March 24, 2007

Empire Zone documents are now public


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Bill Brown oils transformers at Northeast Transformer Service on Elm Street in Cortland. The company refurbishes transformers from companies such as National Grid and NYSEG. It was one of nearly 100 Cortland County companies that received approximately $3 million in Empire Zone tax credits in 2005.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Cortland County companies claimed about $3 million in income tax breaks through the state’s Empire Zone program in 2005, with BorgWarner, Intertek and Marietta claiming about one-third of those breaks, according to figures released last week by the state.
The Cortland County numbers, as well as statewide numbers, became available a month after state Supreme Court Justice Leslie Stein ruled that the amounts companies claim in Empire Zone tax breaks are public record.
The Post-Standard had sued the state Department of Economic Development in 2005 after the department refused to release the records to protect business trade secrets.
The figures can be accessed at
Most local companies in the Empire Zone program interviewed this week say they do not think the numbers, of which the 2005 ones are the most recent, threaten their trade secrets, though some question whether the public truly understands the ins and outs of the program to be able to assess the numbers.
Barden Homes was one of the companies that claimed the greatest amount in tax credits in 2005 — $122,000 — in Cortland County.
Kevin Tomko, chief executive officer of Barden Homes, said he doesn’t mind that the public can now access the tax credit information.
“I know we’re not embarrassed of being in the Empire Zone, he said. “We’re very proud of it.”
Tomko did say, however, the numbers alone do not show how the Empire Zone program played a large role in convincing Barden Homes to move from Homer to Preble in 2004, rather than leave the area.
Without Barden Homes the county would lose more than 100 jobs that pay millions of dollars, based on statistics from Karen Niday, Cortland County Empire Zone coordinator.
McNeil Development Co. also claimed one of the greatest amounts in tax credits in 2005 — $124,000.
Dan McNeil, a manager at the company, said he questions whether people should be able to see the amounts individual businesses claim.
He said when people see the numbers they do not necessarily realize they are based on complicated investment and employment formulas.
David McNeil, another manager at the company, said people don’t necessarily know, for example, that the McNeil Development Company invested $513,000 in 2005 in building renovations, including the renovation of the Beard Building.
Niday cited BorgWarner as another Empire Zone company that invested a significant amount of money to get a significant amount of tax credits.
BorgWarner claimed the most in tax credits of all county companies — $587,000 — but it invested about four times that in production equipment and renovations at its facility on Luker Road in Cortlandville, she said.
The company also created five jobs in 2005, she said.
Niday said like McNeil, she questions the judge’s decision to let people look at the tax break numbers, as people do not always consider the whole picture.
“I think when you get down to it it’s going to create a lot of gossip and pettiness that is not deserved,” she said.
Niday said the nearly 100 companies that claimed the approximately $3 million in tax credits invested about $23 million in new equipment, renovations and property and added 222 net jobs in 2005.
Not all of the companies were big ones. One small company in the Empire Zone program that invested money to get credits is Northeast Transformer Services on Elm Street in Cortland, which has 15 employees and repairs transformers for National Grid and Energy East.
The company claimed $21,000 in 2005, while it spent $200,000 for an adjacent building for growth and created a couple of jobs, said Gil Cozer, the owner of the company.
Niday stressed that companies that don’t invest or gain jobs can lose their zone benefits, as is happening to Riverside Plaza owner 81 & 13 Cortland Associates at the end of the year.
The county’s Empire Zone board unanimously recommended rescinding the company’s benefits, and the matter is still pending with the state.



Health Dept. –

City parks should be smokeless

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Health Department is undertaking a new initiative to make all public parks and playgrounds in the county tobacco-free.
Prohibiting smoking in public parks would both promote healthy lifestyles for visitors, especially children, and help discourage children from taking up smoking, Jennifer Hamilton of the department’s health education program told the County, City, Towns, Villages and Schools Committee on Thursday.
“I think the best thing that could possibly come from this is it would help discourage youth from ever starting,” Hamilton said after the meeting.
The Health Department is encouraging all municipalities to adopt a list of parks, playgrounds or specific areas that would be considered tobacco-free.
The department would provide each interested municipality with signs reading “Young Lungs at Play! This is a tobacco-free zone,” that could be customized, with perhaps a town seal or logo, to meet each municipality’s needs, Hamilton said.
“There’s no cost to the towns,” Hamilton said, noting that the Health Department had budgeted between $6,000 and $8,000 of tobacco prevention grant funding to provide the signs.
“I think if we get these signs up and people start to get used to it, it’s just another opportunity to send a message to young people about smoking,” she said.
Approval of putting up the signs and enforcement of the ban would fall to individual municipalities, Hamilton said.
During the meeting, Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes asked about enforcement, and Hamilton said that the department envisioned a self-enforcing policy.
“If we have these signs up, how foolish is someone going to look standing there with a lit cigarette,” Hamilton said.
Comparing the policy to no-alcohol or leashed dog regulations, she also noted that community members could enforce the policy.
Still Forbes questioned whether the policy would be enforceable.
“Putting placards and signs around in a public park, making rules without the ability to enforce them, to me doesn’t mean a lot,” Forbes said after the meeting.
Furthermore, Forbes, although he noted that the town of Homer does not operate any public parks, said he had mixed feelings about the proposal.
“It’s a wonderful idea if it means nobody ever smoked, but I just don’t know where you draw the line on where government should say this is what you can do and can’t do on public property,” Forbes said.
Still, other committee members expressed an interest in the program.
Legislator Merwin Armstrong (R-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) said he thought the town of Truxton may be interested, and Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) said the same of Virgil.
“I definitely plan on taking it back to Virgil to see if they’ll consider it for our walking path,” said Price, who is co-chairman of the committee. “We need to do whatever we can to promote healthy living.”
Price and co-committee chairman Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) suggested that Hamilton send information on the program to all towns and villages.
The “Young Lungs at Play” campaign was first developed in New York state in Rockland County, Hamilton noted, and similar existing policies have been successful all over the country, with little drop in park usage.


Clock tower plans up for review

Planning Commission meeting Monday will also look at proposals for apartments, hotel.

Staff Reporter

Proposals to replace the clock tower building downtown, construct apartments at two properties and build a new motel are on the city Planning Commission’s agenda for Monday.
The meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. in the Mayor’s Conference Room in City Hall.
The commission will review the site plan for a proposed four-story clock tower building at Main and Tompkins streets. The building’s owner, John Scanlon, is proposing a steel-frame structure with a brick façade on the site of the former Squires Building, which was lost to fire in April 2006.
The project is expected to cost more than $4 million, and the city received a $2 million RestoreNY Communities Initiative grant to aid in the construction.
The building would be mixed commercial and residential use, and could possibly include a bank with a drive-through.
Two multi-unit apartment buildings have been proposed by local developer John Del Vecchio — one would be located on North Greenbush Street, and the other on West Court Street.
The apartments would likely be three or four bedroom units, and each would be approximately 1,200 to 1,500 square feet.
The 10 N. Greenbush St. project would include the construction of six new buildings and result in a total of 30 apartment units.
Meanwhile, the proposal for 19 W. Court St. would involve renovating a building currently occupied by office space and three apartments, tearing down its garage and constructing an addition.
A total of 10 apartments would be the end result.
The project, which would involve modifying the home that local industrialist George Brockway built for himself in 1921, has received a significant amount of opposition from the Neighborhood Hill Association, which has circulated petitions hostile to the development.


Petition calls for lasting fix of town road

Staff Reporter

HARFORD — The bright orange “construction ahead” sign just down the road from the home of Bruce and Ginny Neff at 860 Daisy Hollow Road in Harford has been there, literally, for 15 years, the Neffs say.
“The county keeps coming out to do repair work, but it doesn’t take long for the road to get washed away again,” Bruce Neff said.
Neff and his wife presented a petition to the Cortland County Legislature on Thursday requesting that the county provide a permanent fix to a small portion of Daisy Hollow Road, which the Neffs say is constantly in a state of dangerous disrepair.
The petition was signed by 172 area residents, all of whom were concerned about safety along part of the road that is notably prone to large potholes and erosion.
“School buses go over that road four times a day, we have kids going to and from Greek Peak, it’s just not safe,” Ginny Neff said.
The Neffs were joined at the meeting by Harford Town Board member Daryl Cross, an engineer who said there is a problem deep beneath the road that causes it to sink in that particular spot.
Cross asked that the county, rather than patch up the problems as they arise, do a_full engineering study to determine a permanent fix.
“I think we need to rip the road up and find out what the problem really is,” Cross said, noting that the equipment and manpower the county has available could potentially help mitigate costs.
County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said that the Highway Department has been doing surface work on the portion of road — a maximum of about 1,000 feet of road — for years.
“In real simple terms, it’s basically a landslide where there appears to be some weak underlying soil and the road just won’t stay in place,” Chambers said. “About every other year or so we have to go out there and re-grade the road because it’s sliding down the hill.”
The county has studied the portion of the road a handful of times over the past few decades, Chambers said, but the cost has been prohibitive.
Cross, in speaking to the Legislature, mentioned a study that placed the cost of a permanent fix between $300,000 and $500,000.
Chambers said that that study was at least a decade old, and, while he couldn’t estimate at this point how much a permanent fix would cost, he said higher construction costs could make the cost significantly higher now.
“There could be a permanent fix, but it’s going to be rather expensive to correct the problem, and it would probably involve closing the road for a significant amount of time,” Chambers said.


Fatal Kinney Gulf and Bond roads accident —

Girl’s grandfather calls for stop sign at intersection

Staff Reporters

HOMER — Charles Haviland, a professional land surveyor in the state of Washington, is on a mission to get a stop sign installed on Kinney Gulf Road at its intersection with Bond Road.
Haviland is the maternal grandfather of Alissa Churchill, 17, who was killed in a March 15 car accident at the intersection, as was her paternal grandmother, Sally Churchill.
Haviland said visibility at the intersection does not provide enough time for a car traveling north on Kinney Gulf Road to stop if a car on Bond Road pulls out.
“It’s not just a dangerous intersection — it’s one that needs attention now,” Haviland said. He took a series of pictures with a red car stopped on Bond Road at the intersection. “That’s a red car on a white background — and you can’t see it from more than 300 feet away,” he said, referring to the northbound approach from Kinney Gulf Road to Bond Road.
He said cars traveling Kinney Gulf Road have to be within 200 to 300 feet of Bond Road before the Bond Road car is visible.
Haviland also put his concerns in a letter to Don Chambers, superintendent of highways for Cortland County.
Chambers, who would not comment on any visibility issues the intersection might have, said there might have been one accident in the past several years in that area. He said most accidents on Kinney Gulf Road are caused by car-deer collisions or slick roads, and result in vehicles going off the road into ditches.
“There really isn’t a significant accident history there,” he said.
Chambers did say that when roads are built or reconfigured, the county typically looks at the intersections and this intersection had been looked at before. He said the county would re-evaluate the intersection, and he also said he believes there is a sign cautioning motorists to reduce speed for an intersecting road, from both the north and south on Kinney Gulf Road.
The speed limit is 55 mph. There is a warning sign in each direction one-tenth of a mile before the intersection. The suggested speed posted, in conjunction with the warning sign, is 35 mph.
Chambers said it was premature to recommend any changes to the intersection before it was re-evaluated.