June 15, 2007

Elks honor soldier’s ‘ultimate sacrifice’


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Linda Falter, stepmother of Shawn Falter, looks at an honorary medal she and husband Russ Falter received from Elks member Dave Ames, right, Thursday at the Homer Elks Lodge during a Flag Day ceremony.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Members of the Elks Lodge presented an award for valor Thursday to the family of a local soldier who was killed in action in Iraq earlier this year.
Around 50 people gathered at the Elks Lodge on Cortland Street for the group’s annual Flag Day dinner where members presented the family of Pfc. Shawn Falter the Medal of Valor for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Falter, who was 25 at the time of his death, was a 1999 Homer High School graduate. He died during an ambush in Karbala in January.
Presenter David Ames, of the Elks Club, said the medal presented to the Falter family is reserved only for Elks members who have lost family in the war in Iraq. Falter’s father, Russell Falter, has been a member of the Elks for 27 years.
“The cost of freedom is high. No one needs to reminds us of that here in Homer,” Ames said before giving the award to Russell Falter and his wife Linda — Shawn’s stepmother — who were both overcome with emotion during the ceremony. “May we never take our freedoms for granted.”
Ames said the Elks chose to present the award on Flag Day because they are the only fraternal organization that nationally celebrates the day every year.
After the presentation, the Falters said that receiving the medal was particularly special because of the family’s long history with the Elks’ organization. Russell Falter said he was the caterer for the Elks more than 10 years ago, when Shawn Falter was a young boy. Shawn worked at the lodge, assisting in the kitchen duties.
“He used to work here when he was 12 doing dishes,” Russell Falter said. “His apron was down to his ankles.”
Linda Falter said the family has received countless awards, cards and gifts since their son died, including military awards such as the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, as well as letters from congressmen, senators and President Bush.
The family has also been sent an American flag from Congress that flew at the Capitol building and one from Fort Richardson in Alaska where Falter was stationed before being deployed to Iraq.
“It’s amazing how many friends we have,” she said. “Our community has been amazing.”
She said the family has also recently received a detailed report about the events that led up to her son’s death, but that she has not been able to read it.
She said the family’s causality assistance officer, 1st Sgt Raymond Swift, told her that he reviewed the report prior to presenting it to her and that Shawn Falter was a key factor in stopping what was meant to be an ambush of high ranking officials at the provincial headquarters in Karbala.
A number of insurgents dressed in American uniforms attempted to enter a building door where Falter and other soldiers were using computers to write home.
When the enemy soldiers attempted to come in the door, Falter asked for the day’s code word, Linda Falter said. When the insurgents gave the wrong response, Falter was alerted to the danger and the fighting began, she said.
Initial reports indicated that Falter was killed with four other soldiers while “conducting dismounted operations” when men stormed the headquarters posing as American forces.
Army officials later said that some of the men had been kidnapped during the battle and then killed later, but they never distinguished which soldiers died during the initial fight and which were kidnapped.




County to review new rules for minimum lot sizes 

Staff Reporter

Unrest over new minimum lot size requirements implemented earlier this year by the Cortland County Board of Health has prompted the board to take another look at the issue.
The Board of Health will again look at the minimum lot size at its June 19 meeting, after numerous town and county officials expressed concerns that the regulations would have a negative impact on development.
The new minimum lot size of 2.4-acres, which took effect Feb. 1, is a result of new state regulations that increase the minimum separation between individual water and sewer management systems for newly developed properties that aren’t connected to public water and sewer.
A handful of legislators at a meeting of the Health Committee Wednesday said that they’d heard concerns from constituents, and said that they were disappointed that there was no public discussion prior to the implementation of the new regulations.
“Our towns are very concerned about this, and I think we’ve all felt really left out of the loop,” said Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer).
The requirements are not being enforced for the time being, according to Jackie Gailor, director of the Health Department, as the Office of Environmental Health is reviewing all applications for placing water and sewer on newly developed properties, regardless of lot size.
Gailor said the issue would be discussed at next Tuesday’s meeting at 4 p.m. at Caring Community Hospice on Kennedy Parkway, but she wasn’t sure if any action would be taken at that point.
“I think, if we continue to have the minimum lot size, it will probably be slightly smaller, but not significant,” Gailor said.
Both Gailor and Audrey Lewis, director of environmental health, said that the new regulations were designed as much as a protection to new property owners as they are a restriction.
“I think we’d get more people upset if they were to buy a piece of property and then find out they can’t put the needed facilities on it because of the state regulations,” Lewis said.
The new state regulations vary, based on a number of geologic factors including the presence of gravelly soil, farmland and hillsides, but generally the required distance between individual water and septic systems has doubled, and in some cases, tripled.
In response to an inquiry from County Administrator Scott Schrader, Gailor noted that in 2006, of the 66 parcels that were approved for individual water and sewer, 13 were less than the required 2.4-acres.
Five of those would have met the state requirements for minimum separation distances, Gailor said, while the rest wouldn’t have been able to fit individual water and sewer systems under the new state regulations.
Schrader was concerned that the minimum requirements could restrict development, “which is something no one wants to do,” he said.
Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) agreed.
“The one thing I’ve heard most is that it makes it much more expensive the more acres you have to buy, and that’s especially hard for those who are just starting out as property owners,” Price said.


TC3 budget ups tuition 3 percent

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — The Tompkins Cortland Community College Board of Trustees adopted a $30 million budget Thursday night without dissent for the 2007-08 year, an 8.1 percent increase above the current budget of $27.7 million.
Trustee Genevieve Suits was absent.
Tuition would increase to $3,325, an increase of $125 or 3.9 percent, and part-time tuition would increase from $124 to $128 per credit, a 3.1 percent increase.
Also increasing is the revenue request from sponsor counties — Cortland and Tompkins — of 5 percent each, raising the Cortland County share to $1,495,023 and the Tompkins County share to $2,439,248.
Tompkins County votes on the budget June 19 and Cortland County on June 28. The State University Board of Trustees must also approve the budget and will consider it in September. The fiscal year starts Sept. 1.
TC3 President Carl Haynes said he has explained to the counties that the county increases are “catching up for years of no increases.”
He said last year both counties passed budgets with 5 percent increases but there had been three consecutive years of no increases, starting in 2002-03.
He also pointed out the counties continue to contribute a lower percentage of the total budget; the counties would provide 13.4 percent of the budget compared to 13.5 percent in 2006-07.
Haynes said the major factors contributing to the budget increase were enrollment growth, new staff positions, salary and benefit increases.
The college did decrease the amount spent on equipment by 43 percent because new equipment will be purchased through its ongoing capital project. The reduction was $194,000.
“That’s been an enormous help this year,” Haynes said.
There are seven new positions, including two new faculty members (one each in English and hospitality), two new cleaners and one supervising officer. Haynes said in addition, another cleaner and peace officer would be added midyear, so those appear to be half-time positions in the budget.  Six other faculty members were hired to replace those who retired or moved to other positions.
“Staffing requests exceeded what we provided,” Haynes said, adding additional positions may have to be added when developing the 2008-09 budget.
Enrollment is projected at 3,450 full-time equivalent students, which includes part-time students grouped to equal a full-time student. This is 265 more than the current budget projected. Employee salaries and benefits are projected to increase 3.4 percent or $174,610 to $5.2 million.