Community center running on empty


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The East End Community Center on Elm Street could be closed due to lack of funding.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The East End Community Center on Elm Street has been out of money since February, and the future of the fledgling facility is uncertain.
Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward) raised the issue at the Common Council meeting Tuesday night.
“We have been out of funds since Feb. 1,” Partigianoni said. “I thought we should come to the forefront and decide what we’re going to do.”
The center’s primary federal source of funding, which was supposed to be renewed annually for four years, no longer exists, Cortland Youth Bureau Assistant Director Cecille Scott told the council. She said the Youth Bureau has covered the costs of the building.
The center costs about $1,000 a month to keep up and running, Mayor Tom Gallagher said. Joe Armideo owns the property at _46 Elm St, which used to be a Durkee Bakery facility. The monthly rent for the building is $750.
Money for the center had come from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Fund, which was granted with the contingency that it be used to fund drug and crime prevention programs. In 2005, $17,000 of the $32,000 fund went to the new center. The remainder went for programs at the Youth Center and city parks during the summer.
The city was required to put up 25 percent of the total funding, or about $10,700.
A city police officer was stationed at the community center for several months, before being diverted, with the state’s permission, to the city’s South End.
SUNY Cortland’s Community Outreach Partnership Center also had contributed $3,600 toward the operational costs of the East End Community Center and maintained an office there.
The Byrne program ended in December and became part of the Justice Assistance Grant program, Scott said, which focuses more on homeland security issues and tends to be awarded to bigger cities.
Scott said state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) had originally secured the federal funding passed through the state for the East End Community Center, and had only recently learned that significantly less JAG funding had been appropriated for New York state than under the Byrne funding.
Up until now, the city had been waiting on the JAG award announcement, and still is. Scott said that in November 2005, the city asked for $32,000 for 2006. She said the majority would help fund a police Community Outreach Program.
Other grants had been applied for, Scott said, but were denied.
Partigianoni said Seward is very confident the money will be awarded to the city.
The cost of the center had been $11,579 during its first year since it opened in February 2005, Partigianoni said.
Since the city would still have to come up with the matching funds if the grant were awarded, Partigianoni said the council needed to discuss the matter.
The city’s contribution had originally come from the interest made on the city’s revolving loan fund.
Partigianoni said Tuesday afternoon he did not want to make any decisions at Tuesday night’s meeting without city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano, who was not at the meeting.
Alderwoman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) said she strongly supports the community center, but wondered if perhaps the city should make use of an existing facility instead of “paying to use somebody else’s property.”
Bernie Thoma, of Thoma Development Consultants, which handles grants for the city, said there are not many funding sources available for projects in rented spaces.
To prove that point, Scott cited a lack of funds to add wheelchair access to the center.
Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) pointed out a rented space would continue to expend taxpayer money.
“When we originally started, I thought it would be a self-sustaining process,” Quail said. “There’re eight wards here, and a lot of people want to do good things.”
Perhaps the center should charge groups for the use of its facilities, Alderwoman Amy Cobb (D-3rd Ward) and others suggested.
“I don’t think they should pay a fee to use a community center,” Partigianoni said afterward. “They’d have a hard time convincing me.”
Perhaps the recreation building at Dexter Park should be renovated, Feiszli suggested. Scott and Partigianoni both agreed the renovations would have to be extensive.
Moving the center would not make it self-sustaining, Gallagher said. One of the main purposes of the center had been to get a police officer into the community, he said, while the community center was an offshoot.
“You have to remember what the original intent was,” Gallagher said.



$15.8 million proposal —

City budget would hike tax rate 4.9%

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city’s $15.8 million proposed 2007 budget would increase the tax rate 4.9 percent and increase spending 3.4 percent.
Rate increases for sewer and water service, in addition to the tax increase, would have the average single family homeowner paying $62 more in 2007 than this year.
Mayor Tom Gallagher presented the budget to the Common Council Tuesday night.
In a letter accompanying the proposal, Gallagher said the spending increase can be attributed to “salary increases, escalating pension costs, dramatic increases in the cost of fuel and utilities, and a substantial increase in the cost of health insurance.”
Gallagher said the union-established salary contracts are in the second year of a three-year agreement and have therefore increased, and the amount of money being paid for pensions, which are levied by the state, also is increasing. Health insurance has been rising consistently for the past few years, Gallagher said, and the city anticipates that they will go up another 12 percent by next year.
Total revenue would increase from $14.9 million this year to $15.6 million in 2007. The tax rate per $1,000 would increase to $16.38, up from $15.61 this year.
In an effort to reduce its reliance upon appropriations from its fund balance, the budget would take $182,316 for 2007 from the fund balance, as opposed to the $380,803 that was appropriated for 2006. This represents a 52.1 percent decrease.
The fund balance is anticipated to be about $500,000 by year’s end, according to Gallagher.
“The primary objective in drafting the 2007 budget was to find the proper balance between our goal of stabilizing the fund balance, while minimizing the tax burden on our property owners,” Gallagher’s letter reads. “In years past, we have demonstrated a considerable dependence on appropriations from reserves in order to steady the tax rate. That dependence, in conjunction with the growing expenses noted above (salary, pension, fuel, insurance), has resulted in a substantial reduction in our surplus.”
Although nearly 73 percent of the appropriations go toward personnel expenses, in the accompanying letter Gallagher said he applauded “the commitment demonstrated by the department heads in providing municipal services at such a high quality, even though we have asked them to continue to function with minimal manpower and oftentimes antiquated equipment.”
He urged the council to “avoid the temptation to consider staffing cutbacks.” The budget would not cut any positions.



‘He had a real knack for getting the story’

Dick Camarano defined himself through 33-year career at the Cortland Standard. He died of cancer Saturday.


Staff Reporter

At the mention of Dick Camarano, the longtime Cortland Standard reporter and editor who died Saturday, the indelible image that immediately came to mind for retired city Police Chief Phil Cinquanti is likely a common one for anyone who dealt closely with Camarano.
“I can just see Dick showing up at our old (State Police) station on Locust Avenue, leaning on the front counter where the desk officer would be, digging for a story,” said Cinquanti, who had a close professional relationship with Camarano as a state trooper and as city police chief when Camarano was a police beat reporter. “He was one of the first people you’d see in the morning, and he was always a welcome sight because he was such a charming guy, so friendly, and always such a gentleman.”
In more than 33 years at the Cortland Standard, Camarano embodied professionalism, according to those who knew him best. Longtime co-worker Skip Chapman affectionately refers to Camarano as “The Pro” — and for any and all information on the city of Cortland, there was no better source, colleagues said.
“He was just a goldmine of information about the community,” said Cortland Standard Publisher Kevin Howe. “If there was ever a rumor going around town about anything, Dick usually knew exactly what was going on.”
Camarano was able to effectively keep tabs on Cortland’s pulse by establishing close working relationships with all of his sources, relationships he fostered with honesty and integrity, Cinquanti said.
“Dick was the kind of guy you knew you could trust with information, even information that might not yet be printable, so unlike any other reporter or news agency, he really had carte blanche around the station,” Cinquanti said. “He would be buzzed in just like a cop, he was like part of the woodwork there.”
Cinquanti recalled once working on a big case in which he had to act as liaison to a number of out-of-town news media and law enforcement officials and he momentarily overlooked Camarano, then a beat reporter covering the case.
“I was just inundated with calls and all of the sudden I looked up and made eye contact with Dick, who was just standing there patiently, and I immediately got the message — ‘I’ve been here the whole time, Phil, where do I stand in the pecking order’ — so I hung up the phone and gave him the time he needed,” Cinquanti said. “He was never imposing or presumptive — he had a real knack for getting the story without being abrasive or aggressive, but by just being himself.”
Friends said Camarano had a subtle but strong sense of humor, an ability to get along with anyone and a desire to do good in the community.
As exalted ruler of the Cortland Elks Club, the highest possible position, Camarano was a leader who was devoted to helping others, said City Court Judge Tom Meldrim, who was also a member of the Elks Club.
“He was a tremendous person because he thought very highly of other people, and he was willing to work through the Elks Club to really assist people in need,” Meldrim said.
That willingness to help others spilled over into the workplace, Chapman said.
“He was always willing to help young reporters who were serious about doing a good job,” Chapman said.
Legislator Marilyn Brown, who got to know Camarano during the more than 20 years he tended bar at the St. Charles Hotel, which she owned at the time, fondly remembered his wit.
“He was born in Massachusetts, so we always had a good time with him about that, picking on him about the Massachusetts accent, but he was always just lots of fun, he’d join right in,” Brown said. “He could always just join in with the group, he was great at that.”
Brown and Howe said Camarano also stood out for his work ethic.
“He knew what work was all about,” Howe said. “He was very deadline oriented and he wanted to get it done and then get working on tomorrow.”
Camarano, who was 65, will be missed, friends and colleagues said.
“He knew better than anyone else who was who in the city. Who had done what, who was doing what, and who was going to do what,” Chapman said. “There really was nobody like him.”




Bottle maker seeks loan from city to set up shop on Main St.

Staff Reporter

The city is seeking a $350,000 grant to assist a new business moving into a portion of the former Impact Sports building in the South End of the city.
The Common Council voted unanimously to authorize Thoma Development Consultants to apply for the money from the Governor’s Office of Small Cities at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Cortland Plastics International would receive $337,000 of the total, said Bernard Thoma, a senior consultant with Thoma Development.
The rest would cover the city’s administrative expenses, Thoma said.
“We made a preliminary application, and that was submitted probably about a month ago,” Thoma said Tuesday afternoon. “If that looks good, they make a formal invitation to submit a final application … so the $350,000 isn’t guaranteed to the city yet … but it’s kind of set aside for us.”
Thoma said the hope is that half the money would be available as a loan, and the rest as a deferred payment loan. The deferred payment portion would only have to be repaid if Cortland Plastics International didn’t create the 47 jobs it had proposed, Thoma said.
At the meeting, Thoma assured the council, in response to a question by Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward), that Thoma Development would review the hiring of employees and forward information to the city and the governor’s office.
The company has leased 23,000 square feet of space from Cayuga Press at its 70,000-square-foot facility at 215 south Main St., said partner Rick Esposito of Fayetteville. It would manufacture blow-molded plastic bottles for companies such as Cortland-based Marietta Corp., as well as some food-rated packaging, health and beauty aids packaging, Esposito said.
“We’re currently finalizing the lease negotiations, ordering equipment,” and beginning the hiring process, Esposito said, adding that they had already received a “significant amount of qualified responses.”
The Governor’s Office of Small Cities Grant can only cover 25 percent of the total project cost, which Thoma said was about $1.4 million. The total requested amount cannot exceed $7,500 per new job created.
The company’s principal, Patrick Dessein, said that private equity for the project has already been lined up.
Esposito said Cortland Plastics International and Marietta are “currently discussing the possibility of having a good relationship.”