Sharing Squires stories
Students displaced by fire say thanks

Staff Reporter

Photos by Misha T. Kwasniewski/staff photographer
(ABOVE)Former Squires Building tenant Carly Semrau, right, with Mollie Lurken, expresses her gratitude to those who helped her and other tenants displaced when the building burned April 11, during a reception Thursday at SUNY Cortland.

(BELOW)John Gailor, fire investigator and president of the Cortland Fire Department Board of Engineers, looks over a collage of thank-you letters from Squires Building tenants.

CORTLAND — SUNY Cortland student Mollie Lurken didn’t want to lose her mother’s ring. She left it behind in her apartment in the Squires Building as fire spread through the structure April 11.
The day after the fire, firefighters had asked the 32 students who lived there to list five items they wanted retrieved.
Lurken asked for the ring.
Firefighters found it after searching on their hands and knees in the 24-year-old’s apartment and carried it out along with bagfuls of the students’ belongings.
Each one of the students had a similar anecdote about an item retrieved from the building in the aftermath of the fire, and several of those stories were shared at Thursday’s “Save the Day” reception, hosted by SUNY Cortland.
The ceremony was held exactly one month after the fire, which heavily damaged the building that housed five businesses and 22 apartments. The building was torn down April 14.
The affected students teamed up with the college to honor the community for helping them get back on their feet.
“It takes a tragedy sometime to realize what a tight, close-knit community Cortland really is,” SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said at the ceremony.
About 100 people including students, college officials, members from the city fire and police departments and other community members attended the event in Corey Union. Refreshments were served and a newspaper spread of the April 11 fire was displayed.
The Fire Department also was given a large sign with thank-you notes from every student affected by the fire.
“I just wanted to say thank you to everybody involved,” said Carly Semrau, who also lost her apartment in the fire. “Everyone really went out of their way to help.”
Sue Vleck, a representative from SUNY Cortland Residence Life and Housing, said the students wanted to do something to honor everyone in the community who helped out.
“They really wanted to be able to thank them, and couldn’t really do it on their own,” Vleck said. “So we helped them out.”
During the ceremony, Vleck gave each of the students a T-shirt that read “Clock Tower Burn Outs,” with a picture of a building with flames shooting out of it.
Out of the 32 students who lost their apartments and belongings in the fire, 22 students relocated free of charge in college dorms, Vleck said. The college also donated clothes and meal plans to the students.
Brendan Quigley, 21, moved into a six-bedroom college suite after his single-bedroom apartment was destroyed in the fire.
Vleck told the crowd how the firefighters went back inside the Squires Building after the fire to get Quigley’s talking teddy bear.
“To put yourself in harms way for people you don’t even know and probably never will is just …” Quigley said, as the crowd broke into applause.
City firefighters and police officers said they were honored to be at the reception.
“We’re pleased they would take the time to do that, especially since we are just doing our jobs,” said city fire Capt. Morgan Jones. “It’s not every day you get honored to do your job.”



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Shortfall seen for new voting machines

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Cortland County will receive $551,000 _to comply with the Help American Vote Act, but that won’t cover the total cost of updates the law requires.
The county could fall as much as $60,000 short of being HAVA compliant, said Democratic Election Commissioner Bill Wood.
“That is just not enough money for all the machines we’re going to need,” Wood said.
Wood and Republican Commissioner Bob Howe presented a possible solution to the Legislature’s Personnel Committee Thursday. The plan includes merging some of the county polling places to cut down on the number of new machines needed.
The current lever machines can handle up to 800 voters per day, according to Howe. That number will be dropped to about 450 with the new electronic machines.
“It’s a much more time-consuming process,” Wood said. “We are going to need more machines to cover all of our voters.”
Cortland County has 48 voting machines. The county would need up to 74 new electronic machines to cover voter population at current polling locations.
That number could be cut to 67 if the Legislature agrees to consolidate polling places among the county’s 19 legislative districts, Wood said.


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Dryden weighs Ellis Hollow water district

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — The Town Board has agreed to host an informal meeting with residents in the Ellis Hollow area to determine who supports and doesn’t support bringing water to the area. The board then will determine what direction to go with a feasibility study.
The preliminary feasibility study showed that both a base area and an expanded area would be expensive at between $1,100 and $1,200 a year for a typical residence for usage and construction. Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins pointed out that this is about twice the state comptroller’s threshold of $579 for such projects in 2006. Thus the town would have to seek final state approval for the work from the comptroller if a majority of residents agreed to proceed with creating a water district.
Art Berkey, of 1205 Ellis Hollow Road, spoke in favor of completing the feasibility study at least for the original base area he had canvassed to seek support.
This area includes Ellis Hollow Road at Game Farm Road and extends to Turkey Hill Road, including Fox Hollow and Snyder Heights roads. It contains 111 parcels.
Berkey noted that his neighbor at 1105 Ellis Hollow Road, Cathi Calori, still runs out of water on the weekends. Dave Putnam, of T.G. Miller, the town’s engineering firm, said work would likely not start until 2007.


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4 in race for 3 Homer school seats

Staff Reporter
HOMER — The race for three seats on the Homer School Board will be decided between one declared candidate and three write-in candidates.
The candidates are: Dave Quinlan, 50, who resides on Grove Street in Homer; Mary Beth Mathey, a South Main Street resident in Homer; Scott Ochs, 48, who lives at 4489 Cosmos Hill Road, Homer; and Kim Sharpe, 42, who lives on Haights Gulf Road, Truxton.
Quinlan is the only one who will appear on the ballot. Mathey is running as a write-in candidate along with Ochs and Sharpe, both of whom appeared in a Cortland Standard article Thursday.
Voters head to polls Tuesday.
Quinlan, 50, is an art teacher at Marathon and has lived in Homer since 2001. He graduated from Homer in 1973, and his daughter Casey is a senior at Homer.
“I talked to some people in the district who thought I should run, and I decide to run when I saw there were three open spots,” Quinlan said.


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Study: School tax proposals would rise above rate of inflation
From staff and wire reports

A recent analysis found school property taxes statewide would increase by just under twice the inflation rate, which is about 3 percent, but local school officials say the figures do not tell the whole story.
The analysis by The Public Policy Institute of New York State was done using data reported on the “Property Tax Report Card” school districts send to residents and the State Education Department. The report lists total spending, the school tax levy and enrollment figures for the current year, as well as the projections for 2006-07.
Comparing enrollment and spending figures from this report, school districts statewide plan to increase per-pupil spending by twice the rate of inflation and raise property taxes by more than $900 million or 6 percent on average, according to the annual “School Tax Watch” by the institute, part of the state Business Council.
Enrollment statewide is projected to increase 0.1 percent, said Robert Ward, the institute’s director. School spending per pupil statewide would increase an average of 6.2 percent to $16,469, he said.
The analysis comes after the state Legislature increased school operating aid by $1.1 billion, a record 6.9 percent. The Legislature also adopted a construction fund of $11.2 billion to be spent over several years.
Officials of some school districts in the Cortland County area said the figures released by The Public Policy Institute need to be put in perspective.
Bruce Sharpe, superintendent of schools in DeRuyter, said even though the district gets increases in state aid, the percent of the budget state aid pays for has decreased. He said from 1995 to 2002, the about 66 percent of the budget was funded with state aid, which has not kept pace with rising costs.
From 2002 to 2006 that percentage had dropped to 58. Sharpe said in the coming year he estimated the state aid would cover 58.5 percent of the budget. He said if the district had consistently received 66 percent in funding from the state, it would have amounted to more than an additional $1 million.
“We’re classified as a high risk rural school district,” said Sharpe. “We’re supposed to get more than the wealthier districts.” He said the low percentage puts the burden on the taxpayer.
Staff Reporter Ida M. Pease contributed to this article.


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