October 26, 2007


A long night of fright —

House still scaring after 25 years


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Haunted house creator Jim Coon arranges the arms of one of his ghouls Wednesday at Suggett Park’s Burch Building. With the help of friends and family, Coon is working on his 25th annual haunted house.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — For the first time in 25 years, the Chiller Haunted House will be at the Burch Building at Suggett Park and will be open for two additional nights.
“It was always a goal to give kids a fun place to go to on Halloween,” said Jim Coon, creator of the haunted house.
The haunted house will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, and from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday and as always from 6 to 10 p.m. Halloween night. Admission is free each night, but donations are welcome at the door.
This year’s haunted house will feature a theme of a haunted asylum. Tour guides will tell guests a story of crazy patients and doctors at the asylum.
“This year is bigger than anything I have ever done,” Coon said. “And it’s centered around one idea. You’re not going to know what was here and who left.”
Annually, Coon spends approximately $350 out of his own pocket to create the haunted house. He uses scrap wood, buys nails, screws, duct tape and creates posters to advertise.
In addition, each year he replaces something that is getting too old. Last year it was the lighting and this year it is the black drapes.
Along with donating the location of the Burch Building, the Cortland Youth Bureau also bought Coon fire retardant spray he needed for the black curtains.
This is the first year the Cortland Youth Bureau has been involved with Coon’s haunted house.
“We were approached by Jim Coon and we had a facility to accommodate his needs,” said John McNerney, director of the Youth Bureau. “It’s a nice community event.”
McNerney said he has not seen the bill for the fire retardant spray, but said the bureau will spend under $200.
Coon is hoping attendance will break the 1,000-person mark this year. Around 700 people have gone through the haunted house in past years.
Coon started his event in his parent’s garage on Lamont Circle. For the last 10 years, the haunted house was at his home on Madison Street. He said it is the longest running haunted house in Cortland.
“I thought I would miss it being in my front yard, but I don’t,” Coon said laughing. “Some years I think, ‘God, do I really want to do this again? … This is the 25th year and I wanted to say look what I have been doing for 25 years. How many things in Cortland last 25 years?”
Coon still decorated his front yard this year.. His graveyard is one of the top nine finalists in the Halloween display photo contest on Channel 9. He came in eighth place.
Over the years, other haunted houses have opened on Halloween in the area, but Coon said he does not mind the competition.
“It’s just a bummer that they are all on the same night as mine so I can’t go,” he said.




County tax rate drops 4% in new draft budget

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A healthy fund balance will allow Cortland County to cut property taxes by about 4 percent, according to the county administrator’s tentative $114 million budget for 2008.
County Administrator Scott Schrader presented the Legislature Thursday with a proposed 2008 budget that would reduce the average county tax rate of $14.91 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2007 to a 2008 rate of $14.31 per $1,000.
Schrader’s budget calls for $2.7 million in new spending for 2008, while the overall budget of $114 million represents a $6 million, or 5.2 percent, increase over the $108 million 2007 spending plan.
Despite the spending increases, the proposed budget reduces the overall tax levy, the amount of property taxes the county needs to collect for its budget, by $111,000, or 0.5 percent, to $24.7 million.
These cuts to the tax rate and the tax levy — the first substantial cuts since 1995, Schrader said — are possible due to the county’s relatively solid financial position, he said.
“The bottom line is we’re reducing our reliance on real property tax dollars to run our operations, which is a very good thing,” Schrader said. “We’re getting a good return on the fund balance we’ve built up, our bond rating is down which will lead to significant long term savings. It’s amazing what four and a half years have done.”
Schrader and numerous legislators credited one another and county department heads for improving the county’s financial situation significantly since 2003, when Schrader was hired.
In 2003, after a depleted fund balance contributed to a poor bond rating which led to significant tax increases, the Legislature resolved to grow and maintain the county’s fund balance at 10 percent of total expenditures.
Schrader’s budget proposes spending $3.9 million, or 38 percent, of the county’s roughly _$10.2 million general fund balance.
Including surplus funds earmarked for specific uses such as county roads, the county will spend about $4.7 million of its total $12.8 million budgeted fund balance for 2008, leaving it with an $8.1 million total fund balance heading in to 2009, assuming no money is unspent in 2008.
That figure is just under 10 percent of the $90 million in total expenditures in the budget Schrader said, noting that the $114 million figure comes from certain expenditures that come from the county’s general fund but go toward funds like highway and health insurance, and are counted twice.



Homer rolls out welcome mat

School celebrates sixth-grader’s victory in national science competition

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Hundreds of school children and their teachers stood in front of the Homer Intermediate School early Thursday afternoon, holding congratulatory signs and cheering as a sixth-grader  who won a national science competition passed in his parents’ van.
The students, including band members trumpeting upbeat music, welcomed Erik Gustafson, the winner of the national Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C., back to Homer.
“This is my 19th year, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” sixth-grade teacher Deborah Smith said of the reception.
Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said he found out about Gustafson’s accomplishment late Wednesday, and began planning a celebration for Gustafson with administrators and teachers Thursday morning.
Teachers had students make signs, lunch breaks were shortened and bus drivers were called to bring their buses to Main Street and honk as Gustafson went by. Everything worked out in a short period of time, he said.
“When something like this happens, people pull things together,” Larison said.
Students in grades three through eight attended a ceremony for Gustafson and his family in the auditorium of the intermediate and junior high schools.
Shortly after entering the auditorium with his family, which included his parents, siblings and two sets of grandparents, Gustafson gave a speech.
He thanked his teachers, including mentor Janet Oechsle, a retired fixth-grade teacher who started the district’s science fair 15 years ago. He also advised students to learn about climate change and do their part in combating it and encouraged students to get involved with the district’s science fair.
“I’m No. 1 in the country, and that goes to show that anyone in the room could win it,” he said.
His mother, Paula, had tears in her eyes.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said of the reception her son received. “The school showed it knows how to do Blue Pride.”
Sixth-graders Maddie Weber and Jake Casey said Gustafson takes the time to help his classmates.
“If you need help, you just ask him,” Weber said, noting she has known Gustafson to be helpful since she first had classes with him in third grade.
Teacher Deborah Merriman, who had Gustafson in her first-grade class, said he has always shown an interest in science and getting to the bottom of things.
“He wonders about things, and takes the time to figure them out, which makes him special,” she said.




DeRuyter parents still angry over Ritalin mix-up

School is continuing to investigate how pills were given to students instead of fluoride

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — Russ Randall stormed out of the school library Thursday night after the Board of Education could not answer why the nurse who gave a kindergarten class Ritalin tablets instead of fluoride on Oct. 18 is still working at the school.
“They should have suspended her or did something for her negligence,” Randall said of the nurse, who is still working at the DeRuyter elementary school, during the meeting.
The school still refuses to release the name of the nurse.
Approximately 12 other parents shared Randall’s concern at Thursday’s meeting.
“I have a niece who was given the Ritalin and she was sick that night. We don’t know if it was a stomach bug or the Ritalin,” Tracy LeDuc told the board. “I don’t think (the nurse) should be here while she is being investigated.”
Bruce Sharpe, superintendent of DeRuyter schools, said both the district and the state Board of Education are still investigating the matter.
“The state Education Department was here the next day to investigate,” Sharpe said. “We apologize for the error. That may not be enough. The nurse readily admitted that she had made the mistake and is sorry it happened.”
As of Thursday, the district has taken no action against the nurse, but Sharpe said it is reviewing her and the school’s procedures and policies on administering medication.
He added that for now, fluoride is not being distributed.
“One of the new procedures will be reading labels,” Sharpe said. “We want to make sure the label is read and read more than once.”