at the corner of Main and Court streets, Mayor Tom Gallagher said Wednesday morning.
The mayor made brief comments about the status of the buildings and the city’s search for new space for government operations during a meeting of the Cortland Downtown Partnership.
The buildings at 51-55 Main St., owned by Vasilios Pothos, 56, of Cincinnatus, were heavily damaged by fire in October 2005. The buildings have been vacant since then, but are structurally sound.
No cause has been determined for the fire that displaced the businesses Smooch and Shangri-La and severely damaged the Pinstriped Polkadots art gallery and six apartments on the top two floors.
The public has expressed displeasure with the windows that have been covered with plywood.
Downtown Partnership Director Lloyd Purdy suggested the plywood could be painted by a muralist — assuming that the city received permission from Pothos or his son, Emmanuel Pothos, the property’s manager, of Seven Valley Realty.
Gallagher said he would meet today with Pothos to talk about the future of the properties.
City Zoning Officer Amy Bertini said the signs for Smooch and Shangri-La need to be removed from the building, because the businesses no longer occupy the space.
Gallagher said two developers have expressed interest in the properties, but have not received any response from Pothos.
The property’s listed price is $299,000, according to the Seven Valley Realty Web site.
On Dec. 5, 2006, Sheldon Gosline, Min You and Shangri-La Group Corp., all of Warren Center, Pa., filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Cortland County against Vasilios and Emmanuel Pathos. The suit alleges that trash and debris had been accumulating in the common area of the buildings since Shangri-La had signed its lease in April 2005, and that after numerous oral and written complaints, neither the elder or younger Pothos had removed the materials, and that the problem actually worsened until it directly contributed to the fire.
When contacted Wednesday evening, Gosline said he did not wish to comment on the pending lawsuit.
“I really don’t think I have anything additional to say beyond what’s in the public record at this time,” Gosline said.
Emmanuel Pothos was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening and this morning.
The elder Pothos is being held in Cortland County Jail on a felony drug charge.



Marathon school budget would up levy 19%

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Under the school district’s proposed $15 million budget for 2007-08, the estimated local tax rate would increase by 20 percent, from $22.28 to $26.62 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
That means a family with a $100,000 home would pay $2,662 in school taxes, or $434 more than it is paying this year.
The proposed tax levy is $4.3 million, a 19 percent increase over last year’s.
At the district’s board meeting Wednesday night, Turecek reviewed the current version of the district’s $15 million proposed budget, which is an 8 percent increase over this year’s budget.
Reasons for the proposed budget increase include higher insurance costs, higher retirement costs, higher salaries and money allotted to purify the district’s water supply, which has tested for elevated levels of lead.
Insurance costs would climb by 9 percent to $261,000 for administrators; by 9 percent to $264,00 for maintenance workers; and by 3.5 percent to $1.8 million for teachers and other employees.
Retirement costs would climb by 8 percent to $70,000 for administrators; by 9 percent to $512,000 for teachers and other employees; and by 4 percent _to $28,000 for maintenance workers.
Salaries would increase by 6 percent for administrators to $402,500; by 11 percent for regular teachers to $4.2 million; and 5 percent for maintenance workers  to $287,000.
Other increases include $20,000 more budgeted for equipment for regular teachers, $36,000 more for BOCES services for regular teachers, $30,000 more for fuel, utilities, insurance, water and sewer costs and $12,000 more for repairs within the district.
Turecek said $15,000 of the amount budgeted for fuel, utilities, water and sewer costs may be used to purify the district’s water supply.
Board members did not discuss how they would lower the proposed tax rate increase of 20 percent at Wednesday’s meeting, though this morning Business Manager Paulette Fry said a _5 percent increase would be ideal.
She said the health and retirement costs are just projections, and they will likely be decreased.
Also, she said, it is very possible the board will choose not to budget $15,000 to purify the school’s water.
Turecek said hopefully the district will also be able to bring the tax rate down once it finds out how much state aid it will receive.  The current budget proposal forecasts approximately $9.1 million in state aid, a 3 percent increase.
He said usually by the time it gets the state aid numbers it has to reduce its tax levy by about $200,000 to $300,000.
“That’s when it gets tough,” he said. “We have to make some really painful decisions.”



Arcuri to open office in Cortland

Staff Reporter

A longtime Cortland County resident will head up the Cortland office of Rep. Mike Arcuri.
Bob Messinger, a county resident for the past 20 years who served as Cortland County coordinator for Arcuri’s election campaign last year, will serve as Arcuri’s local representative, handling constituent issues from an office at 16 1/2 Church St.
“Bob brings a wealth of experience, a wealth of knowledge about the community to the position, so we think he’s a great fit,” said Hayley Rumback, a spokesperson for Arcuri (D-Utica).
Arcuri representatives hope the office will be opened in the coming weeks.
Messinger’s duties will be twofold, Rumback said.
He’ll serve as a field representative “essentially being the congressman’s eyes and ears” at meetings and other local events, she said, and as a caseworker, fielding constituent concerns and working to resolve them.
Retired recently from his work as a solid waste management specialist for the New York Rural Water Association, Messinger said he jumped at the opportunity to become involved with Arcuri’s local organization.
“I’ve had a long-time interest in government, I was a history major in college, so when I was given the opportunity to work with him, even at my old age, I decided to do it,” Messinger said. “It’s a new career at 68, and I’m looking forward to getting some things accomplished and helping our local constituents.”
The district office, which will be located behind the offices of the law firm Riehlman, Shafer and Shafer on Church Street, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Messinger said.
An additional part-time staff person will soon be hired, he said, and Messinger was hopeful that volunteers would also help staff the office. A lease is being finalized, Rumback said.
“The lease process is long and complicated with the federal government, but we’re in the final stages,” he said.
Noting that the 24th District Arcuri represents is expansive, spanning all or parts of 12 counties, Messinger said he hoped to establish a schedule to make himself available in neighboring Tioga, Tompkins, Broome and Chenango counties, which won’t have district offices.
“Hopefully we can establish a half a day a week in each county so we can have a presence and people don’t have to drive all the way to Cortland to get through to the congressman,” he said. “We want the door to be wide open, we want anyone who has a problem and feels the congressman can help to come to us.”
In addition to the Cortland office, Arcuri will inherit retired Rep. Sherwood Boehlert’s primary district office in Utica, and will also establish a district office in Auburn.
Until his retirement at the end of 2006, Boehlert shared an office at 45 Church St. with state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford). Seward is continuing to use the office, which has already received a number of calls from Arcuri’s constituents, Messinger said.
Arcuri’s office will be two blocks north of Boehlert’s former office, near the intersection of Church Street and Clinton Avenue.
Until Arcuri’s Cortland office is opened, he said, anyone wishing to contact Arcuri’s office can call the Utica office at (800) 235-2525.
Prior to working as a solid waste management specialist, Messinger served as recycling coordinator for Cortland County. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the county Legislature representing the 13th Legislative District in Cortlandville in 2003.