October 20, 2007


Doubled rates put Tompkins SPCA in doghouse with towns


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Kennel technician Cristy Brown brings a dog into the admitting area at Tompkins County SPCA on Hanshaw Road Friday afternoon.

Staff Reporter

In Tompkins County, as municipalities are developing budgets for 2008 each has been faced with making a decision on dog control services, services which have doubled in cost through the county SPCA.
Abigail Smith, executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, said municipal service contracts for 2007 dog control services totaled $173,924, but the cost of providing those services was budgeted at $395,412.
The executive director since February, she said all nine towns and the city of Ithaca contracted with the SPCA in 2007, but so far none of the municipalities have signed contracts with the SPCA for 2008.
At least one town has decided to contract outside the county.
Groton Town Clerk April Scheffler said Wednesday that Groton would contract with Paul Burhans, who provides the service from his facility, Country Acres, in Homer in neighboring Cortland County.
Scheffler said the decision was not made solely on the fact that Burhans will charge $15,590 for 2008, whereas the Tompkins County SPCA on Hanshaw Road in Dryden would have charged more than $23,000, double the $11,508 it currently pays.
“We haven’t been entirely pleased with the service for quite some time,” said Scheffler.
She said the SPCA used to send reminders when licenses were due and write tickets when residents failed to renew dog licenses, but it was often late in getting out reminders and issued tickets based on old lists. Sometimes people who were issued a ticket had already come in to license their dog.
“We took it over to lighten their burden,” she said of the reminders and writing the tickets.
The SPCA still serves the tickets. She said service also did not extend past 5 p.m. on weekdays and the SPCA did not provide service on weekends.
Dryden is also considering using Burhans for dog control and discussed the issue at an Oct. 11 Town Board meeting.
“The SPCA provides a lovely service for us,” said Dryden Town Councilwoman Mary Ann Sumner. But, she added Burhans provides coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any call, including picking up strays.
Burhans has offered to provide the service for about $9,000 less than Tompkins County SPCA’s proposal of $37,504. The town had paid $18,752 in 2007 for services. Burhans is offering dog control service to Dryden for $28,200 for 2008.
Pam Stonebraker, assistant director of the SPCA, said the SPCA offers 24-hour emergency care. Stonebraker, who attended the Dryden meeting Oct. 11, explained that the SPCA facility is nationally known for its “no kill” policy that does not kill any adoptable animal.
“I know it’s a hardship to say we need 100 percent more,” Stonebraker said. She said the SPCA does cruelty investigations and runs a low-cost spay and neuter program, which a lot of Dryden residents take advantage of.
“There’s far more dogs and cats coming from Dryden,” said Bob Baker, who serves on the Tompkins County SPCA board of directors.
Baker and Stonebraker both urged towns to carefully weigh their decisions because other vendors might not offer the full range of services, including an in-house veterinarian and cat care.
Smith said the SPCA takes in 1,200 animals a year, of which, 400 are dogs and most of the animals do come from Dryden. The SPCA can take care of 81 dogs and 226 cats at a time, including in foster homes.
Lindsay Andersen, assistant animal control officer at Country Acres, said her grandparents, Joyce and Paul Burhans, started the business in 1980.
She said the business has 35 dog runs now and another building is being added for another 32 runs so the facility will be able to house 67 dogs at one time.
The facility has 10 cages for cats, said Andersen. It does not have foster care providers outside the facility.
Andersen said the facility provides animal control for 11 municipalities, including Locke. It also provides shelter for another five towns, covering Cortland, Cayuga and one town in Chenango County.
“There’s only so much distance we can cover,” said Andersen. She said Groton would be added next year.
Dryden Town Councilman David Makar, from the western portion of the town, said a decision to go with the Homer facility would mean travel from his area would be around 40 minutes to claim a dog. “No one is complaining about the expense except the Town Board. We have a very big budget and this is a small part of it,” he said.
Smith said the responsible thing for towns to do is to look at alternatives, but that budget season is running out. “If a couple of towns find something else that works for them, it doesn’t mean the other towns are out of luck.”
She said if eight of the 10 towns and the city of Ithaca contracted with the SPCA, she could work it out, but if only four signed contracts with the SPCA, the SPCA would have to cancel all dog control contracts.
Smith said the biggest cost of animal control is in infrastructure and staffing, which cost more than income, but with 10 municipalities sharing that expense it lightens the load for each. Adoption fees, obedience classes and other fundraising events are other sources of revenue. Donations make up the difference, she said.
Smith said the SPCA has been subsidizing dog control for the towns for five years, but there is not enough money left to do so again.
Smith said Catherine Valentino, supervisor of the town of Ithaca, suggested the SPCA borrow money to provide dog control service.
“There’s no money and I’m not borrowing money,” said Smith, noting that would be unethical.
“I want to work with people but it comes down to dollars,” she said.
“We haven’t charged enough for the service for a long time,” said Smith, noting the SPCA has not added employees and drives old vans. “I’m sad that we’re all in this situation but I hope that we can reach a reasonable solution.”



CAPE, Lifton want complete C’ville dump cleanup

Staff Reporter

A local environmental group and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton are calling on the state to perform a more complete cleanup of a long-closed dump site in Cortlandville.
The public comment period for the DEC’s proposed remediation of the South Hill Dump ended Wednesday, and Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, or CAPE, submitted a statement contending that the state’s cleanup would not eliminate contamination migration and would likely not be cost effective in the long term.
The state’s proposed remediation for the former town municipal dump, used from the early 1960s until 1972, would cover the site with 2 feet of topsoil, placing restrictions on the land’s use and monitoring the degree of the contamination in years to come.
The estimated cost is about $2 million, with additional annual costs of $124,000 for the first five years and $43,000 for the next 25 years, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The DEC is proposing sort of a half remediation here; a semi-remediation,” Lifton (D-Ithaca) said Friday afternoon.
The potentially responsible parties — which include Smith Corona Marchant, formerly of Cortlandville but now based in Ohio; the Texas-based Overhead Door Corp. manufacturer; and the town of Cortlandville — had been asked to participate in the site investigation but declined.
If these entities decline to pay for the remediation of the site, the project would likely be funded through the federal Superfund program.
In addition to covering the landfill with 2 feet of topsoil to prevent wildlife or human contact with waste currently exposed at the surface, the site would be regarded, vegetation would be established and a drainage ditch would be rerouted to a different area.
The state identified seven possible courses of action for mitigating the site contamination and settled upon the third least expensive option — the most expensive option, favored by Lifton, would involve excavating the entire landfill over two construction seasons and disposes the waste off-site.
That option would cost about $5.1 million for the initial remediation and an additional $25,000 for the first five years, without any anticipated costs after that.


Companies find success on south side

Cayuga Press, Cortland Plastics exceeding sales, job projections

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Nearly a year after Cayuga Press and Cortland Plastics started operating out of the former Impact Sports building, both companies are exceeding their job and sales projections, and are optimistic about future growth.
Cortland Plastics, however, worries recruiting qualified workers will continue to be a challenge.
Barnie Schug, vice president of Cayuga Press, said the company moved 74 employees from its location on Hanshaw Road in Ithaca to 215 south Main St. About 15 workers remain at the Hanshaw Road location, Schug said.
The company, which prints brochures, catalogs, calendars and books, hired 23 more workers since moving to the city and intends to add 10 jobs over the next year or so, Schug said.
Cayuga Press, which has about _$7 million in annual sales, has increased its profit by becoming more efficient with three additional pieces of equipment and a new chemical cleaning system, Schug said.
The company now has an approximately $1.5 million six-color press from Germany that prints documents with a high-gloss coating.
The machine is used for such jobs as brochures for local colleges, including Cornell University and SUNY Cortland.
Another new piece of equipment is a machine that lines up stacks of documents prior to their cutting. Previously employees had to line up the documents by hand, he said.
The company has also increased productivity by adding a more efficient folding machine and a more efficient chemical cleaning system.
The new system allows the company to recycle the cleaner, cutting down on cleaning costs by 90 percent, he said.
Schug said the company, which has been pushing more and more into the high-end printing market with clients such as Armani, Tiffany’s and Mead, projects between $8 million and $8.5 million in sales this year.
Schug said at this point it is difficult to tell if the company will hire more employees this year, or how many employees that would be.



9th Legislative District —

Candidates call for taxpayer savings

Staff Reporter

One of the Legislature’s staunchest conservative voices will square off with a Democratic challenger with strong ties to the community in the race for the legislative seat in Homer’s expansive 9th District.
Both incumbent Republican Newell Willcox, who lives on Route 281 in the northern portion of Homer, and Democratic challenger Jeff Currie, who lives on East River Road in the southeast portion of the town, offered ways to save the county and taxpayers money, and stressed that communication with constituents and the community at large were key.
Currie, 37, and an electrician, said he had been compelled to run after he heard numerous complaints from neighbors along East River Road about garbage falling out of passing trucks and littering the road.
“I called three different agencies and I didn’t get anywhere — the third person I called switched me back to the first,” Currie said, noting that he wound up cleaning up the garbage himself.
Willcox, who is 81 and owns Willcox Tire on Tompkins Street in Cortland, said he felt he had represented the 9th District well in his four years as a legislator.
“I think I’ve basically been kind of a watchdog for this Legislature, and I’d like to continue,” said Willcox, noting that, at times he’s been “a minority even in my own party” during his time on the Legislature.
Willcox said he would like to see the Legislature look to cut the county’s budget, either by going line by line or by requiring each department head to cut 2 to 3 percent from its budget.
Currie agreed that spending is a concern, and said that one way he envisioned the county saving money was seeking more energy efficiency in its buildings.
“That’s something I’d be pushing for … if the county really got into energy management and learned to cut some corners, we could save a lot of money,” he said.
Currie was critical of the current Legislature for its handling of the aborted south Main Street land deal, saying more communication with the public from the start was needed.
“I’m not really in tune with exactly what happened there but I think that Newell Willcox probably should have been more in tune with it,”  he said.
Willcox has said numerous times that he felt left out of the loop on the project, and that he was not informed of the deal until the project was announced to the public.




10th Legislative District —

Increased discussion among top priorities

Staff Reporter

Both candidates for Homer’s 10th legislative district cite improved communication between legislators and the public as one of their priorities, though they have different ideas about how they can be achieved.
Republican Tom Williams, the race’s incumbent, and Democrat Jennifer Gofkowski, a newcomer to politics, both view the purchase of properties on south Main Street last fall as evidence of the Legislature’s lack of communication.
“Most legislators knew nothing of the south Main Street project until a couple of days before we were expected to vote on the $6, 7, 8-million project,” said Williams, 62, of 2 Bedford St., Homer. “I knew four days ahead of time. There was never a meeting of all of us.”
Both candidates criticized how the Legislature’s discussion of big issues is often reserved to smaller committees or political caucuses that are often behind closed doors.
“I think that right now there’s a lot of closed-door session things keeping public business away from the public,” said Gofkowski, 33, of 934 Anderson Drive, Homer. “I think there needs to be better communication between legislators and taxpayers.”
Williams said he believes the county’s department heads and 19 legislators should hold work sessions on issues of importance, such as a master plan for the county’s space needs. At those work sessions, which ideally all of the legislators would attend, legislators would discuss the issues they would eventually vote on at the Legislature’s regular meetings.
“If I’m not on the Buildings and Grounds Committee it’s hard for me to talk to the Buildings and Grounds Committee if I don’t have access to them, if I can’t see one of the legislators (on the committee),” he said.
Gofkowski said she would prefer that discussion take place during legislative sessions, where all the members are already gathered.
After discussion, votes should be tabled until the next legislative session, to ensure residents have a chance to give legislators feedback.
“I think that’s a big frustration right now with Cortland County residents,” she said of the lack of openness. “They’re not given any voice.”
The 10th district candidates both agree the county needs to figure out how to handle all its space needs, though each has some opinions he or she is adamant about.