July 31, 2007

40 companies fail to make Empire Zone projections

State warns businesses that did not deliver enough expected jobs or investments.


Cortland Standard
Marsha Powell, a computer forensics instructor at Tompkins Cortland Community College, demonstrates to Dan Anik the use of a handheld device that takes an image of a computer’s hard drive. The information is later analyzed for malicious content with computer programs such as Gargoyle produced by WetStone Technologies. WetStone was among local businesses warned by the state after failing to fulfill Empire Zone projections in 2005.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — WetStone Technologies, Graph-Tex and the former Jack Danielson’s were among businesses that did not make at least 60 percent of their job or investment projections in 2005 under the Empire Zone program.
The state on Monday made available a list of the approximately 3,000 companies statewide that did not make their projections, including 40 in Cortland County.
There are 180 Cortland County companies in the Empire Zone program, which provided $3 million in tax breaks in 2005. Not all of the companies in the program or on the state’s list claimed tax breaks.
As a whole, the companies invested about $23 million in new equipment and added 222 net jobs that year.
The 40 companies that did not meet at least 60 percent of their projections under the program received letters from the state warning them they must improve or their Empire Zone benefits, which include tax credits and sales tax reduction, could be revoked.
The companies that missed their job and investment projections by the largest margins include WetStone Technologies of Cortland, which claimed $11,000 in tax credits; Graph-Tex of Cortland, which claimed no money in tax credits; and Hope Lake Investors, Virgil, which claimed no money in tax credits.
WetStone, which projected adding 55 jobs to the seven jobs it had, ended up with 19 total jobs, and projected investing $1.5 million but invested $547,000.
Graph-Tex projected it would add three jobs to its existing 77 jobs and ended up with 40 total jobs. The company did, however, invest $169,000 in 2005, about $70,000 more than it projected.
Shawn Riley, one of Graph-Tex’s owners, said this morning he’s unsure of the company’s job figures in 2005 and isn’t ready to comment on why the state’s list shows it went from 77 jobs to 40 jobs.
Hope Lake Investors projected creating four jobs but ended up with none, and invested only $2.2l million, instead of the projected $27.6 million.
Al Kryger, president of Hope Lake Investors, said the company did not start its job program or invest what it said it would invest in 2005 because financing for its planned hotel and water park project was so difficult to obtain.
“Financing in Central New York is always challenging,” Kryger said.
A handful of the local companies on the state’s list recently have changed ownership, including Diva’s of New York and Jack Danielson’s, both on Main Street, and Cortland Tire Service on Groton Avenue.
Of the three, Jack Danielson’s was the only company that claimed tax credits — $1,393 worth. Jack Danielson’s didn’t invest as much as it said it would, but it created more jobs than projected. Cortland Tire Service on Groton Avenue didn’t create as many jobs as it said it would, but it invested more than projected.
A number of the companies are in the real estate, food service and manufacturing sectors, including JE Management Group, Cosimo’s Italian Carry Out and Northeast Transformer Services Inc., all of Cortland.
Of those three, Cosimo’s was the only one that didn’t claim tax credits. While JE Management Group didn’t invest as much as it said it would and Northeast Transformer Services Inc. didn’t create as many jobs as projected, JE Management Group created more jobs than projected and Northeast Transformer Services invested more than anticipated.
Some of the companies on the list may be there in error. The list shows that Bestway Enterprises, which didn’t claim any tax credits in 2005, started out with 46 jobs, projected to add 14 more and only ended up with three jobs.
Karl Lindhorst, chief financial officer for Bestway Enterprises, said jobs were neither lost nor created — they were just transferred to a new company, Bestway New York. He said Bestway New York is now part of the Empire Zone Program, emphasizing that the new company did not claim job creation tax credits.
Bestway Enterprises now serves as the holding company for its different companies, Lindhorst said. The company invested $1.7 million in 2005, about six times more than it projected.
Stephanie Zakowicz, vice president of communications for Upstate Empire State Development, said the letters to the companies are the first step in the state improving the Empire Zone Program.
The Empire Zone program has come under increased scrutiny over the years, with claims it has helped politically connected businesses that change names and transfer payrolls to create the illusion of jobs.
Zakowicz said the state does not yet know what the next step will be, whether companies will have to leave the Empire Zone program for not meeting projections or when a next step will be taken.
Karen Niday, Empire Zone coordinator for the county, could not be reached for comment this morning.

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Panel starts review of city code revisions

Board makes its way through 12 of the 73 pages in the document.

Staff Reporter

Line by line, members of the city Planning Commission and members of an ad hoc committee updating the city’s zoning code began their final review of proposed revisions Monday afternoon.
Last revised in 2003, the city’s code has been pushed into the spotlight in recent months, as controversy surrounding multi-family housing and student housing in residential neighborhoods prompted the city to consider a moratorium on all development.
Instead, the Planning Commission decided to complete the code revisions begun a few years ago in the hope that the revisions would solve some of these issues.
Planning Commission chair Nancy Hansen said the page-by-page examination of the proposed changes would prepare the amended ordinance for review by Skaneateles-based Cheney & Blair, the city’s recently hired land-use attorneys.
Although it was a work session, commissioner Bill Kline invited audience members Ann Doyle of Lincoln Avenue, Vivian Bosch of West Court Street and Ric Van Donsel, also of West Court Street, to participate. The commission agreed to allow audience participation, without voting on the matter, as long as such participation did not begin to bog down the meeting.
Van Donsel, a private attorney who serves as Cortland County’s attorney, also gave informal legal advice mostly related to the wording of the definitions.
Over the course of a little more than two hours, the group made its way through the definitions section — the first 12 pages of the 73-page document.
Many definitions had been added to the document, others had been expanded and still others had been cut down.
For example, the definition of an “accessory building,” which is a subordinate building incidental to a property’s primary structure such as a garage or storage shed, was further delineated to “not be used for residential purposes.”
A large section of definitions specific to signage regulations had been added to the ordinance, and the group spent time separating the definitions from the regulations. Zoning officer Amy Bertini said that definitions aren’t enforceable in court, and that regulations have to be clearly laid out in a separate section.
After some discussion, the definition of “facade” was expanded to refer to every face of a building, including sides and rear.
Many of the changes seemed to be sparked by individual incidents over the course of the past several years that the commission members and code and zoning officials referred to without revealing the specific properties. The discussion about temporary portable storage units, which cannot be kept on a front lawn for more than four months, seemed to be sparked by a recent example.


Single-family home sales drop in May

Staff Reporter

Sales of single-family homes in Cortland County decreased 16 percent from May to June, while statewide they increased 18 percent.
Thirty-two single-family homes were sold in Cortland in June compared with 38 homes in May, according to the New York State Association of Realtors Monthly Housing Survey.
The median price of those homes increased by 3 percent during that period, from $90,500 to $93,260. Meanwhile statewide, the median price jumped by 8.7 percent from May to June, from $230,000 to $250,000.
Bob Ferris, owner of Ferris Real Estate, said he doesn’t take the sales figures too seriously since what happens in one given month doesn’t necessarily give a good picture of the real estate market overall.
Ferris said that more homes may have been sold than the statistics indicate, as it generally takes at least 60 days for a sale to be processed.
“The way our sales go it’s hard to track them month to month to have them make any sense,” he said.
He said it makes much more sense to look at statistics over a period of several months.
Quarterly statistics from the New York State Association of Realtors, though, also show that Cortland County’s market has worsened recently.
From the last three months of 2006 to the first three months of this year, total housing sales in Cortland County dropped by 34.8 percent, from 112 to 73.
The quarterly statistics, however, show that the county’s single-family housing market is doing better than it was a year ago and two years ago.
The 73 single-family homes that were sold in Cortland County in the first quarter of the year represent a 15.9-percent increase over the 63 homes sold in the first quarter of 2006 and a 19.7-percent increase over the 61 homes sold in the first quarter of 2005.
Ferris said that improvement can be attributed to relatively low prices in Cortland County compared to elsewhere. “A brand new house in Ithaca may be $300,000, and for the same exact house, with the same builder, the same everything, it is about $150,000 in Cortland County,” he said.
The statistics from the New York Association of Realtors Monthly Housing Survey, however, show that sales of houses in June have decreased in Cortland County.
June sales in Cortland County decreased by 5.9 percent from 2006 to 2007, from 34 to 32 homes sold, and by 30.4 percent from 2005 to 2007, which is about double the state average, from 46 to 32.
June single-family house sales statewide decreased by 14.7 percent from 2006 to 2007, from 10,996 to 9,381, and by 14.7 percent from 2005 to 2007, from 11,001 to 9,381.
In New York State from June 2006 to June 2007 the median sales price of the homes dropped by 3.5 percent, from $259,000 to $250,000 and from June 2005 to June 2007 by 2 percent, from $255,000 to $250,000.
The median sales price in Cortland, however, increased by 6.1 percent, from $87,875 to 93,260, and by 9.8 percent from June 2005 to June 2007, a reversal of the state trend.


Camden family sues city school district over football injury

Lawsuit claims student athlete did not receive proper medical treatment for hip injury at a 2005 scrimmage

Staff Reporter

A Camden woman is suing the city school district for unspecified monetary damages, claiming her son did not receive proper medical treatment for an injury he suffered during a football scrimmage at Cortland High School in 2005, according to paperwork recently filed with the Cortland County Clerk’s Office.
The woman is also suing the Camden Central School District over the same incident, according to documents filed in the Oneida County Clerk’s office.
Lisa Huante, of 1135 State Route 69, filed the suit against the Cortland City School District on July 18 and then filed a similar suit against the Camden Central School District on July 20.
In the suit against Cortland, Huante claims that her son, Fred Huante — whose age is not specified — broke and dislocated his hip during a scrimmage on Aug. 27, 2005, and that the boy did not receive proper medical attention for the injury from the Cortland trainers.
“The athletic trainers in the employment of the Cortland High School and the Cortland Central School District failed to render appropriate medial aid, assistance and treatment to (Huante), thereby, worsening the injuries (Huante) sustained during the scrimmage,” the suit says.
The suit says Fred Huante suffered “permanent injuries” from the incident and that he required surgery to repair his hip.
“The athletic trainers also failed to notify (Huante’s) parents of the injuries in a timely manner. Had (Huante) received medical treatment in an appropriate time and fashion, (Huante’s) injuries would not have been as significant,” it says.
The suit says Fred Huante sat out the rest of the scrimmage after suffering the injury, and then rode a bus home before he saw a doctor. The suit claims that it was three hours before Fred Huante received any medical attention and more than six hours before he received “medical intervention.”
“(Huante), as a result of said accident, has suffered and will continue to suffer psychological stress and pain,” the suit says.
Cortland Superintendent of Schools Lawrence Spring said this morning that he has not been notified that a lawsuit was filed against the school. He said he knew of the incident but was unsure of the details. He said it happened around a year before he became superintendent.
“They haven’t communicated with or contacted us since 2005,” he said of the Huantes. “Basically our procedures on these things would be to turn them over to our attorneys.”
Spring said he was unsure if the scrimmage Huante was participating in was a junior varsity or varsity scrimmage.
In the suit Lisa Huante filed against the Camden School District she makes the same claims against the Camden football coaches, stating that they also were neglectful in taking care of her son’s injuries and that they failed to properly notifying her of the incident.
Lisa Huante has not returned several phone calls seeking comment about the suit. Her attorney, Samantha Holbrook, of the Joyce Law Firm in Sherburne, also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Both schools have yet to file a response to the lawsuit with the respective county clerk’s offices.