First Night rebound

Traditional New Year’s Eve ball will drop from Cortland Standard building


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Fireworks explode after the ball is dropped from the Squires Building at the corner of Main and Tompkins streets during the 2003 First Night celebration.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city’s annual New Year’s Eve ball will be dropped from the Cortland Standardbuilding this year, a change from previous plans to suspend the ball from fire trucks.
“If we used the fire trucks, we wouldn’t have the ball anyplace permanent like we did before to keep it lit for the anticipation of First Night,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said this morning.
The decision was announced at a Common Council meeting Tuesday night.
The ball had been dropped annually since 2000 from the Squires Building at 112 Main St., across Tompkins Street from the Cortland Standard building at 110 Main St.
A fire claimed the historic clock tower building in April.
Publisher Kevin Howe said he had talked with John Scanlon, owner of the former Squires site, about logistics and insurance matters relating to the ball drop.
“I volunteered … to be considered to do it after the clock tower burned, and then the city decided to do it from the fire trucks,” Howe said.
Within the past few weeks though, Howe said, city Zoning Officer Amy Bertini, one of the event’s organizers, approached him about his offer.
Bertini could not be reached for comment this morning.
The Cortland Standard building will be added as an “additional insured” under the city’s policy, Gallagher said this morning, as had been done in the past with the Squires Building. Howe said the building’s use had been contingent upon this insurance matter, and was pleased to hear this morning that the city had resolved the issue.
Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy said being able to hang the ball in advance was one of the main benefits of using the Cortland Standard building.
It would “increase awareness that the event will happen at the same place and the same time to carry on this tradition,” Purdy said.
“We’ll also have access to the open lot across the street … which means we can support a bigger crowd,” Purdy said this morning. “The music will be through the (Youth Bureau) Showmobile, set up on that lot. The street will be closed, and currently we are looking for sponsors.”
Purdy said the location also would allow “prime viewing” of the city’s fireworks display.





Homer village holds off on zoning change

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Warren Street resident Mark Nixon is concerned about the future of the village.
He said he doesn’t want the neighborhood deteriorating like Cortland with the spread of multi-family housing and problems that it can bring.
“Cortland has been destroyed,” Nixon said. “It’s like a cancer in the city. It’s gone up and down.”
Nixon, of 10 Warren St., is among a majority of village residents interviewed Tuesday afternoon who support Michael Stone and Jack Ferguson’s proposal to change zoning on Warren, North Main and Clinton streets and Willow Park, from multi-family residential to single-family residential.
At Tuesday evening’s Village Board meeting, board members indefinitely postponed discussion of the proposal while they find out more about the feasibility of creating a comprehensive plan for the entire village.
Bernie Thoma and Wes Pettee, of Cortland-based Thoma Development Consultants, presented the board with an overview of comprehensive plans.
Pettee said Homer would benefit socially, environmentally and economically from having an effective comprehensive plan. The village has not competed a comprehensive review of its zoning in about 25 years, according to the Cortland County Planning Department.
Thoma said the plan would take about 12 to 14 months to draw up. It would cost about $25,000 to $30,000, and that cost would include community surveys and focus groups, he said.
Thoma said he would get the board an exact price quote for its next meeting Nov. 7.
Mayor Mike McDermott expressed his support for a comprehensive plan.
“We want to look ahead for the young people,” he said.
Ferguson said this morning he did not support the idea of a comprehensive plan. It is too expensive, most importantly, and secondly, a relatively minor zoning change could serve as an example for future zoning projects, he said.
At the county Planning Board’s Sept. 20 meeting, it recommended that the village complete a comprehensive review of its zoning.
It also recommended that Stone and Ferguson’s plan to change zoning on four streets also include three small areas north of Clinton Avenue and Water Street.
That would help ensure those areas, which are zoned multi-family use, aren’t disjointed from the single-family homes.
Ferguson said this morning he would support the village adding those areas to the zoning proposal.




School shootings raise safety concerns

Staff Reporter

Three recent shootings at schools across the country have local school districts, students and parents wondering, “Could that happen here?”
In Homer, school officials already know the answer. They were forced to deal with a threat of school violence in March.
An 11-year-old student spoke with another classmate about bringing a gun to school and shooting people. A third student heard the plans and called police.
The school was put on lockdown for a day and the students were picked up by police before they came to school.
“I don’t think people in schools are fooled by, ‘Can it happen here?’” said Douglas Larison, superintendent of Homer Central School District. “It can happen anywhere.”
The recent school shootings in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Colorado has prompted some local schools to review their security procedures.
“We didn’t implement anything structural,” said Laurence Spring, superintendent of Cortland City School District. “We just reminded staff of procedures that we have had in place.”
In the Cortland School Districts, some of the procedures include locking every door in the building except the main entrance, after the school day begins.
Spring said school officials monitor that one entryway. He also said all staff members wear identification badges.
At McGraw, Elementary School, principal James McGuinness feels his school is safe, but he said “everybody should be worried all of the time. It should always be in the back of our minds.”
McGuinness said all the doors into the building are locked and staff must unlock a door electronically to allow visitors to enter.
Sandy Sherwood, principal of Dryden Elementary School, called the recent school shootings a “true tragedy.” Sherwood said her school’s current security plan and its staff are sufficient to protect students and others in the building.
“The reality is, one person doesn’t follow procedure and there is a breach in security,” Sherwood said.
Yet, Sherwood said the shootings haven’t heightened her awareness any more than usual — the school is worried about violence.
While school officials are confident in their security plans, some Cortland Junior-Senior High School students said after leaving the school grounds Tuesday that they are concerned.
“I think it is kind of scary to think (people) can get into the school,” said Nicole Evans, 13.
Kelsey, Wetherell, an eighth-grader, shares Evans’ fear.
“I don’t think there is enough security,” Wetherell said. “Someone can get into the school with a gun.”
“I feel safe, but I don’t feel safe,” said 13-year-old Anthony Nitti. “They don’t even check your bags.”
Evans, a seventh-grader, said teachers or counselors never spoke to them about the recent school shootings.
Homer, Cortland, Dryden and Marathon all have a resource officer for the district. The resource officer is a licensed police officer.
“We have a great relationship with (Cortland Police Department),” said Spring. “The resource officer is a fabulous presence. Having law enforcement right on site makes kids feel much safer.”




Council OKs sales tax deal

Staff Reporter

The Common Council approved a county sales tax agreement at its regular meeting Tuesday night, which will raise the city’s share of sales tax revenue from 17.5 percent to 18.24 percent by 2009.
The sales tax split is based upon the respective assessment values of the municipalities and towns, and Alderman Susan Feiszli (D-6th Ward) asked if it might be possible to ask for the distribution to instead be based upon population.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said the city could always ask, but it wasn’t likely that a deal like that would be approved by the county Legislature.
“That has always been the position of the city, because obviously, it would benefit us the most,” Damiano said. “It’s just a difficult argument to make … many communities lose out on that shifting … I agree with Susan, because people spend money, not buildings.”
The contract extends from 2007 through 2012.
The Common Council also approved the use of Courthouse Park for the Cultural Council of Cortland County’s first Cortland Arts & Wine Festival on Aug. 5, 2007, which Cultural Council member David Blatchley hopes will include as many as 16 wineries.
“It would be an expansion of the Arts in the Park Festival,” Blatchley said. “I’ve been in contact with the Cayuga Wine Trail, and they’ve been … verbally supportive. They would like to see a more formal letter from us.”
About 40 artists will also participate, and Blatchley said the Cultural Council is hoping for at least 2,000 people to attend.