November 2 , 2007


Peck library donations urged

Volunteers have raised $260,000 so far for nearly $1 million project


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Friends of the Library Chairwoman Nanna Fritts leaves Peck Memorial Library Thursday after checking out library materials. The library is raising money to expand and make renovations. Work is scheduled to begin in the spring.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Sixty-eight-year-old David Light remembers going to the library’s opera house as a child for the 35-cent movies, and has stories of his parents attending vaudeville performances there and silent films accompanied by a pianist.
“My dad had been fishing, and he had to whip down there to get to a movie on time,” Light said. “There was a drawing, and he still had his boots on, and when he won $150 he had to go down (from the balcony) in front of the whole place with his boots on to get the 150 bucks. He said he bought all (he and his newlywed’s) living room furniture and bedroom furniture with it.”
Light is among a group of volunteers raising money to preserve and bring up to code the historic and aging Peck Memorial Library, which houses the opera house on the second floor and the library on the first floor.
The idea to fix up the building has been in place for years, but volunteers are getting closer to their goal as they raise more money and prepare for the first step of a capital project in the spring.
So far, volunteers have raised about $260,000 for the project, which is expected to cost between $800,000 and $1 million, through a combination of grants, community donations and fundraisers.
Meanwhile, the group has applications in with the state for hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional grants, including a $219,000 historical preservation grant.
The project is expected to comprise three phases, and will unfold as enough money is raised for each phase.
The first phase includes adding a wheelchair-accessible ramp, adding wheelchair-accessible bathrooms to the building and opening up the library into offices that are currently rented out to professionals.
The second phase includes pointing of crumbling brick to the building’s exterior and repairing the library’s stained-glass windows.
 The third phase will restore the opera house and install an elevator up to the opera house.
Other work will be done to the building at various points, including removal of asbestos and creation of a kitchen for staff in the back of the library.
Connie White, who with Light heads fundraising for the project, said at this point a breakdown for each phase and additional work cannot be provided.
She said she expects repairs to the opera house will be costliest.
“There are more details up there than downstairs,” citing improvements to a decorated metal ceiling as an example.
Community volunteers paved the way for the first step of renovations on Oct. 13 by removing cinderblock steps coming down from a fire escape on the west side of the building.
The removal of the steps will allow for the construction of a ramp, including steps coming off the ramp on the west side of the building.
In the spring construction of the ramp is expected to start and should be complete by June, Light said.
White said she hopes more people will take the time to donate money to the capital project fund.
While the library may get more grants from the state, many of them require matching donations from the community, she said.
Also, the state is more likely to support a project when it sees the community residents back it.
White, who has plans for a “giving tree” for the library that will showcase donors, said the Peck Memorial Library is a gem that deserves protecting.
“It is a grand, grand building, and Marathon has lost so many of the big buildings,” she said. “This one and the Tarbell building are the two big buildings left. The Tarbell building is owned by private citizens, who are doing a good job with it, and the library is in the hands of the people.”




Senior citizen break passes in committee

County Budget and Finance Committee also approves $114 million budget

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Budget and Finance Committee voted to support the $114 million tentative budget and send it to the entire Legislature for approval. No changes were made to the draft budget prepared by the county administrator.
Legislators Sean Clark (D-2nd Ward), Dan Tagliente (D-6th Ward) and Newell Willcox (R-Homer) were absent.
The committee also passed a resolution Thursday to increase the income eligibility for a senior citizen exemption from $10,500 or less to $14,300 or less to receive a 50 percent discount on county taxes.
This measure would cost the county around $34,000 from loss of tax money, said County Administrator Scott Schrader, and would not take affect until 2009, provided the entire county Legislature passes the resolution by March.
Cortland County residents will have a chance to weigh in on the tentative 2008 $114 million budget at 6 p.m. Nov. 20 during a public hearing. The Legislature will meet Nov. 29 to vote on the budget.
Legislators John Daniels (D-Cortlandville) and Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) asked Schrader to see if the county could go up to $16,500 for income eligibility for the senior tax break. He said he would check, but typically the county does not have an exemption that exceeds those offered in municipalities.
The number of seniors who could take advantage of the current exemption has dropped from 173 in 2002 to 116 in 2007. The taxable value of the properties is $2,366,103. The total taxable value in the county for 2008 is $1.7 billion.
The city of Cortland have an income cap of $14,300 for its 50 percent exemption. Only one town, Preble, offers a higher 50 percent exemption for incomes up to $16,500. Most towns in Cortland County has an income limit of $10,500. Two school districts that exceed a $14,300 income limit are Dryden and Groton, both in Tompkins County, with a $19,500 and $16,500 exemption base, respectively.
The county exemption level has not changed since 1991, said Schrader. That exemption provided a sliding scale option that reduced the exemption to 20 percent with an income of $16,200. The new proposal would boost that cap to $20,000.
The committee did not pass a similar tax exemption to cover Cold War veterans from 1945 to 1991. Schrader advised against passing this exemption because it has not passed in the state Assembly yet. He said the committee could consider it once the state Assembly passes it. There are about 4,000 Cold War veterans living in Cortland County, with about 68 percent of them owning a home. The potential cost to other county taxpayers would be $28,000.
“I feel comfortable with it (the budget),” said Ron Van Dee. He noted the process has been different from the past when legislators were looking for every dollar they could cut.
The committee did not change mileage reimbursement or take away health insurance for legislators. Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) had asked that the committee consider this.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) said, “I’m against doing away with it,” noting it would not be fair that some legislators who travel from a distance could not get reimbursed. He noted the cost is only $2,500 and also that there are only six who take the health insurance and the clerk of the legislature is included among the Legislators. The clerk position is a full-time position. The committee did pass a resolution that legislators must turn in mileage within 60 days. The county pays $5,120 per individual insurance policy a year and a family policy is $12,696.



Board says no to change

After a unanimous vote, Virgil Planning Board recommends rejecting approval of zoning change

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — The town Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday to recommend rejecting approval of a local church’s zoning change application. The change would be the first step in the church’s expansion to a bible college.
The vote was taken at a special meeting.
Board members agreed a zoning change should not be made until Reigning Miracle Ministry at 2910 Douglas Road moves a mobile home already constructed on the site.
The mobile home on the property is placed at an angle 90 degrees different than what the site plan for the property shows, said Planning Board member Michael Vail, who made the motion to recommend denial of the church’s application.
The Town Board will make the final decision on the zoning change.
Reigning Miracle Ministry wants to have the zoning of its 16.5-acre parcel, which includes the mobile home, a church with a school inside and a colonial style house, changed from residential to planned unit development.
Plans include classroom buildings, dormitories, a gymnasium, a large church building and a second mobile home for staff offices that would bring the parcel’s building square footage from 9,282 square feet to 55,718 square feet.
Residential zoning does not allow for the structures, while planned unit development zoning does.
The Rev. Don Evans, pastor at Reigning Miracle Ministries, said after Thursday’s Planning Board meeting he is disappointed the board is keeping it from expanding once again.
The board, for example, has previously opposed the construction of a second mobile home on the property due to the current mobile home’s placement.
He said he hopes the Town Board will disregard what the Planning Board recommended.
Before the Town Board decides on the zoning change it will hold a public hearing within the next few months.
Also Thursday, the Planning Board began the required state environmental review process for a gas station proposed for the corner of Route 13 and Webb Road by declaring it would be the lead agency in the review.
It is sending out letters to all agencies involved in the project’s approval process to make sure they approve. The lead agency is the entity that is primarily responsible for the environmental review process.




Attorneys hope for agreement in Marathon land case

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Jury selection and ensuing trial in a town land dispute have been postponed indefinitely, with lawyers representing both sides trying to work out an agreement between their clients.
The dispute centers on a landlocked parcel owned by Marathon resident Arne Lih, who is trying to gain access through an adjoining property whose owner is opposed to the move.
Lih has turned to a provision in state Highway Law, which provides a way for people with landlocked property to access their land.
But the law lays out procedures that are no longer common practice, said Scott Chatfield, the Marietta-based lawyer representing Lih. The law would allow a jury of 12 to decide if Lih should receive an easement.
Even if Lih were to win, procedural concerns over the law could weaken the case if it were appealed, Chatfield said.
The issue with the law has prompted Lih to try to work out an agreement with the property owner, Marathon resident Bob Upholt, Chatfield said.
Dryden-based lawyer Mahlon Perkins, who is representing Upholt, could not be reached for comment this week.
Chatfield said Perkins indicated he was willing to discuss the matter.
“I said fine rather than go through all this trouble with the jury,” Chatfield said.
Both Upholt and Lih declined to comment Wednesday.
Chatfield said he is not sure how likely it is he and Perkins will come up with an agreement, or how long negotiating will take.
Lih is trying to gain access to 126 acres of land that became landlocked after Interstate 81 was constructed in the 1960s.
He would like to use an approximately 5,000-foot stretch of private road that is partly owned by Upholt.
Both attorneys called off an Oct. 24 jury selection after discussing the case for the first time that morning.
If attorneys fail to negotiate an agreement, Chatfield said the case would go to County Court to figure out if the law’s procedures are appropriate.