May 9, 2007

Van Dee quits Cuyler board


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cuyler Town Clerk Louanne Randall, standing at left, prepares for a Town Board meeting Tuesday. Citizens of Cuyler staged a small protest before the meeting by holding signs such as the one seen in the foreground, which reads “Steve, Put The Town 1st," referring to questions about the residency of board member John Van Dee. Van Dee resigned from the board Tuesday.

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — Town Board member John Van Dee officially resigned from his position Tuesday night after a monthlong controversy over his legal residence.
A crowd of around 60 people cheered when Town Supervisor Steven Breed announced Van Dee submitted his letter of resignation before the meeting. Van Dee was not present for the meeting.
“Because of the animosity of a group of people seeking my removal, I can no longer do the job I was elected to do, in the way that my constituents deserve,” Van Dee said in the letter. “If I were to fight this, it’s clear to me that the important business of Cuyler would take a back seat to the politics, when it should be the other way around. I love this community too much to let that happen.”
Van Dee’s resignation comes nearly a month after the town’s April 10 meeting, where several angry citizens and two Town Board members, Nancy Corbin and Richard Keeney, accused him of not living in the town. Several residents, including a community action group formed after the April meeting — Citizens of Cuyler — contend Van Dee lives at 1760 White Bridge Circle, Homer, where he has filed his STAR school property tax exemptions since 2001. His address is listed with the county Board of Elections as 6368 Van Dee Road, Cuyler.
“By resigning, I do not admit any wrongdoing,” Van Dee continued in the letter. “I never had any intention to do anything that was improper, when I ran for this office, or when I remained in it, and I believe I could win if I fought these allegations. But at what cost to Cuyler.”
Van Dee could not be reached for comment by phone.
Several members of the Citizens of Cuyler protested before Tuesday’s meeting, carrying signs requesting that Van Dee step down. Over the last month, the group filed complaints with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, the state Attorney General’s office and the county Board of Elections.
“I think he did the right thing,” Corbin, also a member of the group, said after the meeting.
Corbin and Keeney, both Republicans, asked that Breed, a Democrat, discuss the issue at the town’s last meeting, but he refused, saying it was not on the agenda. He said Tuesday that the reason he would not discuss the issue before is because he knew nothing about it.
“John made the decision,” Breed said after Tuesday’s meeting. “He was a good man. I’m sorry to see him go. He did a lot for this town. A lot more than most of those people.”
Citizens of Cuyler Chairman Vera Leete and group member Edith Allen said they believe Van Dee committed fraud when he ran for election and that he still should be criminally charged.
Sheriff Lee Price could not be reached this morning for comment on whether his department will continue to investigate the matter.
“It can’t go anywhere,” Breed said of the possibility of criminal charges. “He didn’t commit a crime.”
Van Dee was not up for re-election until 2010. The board will appoint a temporary member to serve until the November election.
Leete said her group hopes to nominate a person for the board’s consideration at the group’s next meeting on May 16.
During the meeting Breed also announced that he would no longer lobbying for a local law that would make it legal for ATV riders to ride on five of the town’s roads.
Breed said he was no longer pushing the law because many people felt he wanted the law passed only to benefit a local ATV club, of which he is president — Quad County Trail Riders.
“We couldn’t care less,” he said, explaining that he wanted to pass the law to help bring business into the town and county, not to benefit his club.
Breed brought the law up for discussion at a public hearing during the town’s last meeting, and many citizens expressed concerns over allowing ATV riders on the roads. Many people felt the new law would invite non-resident riders to the area and open the town up to lawsuits.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also expressed concerns over the issue. In a letter sent to Breed on Friday, Regional Forester David Sinclair said he was concerned that if the town opened the roads to ATVs, people would also attempt to ride through state forests, which is illegal.



‘Major’ news Friday about biodiesel plant

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Although the partners are keeping quiet about the details, a long-awaited announcement about a biodiesel fuel plant in Cortland County might arrive during a news conference Friday in Polkville.
The news conference, at 9:30 a.m. Friday in a tent adjacent to CNY Powersports on Route 11 in Cortlandville, was announced Tuesday by the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency.
For more than a year, Morrisville State College has been considering establishing a biodiesel fuel plant — which takes crude soybean, canola or other feedstock oil and converts it into biodiesel fuel to power cars and heat homes — in a location in Cortland County.
Representatives of the partners in the project would not confirm Tuesday whether a biodiesel plant would be located in the area.
In March, Morrisville State College President Ray Cross said the college had been having trouble lining up enough financing to fund the soybean-crushing component of the project, which would crush locally grown soybeans and extract crude oil from them for the same purposes.
“We’re going to make a major announcement about a biodiesel plant and about soybean crushing,” Cross said this morning.
Without the soybean crushing operation, Cross said in March, there would be no need to place the biodiesel plant close to where the soybeans are grown, negating the attractiveness of Cortland County — on the eastern edge of a soybean growing region — as a location.
Morrisville Public Relations Officer Jessica DeCerce said Tuesday that a number of factors went into deciding the final project’s parameters.
“There have been several different options considered; some of them with crushing and some of them without,” DeCerce said. “The crushing part is very important, because that is what would be assisting New York farmers.”
Linda Hartsock, director of the BDC/IDA, said Tuesday that her organization, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the state Senate and Morrisville State College would “announce a project that will have a tremendous impact on energy, education, the environment and economic development … it’s a great example of SUNY-lead, technology-driven regional economic development.”
“It’s an outgrowth of a partnership that we’ve been developing, and I think it’s a great example of how this region has been emerging as a leader in green technologies by developing education, industry and government partnerships,” Hartsock said.


County to form committee to plan land purchases

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A special “ad hoc committee” will be pieced together this month to address the county’s various land needs, Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown said Tuesday.
After a lengthy and potentially costly setback with the annulled south Main Street land deal, legislators Tuesday moved forward cautiously in addressing the county’s numerous space needs.
The General Services Committee supported sending out a request for proposal for properties the county could lease for its motor vehicles office, while the Judiciary/Public Safety Committee seemed intent on moving forward with plans for either relocating or expanding the county jail.
Brown (D-8th Ward) said that both issues would be addressed by the ad hoc committee, which she hoped to have formed prior to the May 22 legislative session.
The third pressing space need for the county, the Mental Health Department, was not discussed in committee, and Brown said she expected discussion would have to wait until legal matters regarding the failed south Main Street land deal are resolved.
“I’m hoping (the ad hoc committee) will be a mix of Democrats and Republicans, some from the city, some from outside the city, from all different committees,” said Brown, who added that she had committee members in mind, but she had not yet contacted all of them. “I’m hoping they’ll look at our options, work with (County Administrator Scott) Schrader so hopefully we can actually address some of these problems.”
Moving forward was the key phrase in both committees.
“I kind of get the sense that a lot of legislators are waiting to see about this lawsuit,” said Legislator John Daniels (D-Cortlandville), referring to a suit filed by the Moose Lodge against the county regarding the failed land deal. “I’d just like to see us move forward on something, and then hopefully once we free up a little space, the other things can start to fall into place.”
Daniels suggested the county put out a request for proposals for a 4,000-square-foot building that could be leased to the county.
“I think there are people out there who would be willing to lease a building and even make sure it fits our needs,” Daniels said, noting that, for instance, he’d been contacted recently about a property on Route 281 that could be adapted to meet the county’s needs. “I think if we get it out there that this is what we’re looking for, people will come forward and try to work with us.”
Daniels’ suggestion was well-received by the General Services Committee.
“I think we should do it, and do it expeditiously,” said Legislator Newell Willcox (R-Homer).
Legislator Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) noted that the current motor vehicles space in the County Courthouse is cramped, has limited parking and is needlessly difficult to access.
He also pointed out that in 2003 the county implemented a registration fee of $5 for cars and $10 for large trucks with the intent of using some of the revenue to seek a new location.
“We need to get it out of there … people shouldn’t have to go through a magnetometer (metal detector) to renew their license,” Cornell said.


Health department’s space needs still exist

Staff Reporter

While two of the county’s three major space needs received discussion Tuesday, the needs of the Mental Health Department, which was the impetus behind efforts to place a Public Health Facility on south Main Street, went unaddressed.
Both the Mental Health Department’s primary clinic space on Clayton Avenue and the Horizon House day program facility on Grant Street have received citations from the state Office of Mental Health for space and confidentiality issues, according to Mike Kilmer, director of administrative services for the mental health department.
Both facilities will be reviewed by OMH in June, said Kilmer, who was concerned that Horizon House’s operating certificate, which has been paired down from a three-year certificate to a one-year certificate based on the citations, would be reduced further, to a six-month term.
“That’s really the best, worst-case scenario, diminishing the operating certificate to a six-month status,” Kilmer said. “They could potentially pull the certificate entirely, and then we don’t have a treatment center … (or) the county could try to mitigate with them, assuming they’d be willing to do that.”
The building on Grant Street has a two-year operating certificate, and while Kilmer said the duration of the certificate could potentially be reduced in June, he also noted that the lease for the building runs out at the end of 2008.
“We’ve outgrown that space, and we were hoping to be somewhere else before then, but it’s mid-2007, so I don’t really see that happening right now,” Kilmer said.
Legislators Tuesday said they were reluctant to move forward on seeking a new facility until the lawsuit regarding the annulled property purchases on south Main Street are resolved.
“I think it’s pretty apparent that (plans to relocate the Mental Health Department) have been set back, and its all contingent upon what’s going to happen (with the lawsuit),” said Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward).
Sean Clark (D-2nd Ward), who chairs the Health Committee, agreed, but said the issue needed to be addressed quickly.
“As I understand it the state’s been pretty understanding to this point, but that’s only going to last so long,” Clark said.