September 28, 2007


Preble firefighter accused of arson


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Wearing a FDNY T-shirt, Preble volunteer firefighter Michael Griswold is led from Cortlandville Town Court by state troopers Thursday after being charged with arson in the Preble barn fire which occurred Monday afternoon.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — State Police accused a Preble firefighter Thursday morning with using a flare to start a fire Monday evening that destroyed a barn on West Bennett Hollow Road in Preble.
Michael T. Griswold, of 6993 W. Bennett Hollow Road, was arraigned Thursday afternoon in Cortlandville Town Court on one count of third-degree arson, a felony, and sent to Cortland County Jail.
Bail was set at $2,500 cash or $5,000 bond. As of this morning, he was still in jail.
Griswold could face one to 15 years in state prison if convicted.
The 19-year-old was crying before his arraignment, with his mother and family friend by his side.
State Police Investigator Jeffery Hall said Thursday that Griswold is an active firefighter with the Preble Fire Department and was one of the first on the scene of Monday’s fire.
Hall added Griswold was linked to the arson through an investigation involving interviews and forensics.
He would not give any more details as to how the investigation led to Griswold but said the case was solved with the assistance of the Preble Fire Department.
“We gave them the information they were looking for,” said Assistant Preble Fire Chief Mike Compton. “We heard bits and pieces of things people were saying and passed it along.”
Compton said Griswold has been with the fire department for about three years.
According to a State Police report on Tuesday, a clear plastic flare cap and four cylindrical pieces of flare residue were found at the barn.
Martin Vessel, of 7218 Otisco Valley Road, owned the barn. He said Tuesday he did not have insurance and was renting out the barn for storage.
Bradley and Georgia Cates, owners of Co-Vale Dairy Farm, have been renting the property to store hay in the barn for 10 to 12 years, Georgia Cates said this morning.
The barn contained 1,200 bails of hay, which Cates, 77, said was just recently harvested to be stored for winter.
“The barn wasn’t that good but it served our purposes for storage so it’s a big loss to us,” Cates said.
She added that she and her son Bradley will now have to buy hay to feed their cows at their dairy farm.
The farm has 1,000 cows.
In a deposition filed with the court, Bradley Cates says the bails weighed about 800 pounds and would cost between $90,000 to $100,000 to replace.
All of the hay and barn was destroyed in Monday’s fire.
“I want the person arrested for burning and destroying the hay,” Bradley Cates says in his statement.
At Griswold’s arraignment, Hall said Cates and Vessel were asking for orders of protection. Cortlandville Town Justice Francis Capsule issued the orders against Griswold, who is scheduled to appear Monday in Cortlandville Town Court.
“He has been doing weird things around the Town of Preble. So after this we were wary of him,” Georgia Cates said regarding the request for the order of protection. She declined to elaborate.
According to court records, Griswold was arrested by the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department in July on three counts of second-degree rape, felonies and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
The Sheriff’s Department said in July that Griswold had sex on three separate occasions with a 13-year-old in Preble in March.
The case is pending a grand jury review in County Court.



County opts to buy two south Main St. properties

Legislature OKs $576,000 purchase of Moose Lodge, Robbins Vending properties

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Calling it the best move financially in response to a judge’s ruling against the county, the Legislature on Thursday reversed its course once again and decided to purchase two properties from the failed south Main Street land deal for $576,000.
The Legislature voted 15-4 to buy the Moose Lodge site at 157 Main St. and the Robbins Vending property at 159 Main St. and 9 William St.
The two commercial properties were the most substantial pieces of a bid to purchase a total of nine parcels for $894,000 to build a county public health facility on south Main Street.
Legislators were unsure at this point what the county would do with the two properties, but those in favor of buying them said that purchasing was the most cost-effective way to answer state Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey’s ruling that the county breached a valid contract by backing out of agreements to purchase the properties in January.
Purchasing the properties will cost about $26,000 more than the original agreed-upon prices of $250,000 for the Moose Lodge and $300,000 from Robbins Vending, due to estimated damages from attorneys for the two property owners relating to legal fees and the delay of the sale.
The county’s liability fund will pay the $26,000 difference, but the original $550,000 costs will be covered by the county’s tobacco settlement money, which was a key factor in the Legislature’s decision, said County Attorney Ric Van Donsel.
Had the county decided not to purchase the properties, attorneys for the Moose Lodge and Robbins Vending had suggested their clients would accept damages for the breach of contract of $50,000 and $120,000, respectively.
Those costs would not be able to be paid for out of the tobacco settlement funding — which requires a capital investment by the county — instead requiring payment by the Legislature out of its general funds.
“I think a big part of the consideration was the source of the money,” Van Donsel said. “Plus the county will still have the value of those properties to show for the expense.”
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) agreed.
“I think this was the only way to do it, other than to appeal the decision,” said Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward).
“The question was, do we just settle, or do we buy and settle, and I think it makes the most sense to at least get something out of it,” said Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward).
Legislators Newell Willcox (R-Homer) and Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) both voted against the purchases out of principal, but they agreed the Legislature had utilized its best option at this point.
“This has been screwed up from Day One … the whole thing was botched,” Breed said of the Legislature’s decision to purchase in December of 2006, followed by its decision to back out of the purchases in January.
Willcox agreed, but said that “the decision made was really the only one fiscally that could be made at the present time.”
Willcox and Breed were joined by Legislators Tom Williams (R-Homer) and Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) in voting against the decision to purchase.



County announces three possible motor vehicles office sites

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Three potential sites for the county’s motor vehicles office were made public at Thursday’s legislative session, and will be presented to the community over the next month before the Legislature makes a final decision.
The Legislature voted to authorize County Administrator Scott Schrader to lock in prices for the sites, two of them in the city along River Street and the third along Tompkins Street Extension in Cortlandville.
The site on Tompkins Street is a roughly 3-acre parcel carrying an asking price of $300,000, while a 2.2-acre site that straddles Cleveland and River Streets has an asking price of $400,000.
An asking price has not yet been obtained for the third site, a portion of the BOCES Plaza on River Street.
“We still haven’t done any hard negotiating on any of these,” said Legislator Carol Tytler, who chairs the special committee that selected the sites, after reviewing a total of 31 options.
The Legislature had considered a fourth site, Tytler said, but the property, the former Cayuga Medical Center on Commons Avenue, was sold.
That property was attractive due to an already existing building, Tytler said, and carried a price tag of $680,000, which included $40,000 for an adjacent property.
The remaining three possibilities will all require new construction, Tytler said.
The county is in need of a 4,000-square-foot building for the motor vehicles office, along with space for approximately 50 parking spaces.
Schrader estimated that construction would cost between $100 and $150 per square-foot, suggesting that the building could cost between $400,000 and $500,000.
The Legislature will still need to decide whether it wants to have a building constructed in order to lease, or buy the property and construct its own building, Tytler said.
Schrader has suggested that purchasing would be a better decision financially, but Tytler said the county would look at its options with each site, noting, for instance, that the owner of the BOCES Plaza property has expressed an interest in either selling or building to lease.
The three primary criteria the committee considered in seeking sites were space for a 4,000-square-foot building, space for parking for 50 cars and access to public utilities.




Fallen branch causes power outages, sparks in city

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A large tree branch fell on power lines running from Samson Street to Euclid Avenue during Thursday night’s thunderstorm, causing several small fires.
The Cortland City Fire Department said the branch caused a short in the wires, which caused the branch and wires to catch fire at approximately 8:33 p.m.
Assistant Fire Chief Charles Sherman said the branch and wires burned for approximately 20 minutes.
“We weren’t able to put water on the initial fire because of electrocution hazards to our firefighters,” Sherman said this morning. “It was safer to let it burn out.”
After the fire burned out, Sherman said it rekindled, causing several other utility poles to catch fire on Samson and North Main streets.
Tom Corbett, spokesman for National Grid, said 32 customers lost power as a result of the fires.
Power was restored to all by 2:14 a.m. today, Corbett said.
He added that last night’s storm caused more damage to the eastern part of the state.
Sherman said the branch fell on the power lines between 9 and 11 Samson St. Both homes were evacuated as a precaution and there was no damage to any properties on Samson or North Main streets.