February 14, 2007

Area digs out after storm


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Bob Gregory digs his car out of his driveway on Parker Avenue this morning. County residents today found about 10 inches of snow on the ground from the overnight storm.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — About 10 inches of snow fell on the county between early Tuesday evening and this morning, shutting down all of the county’s schools and keeping highway crews busy.
“It’s going to continue to snow, and it’s looking like it’s not going to stop until later this afternoon,” said Mitch Gilt, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Binghamton. “By the time it’s all said and done, we’re probably going to see another 6 to10 inches.”
A heavy snow warning will remain in effect until 7 p.m. today.
Cortland County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Duell said this was just another February storm, as far as he was concerned, and that people didn’t need to take any abnormal precautions.
“We’re just following all of the recommendations and such from the National Weather Service, and it’s pretty much holding true to what they’ve said,” Duell said. “There shouldn’t be any problems, but traveling is going to be hazardous and avoiding any unnecessary travel is advised, at least through the next day into tomorrow.”
“This is nothing compared to up north — It’s a disaster up there.”
Gilt said the wind speed and wind chill would pick up through today, and Duell pointed out that this increases the amount of snow drifting on roads.
As he shoveled out the snowplow-formed berm at the end of his Port Watson Street driveway — too big for his snow blower to handle — Dave Shiffman said he began snow-blowing his driveway at about 6 a.m. and already had made two passes by 9:15.
“I’m going to try to go every two hours to stay on top of it,” Shiffman said this morning. “Then you’re only doing 2 to 3 inches.”
The next job, Shiffman said, would be to knock the accumulation off the flat roof of his porch — perhaps once the snow lets up a bit.
Around the corner and up on Greenbush Street, Mary Kay Hickey said she had been shoveling for maybe an hour, but hadn’t been keeping track.
“It doesn’t really pay to pay attention to things like that. It just gets discouraging,” Hickey said with a laugh at about 9:20 a.m.
Hickey said she would probably re-shovel every few hours to keep on top of the snow, which was very important considering she had only a shovel to clear her driveway.
“It’s the way people have always done it, so …” Hickey said. “I’ve shoveled worse.”
A neighbor with a snow blower passed down Hickey’s sidewalk, and she was hopeful she’d receive a helping hand.
At Arnold’s Florist on Tompkins Street, floral designer Becky DeForest said employees had arrived at the shop at about 7 a.m. to gear up for Valentine’s Day, and that the first of more than 300 deliveries had started a half an hour later.
“It’ll just take a little longer, but we’ll definitely get them out today,” DeForest said, adding that the out-of-town deliveries and orders that were sent to the area schools might be a little tricky.
In addition to the one regular delivery person, DeForest said, another five had been hired for the big day.



County faces suit over failed land purchase

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — An attorney for two of the landowners involved in the county’s aborted land acquisition on south Main Street has issued an ultimatum: either pay the landowners for their property by Friday, or expect a lawsuit.
Attorney Russell Ruthig sent a letter to County Attorney Ric Van Donsel Monday demanding that the county either move forward on closing on the properties — despite a vote against the purchases in January — or Ruthig, and potentially attorneys representing other property owners involved, would file suit.
Ruthig represents the Moose Lodge, which owns the property at 157 Main St. that is central to the deal, and James and Yvonne Cole, who own property at 11 Williams St., one of four homes also included in the deal.
The county initially voted in December to purchase nine parcels owned by six different property owners for $894,000 as the site of a future public health facility along south Main Street.
After residents of the surrounding neighborhoods spoke out, the Legislature backed off from its initial support, and ultimately reversed the initial decision at its Jan. 25 meeting.
Ruthig, however, says that the county is bound by contract by its initial decision.
“My opinion is that they can’t undo what they did — I don’t think what they did on the 25th of January let them off the hook,” Ruthig said.
The proposed lawsuit would essentially ask the court to compel the county to purchase the properties for the original agreed-upon purchase prices of $250,000 for the Moose Lodge, and $90,000 for the Cole’s property, Ruthig said.
Attorneys for two of the other property owners — Cal Fitts, who represents the owners of Robbins Tobacco Co., and Larry Knickerbocker, who represents Mark and Linda Abbatiello, of 9 Williams St. — are both mentioned in Ruthig’s letter as agreeing with his position. The county had originally agreed to pay $300,000 for the Robbins Tobacco property, and $85,000 for the Abbatiello’s property.
Fitts said this morning he “wholeheartedly” supported Ruthig’s letter and would join him in filing suit.
Knickerbocker was unavailable for comment.
Ruthig’s letter to Van Donsel cites an attorney general’s opinion from 1962 that states that a county legislature can reconsider any decision, but only if no contract has been entered into. He said the county entered into a contract to buy the land with its December vote.
The letter also draws a distinction between a “motion to reconsider” — which the Legislature utilized and passed with a simple majority vote — and a “motion to rescind,” which requires a two-thirds majority, and which, Ruthig said was the more appropriate measure.
Because the motion failed to have the two-thirds vote required for rescinding the vote, it is invalid, Ruthig said.
Furthermore, Ruthig’s letter points to the Legislature’s Rule of Order which say that a motion to rescind cannot be used when “something has been done which cannot be undone,” which, in Ruthig’s opinion, refers to the contract itself.
Van Donsel declined to comment on the potential lawsuit this morning.


Homer High School to look at illegal-absence policy

Staff Reporter

HOMER — High School Vice Principal Doug Van Etten said at Tuesday’s school board meeting he will soon make a recommendation to the board to change the district’s illegal absence policy to account for different types of illegal absences.
He said parts of the policy, such as the clause stating students who miss four periods of class as a result of an illegal absence will be suspended, don’t take different cases into consideration.
“It’s not widgets; it’s kids we’re working with here,” he said. “We should allow for greater latitude.”
The issue has come up as a result of phone calls from parents, Superintendent Doug Larison said at Tuesday’s meeting. He said some parents have complained that their children were suspended as a result of skipping school while other times students miss school illegally and are not suspended.
Van Etten said this morning he would make a recommendation to the board about a policy change sometime before June 1, when the board makes changes to its student handbook.
Van Etten said certain students are suspended for illegal absences while others are not because of the reason for their illegal absence.
He said safety is the most important concern of the school. If the illegal absence jeopardizes the students’ safety, which is the case when students skip school and are unsupervised by an adult, they should be punished more than a student who is, for example, on vacation with his or her parents.
“The safety of the students is first and foremost,” he said.
The board’s current policy doesn’t take different cases into account, he said.
Board President Forrest Earl said Van Etten brings up a good point. He said if a student is on vacation with his parents and supervised, that is less dangerous than when a student is unsupervised.
Kelly Sharpe, a board member, agreed that the illegal absence policy should be written to allow for more interpretation.
She said it is harsh to say any student who misses four periods of class will be suspended.
Larison said a looser policy is a good idea, but it would not keep the school from cracking down on seniors skipping school on senior skip days.
“Those days I think you want to be hunting them down,” he said.


Police: Oneonta break-ins may have local tie

Staff Reporter

ONEONTA — Officials from three Central New York police agencies outside Cortland County said they are investigating 11 related break-ins in Oneonta that may also be tied to local crimes that occurred Thursday night and Friday morning.
Investigator Al Ferria of the State Police in Oneonta said his department is investigating nine burglaries while Investigators Mike TenEyck of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and Karl Vagts of the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department are each investigating one.
“They are all close to I-88 right in Oneonta,” Ferria said. “Not much damage was done at all compared to most burglaries. We believe they are all related.”
All 11 burglaries happened on Friday night or early Saturday morning, just one day after local authorities discovered that 12 area businesses had been burglarized, officials said.
Ferria said that at this point in the investigation, his department is unsure if the Oneonta area break-ins are related to the Cortland County burglaries, but that he believes it is a possibility.
The Oneonta burglaries all have characteristics similar to the ones that occurred in Cortland County, including the way the buildings were entered, what was stolen and the fact that they all targeted businesses, officials said.
In each of the total 23 break-ins, the burglar or burglars used a crowbar to force open the doors, taking only cash and oftentimes leaving behind other valuables.
TenEyck said Biesler’s Sand and Gravel at 532 County Highway 58 in Milford was broken into but, like in many of the Cortland burglaries, nothing was taken and a digital camera was not stolen.
Ferria said in the nine burglaries he is investigating, less than $1,000 in cash was stolen. Vaghts said $235 in cash was taken from the Davenport Town Office on State Route 23.
Of Cortland-area businesses that were robbed the night before, a total of around $300 in cash was stolen. All of the Oneonta crimes occurred within 10 miles of each other. The Cortland area crimes were all within approximately six miles of each other and within a few miles of Interstate 81.
No arrests have been made.