November 1 , 2007


MILC expansion in Senate Farm Bill

More of upstate dairy farmers’ milk would be eligible for subsidies


Bob Ellis/staff photographer       
Pat Gregory, left, and Steve Stuttle milks cows in the milk parlor at Lew-Lin farm on Livermore Road in Dryden. New York dairy farms such as the Lew-Lin farm would benefit from a Senate proposal to increase federal subsidies in the MILC program in the 2007 Farm Bill.

Staff Reporter

Lewis Stuttle stood outside the milking parlor on his family farm on Livermore Road in Dryden, where roughly 250 cows were being milked.
If Congress passes the U.S. Senate’s version of the 2007 Farm Bill, Stuttle said Tuesday that nearly his whole herd would be covered under the federal Milk Income Loss Compensation program for the first time.
Stuttle said in previous years when the price of milk had fallen low enough to qualify for assistance from the government, only four months worth of milk out of the year was covered by MILC program reimbursements.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee passed its version of the bill Friday.
Under the provisions of the “Northeast Marker Bill” — which was added in the committee and is aimed at helping upstate New York dairy farmers and specialty crop growers — mid-size dairy farms would be compensated for more of their herd than in the past, and all farmers would receive a larger reimbursement.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the Farm Bill on July 27, merely extending the MILC program another five years. The Farm Bill is set to move to the Senate floor for a vote in early November.
There are also provisions in the marker bill to encourage specialty crops such as grapes, apples and onions, all common in parts of upstate New York.
The amended bill has the support of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the Senate and Congressman Mike Arcuri (D-Utica) in the House.
Under the proposed version, 45 percent of the cost of producing the milk would be given back to farmers rather than the 34 percent in place now.
Also, the amount of milk that is eligible for reimbursement was increased from 2.4 million pounds per year to 4.15 million pounds.
Stuttle said almost all of his herd would now be covered under the MILC program reimbursements — about 130 cows produce 2.4 million pounds a year, but a herd of about 225 produces about 4.15 million pounds of milk a year.
The MILC program kicks in when the price of Class I milk in Boston drops below $16.94 per hundredweight, or 100 pounds.
Stuttle said the price at the Cortland Bulk Milk co-op is about $23 per hundredweight.
Although he’s resorted to the MILC program a few times in the past, Stuttle said he has a back-up business selling registered Holsteins — some are sold as far away as Brazil, China and Japan — that has also kept the farm in a better position than some of its peers.
Nevertheless, Stuttle hopes the price won’t get low enough that he has to resort to the MILC payments yet again.
“Hopefully it won’t get that bad, but with the price of fuel and everything else getting higher …” Stuttle said, shaking his head.
Carroll Wade of Jasper is a member of the New York State Grange Agricultural Advisory Committee and an organic dairy farmer. He is also a member of the New York State Dairy Promotion Board and the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Board.
The Grange is supportive of increasing production caps and reimbursement amounts, Wade said, but like all farmers he hopes farmers would continue to get a good price for their milk.
“I believe December’s milk is scheduled to be about $18.75 a hundred, so if the farmers aren’t on the ball looking for those drops, they might get caught short,” Wade said. “But if it drops much below $18, I think you’ll see a lot of farmers saying ‘That’s it, I’m out.’”
Wade stressed that nothing in government is final until it is final, and that there is still the conference committee process for Congress to complete before either chamber can vote on a final version of the Farm Bill.
“I knew that’s what they’re going to propose, but you never know what’s going to get marked up,” Wade said. “It’s so up in the air right now, because until you have a conference committee of the House and the Senate, there’ll be nothing concrete.”




Outlining budget’s future —

County would provide more local DSS juvenile services

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In adding eight positions to the Department of Social Services in 2008, the focus would be on providing intervention services locally so fewer children will have to be placed in foster care or juvenile detention facilities, the county administrator said Wednesday afternoon.
The new positions would increase department staffing to 130 full-time employees.
“Placements are extremely expensive for nonsecured detentions,” County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
In 2005, 42 children were placed in facilities at a cost of $398,000; in 2007 the cost to place 35 children was $248,000.
During the second of three budget workshops on Wednesday, Schrader said the county pays $2 million a year on foster care and caring for juvenile delinquents and Persons in Need of Supervision, or PINS.
Schrader said one change he made in the 2008 budget, as a result of hiring more DSS employees, was a $57,000 reduction in the cost of handling PINS and juvenile delinquents. The budget for those expenses drops from $500,000 to $443,000.
In contrast, the local cost of the added positions is about $84,000 because most of the positions are partially funded by the state and federal governments.
The positions include three caseworkers, one social welfare examiner, two senior caseworkers and a senior clerk. The eighth position changes a driver from part-time to full-time; Schrader said this increase could represent a savings, of sorts, because the driver would be transporting patients to appointments rather than caseworkers doing this.
The positions will allow caseloads to drop from 21 cases per caseworker to 16.5 cases, which is comparable to national standards.
“Social services is probably the most dramatically changed department over any other,” Schrader said, of the proposal for 2008 compared with the budget of 2007.
Its $30.2 million budget is nearly $3 million more than the 2007 amended budget for the department. Despite these additions, the local cost is about $200,000 more than in 2007 because expected revenue has also increased from about $16 million to $18 million.



Harford budget raises tax levy 26%

Staff Reporter

HARFORD — Cost increases in fuel, legal fees and insurance are driving a 26 percent tax levy increase in the town’s 2008 proposed budget.
The levy would increase from $174,000 to $220,000 in the $384,000 budget proposal, which increases spending 6.7 percent.
The tax rate is proposed to increase by 12.9 percent, from this year’s $5.56 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $6.28 per $1,000.
Supervisor Ray Marsh said the Town Board wanted to keep the tax levy and tax rate lower, but a number of higher costs kept it from doing so.
Lawyer fees are proposed to increase 119 percent, from $4,200 to $9,200, and liability insurance is proposed to go up 18.4 percent from $13,600 to $16,100.
The cost of fuel for trucks and heating expenses are proposed to increase from $18,215 to $24,000, a 31.8 percent increase.
Marsh said the town is more than doubling its budget for lawyer fees in response to potential litigation planned for 2008.
Marsh said the town is considering suing the county for suddenly raising its workers’ compensation insurance costs from $13,600 to $25,200 a year. The county, which contracts out insurance to Harford, as well as other towns, realized this year the town has underpaid workers’ compensation insurance for the last three years, due to a payment error.
The on-the-job death of a Harford firefighter in 2004 caused the county’s insurance cost to jump.
Gina Nourse, the town’s bookkeeper, said the other insurance increase is due to the upcoming construction of a town hall.
The town, which hopes to start construction of the building on Route 221 about one-quarter mile east of Route 38 by summer, wants to make sure that building is insured, Nourse said. The Town Board is expected to vote on approval of the project in the spring.
Marsh said no cost for the new town hall has yet been determined, though he’s estimated the cost at between $700,000 and $1 million.




8th Ward candidates concerned about taxes

Staff Reporter

The candidates for the 8th Ward Common Council seat each said the city’s tax rate is the issue they have heard about the most as they campaigned.
Both Republican incumbent Tom Michales and Democratic challenger Shawn Smith believe at least some level of consolidation — probably between the city and the town of Cortlandville — would alleviate some of the tax burden on city residents by helping to maintain existing levels of services, and that improved communication between the city and the county would allow the city to control the amount of property that is being taken off the tax rolls.
Smith said she is also in favor of trying to obtain payments from the county, hospital and SUNY Cortland to offset the cost of services to the tax-exempt entities.
Michales pointed out that the hospital and college are exempt, by law, from having to make any kinds of payments to a municipality for services.
Michales is running for his third two-year term on the council. He is a project safety engineer at ITS Testing Lab in Cortlandville.
Smith is a prevention education coordinator at the YWCA’s Aid to Victims of Violence office, and is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration through SUNY Binghamton.
Smith has been involved in recent Housing Confab meetings in the city, working on the project as part of her graduate program.
Smith said she would like to encourage homeownership by setting up programs to encourage employers in the city to assist new employees in buying a home, whether through down payment or closing cost assistance.
Also, she would like to see more grant programs to help moderate-income individuals to buy and maintain a home — many of the existing programs are targeted only at lower-income families, Smith said.
Both she and Michales support encouraging long-term loans to potential homebuyers, in the hopes that homeownership would increase.
In the end, though, Smith thinks only consolidation would give the city the resources to combat its growing financial problems.
Michales said that the city and Cortlandville are already working together on several fronts, including sharing equipment between the city Department of Public Works and the town Highway Department.
He worries that there would be opposition in Cortlandville to consolidation, especially considering the disparity in tax rates: about $4 for every $1,000-worth of assessed value in the town, compared to nearly $18 per every $1,000 in the city.
Michales predicted that only increased sales tax revenue in some kind of expanded municipality, offsetting property taxes, would be the way to convince Cortlandville to combine with the city.
In the meantime, he said he supports creating a fire district that would combine the fire departments.