June 16th, 2006


County child services:

State audit finds few faults

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A final report from a state audit of Cortland County’s Child Protective Services Unit was generally favorable, although the report did not address the agency’s most notorious recent case.
The state comptroller’s audit, which also looked at CPS in Broome and Sullivan, reviewed 161 case reports from all three counties from Jan. 1, 2004 through June 3, 2005.
The case of a 5-year-old boy who was found severely malnourished at a Union Street residence in March was not part of the audit.
The county has asked the state Office of Children and Family Services to conduct a separate investigating of how CPS and the Department of Social Services handled that case and is still waiting for a final report.
DSS Commissioner Kristen Monroe has said the final report is not expected until at least the end June. She was not available for comment this morning.
The state comptroller’s audit focused on the timeliness of CPS caseworkers’ responses to cases.
With a handful of exceptions, the report concluded, caseworkers were effective in making contact with the people named in their reports within 24 hours, in conducting a safety assessment within seven days and in making a determination of whether there was credible evidence of child abuse or maltreatment within 60 days. All of the timeframes are state requirements.
Where caseworkers from all three counties fell short, the audit concluded, was their timeliness in entering case documentation into a state database.
“I’ll take criticisms about being late putting stuff into the state database as long as we’re protecting children,” County Administrator Scott Schrader said Thursday.
Still, Schrader said that there were issues that needed to be addressed in CPS, most notably the caseload faced by county social workers.
According to Schrader, CPS’ caseload has gone up 40 percent in the past two years.
“Not only is that a disturbing sign for our society, it’s also a disturbing workload for the CPS workers,” Schrader said. “These caseworkers have one of the toughest jobs in the county.”
The audit found Cortland County CPS had a monthly caseload of 6.94 cases per caseworker in 2004.
That number fell within Child Welfare League of America guidelines, which call for a maximum of 12 cases per caseworker, and was significantly less than the monthly caseloads of Sullivan and Broome counties, 9.78 and 9.81 cases per worker, respectively.
In a response from Cortland County attached to the audit report, the county noted that “the number of active cases per worker per month is much higher than the total number of new reports received in a month.”
The audit used reports received as a basis for determining caseload.
Schrader said that another issue facing CPS is that most of the caseworkers hired lack experience.
“I could hire three more caseworkers tomorrow, but they wouldn’t be trained, they wouldn’t have the experience necessary for this,” he said.
A letter to the auditor from former Legislature Chairman Scott Steve agreed with the point.
“We do find it challenging at times to maintain an adequate number of caseworkers authorized to investigate CPS cases during times of staff turnover due to lengthy and inflexible OCFS training requirements,” a portion of the letter said.
Schrader said that CPS is stretched too thin, and the case of the malnourished 5-year-old has the agency questioning itself, considering reaching out to other counties for assistance in doing case reviews.
“We’re second guessing ourselves, which is never a good thing,” Schrader said. “Our confidence is lousy right now and we need to do something to turn things around.”
DSS reportedly made several attempts to enter the home of Judy Gratton on Union Street, but Gratton refused to let them in.
When police finally entered the home during a drug raid March 21, they found the malnourished boy along with two other less malnourished children living in squalid conditions.
Schrader said that he had seen a preliminary report from the state regarding the case, and that it included suggestions on how to ensure the problems are not repeated.
He was not sure how much of the report would be made public due to confidentiality issues.
“This is not something we should be hiding from,” Schrader said. “We need to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”






TC3 budget ups tuition 3 percent

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Tompkins Cortland Community College has increased tuition 3 percent and requested 5 percent more from Tompkins and Cortland counties in its 2006-07 budget.
TC3 trustees approved a $27.7 million budget proposal without dissent Thursday night. Trustee Ray Dalton was absent.
Full-time tuition would increase 3.2 percent from $3,100 to $3,200 a year and part-time tuition would increase from $120 to $124 per credit.
The fiscal year for the college begins in September.
TC3 President Carl Haynes said the college had originally requested a 6 percent hike for Cortland and Tompkins counties, but Tompkins County would only agree on a 5 percent increase.
“The reduction from 6 percent to 5 percent was absorbed through several areas,” said Haynes. He said contractual expenses — such as insurance, utilities and service agreements — were reduced slightly throughout the budget to make up for the decreased revenue.
“I’m pleased overall with the budget,” Haynes said.



TC3 awards final contracts to complete athletic facility

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — The Tompkins Cortland Community College board of trustees awarded more than $12.5 million in contracts Thursday for remaining construction work on a new athletic facility.
All the contracts went to regional firms. No bids from Tompkins or Cortland county contractors were received.
The 80,000-square-foot athletic facility is part of the college’s $33 million master plan and is slated for completion by summer 2007.



FEMA to give county $210,000 more for bridge

Staff Reporter

The ongoing reconstruction of a bridge that was heavily damaged in last April’s flooding will receive more federal aid.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to increase funding for the reconstruction of the East River Road Bridge, from about $50,000 to about $260,000, County Administrator Scott Schrader said Thursday.
The county may also be eligible to receive an additional $260,000, Schrader said, since it is entirely reconstructing the bridge in order to mitigate future flood damage.
The bridge crosses Cheningo Creek in Truxton.


Wickwire pool opening delayed

Staff Reporter

People looking to cool off this weekend by taking a dip in Wickwire Pool are going to have to wait another week.
Repair of large cracks in Suggett Park’s pool bottom and lining have pushed opening day back from Saturday to June 24, according to Youth Bureau Director John McNerney.
There were five areas where the tile had cracked and rotted, and those segments had to be removed and filled with concrete.


County gains 1,200 jobs in May, unemployment falls 0.2%

Staff Reporter

Cortland County’s unemployment rate saw a slight drop in May compared to the same month in 2005.
The month’s unemployment rate of 4.6 percent was down from 4.8 percent last year, and, more impressively, represented a steady reduction in unemployed people from the month of May in previous years, according to Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corporation and the Industrial Development Agency.
“That’s a good pattern, to see it come down like that,” said Hartsock, who noted that in May of 2004 the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, and that it reached a May high of 5.7 percent in 2002.
Since May of 2005, the county has added 1,200 jobs, an improvement that Hartsock attributed to small businesses in the area.