January 29, 2008


First Transit studies service improvements

Officials from county agencies call for more service on nights, weekends and to rural areas


Bob Ellis/staff photographer        
Passengers board a First Transit bus bound for Cornell University this morning at Citizen’s Park on Route 281 in Cortlandville. First Transit is expanding the route and studying other improvements to bus service.

Staff Reporter

Lack of bus runs nights and weekends were problems noted Monday by many representatives of Cortland County agencies.
The comments were offered to the Cortland County Transportation Advisory Committee at the group’s first meeting to begin planning improvements to local bus service.
Representatives from Boston-based consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates — David M. Sharfarz, principal, and Bethany Whitaker, senior associate — asked those attending to comment on what needs were not being met by the current First Transit system in Cortland.
The firm will be studying the need for expanded or different bus service in Cortland County. It is working with the Transportation Advisory Committee, headed by county Planning Director Dan Dineen, to identify needs.
Scharfarz said the county Planning Department and local bus service provider First Transit obtained a $50,000 grant from the federal Transit Administration to study mass transportation issues. The grant is administered through the state Department of Transportation. Dineen said the entire grant is being used for the study.
“We have people that want to work, but can’t get to jobs,” said Robin Sandwick, who handles employment and training for Cortland Works. She noted service times often do not coincide with shift work because the bus does not run after 6 p.m. and buses do not go to places such as Greek Peak in Virgil or Barden Homes in Preble.
Carol Deloff, from the Area Agency on Aging, said her clients would like to see night and weekend service.
“An aide in the bus would be absolutely fantastic,” she said. She and others attending the meeting said often they send clients by taxi to doctor appointments, because the drivers will help the elderly or disable into a doctor’s office.
Deloff also said more marketing of the bus system, including general awareness of it and how to use the system, needs to be done.
Sandie Perry said she knew evenings and weekends have been an issue for a long time. She is hoping this study will lead to improved service and allow for expanded service. She said currently First Transit operates seven fixed routes in Cortland County and also offers dial-a-ride service so people can get to appointments.
A new route that travels from Cortland to Cornell University needs to be expanded, and a bus is being prepared for that. She said having this successful route could help pave the way for other routes.
Brooke Knickerbocker of Catholic Charities and Pam Ross, a McGraw village trustee, said service is lacking in the rural areas. She noted that Cincinnatus is only served a couple of times a day.
Carl Bullock, county Veterans Administration director, said there is a local van service for veterans, but it only makes one trip a day to the VA hospital in Syracuse so that means patients have to wait until all veterans have had their appointment before the bus returns to Cortland. He also noted that some of the Cornell employees have to stand on the bus.
Several also brought up the fact that the bus should connect to buses in the region, such Syracuse, Ithaca and Binghamton. Dineen said there is no bus that covers the northern part of the county — specifically, Truxton, Scott and Preble.
“I have neighbors on both sides that go to Syracuse every day,” she said.
Lloyd Purdy, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, said perhaps some sort of agreement could be made with SUNY Cortland.
Sharfarz said he has drafts prepared for three surveys to be conducted — an agency survey, onboard rider survey and a general survey. All of the survey results should be gathered by mid-March, Whitaker said. A meeting to go over these will be held at 10 a.m. March 25 in the conference room at the Planning Department at 37 Church St.
“We’re going through the same process ourselves,” said Joe Turcotte, general manager of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, which handles bus service in Tompkins County and part of Tioga County. He said it costs roughly $80 an hour for TCAT to operate one bus. At TCAT’s peak hours, mornings and afternoons, 35 buses are running. Operations start around 5 a.m. and the last buses, which run primarily on campus, operate until 2 a.m.   “Transportation is very expensive. The more you can coordinate, the better.”
Dineen said the state funds about $595,000 a year for transit aid and First Transit provides a 10 percent match of funds. He said he was surprised so many people showed up for Monday’s meeting. Usual attendance is about six. There were about 30 at Monday’s meeting.




Jurors selected for Manos trial

Testimony begins in case of woman accused of drowning niece in bathtub

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — Jury selection concluded Monday in the trial of a Dryden woman accused of sexually abusing and drowning her 2-year-old niece in May. Testimony began this morning.
Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected Monday out of an initial pool of about 100 at Tompkins County Court. The jury includes 10 men and two women, and one man and one woman will serve as alternates.
Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson and defense attorney William P. Sellers IV cautioned potential panel members that the evidence introduced in the trial would be graphic and disturbing.
“Photographs of people who have undergone an autopsy are extremely disturbing,” Sellers said, asking the potential jury members if they would be able to handle weighing such photos as evidence.
Marie Manos, 34, of 758 Ringwood Road, Apt. 2, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree aggravated sexual abuse, felonies, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
The charges stem from the May 15 death of her niece Grace Manos. If convicted, Manos faces 15 years to life in prison.
Police said evidence of sexual abuse was found on the child’s body. Manos claims the child drowned accidentally while left unattended.
Wilkinson said she will present evidence of violent child abuse and sexual abuse during the trial, which is scheduled to last two weeks.
“Can you promise me that you will follow the evidence where it takes you, even if that place is somewhere you haven’t been before?” she asked.
Some juror candidates said they would potentially be reluctant to examine photographs of a child’s body, post-autopsy.
“I can’t say for sure,” said one woman. “I think I would be hesitant.”
Sellers asked juror candidates if their opinion on the case had already been influenced by local news media coverage of the case.
“We can all put any media accounts of the case — radio, television, papers, anything — right out of our minds,” he said. “It’s a clean slate.”
Sellers also indicated that Manos may not be taking the stand, and asked jury candidates if that would influence their opinion of her.
“Are you going to hold it against my client if she does not testify?” he asked.
Sellers, referring apparently to his client, asked juror candidates if they could understand why someone might not want to testify after already submitting to a lengthy and difficult interrogation by police. Wilkinson raised an objection at one point during this line of questioning, saying Sellers was starting to argue his case prematurely.
Tompkins County Judge John Sherman, who is presiding over the trial, sustained Wilkinson’s objection and Sellers redirected his questioning.



State touts emergency notification network

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — More than 17,000 county residents have signed up for a state service that provides emergency information via e-mail, cell phone text messages and a variety of other ways.
During a presentation Monday morning at the Cortland County Office Building, a state Emergency Management Office representative described how people can sign up for the alerts through the state’s All-Hazard Alert and Notification System, or NY-ALERT.
The representative, Greg Brunelle, also described how county agencies could benefit from using the system to send out emergency alerts and communicate internally should the county decide to start using it.
Bob Duell, the county’s fire and emergency management coordinator, said he anticipates the county would start using the system within the next few weeks. People will be trained on it within the next couple of months.
Approval must first come from  County Administrator Scott Schrader or the county Legislature, he said.
The NY-Alert system was put into use in September, Brunelle said. The program is free, but users whose cell phone plans do not include text messages would be charged by their carrier for the text messages.
An advertising campaign was conducted on regional television and radio stations in September, likely contributing to the 17,000 Cortland County residents who have signed up for the alerts, said Dennis Michalski, assistant director of the state Emergency Management Office.
SUNY Cortland students are among those who signed up for the alerts, which the university has the capacity to send out.
Brunelle said people can register at for the alerts, where they will receive a user name and password. Users can select different alerts and geographic areas.
The system sends information about National Weather Service alerts, road closures caused by those events and protective actions that are recommended by state and local governments, colleges, universities and the private sector.




City OKs plans for coffee shop chain

2,300-square-foot Tim Hortons restaurant will be built on Clinton Avenue, open by fall

Staff Reporter

The city Planning Commission approved plans Tuesday for a Canadian-based chain to build a restaurant on Clinton Avenue.
Planning Commission member Wes Pettee was the only commission member to vote against the project in the 3-1 vote, saying he did not feel the look of the Tim Hortons restaurant fit well with houses in the area.
“I’m disappointed in the form of the building,” Pettee said, “not in the use or the business.”
Planning Commission member Bill Kline disagreed with Pettee, saying he was more concerned with the traffic than the look of the new restaurant.
Pettee also questioned why a community such as Geneseo could have a special look to its Tim Hortons building, but not Cortland.
Jack Krisanda, real estate manager for Tim Hortons USA, said the company could spend more money on the exterior of the building at Geneseo because the land was cheaper, there was no demolition and the amount of business would compensate for the amount spent on the building.
The construction of the 2,300-square-foot building in Cortland will require the demolition of two multi-family homes at 137 and 141 Clinton Ave.
The store plans to open in early fall, a spokeswoman said this morning, but she was unsure when construction will begin.
There will be two entrances and exits to the restaurant, one off Clinton Avenue and the other off Cleveland Street.
The Planning Commission also tabled a site plan review for local developer John Del Vecchio.
Del Vecchio had filed a lawsuit against the commission in September, seeking approval of his West Court Street apartment development.
State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey ruled in favor of Del Vecchio in late December and sent his plans back to the Planning Commission.
The commission, however, decided to table further action until Feb. 11, so that each member could review past documents, meeting minutes and Rumsey’s decision to determine where they want to go from here.




Dryden school project on track

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — The architect for the school district’s $4.3 million construction project said the project is still on schedule despite the state Education Department losing two project reviewers.
Tracy Wescott of Highland Associates told the Board of Education Monday that any projects being submitted after Jan. 1 would see a review process of 25 weeks, but the Dryden project should only take 15 weeks.
Currently under review is a middle school/high school renovation project that would be mostly window replacements. The building project also includes district-wide security upgrades and while drawings were submitted before the new year, the architects are still working on the details. Wescott said because plans  address a single project, the review period would still be only 15 weeks.
Another component of the project is roof work at Dryden Elementary School. Wescott said this component would be submitted to the Education Department this week. She said this too should only take 15 weeks to complete the SED review. Roof projects are generally deemed emergency work, she said.
Interim Superintendent of Schools James Lee said the district did not use all its Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid. Business Administrator Teresa Carnrike said the district still had $42,000 in aid it could use and could do a project that costs $300,000 to $400,000. She said the state has not set a deadline for which the money has to be spent. The special allocation by the state covers the local cost of school construction projects.
“We have our five-year building condition report, so we have plenty of ideas,” said board President Andy Young.
Board member Karin LaMotte said it would be nice to vote on another project in May, along with the budget vote.
Lee said one repair that will be made immediately is surface runoff at Dryden Elementary School that is going into the sanitary sewer instead of the stormwater sewer.