County passes sales tax contract

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Legislature accepted a sales tax agreement between the county and city of Cortland Thursday that will ultimately see the county cede 4 percent of total revenues to the city, towns and villages.
The accepted agreement does not include an additional 1 percent of revenue the town of Cortlandville sought in the negotiations. While discussion on the floor was limited, a handful of legislators said they would have preferred some sort of compromise with negotiators for the city and municipalities, who had pushed for the additional revenue for Cortlandville.
The accepted agreement will, by 2009, gradually reduce the county’s share of total sales tax revenue from 56 percent to 52 percent. The city will see its share rise from 17.5 percent currently, to 18.24 percent in 2009, and the towns and villages will see their share, divided based on assessed valuation, increase from 26.5 percent to 29.76 percent.
The contract will last six years, although the county or any other party can opt out, requiring a new negotiation, after four years. The city, the only other party that needs to approve the contract, will discuss and vote on the agreement Oct. 3, according to Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance for the city.
Damiano did not want to speculate how the council would vote.
“I’m surprised it went over as well as it did, and I’m happy,” said Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward), who, with County Administrator Scott Schrader and Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) headed up the negotiations for the county. “I really believe in my heart that this was the only fair way to do it.”
The proposed additional 1 percent for Cortlandville was met with resistance from many small towns and villages concerned about losing revenue.
Because of these concerns, a number of legislators indicated they wouldn’t support the proposal and the county ultimately decided to eliminate the provision for Cortlandville.
“This certainly was a more inclusive process than it has been in the past,” said Damiano, who, with Cortlandville Supervisor Dick Tupper, led the negotiating team for the city, towns and villages. “The legislators voted based on what they heard from the towns and villages, so everybody who had an interest got opportunity to express an opinion.”
Still, noting the concerns of Tupper, who during negotiations said the additional revenue was needed to fund infrastructure costs brought on by heavy development in Cortlandville, some legislators felt more should be done for the town.
“I represent the part of Cortlandville that is generating the largest percentage of sales tax revenue and I know it’s costing us a lot of money to bring business into the county,” said Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville), who was one of four legislators who voted against the agreement. “If we’re going to be expected to foot the expense, I think we need to get more of the sales tax back.”
Breed was joined by Legislators Tom Williams (R-Homer), Newell Willcox (R-Homer) and Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) in voting against the agreement.
“I think the agreement we approved is fair for everyone, especially the towns, but I would very much like to see us make some arrangements to help Cortlandville make up the difference they wanted in the sales tax,” said legislator John Daniels (D- Cortlandville), who voted in favor of the agreement.
Daniels suggested targeting specific projects for assistance, or providing assistance from the county highway department or a satellite Sheriff’s station as Cortlandville continues to grow as ways to assist the town with out detracting from the other towns and villages.
After the meeting, Williams reiterated a proposal he had mentioned numerous times during the negotiation process.
“My suggestion was that maybe we should take that same 1 percent and put it in a fund for infrastructure growth that would be accessible to any town,” Williams said.
Ross agreed with Williams, and said Republican Party members discussed pushing such a proposal while they were in caucus.
“We talked about it, but we just didn’t have the support to bring it,” Ross said.
Both Brown and Van Dee said they were open to discussion on how to help Cortlandville with its infrastructure costs.
“Other than the comments Mr. Tupper made during the negotiations, he hasn’t brought anything to the county to be discussed,” Brown said.
“I believe we have the most equitable sales tax distribution now, where everyone gets an equal share … I’m very pleased the agreement passed,” she added.



Zoning change concerns Virgil residents

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — About 85 Virgil residents attended a public hearing Thursday night on the proposed zoning changes, citing their concerns about minimum lot sizes and other proposals they said limited their freedom, hurt people with less money or were unclear.
Kamela Ploss, of Nye Road, said she does not understand why the minimum lot size for residences is changing from 1 to 3 acres. Compared to other towns, Virgil has one of the smallest numbers of houses per square acre, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, she said.
People who don’t have a lot of money won’t be able to afford to buy the additional land that’s required, she said.
“Lower- to middle-income people will be pushed out,” she said. “One acre is fine.”
After the meeting, Mary Beth Wright, a Town Board member, said not all residences will have a minimum lot size of 3 acres. People who live in cluster developments, for example, can have 1-acre lots.
The hearing allowed residents to speak for up to three minutes at a time about the proposed zoning plan. The plan is the result of a 12-year process to update the town’s 1979 zoning law and plan for anticipated town growth.
At the public hearing, Barbera Karn, of Clute Road, said she was concerned she couldn’t sleep in her travel trailer without paying a fee.
“We worked hard to purchase our travel trailer, and pay excessive taxes, and now you’re asking us to pay a fee to stay in our travel trailer overnight?” she asked. “That’s not acceptable.”
Karn was referring to Section 607 of the proposed zoning document. It states that no person shall use or occupy any travel trailer, tent trailer, tent or motor home for living or sleeping quarters within Virgil for more than 90 days per calendar year unless such use is within a campground. It also says a permit must be obtained for the first 60 days, and a 30-day extension is allowed. A permit for the full 90 days costs $30, said Town Clerk Bonnie Hand.
In the town Planning Board’s original zoning plan, the permit lasted for 180 days. The Town Board modified the number of days at its July 13 meeting.
After the public hearing, Murphy said people kept complaining that their relatives would not be able to stay in their motor homes while visiting without paying a fee. But if the family already had a permit, the relative doesn’t need to get one, he said.
“It is not for your father-in-law coming home,” he said.
Gary Wood, of Sugarbush Lane, said parts of the document are unclear. For example, one section says people can’t have ponds more than 2 feet deep closer than 100 feet to all property lines and existing septic system. But what part of the pond should be measured, he asked.
After the talk, the Planning Board chairman and board members said they were very happy so many members of the public showed up to the meeting and voiced their opinions.
“I appreciate people coming out here and that’s great,” said Suzanne Lumsden, a Town Board member.



Legislature OKs $25,000 for sports complex

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Legislature on Thursday approved a request for $25,000 from the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex that failed by a narrow margin at its Aug. 24 meeting.
This time around, with the addition of one legislator who was absent Aug. 24 and another who decided to change her vote, the request was granted, handily.
The money, which will come from the county’s occupancy tax fund, will help support an ambitious marketing plan that calls for increasing the sports complex’s advertising budget from $5,000 to $40,000.
Legislator Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward), who was absent from the August meeting, requested at the outset of Thursday’s meeting that the motion be reconsidered.
“I just feel that advertising for the sports complex is so necessary,” Hartnett said. “It’s a year-round complex that’s very valuable to the county and it needs that money, and I think that if the county doesn’t support it, we’re going to lose it.”
With Hartnett’s vote and the additional “yes” vote of Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford, Virgil) who had voted against the resolution in August, the funding passed, 12-7.
Price said she decided to change her vote after speaking with representatives of the Sports Complex and getting a better feel for where the money would be going.
“I always felt that we should support the complex, but I still think the Legislature needs to look at the way the occupancy tax money is distributed,” Price said.
The occupancy tax is an extra 5-percent tax on people staying in hotels in the county, and is meant to fund tourism growth.
The concern of Price and the seven legislators who voted against the resolution was that, rather than go through the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau for occupancy tax funds as is typical, the sports complex was coming directly to the Legislature.
“I’m all for it, my grandkids skate there, it’s a great place,” Legislator Tom Williams (R-Homer) said of the sports complex. “My only problem is that a few years ago the Legislature set up a procedure for organizations to receive this money and it appears in this case they’re coming in through the back door.”
Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) agreed.
“What if the Red Cross had come to us, or Greek Peak, where they’re doing a lot of development for tourism, or some other organization,” Breed said. “There are so many things that could use this money, we can’t all of the sudden single out one organization.”
Legislators Breed, Williams, Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville), Newell Willcox (R-Homer), John Steger (R-Preble and Scott), Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet), and Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) all voted against the resolution.
Some of those who supported the resolution countered that the way the sports complex sought the funding was appropriate.
“I think there’s a misconception that the tourism bureau controls the occupancy tax money,” said Chairman Marilyn Brown. “They present a budget to the Legislature for the occupancy tax funds and we approve it.”
Brown said for 2006, the Convention and Visitors Bureau requested $35,000 for the sports complex. The Legislature only approved $7,500 of that because it was not sure how much money would be available.
“If it’s a unique situation, they can always come to the Legislature after the budget is passed,” Brown said. “They just need to demonstrate that there’s a real need and (the sports complex) did a good job of proving that.”



Costs mount as city cares for cats

Staff Reporter

The city is trying to gain legal ownership of hundreds of cats seized from a Wheeler Avenue spay and neuter clinic.
Many of the cats are healthy enough for adoption, but the cats cannot be released because they still belong to the clinic, Purr Fect World.
The city has spent nearly $40,000 out of its general funds caring for the cats since they were taken from the clinic Sept. 1. The city is now paying about $3,000 a week for the approximately 250 cats.
“We’ve been trying to work with them to have the cats released to us, but they’ve refused,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said Wednesday morning.
The cats have been housed in the former Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 281, but the agreement to store them there extends only to Oct. 1.
The SPCA, which has provided day-to-day care to the animals, has forwarded its bills to the city, said city Administrator Andy Damiano, and the city is in negotiations to retain the fire station’s use.
“As of yesterday (Wednesday), we had incurred expenses totaling $38,874.83,” during the capture and seizure of the cats and their ongoing care, Damiano said Thursday afternoon. “This is clearly not the SPCA’s responsibility, it is the city’s responsibility.”
City officials said they expect to receive full compensation from Purr Fect World.
“It’s our belief that they have sufficient assets to cover the costs,” Damiano said.
Corporation Counsel Larry Knickerbocker and District Attorney David Hartnett have been in negotiations with lawyers for some of the people associated with Purr Fect World.
Knickerbocker said the city hopes to secure the cats through negotiations or “other legal options.”
“Because the arrest and arraignment of all the potential defendants hasn’t been completed, the city has not finalized the position it’s going to take in this matter, but will do so upon the arraignment of all defendants,” Knickerbocker said Thursday evening. “We’re awaiting either the defendants to voluntarily release the animals through a potentially negotiated disposition with the District Attorney’s Office or the city, or potential court action by the custodian to have them released.”
One arrest has been made, and more are expected in the coming days.
Eugenia Cute, who had lived and worked in the house and clinic building at 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave., respectively, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with 49 counts of failure to provide food and drink to an impounded animal, a misdemeanor under state Agriculture and Markets Law. She pleaded not guilty.
In addition to Cute, Lisa Alderman, of Liverpool, and Susan Mix, of Freeville, are listed on Purr Fect World’s incorporation papers as a nonprofit organization, which are on file with the County Clerk’s Office and state Department of State.