City seeks $105,000 for cat care costs


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Lisa Alderman (front) and Eugenia Cute walk into Cortland City Court Thursday for a conference with Judge Thomas A. Meldrim.

Staff Reporter

The city of Cortland is requesting $105,000 from Purr Fect World Inc. for the cost of caring for cats taken from the organization in September.
At a conference Thursday, Judge Thomas A. Meldrim scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. Oct. 19, during which he will determine if the nonprofit organization is required under agriculture and market laws to put up a surety bond for the accumulated cost of caring for its hundreds of cats. The bond also covers the SPCA’s projected cost to continue to care for the cats for the next 30 days.
Mayor Thomas Gallagher said this morning that the city has spent $68,530.96 as of Thursday and the cost grows by the day.
The cats were taken from Purr Fect World after city officials raided a home and what was supposed to be a spay-and-neuter clinic at 7 Wheeler Ave on Sept. 1. Officials originally confiscated 279 cats from the property and found another 23 dead in a freezer. Since the raid, several cats have died of diseases, and 19 were euthanized because they were deemed “dangerous.”
Suzanne Etherington of the SPCA said this morning that her organization still was caring for at least 250 cats and several of the cats have had litters of kittens since they were taken into custody.
“At this point, we are tracking all our expenses and sending the bills to the city, because it is the city’s responsibility. That was our agreement,” Etherington said. “We have no idea how long we’re going to be stuck with these cats. One anticipates that sooner or later, the cats will be … released and we’ll be able to have a final accounting of what all the costs were.”
City Attorney Lawrence Knickerbocker said the Oct. 19 hearing, based on state Agriculture and Markets Law, will determine if the city was justified in filing criminal charges against Purr Fect World board members Eugenia Cute and Lisa Alderman, and in turn will allow the city to request the money it has spent caring for the cats, which the organization still owns.
Knickerbocker added that if Meldrim rules in favor of the city, Purr Fect World will be forced to put the bond up within five days, or the SPCA can take ownership of the animals and begin to adopt them out. However, because the cats are still owned by Purr Fect World, if the company can provide the bond, the SPCA will be required to continue to care of the animals.
In that situation, the city then will be eligible to ask for additional bonds every 30 days until the criminal matters are settled.
Even if Purr Fect World is able to put up the bond, Gallagher said, the city would not be able to access it until the criminal proceedings are concluded.
“It stays in an escrow account,” he said. “It’s restitution for what we paid.”
City Director of Finance and Administration Andrew Damiano said this morning that if the decision goes in the city’s favor, the 30-day period will begin after the hearing. The money the city is seeking includes the next week’s projected cost plus the project cost for the following 30 days.
Damiano and Gallagher added that they don’t know whether the company still will have to pay the bond if Cute and Aldermen are eventually acquitted.
The cost to feed, house and provide medical care for the cats has grown as the weeks progress, Knickerbocker said, explaining that projected costs are high because of a decline in volunteers and donations.
Cute, 51, and Alderman, 45, each were charged with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to an impounded animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under state Agriculture and Markets Law.
Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also has taken interest in the case. In a letter dated Oct. 3 and addressed to Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett, PETA states that it believes Cute is a “hoarder.”
“Upon conviction, only carefully considered sentencing and probationary conditions can preclude the otherwise inevitable recurrence of these crimes,” Dan Paden, a PETA researcher writes. “Because repeat crimes are the rule rather than the exception … we only ask that your office ensure that she (Cute) is banned for life from owning animals.”
In addition to the Cortland charges, Alderman also was arrested Oct. 5, in Liverpool when Central New York SPCA officials raided two homes she owns, taking numerous cats from one of them.
Alderman was charged with improper confinement of animals, an unclassified misdemeanor, for the approximately 130 cats taken from her home at 503 Third St., Liverpool, but officials said they did not remove any of the approximately 75 cats that were found in the adjacent property at 505 Third St.
Officials added that they do not believe Alderman was running a business in Liverpool, and that she does not have a permit in the village to do so.



County looks at wind, wood for alternative energy

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Two county officials are again promoting the idea of wind power and alternative energy in the county, despite rejection a year ago of a plan to harness wind energy.
Legislator Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) and county Planning Department Director Dan Dineen made a brief presentation to the Agriculture/Planning Committee Thursday on alternative energy sources.
They said they had been looking into wind energy and an up-and-coming option — biomass fuel using willow wood.
“I would still like to at least look into the possibility of having wind farms here,” said Ross, who chairs the Agriculture/Planning Committee. “I believe that’s where we should be going — looking at the natural resources we have and using them for energy instead of relying on oil.”
Dineen said at the meeting that he and Ross have had preliminary contact with a handful of wind farms about the feasibility of placing windmills in Cortland County.
“Basically we’ve looked at wind speed maps and looked at a bunch of other factors and we’ve come up with maps of areas in the county that would be conducive to a wind farm,” Dineen said after the meeting.
Wind farms require higher elevations, large tracts of land to accommodate required distances between windmills, and a close proximity to power lines, Dineen said.
Dineen and Ross’ research found many areas within the requisite one-mile of the main transmission line that runs through the center of the county — beginning in the Truxton area and working its way through Cortlandville and Solon — met those requirements.
“We’ve been sharing that information with various wind farmers,” he said. “We’ve received some interest, but at this point we haven’t nailed down any particular provider.”
One interested wind farm developer — BQ Energy, based in Pawling, Dutchess County — has a particular interest in polluted former industrial properties known as brownfield sites, and has expressed a preliminary interest in setting up a wind farm at the county landfill on Town Line Road in Solon, Dineen said.
In 2005, Ross backed an agreement with developer Community Energy in which the county would have split the cost of erecting two 80-foot wind testing towers at a total cost of $30,000 to the county.
The agreement was backed by the Agriculture/Planning Committee, but was denied by the Budget and Finance Committee due to the cost to the county.
“You’ve got to test wind speed for four different seasons to be sure it’s workable here before you can actually set up the wind farm,” Ross said.
Although all discussions are still preliminary, Ross said he and Dineen would be looking into grant options to help meet the cost of testing, should other developers become interested.
The county will also seek the assistance of the Southern Tier East Regional Planning Development Board to set up public information meetings on wind power, Dineen said, and to help develop land use regulations for windmills should that form of energy increase in popularity.
Dineen and Ross also brought up a relatively new form of alternative energy being explored at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse that could potentially create a market for willow wood in Cortland.
SUNY ESF in Syracuse is working on a willow biomass project that would essentially create an alternative fuel from willow wood.
The project is in its earliest stages, and a market for willow wood is still being established, but both Ross and Dineen saw the wood as a crop that is easily grown and could be easily supplied to Syracuse from the Cortland area.



Young professionals offer up improvement ideas

Staff Reporter

As 40 or so young local professionals looked on, Rob Simpson reeled off the successes of the 40 Below group in the Syracuse area: more than 2,000 total volunteers, the placement of more than 100 young professionals on the Board of Directors of nonprofit organizations and a massive $4.5 million building renovation project.
“Once we got around to our first meeting, I’m not kidding, we had a fire marshal there telling us we couldn’t allow any more people into the building,” said Simpson, who helped found _the Syracuse group. “As a group, we’ve really excelled in trying to organize and mobilize in order to tackle interesting issues that are important to us.”
The fledgling Cortland chapter of 40 Below had its first meeting at the Beard Building at 9 Main St. Thursday evening, and although the achievements of the Syracuse outfit may have seemed lofty to the much smaller Cortland community, Simpson urged those on hand to think big.
“You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you stay committed and refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said.
The young professionals on hand were asked to think about what they would like to see change in Cortland, and to submit those ideas to group organizers Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp., and Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy.
Brian Barlow, who grew up in Homer and graduated from SUNY Cortland in May, said he’d like to see the area’s economy improve, especially for talented young people.
“Subsidies and tax breaks for the younger generation to open businesses here would be beneficial, I think,” said Barlow, who works for A.G. Edwards in Liverpool, and who also saw 40 Below as a way to meet people and network.
Adrienne Masler, a longtime resident who is taking some time off from school and working at the YMCA, was glad to see some of her ideas were shared by her peers.
“I looked up on the wall and saw that somebody had written they’d like to see a cross-country skiing place in the area, which is an idea I had, too,” Masler said. “It’s good to see that there are a lot of people in the area thinking the same way.”
Peg Engasser, of Virgil, had one of the more unorthodox ideas of the evening, but while she characterized it as selfish, her peers pointed out that ultimately it would be good for the community.
“Ultimately it’s my dream to build a Lumberjack Hall of Fame in Cortland County,” said Engasser, who competes in lumberjack sports and who played a role in bringing the recent Crown City Lumberjack Invitational to the McDonald Sports Complex this past May. “This seemed like a great opportunity to connect with people and to help move that forward.”
A small sampling of the 100 or so other ideas posted by those in attendance included:
- rehabbing vacant properties;
- a dog park in the city;
- more music events in the area;
- making Cortland “Wi Fi friendly”;
- more activities for young professionals, besides college students; and
- scholarships with “come back for work” requirements.




McGraw High School student brings air gun to school

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — A 16-year-old student  brought an air gun in his backpack Wednesday to McGraw High School.
Anthony T. Lukosavich, of 10 E. Main St., was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon on school grounds, which is a violation, according to the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.
Sgt. Robert Derksen said the air gun shoots yellow plastic pellets, which sting a little, but he has never known them to break the skin.
“We had a new student to the school district bring a … gun to school in his backpack,” said Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan.
Lukosavich showed another student the gun between noon and 1 p.m., Fragnoli-Ryan said, and that student told another and the principal was informed.
Fragnoli-Ryan said Principal Curt Czarniak removed the student from class and took him to the office.
Lukosavich, who is a transfer student from Cortland, told the principal he was being threatened by a group of individuals from Cortland, Fragnoli-Ryan said.
The student picked up his two younger siblings at McGraw Elementary and some of the aggressors were waiting in a car for him. Fragnoli-Ryan said there is nothing the school can do because the individuals do not attend school in McGraw and some of them are older.
Czarniak would not comment.
“The sheriff was immediately called,” Fragnoli-Ryan said. “Before the end of the day, the principal called all the kids (in an assembly) and told them what happened and gave them a chance to ask questions.”
On Thursday, a letter was sent out to parents informing them of the incident.
The letter states, in part, “This incident and recent incidents of school violence around the country has once again brought the issue of school safety to the forefront of people’s conscious.”
Fragnoli-Ryan said the school did not go into a lock down. She said the Sheriff’s Department told her “a lock down is a judgment call. A lock down could escalate the situation.”
Lukosavich was suspended from school, and Fragnoli-Ryan said further action would be taken after a Health and Safety Committee meeting on Monday.
This is the second case involving an air gun at an area school this year.
Two Homer students were charged with felonies after they were accused of shooting other students in the parking lot of Homer High School in May. The charges against Zachary Walter, 17, and Terry Elwood, 16, are still pending and a pretrial conference is scheduled for Nov. 30.