January 26, 2007

Health center gets ‘no’ vote


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Very frustrated county legislator Kay Breed tries to clarify the wording of a resolution during a legislature meeting concerning the proposed mental health center.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A disgruntled and persistent group of city residents won the day on the legislative floor Thursday, as county legislators voted to back out of agreements to buy property on south Main Street for a proposed public health facility.
After much heated discussion and some fervent public comment, a revote on the property acquisition — which was originally passed by the Legislature at its Dec. 21 meeting — failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to proceed.
The vote essentially scrapped plans to purchase approximately 2.5-acres of property, spread out over nine separate parcels, for $894,000 on south Main, Randall and William streets.
The county had moved to acquire the property as part of a $5.5 million project to build an approximately 30,000-square-foot facility that would have housed the county’s public health and mental health departments on the lot currently occupied by the vacant Moose Lodge.
A boisterous group of residents who opposed the project — primarily because of the negative impact they felt it would have on the neighborhood — overflowed the legislative chambers, and afterward they were pleased by the county’s decision.
“I just don’t think this plan was well thought out at all, I think it was the result of laziness during the preparation process by the Legislature,” said Vincent Minnella of 64 Church St., who noted that the proposed facility would have been placed “in our backyard.”
“It’s only because the people in the neighborhood raised these issues that they even took another look at it, and I’m glad we did, and I’m happy that they changed their minds.”
Ultimately the revote to purchase was split, 9-9, with legislators from both parties on both sides of the vote, and many on both sides agreeing that better communication initially could have alleviated the concerns of the residents.
“It’s kind of sad that it had to get this far, but I understand these people’s concerns and I’m happy for them,” said Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward), who brought the motion to reconsider to the floor, and voted against the acquisitions. “If we had had a little more communication from the beginning, those neighbors would’ve gotten their chance to speak and we might have been able to work with them on it.”
Legislator Merwin Armstrong (R-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) essentially agreed with Van Dee, but ultimately voted in favor of acquiring the properties.
“I’m concerned because I think we’re going to have trouble wherever we try to build because the city is getting so developed, and you’re always going to have neighbors who aren’t happy with the idea,” Armstrong said. “Plus a number of us really felt that this was a great way to revitalize south Main Street.”
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel said this morning that he was in the process of contacting involved property owners, and didn’t want to speculate on the cost to the county of opting out of the contracts.
Van Donsel has said in the past that backing out of the agreements at this point could make the county liable for some costs.
Prior to the ultimate vote against the project, the Legislature considered tabling the vote until February to allow for further discussion, and to allow a better estimate of the cost of backing out of the project, but that measure failed, also 9-9.
A handful of residents spoke during the meeting against the proposal, citing the effects the facility would have on the environment in their neighborhood, on public safety and questioned whether the proposed site would be enough space for such a project.
The residents also questioned the way the county rolled out the proposal — “back-room, closed door politics,” said Barry Batzing, of 70 Church St.
These claims appeared to spill over on to the legislative floor, as Legislators Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) and Tom Williams (R-Homer), peppered Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) and County Administrator Scott Schrader for details on how the purchase offers were secured and the cost of securing them.
Breed repeatedly made the point that the resolution to purchase the property also instructed the county treasurer to establish a $6 million capital account in anticipation of the project.
“How does that mean we’re just voting on buying the property — how are we not voting on the project as a whole?” Breed asked after the meeting.
Brown responded by saying that the Legislature would be voting on any and all contracts associated with the project, and thus would have the authority to stop the project at any time.
Meanwhile, in response to a line of questioning from Williams, Schrader said that Cinquanti Real Estate, because it was already brokering the sale of the Moose Lodge property, had handled the rest of the acquisitions at a cost to the county of 6 percent of the total acquisition cost, or $38,000.
That the county has already paid Cinquanti for its work upset Breed and Kathy Wilcox, one of the residents most vocally opposed to the project and a real estate agent for Yaman Real Estate, who claimed that the company should not have been paid until the deal was closed.
Schrader said during the meeting that this was standard procedure, and he declined comment afterward.
Wilcox, who played a large role in organizing her neighborhood against the project, was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
“We feel that the revitalization of south Main Street is a very positive thing, and maybe having a health building somewhere down there is a good idea, but it doesn’t belong in that neighborhood,” Wilcox said, noting that the oft-mentioned former Wickwire building property would be a good alternative. “I’m just so glad they’re going back to the drawing board.”
What the county does next remains unclear.
Schrader said during the meeting that he had obtained asking prices for properties on the opposite side of south Main Street, and Van Dee has said he’s looked at various other possibilities.
Many legislators stressed after the meeting that the county is badly in need of a new jail, as well as a new location for the county motor vehicle office.


Schumer legislation would keep trucks off rural roads

Staff Reporter

Sen. Charles Schumer has proposed legislation that would keep more than 1.9 million tractor-trailers out of Central New York’s neighborhoods each year.
Scott Town Board member Michael Beaumont lives of State Route 41. There is always tractor-trailer traffic on the road, he said, day and night.
“It’s getting to be a pain,” Beaumont said. “There is getting to be a lot of them.”
Last summer a garbage truck overturned just beyond the limits of the town of Scott, Beaumont said. He did not know who conducted the cleanup.
Schumer said many municipalities are affected by tractor-trailer traffic. Approximately 500 trucks travel on State Route 20 and Route 41, and other local roads around Syracuse and the Finger Lakes Region each day, Schumer said.
“Truck drivers cannot be allowed to jump off the highway and rumble through town centers and back roads just to save a buck,” Schumer said in a press release. “These trucks are evading highway tolls and weigh stations, and are instead driving on neighborhood streets, taxing the roadways and diminishing the quality of life in otherwise peaceful communities.”
Schumer introduced the legislation on Thursday in the Senate. The bill would require states to establish routing systems for trucks hauling hazardous materials, which would include garbage, said Schumer’s press secretary Josh Vlasto.
Vlasto said he is not sure when the legislation would be voted on.
As of now, states have the option to design routes for trucks carrying hazardous materials. Schumer said most states do not take advantage of the routing option.


‘Day in, day out; he’d be here’

Shriners fundraiser, Kmart fixture Tyson Smith dies in car crash

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — On her way out of the Big Kmart on Route 13 Thursday afternoon, Jessica Crawford stopped in front of a bench that had been turned into a memorial for Tyson Smith Sr.
Smith, 88, was killed Thursday morning in a two-car accident on Route 13 in Cortlandville. For nearly four years, Smith had sat at the entrance of the store, collecting donations for Shriners Hospitals for Children and smiling at one and all.
“It’s so sad, he was so sweet,” Crawford said. “It’s easy to take the constant for granted. The last time I was here, I rushed by, saying hello, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’d better give him something next time.’ It just broke my heart to see the flowers sitting on the bench instead of him.”
Crawford didn’t break the promise she had made to herself, making sure to contribute $5 to the cause that Smith had embraced. A red collection box said that the donations would be forwarded to the Shriners, and was accompanied by three bouquets of flowers, a helium balloon and a sign in Smith’s memory.
“He wasn’t only dependable for the Shriners,” Crawford said, “you could always depend on a hello and a smile when you walked by.”
Smith joined the Yaarab Shriners, a chapter in Georgia, in 1986. He was made an honorary member of the Kalurah Shrine in Endicott after moving to Cortlandville in August 2003.
“He was just a wonderful, gentle man who did good things because they were good, with no thought of rewards, with no thought of impressing anybody. He did what was right because it was right,” said Tim McMullin, potentate of the Kalurah Shrine from 2004 to 2005. “It’s a spirit of service, and dedication to the welfare of people less fortunate than himself, especially children who really can’t help themselves.”
The Shriners operate 22 hospitals around the country for children under 18, McMullin said. The hospitals specialize in burn victims and orthopedic surgery. Their services are provided free-of-charge and they don’t accept any money from insurance companies, Medicare or Medicaid, McMullin said.
To become a Shriner, Smith said in an interview with the Cortland Standard in May 2004, a man must be a Mason first and then have someone recommend him to the Shriners. He had been a Mason since 1946.
Kmart store manager Tim Newton said he remembers Smith from years of collecting donations at the entrance to the store.
“Day in, day out; he’d be here in the middle of a blizzard,” Newton said Thursday afternoon. “He was very much one of us.”
Employees had often brought Smith food and drinks.
Customer service representative Sarah Kuklis said the store had gotten calls from not only Smith’s daughter-in-law, but from the state troopers as well. She had been fielding inquiries from customers and employees all day, Kuklis said.



Marathon schools review lead tests

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Water fountains at the junior-senior high school will be turned back on Monday in response to the latest round of lead detection testing, Superintendent of Schools Tim Turecek said Thursday.
Water fountains in the junior-high school have been off since Nov. 27, and water fountains in Appleby Elementary School have been off since Nov. 17, the same day the district notified parents about elevated lead levels in Appleby Elementary School’s water supply. Since September 2002, elevated levels of lead were found in testing Appleby Elementary’s water supply, with the highest reading at 0.228 in September 2003.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead levels are elevated when they surpass 0.015 milligrams per liter. Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful, especially to young children and pregnant or nursing women, if inhaled or swallowed.
Since then, the district has flushed — or let run for a period of time — faucets in both buildings to lower lead levels. On Dec. 8, Appleby Elementary was retested for elevated lead levels in its water, and just one classroom — Room 109 — tested positive for elevated lead levels, at 0.215.
Another round of testing took place in January, and the school should receive the results within the next couple of weeks, Turecek said. A first round of tests in November showed that five classrooms in the high school had elevated lead levels.
The most recent round of testing in the high school, which took place in January, showed that two classrooms have elevated levels of lead — Rooms 206 and 224 — a foreign language room and a science lab, respectively.
Room 206 shows a reading of 0.0231 milligrams of lead per liter while water from Room 224 shows a reading of 0.0251 milligrams per liter.
Board of Education President Mike Griep said faucets in Rooms 206 and 224 would be replaced in the near future. Pipes in all the district’s classrooms will be flushed regularly, he said, which should also help lower the levels in those rooms and prevent elevated levels in all the rooms.
Turecek said once results from the latest round of testing at Appleby Elementary come in, the school will figure out how to proceed at the elementary school.
Since December, the school has used bottled water instead of drinking fountains to get water.
He said he would immediately send staff members letters about the recent high school results and that he would contact parents once the results from Appleby Elementary were in.