Pennies for Pets

Groton girl lends a helping paw to seized cats

pennies for pets

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rebecca Berich, 9, (left) and her friend Hallie Neville, 10, both of Groton, visit with the homeless cats at old Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 291 after bringing donations to the SPCA.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — It took Groton 9-year-old Rebecca Berich about an hour to decide she wanted to do something to help the SPCA care for almost 300 cats seized from a Cortland property in September.
Seven local businesses displayed the “Pennies for Pets” jars that Berich had set up.
The SPCA recognized Berich and fellow fifth-grader Hallie Neville, 9, also of Groton, Thursday afternoon at the former Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 281, where the cats are being held.
Berich and Neville brought all the coins collected in one jar on Thursday, as well as another heavy jar that had been almost filled by the Groton Police Department.
Berich strained a bit, but was able to hoist both jars at once — and with a triumphant smile, to boot.
Berich had even met with the Groton schools Parent Teacher Organization, as well as a representative for Wilson Farms, said SPCA Director Kathy Gilleran.
No stranger to fundraising, Berich had also held several bake sales to benefit the SPCA over the past few years, and raised about $300, Gilleran announced.
The contributions from the Pennies for Pets jars have yet to be tallied.
Donna Berich, Rebecca’s mother, said her daughter came up with the idea to do this round of fundraising on her own initiative.
“She did one (fundraiser) for a little boy who was dying of cancer, and she did a carnival for him two years ago,” Donna Berich said after her daughter and Neville were recognized Thursday afternoon.
The two girls moved from cage to cage. One of Berich’s favorites was a black cat with a white stripe, which she had nicknamed “Devil.”
Neville and Berich also interacted with Pudding, a giant of a cat that earned its nickname from the pounds it had put on during its rehabilitation.
The SPCA has received about $22,000 in donations, Gilleran said as she too visited with some of the animals. She estimated that at least two-thirds of the donations had come from outside Cortland County.
Although the city is responsible for the care of the cats and has accumulated about $68,500 in expenses as of last Friday, Gilleran said the nonprofit organization’s donations have been used to provide medical and dental care for some of the animals.
Several animals have since died due to medical complications and 19 animals were euthanized because they were too dangerous for rehabilitation and many were also diseased. Gilleran and SPCA shelter Director Eden Avery said many other cats would not have made it this long without the medical attention, and the city might not have been inclined to pay for the surgery.
“I can imagine they’d be put in a situation where they would have to think about it,” Gilleran said. “We would have to think about it, too, if we didn’t have the donations.”
The Pennies for Pets jars will stay out until the end of the month, Rebecca Berich said.
The girls donned veterinary smocks and vinyl gloves to handle a litter of kittens that had been born at the fire station since the raid. Berich and Neville baby-talked to the animals as the kittens reached their tiny paws through and pressed up against the doors of their two crates.
Although her motives were pure, Berich had found another reason to be happy to help out the Wheeler Avenue cats.
“You get to play with them every time you come.”



Cat hearing adjourned after 3-hour negotiations

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND —Attorneys from the city from a nonprofit organization accused of neglecting hundreds of cats failed to reach an agreement Thursday over payment for the ongoing care of the animals.
Attorneys deliberated in chambers for nearly three hours but were unable to come to a settlement over the $105,000 surety bond that the city is seeking as repayment from Purr Fect World. City officials said that the bond would cover what has been spent on caring for the cats since Sept. 1, and what the city is expected to continue to pay if they remain in the legal custody of the Cortland County SPCA.
Attorneys for both sides met before what was suppose to be a hearing 1 p.m. Thursday in City Court in an attempt to avoid the proceedings all together. However, the negotiations went on so long that the hearing was adjourned until 1 p.m. on Oct. 26
“There have been some efforts to resolve this without a hearing,” City Court Judge Thomas A. Meldrim said to a crowd of about 20 people in the courtroom made up of witnesses, SPCA volunteers and family members.
City Attorney Lawrence Knickerbocker said a deal still could be reached before the new hearing date is scheduled.
“There have been offers and counters offers made by both parties,” Knickerbocker said. “The SPCA would have the ongoing expense if the animals were not released. The city made an offer, Purr Fect World countered and made an offer to the SPC. The SPCA is either going to have to accept that offer, make a counter offer or go to a hearing.”
As of Oct. 12, city Director of Finance and Administration Andrew Damiano said the city has spent more than $68,000 since a Sept. 1 raid when officials took 279 cats from a home and clinic owned by the organization at 7 Wheeler Ave.
Damiano has been out of town for the last few days so a new number has not been tallied, however, officials have said it costs the city about $3,000 per week to take care of the animals.
The city was not considering giving the cats back to the organization, Knickerbocker added, but would not give any further details about the negotiations.
“I can’t get into any of the other details,” he said. “If we reach an agreement, it will be put on the record for the public.”
Purr Fect World’s Attorney Eileen Walsh of Sugarman Law Firm in Syracuse was unable to be reached for comment this morning.
In addition to the civil proceeding with the city, Purr Fect World President Lisa Alderman, 45, of 503 Third St., Liverpool, and board member Eugenia Cute, 51, of Sweeny Road, Homer, have both been charged with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the state Agriculture and Markets Law.
Both women have been arraigned in those counts, and according to Meldrim, the next step in those proceedings will be addressed at Thursday’s hearing.
Alderman is also facing charges in Liverpool for animal cruelty after a raid was conducted on her two village homes on Oct. 5. The Central New York SPCA has taken 180 cats from her house at 503 Third St. and announced Wednesday that she has been charged with 180 counts of improper confinement of an animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the Agriculture and Markets Law.
The Central New York SPCA said Thursday that it has spent more than $31,000 while caring for the cats. That number does not include medical costs.
Alderman is scheduled to appear Oct 31 in Liverpool Village Court.



County turns to auditor to aid Treasurer’s Office

Staff Reporter

Anxious to get minor accounting deficiencies found in a recent independent audit fixed before the end of the year, the county is bringing back the man who performed the audit to help balance its books.
The Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee voted Thursday to hire certified public accountant Rick McNeilly, who has conducted audits for the county for a number of years, as an independent accountant to help reconcile accounts that his most recent audit found unbalanced.
The full Legislature will vote on a contract, which has not yet been drawn up, at its Oct. 26 meeting.
County Auditor Dennis Whitt, who urged the committee to take this step, said he’d had preliminary conversations with McNeilly and he was willing to contract with the county.
“I see no possibility that we’re going to be able to balance those books down there (in the Treasurer’s Office) by the end of the year,” Whitt told the committee. “I recommend you bring in the independent auditor; he will finish it all up and you’ll have a clean audit for next year, all the books will be balanced … and it gives everybody a clean slate.”
County Treasurer Don Ferris said after the meeting he was comfortable with the committee’s decision.
“I believe that we could get there without Rick coming in, but I know the Legislature is anxious to be fully up-to-date,” Ferris said. “I think we can make a lot of good out of him coming in and hopefully it can expedite the process of getting things buttoned up and getting us back on track.”
Although McNeilly’s 2005 audit was considerably more favorable than a 2001 audit that found serious transgressions in the Treasurer’s Office, it did find that a handful of accounts were not reconciled at year-end.
It also found there was not enough control over certain accounts, and Whitt said after the meeting that by balancing the accounts in question, those issues would also be addressed by McNeilly.
“When he goes through the process of reconciling them, he’s going to have no choice but to look at those problems and take care of them, too,” Whitt said.
“McNeilly’s the guy to do this because he knows how we do things here as well as anyone,” he added.
Whitt said that McNeilly’s involvement in helping to balance the accounts would not pose a conflict of interests for the CPA, because he’d be helping the treasurer remedy minor problems that he’d already identified in his audit.
“He’s going in there and helping them fix basic, midlevel stuff,” Whitt said. “It’s something we probably could’ve engaged him to do during the audit — basically he’s saying this is what’s wrong, this is how you fix it.”
Whitt added that in his position as county auditor, he can’t legally assist in balancing the accounts because he’d be doing both the job of the auditor and the treasurer.
The committee generally seemed to agree reconciling the accounts as soon as possible was important.
“We’ve just got to get it done so we can move on,” said committee Chair and Majority Leader Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward).
Minority Leader Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) agreed.
“I just want to get it corrected so that in January we can start all over without any problems,” Ross said. “And after that, I will want to see every month that all the accounts are caught up.”
The committee agreed to form an audit subcommittee made up of Van Dee, Ross and Legislature Chairwoman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) to oversee McNeilly’s work.




Main Street reconstruction project is recognized

Staff Reporter

The reconstruction of south Main Street and parts of Page Green Road have earned the city recognition from an organization that’s committed to excellence in the field of public works.
The $7 million project spanned almost two years and has resulted in a smoother, greener corridor between Main Street’s intersection with Tompkins Street in the city and about a quarter mile south of Page Green’s intersection with Starr Road in Cortlandville.
The Central New York Branch of the American Public Works Association sent a letter to Mayor Tom Gallagher, dated Oct. 18, announcing the 2006 Transportation Project of the Year award for the city.
The project was administered through the Cortland County Highway Department and funded with predominantly state and federal money, with the city contributing $800,000 and the county paying $42,000.
The city handled the water and sewer work, Gallagher said Thursday afternoon.
The project was mostly completed by the end of August, with only landscaping and some line painting carrying over into September. More than 70 trees were planted along the street in the city — the thoroughfare becomes Page Green Road past the city limits.
The award will be presented at the branch’s annual fall banquet on Nov. 17 in East Syracuse, and a representative of the city of Cortland and a guest are invited to attend.
Gallagher said that perhaps Chris Bistocchi, superintendent of Public Works, would attend the banquet with maybe the deputy mayor or the chairperson of the Department of Public Works Board.
Mark L. Gorthey, secretary of the Central New York Branch of the APWA, said that projects can be nominated for the award by anyone in the public works field.
The nominees were then selected by committee, Gorthey said, “particularly looking for projects that were successful or unique or hopefully both.”
“Generally, we like to look at a range of projects. That way, we’re taking a fair look at a large state project like a highway or a local project like a bridge,” Gorthey said this morning. “Because they all have their merits and challenges they’ve overcome. Inter-municipal cooperation is always recognized, because that’s good for everybody.”