March 08, 2007

Soybean-crushing plant in jeopardy

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county may not get a soybean-crushing and biodiesel plant, the president of SUNY Morrisville said Wednesday, as the college is having a tough time finding investors to back the soybean-crushing part of the project.
President Ray Cross said the college has funding for a biodiesel plant, which takes crude soybean, canola or other feedstock oil and converts it into biodiesel to power cars and heat homes.
It does not, however, have funding for a crushing plant, he said, which would crush locally grown soybeans and extract crude oil from them for the same purposes.
“There aren’t a lot of investors lined up to invest in crushing,” he said. “One of the things is, you produce a lot of meal and you have to have a market for that.”
Cross would not say how much it costs to build a soybean/biodiesel plant or just a biodiesel plant, though he would say the former option costs about twice as much as the latter one.
Cross said it would be ideal to have a soybean crushing and biodiesel plant in Cortland, as Cortland is on the eastern edge of a soybean growing region.
Local farmers could grow the soybeans, and then ship them to the plant. There they would be crushed, oil would be extracted and the oil would be processed into biodiesel fuel.
Cross said possible Cortland sites for crushing, extracting and biodiesel processing include the former Homer Oil plant, building a plant on Route 11 in Polkville and building a plant on Route 11 near New Hope Farm LLC — formerly Dairy Development International — in Little York.
But without money for the crushing part of the plant, the school would have less of an incentive to come to Cortland County, he said.
The college would just build a biodiesel plant and import oil, so it wouldn’t need to be near a soybean-producing region.
“That opens up the door,” he said. “I could go to Pennsylvania.”
The college would import oil from such locations as Iowa, Illinois, the Midwest and Canada.
Cross did not know what chance Cortland County would have in being chosen for just a biodiesel plant.
The college would decide before the end of the month, he said. The project would take about one year to complete.
State Sen. Jim Seward is planning to _make an announcement about the soybean crushing/biodiesel project within the next few weeks, said Duncan Davie, spokesman for Seward. He would not provide any further information.



Housing Visions delayed in closings

Cortlandville couple expected nonprofit to buy their south Main St. home by October.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Philip and Jean Houck immediately agreed to sell their three-apartment rental property at 2 Argyle Place when Housing Visions asked to buy it in the fall of 2005.
The Victorian home the Cortlandville couple had owned for _25 years is now part of Housing Visions’ plan for redevelopment as part of the nonprofit’s $8.2 million Cortland Crown Homes low-income housing project.
But while the Houcks, one of the first owners to sign a purchase agreement, expected Housing Visions to close on the property in October, the deal has yet to go through.
Nevertheless, Philip Houck said Housing Visions told the tenants they had to relocate from the property as soon as possible, and the last tenant moved out by the end of October.
One of those former tenants, Willy Putnam, of 8 Union St., said Housing Visions employees repeatedly told him he had to vacate his apartment.
“He goes, ‘We bought the place, and we want you out as soon as possible,’” Putnam said Wednesday evening of his encounters with a Housing Visions employee. “He kept coming over and coming over and coming over, and I said, ‘When I find a place to go, I’ll go.’ And they’re not doing anything over there, either. The house is just sitting there falling to pieces.”
Now Philip Houck said he and his wife have spent more than $10,000 maintaining the property — which includes utilities and taxes — and many hours shoveling snow, with no definite word from Housing Visions as to when the property will be taken off their hands.
“Here we are sitting on an empty house,” Jean Houck said as she sat in the front room of the couple’s Kinney Gulf Road home Monday afternoon. “And we still have to pay the heat, and the lights and the taxes, and we’re getting no income to do that.”
Betsy Dunlap, the vice president of Housing Visions Consultants, said the company is also anxious to get started on the project but is working with an equity provider on some details regarding the project’s funding.
Dunlap would only say that the party Housing Visions is waiting on is an “affiliate of Key Bank.”
About four buildings are going to be demolished as part of the Cortland Crown Homes project, while another six are going to be rehabilitated, resulting in a total of about 30 units that would be available to low-income tenants who fall below 60 percent of the state’s median income level.
About 70 percent of the money for the project comes from private investor equity raised from low-income tax credits, with another 25 percent from the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corp. and state’s HOME program, which is intended to expand the supply of decent, safe and affordable housing within the state, according to the program’s Web site.
Approximately 5 percent is from the city of Cortland’s Community Development Block Grant funds.
“The equity provider needed a little more clarification on some of the costs, so it’s taking a little bit longer than expected,” Dunlap said Monday morning. “We have used this equity provider before, and they’re very good. They just had a legal issue that they felt that they needed to have resolved.”
Housing Visions expected to find out the timeframe for closing on the properties on Wednesday, Dunlap said, but representatives were unavailable for comment this morning.
The final purchase costs of the properties are essentially set in stone, she said, but the properties’ taxes and utilities were prorated when the purchase agreements were signed. This means that although the Houcks are paying some of the taxes and utilities in advance, once Housing Visions takes control of the property, the company would reimburse the Houcks for whatever costs are paid in advance for the period covering Housing Visions’ ownership.
Philip Houck said the couple hopes to recoup the money they’ve spent since the tenants were evicted.
“All of the people in the units were told not to move because relocation assistance would be available,” Dunlap said Tuesday morning. “We have relocated some people in the buildings that we have purchased, but in the buildings that we haven’t purchased, we advised people not to move.”
Putnam said he had moved into his new apartment in November after finally getting fed up with Housing Visions.
Although the tenants were supposed to have help locating a new apartment, Putnam said he turned down the assistance because he did not trust Housing Visions.
The nonprofit would have paid for the some of the relocation costs — such as a security deposit — but Putnam said it would have first had to come into the new apartment and assess its viability; Putnam decided against the intrusion.


McGraw seeks new business administrator

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — An advertisement for the replacement of the school district’s longtime business administrator was a source of contention for Board of Education members and the superintendent at a special board meeting Tuesday.
The ad was placed on Saturday in the Cortland Standard by the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES. It called for a business director, who would be shared between McGraw and Cincinnatus school districts.
“My take on where we left this is that each of us had some pros and cons; we were unsure of which way to go,” said board member David Bordwell, speaking to Superintendent of Schools Maria Fragnoli-Ryan. “I don’t know if we gave you clarity about which way to go.”
Board member Ginny Mott said she was the first to see the ad in the newspaper; she then called other board members and informed them. Mott said the board would have liked a “heads up” before they saw this in the newspaper.
“I think the surprise in the paper looked like we were fully committed without confirmation,” Bordwell said.
“I don’t know why the board felt I was trying to do something behind your back,” Fragnoli-Ryan said. “I’m trying to save the district money. I am willing to take on more responsibility. I told BOCES to go ahead and post it, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t pull out if the board said we are not sharing.”
Stephen Littlefield has been the district’s business administrator for almost 22 years. He came in as a shared business administrator with the Cincinnatus Central School District in 1985. In 1987, he became the full-time business administrator for the McGraw Central School District.
The only board member not to attend Tuesday’s meeting was Kolby Avery.
Fragnoli-Ryan said the board needed to make a decision on whether or not it would approve of a shared business administrator by the next board meeting.
“You have to decide by March 15 or I have to pull out of BOCES,” Fragnoli-Ryan said. “They have a time frame and if no one wants to share with Cincy then they have to abolish it.”
Littlefield’s salary is $77,386 annually. Fragnoli-Ryan said if the district were to hire a full-time business administrator, the likelihood of someone taking the job for less than the high school principal’s salary would be minimal.
“They are a central office position and they are going for that rate,” said Fragnoli-Ryan.
The superintendent said the starting salary for the full-time business administrator would have to be approximately $77,000.
She said if the district employed a shared administrator the district would be required to pay $55,285, but if the governor’s budget proposal is approved the district’s share would be reduced to $28,991 annually with state aid.
Fragnoli-Ryan said the half-time business administrator would be a BOCES employee and the district would purchase the services. She also said the agreement could be dissolved in a year if the board is unhappy with the service.
If board members approve the superintendent’s proposal for a half-time business administrator, Littlefield’s responsibilities would be shared among the new business administrator and current staff; Wendy Opera, the district’s payroll clerk, would be moved back to a full-time position.
A $3,500 stipend would be provided for whomever takes on some of Littlefield’s responsibility, which includes: bookkeeping, Freedom of Information Law officer and anti-discrimination officer.
Littlefield said he was also responsible for all mandated compliance such as asbestos and pesticides, fire inspections and state Department of Environmental Conservation compliances. Those responsibilities would be given to the superintendent of building and grounds.
Fragnoli Ryan conceded there was a miscommunication with the board.
Although the board did not make a decision on the superintendent’s proposal, board member William Hakes said it was a “good deal.”


Cortland grad in race for Calif. assembly

Staff Reporter

A 1978 Cortland High School grad running for California state Assembly is hoping she can inspire others as a handful of politicians have inspired her.
“I think there are very few leaders that we come across who make us feel good about ourselves, and make us believe that we can accomplish something or do something better or make somebody else better,” said Judy Biviano Lloyd, of Dublin, Calif.
Lloyd, who officially declared her candidacy for the 2008 race in January, said those types of leaders — all Republicans — helped spark her interests in politics, an area she was not particularly interested in until after college, and motivate her to run for a public office.
Lloyd, a Republican, was born in Cortland in 1960 to Josephine Biviano, who still lives in Cortland, and the late Frank Biviano. She has one sister, Lori Canestaro, who also lives in Cortland.
After graduating from Cortland High School and graduating with a marketing degree from Clarkson University, Lloyd, 46, by chance landed a job working in Cortland on Fred Compagni’s campaign for state senate.
At first she wasn’t sure she wanted to be involved with politics, but her opinion evolved over time, she said.
“As I went through that campaign I really became inspired of the thought of making things better for people,” she said.
Lloyd went on to work for Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford) in Washington, D.C., before working on Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president.
She couldn’t get enough of Reagan, she said, who hired her as an appointee in the U.S. Department of Agriculture after his election.
“I felt such a strong bond with what Reagan had put forward, and his ideas and the way he approached challenges,” she said. Lloyd appreciated Reagan’s confidence, which helped unite the nation during the Cold War, she said, as well as his free market stance. He cared about the environment, she said, which many people don’t remember.
After that, Lloyd worked as an assistant to another man she admired, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. The man is a straight-talker who truly had to work hard to get his position, she said.
“He’s someone who came from a poor background and achieved greatness,” she said. “I considered him a true mentor to me.”
Lloyd went to serve as director of external affairs/special projects for the Republican National Committee before moving to California with her husband, Tim Lloyd. They later had a son, Michael, who is now 9.
Judy Lloyd gained experience in the business world by running two of her own businesses — one consulting on public affairs and the other planning weddings — and later joining her husband’s software business.
She said that background, coupled with several years of experience as a regional representative for the U.S. Department of Labor, has given her an understanding of the biggest challenges facing business owners in California.
“I think that the challenges to business in California are over-regulation,” she said. “Gov. Schwarzenegger has helped us to revitalize business and come up with a very comprehensive approach to workers’ compensation, which is literally driving business out of California.”
Lloyd said as state assemblywoman she would build upon Schwarzenegger’s efforts to boost business in California, a state whose residents have a huge entrepreneurial spirit. She would represent the 15th Assembly District, which is in the San Francisco Bay area.
Lloyd said Schwarzenegger, for whom she worked in 2006 as co-chair of his campaign to be re-elected as governor, is another politician she greatly admires.
“Anything he has ever touched or built has been a great success,” she said.
Lloyd, who is one of Cortland High School’s 33 Wall of Fame inductees, said as assemblywoman, she would focus on fighting for businesses, improving the public schools in California and finding ways to reduce road congestion.


Homer school board paperless

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Within the last year, the Board of Education switched to an electronic paperless system, which enables board members to view information wherever there is Internet access.
“It cuts down on a lot of problems with paperwork,” said board member David Quinlan. “It cuts down on people having to worry or deliver things.”
Quinlan said the district has replaced stacks of papers during board meeting with laptop computers within the last eight months. Homer is the only district within the county to switch to laptops for school board members.
Superintendent of Homer schools Doug Larison said the laptop computers are the property of the district and they belonged to the district prior to the paperless switch. He also said that the laptops are not removed from district buildings. Laptops are more productive than paper, Larison said.
“I’ve seen them (board members) accessing a lot of background information,” Larison said. “It is easier to reference other documents.”
Board Vice president Paul Phelps said the district did not incur any additional cost when it decided to make the switch to an electronic paperless system. He said passwords and user accounts had to be set up for board members.
Larison said agendas and additional information to the board are on a server and board members can get the information from any location as long as they have access to the Internet.
“It’s been very beneficial,” board Phelps said.
District Business Director Michael Delair said before the district went paperless, information had to be delivered by courier to the board members.
He said it cost the district approximately $840 a year to have the courier deliver information to the board members.
“Short of killing a few less trees, I don’t know how much money we have saved,” Delair said. “But we have definitely reduced the amount of paper we have to put together.”