October 13, 2007


Housing, health insurance, transportation among biggest issues at senior conference


Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
Ivan Burlingame boards a Cortland Transit bus in front of the Cortland County Office Building Friday afternoon. A recent survey conducted by the Area Agency on Aging completed by about 380 county residents age 60 and older found the biggest challenges facing seniors included finding reliable help to perform home maintenance, understanding health insurance coverage and accessing public transportation.

Staff Reporter

Barbara O’Connor wishes that Cortland County had a trailer park or low-cost condominiums for senior citizens, where the property would be maintained by the landowners.
“You know, Cortland doesn’t have anything like that,” said O’Connor, 69, of Cortland.
O’Connor was among a handful of senior citizens who shared issues they were concerned about Friday at a public hearing at the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging’s Twelfth Annual Enrichment Day Conference at Corey Union at SUNY Cortland.
About 130 senior citizens and 60 others interested in senior issues attended the public hearing.
The issues, which centered mostly around housing, but also dealt with transportation and health care, corresponded with some of the results of a survey of senior citizens recently conducted by the Area Agency on Aging.
The survey, which was completed by about 380 Cortland County residents age 60 and older, found the biggest challenges facing seniors included finding reliable help to perform home maintenance, understanding health insurance coverage and being able to access public transportation.
The survey also determined that senior housing would be the most popular option for senior citizens forced to move from their current living situations, with 35 percent of respondents favoring that option.
During the public hearing, Nancy Oustad, a real estate agent with Hage Real Estate in Cortland and executive director of the Cortland County Board of Directors, responded to concerns about a lack of affordable senior citizen housing from O’Connor, Cortland resident Charlotte Farris and others.
“It’s difficult because the cost of building is so high, at $100 per square feet,” she said. “It puts most people out of range (to purchase the homes).”
She suggested local governments, real estate agencies, the Chamber of Commerce and SUNY Cortland get together to talk about possible grants available for low-income housing.
Prior to the public hearing, 62-year-old Cortland resident Marilyn Vandenburg said one of her biggest concerns as a senior is figuring out which Medicare plan to choose upon her retirement in three years.
There are 48 different Medicare plans, she said, and each covers different things, has a different cost and applies to different practitioners.
“It’s so hard to know which one to choose because you don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” Vandenburg said.
Earlier in the day Vandenburg had attended a workshop at the conference to learn about the different options. She said she also learned the Office of the Aging has staff that can help people make their choice.
Homer resident Joann Dukelow said during the public hearing Friday she believes a lack of bus transportation in the evening is a problem for senior citizens.
“I’d like to see an expansion of it, like Dial-a-Ride,” she said.
After the public hearing, Scott resident and senior citizen Elizabeth Rood agreed bus service hours should be expanded.
She said she plans on moving from her country home in Scott to Cortland or Homer in a few years, and would feel better knowing she has a way to get around.
A comment was also made during the public hearing about the need for more bus service in rural parts of Cortland County.
Carol Deloff, director of the Area Agency on Aging, said starting in November a study will be conducted to determine what people’s transportation needs are.
If the survey, which costs about $50,000 and will take six months to complete, determines many people desire an expansion of bus hours and lines, those options could be considered, she said.
One thing the Agency on Aging has already accomplished in terms of transportation is securing about $5,000 in funding to give low-income seniors tokens to ride the bus for free, she said.
Friday’s Enrichment Day, which lasted from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. also included workshops for senior citizens and a keynote presentation by motivational speaker Dr. Jules Burgevin.



Rumsey in competitive justice race

Supreme Court judge is seeking second 14-year term

Staff Reporter

With a little less than one month remaining before the general elections, six candidates are vying for three state Supreme Court justice seats.
With so many candidates and the chance that Cortland County could lose a state Supreme Court justice, the election has prompted aggressive campaigning.
“It’s a very competitive year,” said Justice Phillip R. Rumsey of Homer. “Last year showed it can be very competitive and it’s unusual to have three seats available.”
Rumsey has been campaigning for re-election for the last eight months in all 10 counties of the Sixth Judicial District. The 10 counties include Cortland, Broome, Tioga, Schuyler, Chemung, Tompkins, Madison, Chenango, Otsego and Delaware.
Rumsey, as well as Michael Coccoma of Cooperstown and Joseph Fazzary of Hector are running on the Republican, Independence and Conservative party lines.
Donald Cerio Jr. of Canastota, Molly Fitzgerald of Binghamton and Richard Rich Jr. of Horseheads will be on the Democrat ballot this November.
The three open seats are a result of upcoming retirements of two state Supreme Court justices, Carl J. Mugglin of Walton and D. Bruce Crew III of Elmira, as well as Rumsey’s first term coming to an end.
Mugglin and Crew declined to comment on the current election races and how the campaigns have changed over time.
Justices serve a 14-year term at an annual salary of approximately $136,700. The seats will go to the top three vote-getters.
When a justice is elected, the seat remains in the county in which that person resides and that county is responsible for providing a chamber for the new state Supreme Court justice.
Sixth District Administrative Judge Judith O’Shea confirmed that this means that if Rumsey loses the race, there will no longer be a state Supreme Court justice available on a daily basis in Cortland County.
O’Shea said the justices in the Sixth Judicial District serve all 10 counties. In the instance where a county does not have a justice, an administrative judge assigns a justice to hear cases in that county.
Last year’s Sixth Judicial District state Supreme Court election resulted in Madison County losing its seat to a candidate in Chenango County. Now, Chenango County has two state Supreme Court justices sitting in the county and Madison County is assigned judges to hear its cases.
“Speaking as a citizen of the county, it is imperative that we keep the Supreme Court Judge and court in our county,” said Robert Howe, Cortland County Republican election commissioner and Republican Party chair for the county. “If we lose the seat, we would have to travel to a county with a sitting judge.”



County opts to retain health administrator

Switch to different company to manage health insurance claims opposed by unions.

Staff Reporter

Cortland County’s Personnel Committee decided Thursday to stick with the current health insurance administrator for county employees, turning down $125,000 in savings.
The decision was made because of a lack of support from the unions and the potential for unseen costs and administrative burdens.
The committee had been told last month that a switch from current third-party administrator RMSCO to a similar company called POMCO could save the county $125,000 for administering the county’s health plan to the roughly 750 families and individuals enrolled in the plan.
The committee was tempted by the savings, but County Administrator Scott Schrader warned that POMCO is an accepted administrator at fewer doctors than RMSCO, and that the change could cause headaches similar to those experienced when the county switched to RMSCO three years ago.
Schrader told the committee Thursday that three of the county employee unions — the Civil Service Employees Union, the Nurse’s Association and the Deputy Sheriff’s union — had all responded negatively to the proposed switch.
Schrader said the county has the right to change plans, but the unions would have a case that the change would have a negative impact for the employees who receive treatment from the doctors who do not accept POMCO.
Of the health care providers used most often by county employees, 89 percent accept RMSCO while only 79 percent accept POMCO.
“We could negotiate with those individuals (to pay for their doctors), but that just erodes into the savings,” Schrader said, adding that the change could potentially prompt legal action from the unions.
Furthermore, the change would almost certainly include glitches, Schrader said, noting that when the county switched to RMSCO from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, there was a change in the way RMSCO administered the county’s health plan, which resulted in administrative difficulties and coverage problems for employees.
“There will be instances where the procedures (of POMCO) will be different (from RMSCO),” Schrader said.
Committee members noted that they had heard a lot of negative feedback to the potential switch.
“I feel that what we did three years ago, it’s finally up and running smoothly now, why change it and put the employees through it,” said Committee Chairman Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer).




Dems reappoint Wood party chairman

Staff Reporter

Cortland County Election Commissioner Bill Wood was re-elected as the county Democratic Party chair at a Democratic Committee organizational meeting Oct. 6.
County Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) is the vice-chair; Alice Starmer was appointed treasurer; and Sean Mack is the secretary.
“The only nominations were the people that were elected. There were no nominations from the floor,” Mack said Friday morning.
The vote was unanimous, he added.
Mack said about 25 people were in attendance at the meeting, with a total of 4,169 weighted votes, including proxy votes submitted by absent committee members — this was about 1,000 more votes than needed for a quorum, he added.
There are about 84 members of the Democratic Committee, for a total of just fewer than 5,900 weighted votes.
The meeting — held at attorney and committee member Ric Van Donsel’s law office on Church Street — was initially adjourned because there did not appear to be a quorum, but was reconvened shortly thereafter when weighted votes were tallied and a quorum was evident.
Wood confirmed that the meeting had taken place and that he was appointed chairman, but he would not comment further.
Incumbent Alderwoman Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward), who failed to receive the party endorsement in her bid for re-election and then lost the September primary to Democratic challenger Clay Benedict, said she showed up at the meeting with four proxy votes that she was not allowed to cast.
A former committee member herself, Terwilliger was told she was off the committee — her loyalty to the party was questioned — and that the proxy votes she was carrying could not be accepted.





Public meeting planned on Charles St. pollution

DEC will host information session from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in cafeteria of St. Mary’s School.

Staff Reporter

The public will have the opportunity to question state environmental officials Wednesday about the site of a long-gone coal gas storage tank underneath two houses on Charles Street in the city.
A public session of the state Department of Environmental Conservation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the St. Mary’s School cafeteria on North Main Street. The back of the school is across Charles Street from the two houses.
Site investigations were conducted between 2005 and 2007 at the site, which was discovered based on historic fire insurance maps of the area.
State health officials have stated there are no health risks associated with the location.
The 22,000-cubic-foot gasholder was built as part of a manufactured gas distribution network in 1867. The Homer & Cortland Gas Light Co. operated a gas manufacturing plant on South Main Street in Homer, making combustible gas from coal that was used for lighting in homes, businesses and industries before the advent of electric lights.
The Charles Street gasholder was dismantled sometime between 1915 and 1926, and two homes — 43 and 45 Charles St. — were constructed on the site.
New York State Electric and Gas — which is responsible for the cleanup of the site — and the state DEC have performed test trench excavations, soil borings, monitoring well installations and sampling, soil vapor and indoor air sampling, and a geophysical survey.
NYSEG did not return repeated telephone calls seeking _comment.
According to a fact sheet released Tuesday by the DEC, trace compounds have been found 12 feet below the surface of the site, but contaminant levels have not exceeded the recommended soil cleanup levels. Contaminants were not detected in groundwater samples, and soil vapor and indoor air samples were taken and indicated that soil vapor was not affecting the indoor air quality of the homes.
No physical evidence of the former gas tank was found.
The property at 43 Charles St. was sold to NYSEG on Sept. 13 for $130,000. Former owners Paul and Jerralynn Misco could not be reached for comment.
The Miscos bought the house for $41,000 in 2004 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the Cortland County Clerk’s office.