February 07, 2007

Coping with the cold

Subzero temps expected to continue this month


Bob Ellis/staff photographer        
Ed Ostrander holds a roof rafter as Paul Holl nails it into place. The Crown Construction employees were working Tuesday morning in frigid weather at Riccardi Funeral Home on North Main Street in Cortland.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Ed Ostrander and Paul Holl worked outside in single-digit temperatures Tuesday morning, building an addition to the Riccardi Funeral Home on North Main Street.
Ostrander called the weather “harsh.” The two employees of Crown Construction in Dryden have been working outside at the funeral home for the past two weeks.
“This is not something we like to do in cold weather,” Ostrander said. “We just have to do it to make a living.”
What started as an unseasonably warm winter has turned frigid, with temperatures falling below zero. Meteorologists expect the cold to continue for the rest of the month.
“This has been a crazy winter,” said Dave Nicosia, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Binghamton. “It was a late start, but I don’t see an end to it.”
Ostrander and Holl said they have three to four more weeks of work to install an elevator in the funeral home and complete restoration to parts of the building in accordance with the Cortland Historical Society’s standards.
“The cold weather delays our work a little bit, but most of the time we stay on schedule,” Ostrander said. “It’s just harder to work in.”
Because of the plummeting temperatures, some school districts in the region, such as Moravia in Cayuga County, closed their doors while others, including DeRuyter in Madison County, delayed opening on Monday. No Cortland County schools closed or delayed opening.
Moravia Superintendent of Schools William P. Tammaro said there was no set standard for canceling school.
Tammaro said that when five or more school districts in the area close and BOCES closes, he follows suit.
DeRuyter had a two-hour delay on Monday.
DeRuyter Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe said the district based its delay on the weather forecast. He said that at 5:30 a.m., half an hour before the decision was made to delay opening, the temperature was 3 below zero. By 11 a.m., Sharpe said, the temperature was _8 degrees. He said the majority of parents and guardians were glad that school was delayed.
Sharpe said a special bus was implemented for students walking to school.
“We did it before and after school (on Monday),” said Sharpe. “We did it again this morning (Tuesday) … We do that periodically so that the walkers don’t have to walk in severely cold temperatures.”
Although none of the schools in Cortland County were closed, some superintendents said they would consider closing schools if wind-chill temperatures reached 25 to 30 below zero.
“There is no cut and dry number,” Superintendent of Cortland City Schools Larry Spring said. “Anything that begins to complicate or have kids outside longer than usual, we talk about cancellation. Twenty to 30 below is as close to a line in the sand as it gets.”
Nicosia said that earlier in the season, the air mass in the region was coming from the Pacific Ocean, which is relatively warmer than air from the northwest that is contributing to the recent plummet in temperatures. Nicosia said the region is receiving air from Canada and as far away as Siberia.
He said the region has been experiencing the frigid conditions since Jan. 15.
“Everything shifted in the last half of the month,” Nicosia said. He said that for the coming days, the region could expect nighttime temperatures to drop either below or near zero, with wind chills making it feel like 5 to10 below.
He added that the high for today would be 14 in the daytime and at night it would fall to the single digits with steady winds making the temperatures feel like 5 to 10 below zero.
The high for the week will be 18 degrees on Thursday, but the nighttime temperature trends will continue, Nicosia said.
Nicosia said next week the region will experience some relief with temperatures in the low 20s, but he said there might be a snowstorm brewing.



City building projects may not result in big debt

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A large upgrade and expansion of City Hall and construction of a new fire station would not necessarily result in a drastic tax hike, the city administrator told the Common Council Tuesday night.
Andy Damiano, city director of administration and finance, handed out a packet including examples of possible ways to phase the borrowing for about $7 million to be paid back over a 10-year period in an attempt to limit the financial impact.
“The message that I’m trying to send is that, if we do this in a planned, phased manner, which means very strategically with our borrowing and our planning, we can do these projects with minimal impact on our debt,” Damiano told the council. “I wanted to take the fear factor out — I wanted the council to focus on the need.”
A five-phase project could spread the borrowing out between now and 2010, according to Damiano’s rough estimates.
The city would only pay interest until 2010, Damiano projected, and then begin paying off the principal of the debt the following year.
Turning to the city’s current debt payments, in 2007 the city is already going to pay $1,261,337 in principal and interest to cover existing debts. That amount would continue to decrease as outstanding debts are paid off, and in 2011, the city would be paying about half of what it is paying now.
Assuming that the payments on the money borrowed for a new project would be about $500,000 a year, Damiano’s projections actually show a decrease in the annual debt service after 2011, which would cost $1,141,030 in that year.
“I arbitrarily picked the number of $7 million, because that’s probably where the project’s going to go,” Damiano said, adding that it would “hopefully be less.”
Damiano said this morning that it would take 20 years to pay off the $7 million bond.


South End community center plan nixed

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Common Council rejected a proposal to create a South End Community Center in the former Lehigh Valley Railroad passenger station on South Avenue Tuesday night.
Following a presentation regarding a proposed application for state grant money by Bernie Thoma, owner of Thoma Development Consultants, the council decided that the hoped-for grant money would be better spent on housing rehabilitation programs, homeownership assistance, microenterprise grants, expanded code enforcement and public improvements in the city’s south end.
The deadline for the city’s 2007 application for Community Development Block Grant funding from the state is in early April, and Thoma was seeking the council’s input on the proposed $650,000 grant application.
“We’re just seeking direction,” he said.
The state requires that applicants use the grant money to target one particular area of the city for improvement; the Main Street central business district and Port Watson Street have been the targeted areas for the CDBG monies in the past.
The concept of a community center in the 5th Ward had been raised during strategic plan development sessions for the South End, and Thoma said the development of the strategic plan was one of the reasons Mayor Tom Gallagher chose to direct the funds toward that section of the city.
The grant application proposal apportioned $100,000 toward the purchase of the long-vacant former depot, which most recently housed the Third Rail music club on South Avenue. City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said the club owes about $30,000 in property taxes.
After the meeting, Thoma said that rough estimates for renovating the property were between $150,000 and $250,000, but this money wasn’t included in the proposal and would have to be funded through other means.
Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward) was most vocal in his opposition, citing Thoma’s intended replacement of the East End Community Center on Elm Street as being premature.
The East End center had problems last year, when restructuring in the state-directed federal funding left the center without money throughout most of 2006. Concerns have also been raised over the fact that the city rents the property.
Nevertheless, the center is up and running now, and Partigianoni said he was “pretty upset” that the application proposed transferring the East End center’s operations to the South End.
Council Member Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward), who was acting mayor in Gallagher’s absence, asked why the city would acquire another piece of property and then pay so much to renovate it when other needs were far more pressing.
Councilman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) said he had been “lukewarm” about the Third Rail community center idea during the strategic planning meetings, and was opposed to removing any properties from the tax rolls unless absolutely necessary.
Perhaps, Feiszli suggested, Beaudry Park could be used as a venue for a community center.