October 24, 2007


C’ville candidates have lively debate


Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Candidates for town supervisor and town councilman squared off at a forum Tuesday night, agreeing on little as the discussion and debate ranged from the town’s future, taxes and economic forecast to the Starr Road Community Park.
The Republican incumbents were on the defense, explaining themselves in response to pointed questions, while the Democratic challengers went on the attack.
About 30 people attended the meet the candidates forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, one of the largest turnouts this election season.
Chuck Maxfield asked the first question of incumbent Supervisor Dick Tupper and his challenger, Planning Board member Nick Renzi: What should be done about the South Hill dumpsite that the state is trying to clean up?
Tupper said the town does not have the money to fund mitigation of the site pollution and the federal Superfund would likely pick up the cost. The experts at the state Department of Environmental Conservation should determine the most feasible solution, Tupper said.
Meanwhile, Renzi favored the full excavation and removal of the dump material — at a cost of about $5 million, instead of the state’s preferred option, at about $2 million — to stop the site from becoming a future burden. The responsible corporations and the federal government should pick up the cost, he said.
Samantha Sprenger of Route 215 asked about the cost of the Starr Road Community Park and its impact of the surrounding neighborhood.
Democratic Town Board candidate Chris Farkas took the question first, saying the park was a “good idea, wrong location.” Neighbors like Sprenger are upset that it is in their neighborhood, he said, and he feels the town ended up paying for the park although it was supposed to be funded out of the pockets of private donors.
Tupper defended the park — it’s main supporter, Republican incumbent board member Ted Testa, could not attend the forum — saying that it does not negatively affect people’s property.
The town did spend some tax money finishing the park — $200,000 was budgeted for 2007 — but Tupper said it was because the board wanted to finish the park as soon as possible. Donors continue to put money into the project, he said, and the private donations currently amount to half a million dollars. Also, the Cortland Regional Sports Council has pledged to market the park as a venue for youth tournaments.
 Yellow Lantern Kampground owner Sandy Panzanella asked about the difference in salaries between Tupper and his predecessor, Ray Thorpe.
Thorpe made about $7,000 a year, Tupper said, and donated all of that money to the SPCA. It had been lowered when Thorpe took office because the retired Cornell University professor had not needed the money — when Tupper began, he said, he was spending more time at the Town Hall than Thorpe had.
The salary was increased to $27,000, which includes $7,000 for the work of town budget officer, to make up for the time that Tupper was not spending with his own small business — an appraisal service — after the board had looked at salaries in comparable towns.
Renzi said that if he were elected he would cut his salary in half. Farkas said that “if nothing else, we have to do the best to hold the line on salaries.”
Incumbent Republican Town Board member John Proud argued that young people with children are not attracted to political office because “you can’t expect someone to give up a gainful career” without some salary support.
The starkest disagreement between the incumbents and the challengers had to do with the direction of the town. Tupper is in favor of any economic development that would contribute to the town’s tax base and stop residents from driving to Ithaca for their shopping, and sees the slew of drug stores and banks and other commercial entities along the Route 13/Route 281 corridor as much-needed assessment value.
Renzi said more manufacturing jobs need to be brought into the town and he doesn’t want to see the strip “become another Erie Boulevard.”
Tupper responded by pointing out that prohibitively high taxes in the state have already killed the state’s ability to attract industry, and that only by keeping taxes low could the town begin to attract the smaller industrial businesses that might settle in the Finger Lakes East business park on Route 13.
An audience member asked what the candidates would do to maintain civility at meetings, referring specifically to occasions in which Town Board member Ron Rocco has become involved in heated arguments during board meetings.
At the forum, Rocco and Farkas wound up raising their voices over the issue of the Starr Road Community Park.
Rocco is not up for re-election this year, but he read a statement from Testa Tuesday night and then went into the audience.
On several occasions, Rocco tried to respond to statements by the challengers from his position in the audience and was told by both the moderator of the forum, Nancy Hansen, and by a chorus of audience members to “ask a question” instead of making statements.



State to study merger

Report on city, C’ville merger part of broader effort to encourgage consolidation

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A feasibility study for merging the city of Cortland and the town of Cortlandville will be among the first such reviews under the governor’s effort to encourage consolidation of municipalities statewide.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer wants to see municipalities talking about consolidation, and the city and town were chosen as subjects through the study that is expected to be completed by April. The proposal will not be binding on the town and city.
Mayor Tom Gallagher and Cortlandville Supervisor Dick Tupper met with representatives of the state Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness on Oct. 3 at City Hall.
They were told that someone had proposed the two municipalities be examined by the state as possible candidates for consolidation.
“We have no idea where it came from — all we know is that out of the city, the county and the town, nobody we know made that recommendation,” Tupper said this morning.
A call to the commission’s office was not immediately returned this morning.
In a letter to Gallagher and Tupper dated Sept. 14, commission Executive Director John Clarkson wrote that the governor asked for and received hundreds of proposals for merger and consolidation from local governments, and that “in order to stimulate public discussion of these issues, and provide a current review of the issues and possibilities involved, several of these proposals were selected for study. The City of Cortland and the Town of Cortlandville is one such area.”
Tupper made the first local announcement on the issue Tuesday at a League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates forum at the Cortlandville Fire Station, in response to a question about consolidation from an audience member.
The commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness was created in April and had been proposed by Spitzer during his first State of the State address in January.
A report would have to be issued by April 15, according to Spitzer’s executive order that created the commission.
Since the meeting at the beginning of the month, Tupper and Gallagher said they have not heard back from the state.


City school plans closed meeting on project

State official: Oct. 30 school board meeting on $30M project should be open to public

Staff Reporter

The city Board of Education plans to discuss the scope of an approximately $30 million construction project Oct. 30 during a meeting that it plans to hold largely behind closed doors, the board announced Tuesday.
Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring said after Tuesday’s meeting that the Oct. 30 meeting will be in executive session because having it held in public “might affect the bidding process.” He said the project scope and costs associated with various items would be discussed at that meeting.
“I don’t see anything in the law that covers that,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government.
He said the superintendent might have been thinking about accessible records under the Freedom of Information Law, which allows withholding records that would, if disclosed, impair present or imminent contract awards.
The Open Meetings Law has no such exclusion. The closest reason to exclude the public from such a meeting is if property acquisition is involved and only if discussing such purchase would substantially affect the value of it.
Freeman said when the board is further along in the process and is figuring out whom to hire, then it could go into executive session. “But, it sounds like, they haven’t reached that point yet.”
Spring said this morning he would seek legal advice on the matter. He said lawyers had given the district several options on how to go about the project, depending on what information was presented.
“It’s not our intention to keep the public out of the process,” said board President Tom Brown, who is vice president of Gallagher Construction.
Spring said parents have had a chance to make suggestions on the project during superintendent coffee hours, sports boosters club meetings and other meetings and events at the school. He said one common concern was safety and security.
Tuesday night the board did vote to become the lead agency in the environmental process for the construction project.
Lisa Hoeschele was absent; the other six board members voted yes.
Stephen Somogy, principal of Hunt Engineers in Horseheads, said the district will be required to fill out the long form environmental assessment because the project would affect more than 5 acres of land districtwide. He said it may also affect the wetlands at the high school, located in a wooded area behind the parking lot and track.



Hearing on Virgil budget proposal Nov. 8

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Town residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on a $1.18 million town budget proposal for 2008 at a Nov. 8 public hearing.
The budget would raise spending 1.4 percent and the tax levy 2.2 percent. The proposed levy would increase to $401,000 from this year’s $393,000 tax levy.
The budget hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.
The tax rate would increase 4 cents, or 1.2 percent, from $3.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $3.33 per $1,000 of property value.
A person owning a $100,000 house would pay $333 in town property taxes in 2008, an increase of $4 from this year’s bill.
The budget proposal would raise the supervisor’s salary by 8.9 percent, from $5,510 to $6,000, while salaries for Town Board members would increase by 25 percent, from $1,600 to $2,000.
The increase stems from more meeting attendance and compensation for a lack gas mileage reimbursement, said Town Supervisor Jim Murphy, who will be from retiring from his position at the end of the year.
Attorney fees are projected to drop 16.7 percent, from $22,500 to $18,750, with a decreased need for specialty lawyers, particularly a lawyer specializing in water and sewer matters.
“We don’t anticipate any big project like the ones we just completed,” Murphy said, referring to a recent $1.2 million sewer project completed in August.
The town has budgeted $1,400 for a census of dogs in the town. Murphy said the town’s dog control officer, Paul Burhans, suggested the census to figure out how many dogs are in Virgil and whether all those dogs are registered.
He said approximately 50 dogs are registered with the town, but Burhans suspects there are around 700 dogs in Virgil. Dogs must be registered every five years for $2, Murphy said.