November 14, 2007


Airport expected to turn profit in 2008

Recent construction of 10-bay hangar attributed to $1,350 gain that could reach $20,000 by 2009


Bob Ellis/staff photographer     
Kris Sims of Groton refuels his Cessna 150 at the Cortland County Airport Tuesday afternoon. Sims was preparing for a flight around the county. The 2008 county budget forecasts the airport, which has long maintained a deficit, earning a $1,350 profit.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE_— The Cortland County Airport will likely move out of the red and into the black in 2008, for the first time in at least recent memory, county officials said Tuesday.
A new hangar completed this fall and another that is expected to be finished next fall should mean that the airport on Route 222 in Cortlandville will no longer operate at the expense of taxpayers, county officials said.
The county’s $114 million 2008 tentative budget predicts that the airport, which is operated by the county Highway Department, would generate a  profit of $1,350 next year.
In 2007, the airport cost taxpayers $7,500 and $15,609 in 2006.
The airport’s proposed budget for 2008 is $210,200.
The improved financial condition of the airport can be attributed to a new $408,000, 10-bay T-hangar that the county finished building last month, said county Highway Superintendent Don Chambers.
“When we’re completed next year, there’ll be four T-hangar buildings on the property,” Chambers said Tuesday.
In September, the county received $405,500 from the Renew and Rebuild New York Transportation Bond Act of 2005. While $5,000 would go toward airport parking lot lighting, the remainder — along with a $45,000 county contribution — would be spent on the construction of a final T-hangar.
The other hangars on the property were likely built in the 1970s, Chambers said.
The hangars attract aircraft to the field, Chambers said, and more aircraft means more aviation fuel sales by the county.
Each 10-bay hangar generates about $25,000 in annual income, and although only a $1,350 profit is anticipated for next year because the final hangar would not be finished until November, Chambers said that the airport should turn a $20,000 profit in 2009.
Seven of the bays in the new county-built hangar have been leased, with two more leases soon to be signed. County Administrator Scott Schrader said the final lease would not be finalized until after the first of the year.
Schrader said that when he began his job in June  2003, the county was not “really utilizing that airport to its potential” and that it had been operating at a loss of around $30,000 in previous years.
“They (the Legislature) actually invested in an airport, and I actually think it’s going to be making dividends,” Schrader said.
Chambers said that now, the two companies that operate out of the airport, All About Flying and Seven Valley Aviation, are also thriving.
Schrader said the county should continue to make capital improvements to the airport, and hopefully would receive federal funding to do so.
However, once the final hangar is completed next year, Schrader said the county would “sit back and evaluate, first,” before proceeding with any new projects, such as possibly acquiring more land.
The county still has to clear some obstructions at the airport that the Federal Aviation Administration requested by removed. The last plan to get rid of them was rejected by the feds.
The Legislature approved a study of how best to remove the obstacles in July, to be completed by engineers MacFarland Johnson Inc. at a cost of $50,000.
The obstacles are primarily trees, but also a few antennae and utility poles that pose a problem for airplanes entering and leaving the airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration paid for 95 percent of the study and the state and the county split the remaining 5 percent.
The need for the assessment comes after the FAA would not support a plan to mitigate obstructions surrounding the airport with a precision approach path indicator (PAPI), a system that guides planes in and out of the airport and past obstructions.
The study is complete and the FAA is reviewing the latest plan, Schrader said.




Council has first review of $16.8M city budget

A final vote for the proposed budget will be Dec. 18

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city’s $16.8 million 2008 budget has little room for cuts, and next year’s overall spending plan survived the Common Council’s first review without changes after a workshop Tuesday night.
Fire Chief Dennis Baron nevertheless made a plea during the meeting for four more paid firefighters that did not fall on deaf ears but won’t likely be included in the budget.
Baron explained that the department does its best but is dangerously understaffed.
Another work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, immediately preceding the Common Council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m.
The council would hold the public hearing on the budget on Dec. 4, with the final vote scheduled for Dec. 18, the last Common Council meeting of the year.
The council heard Tuesday from the department heads for the wastewater treatment district, Youth Bureau, fire department, data processing, public safety, and administration and finance.
Baron was the only department head asking for additional personnel, although Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance, repeatedly referred to a shortage of personnel in nearly every department.
Wastewater Treatment District Manager Harvey Davis said that since 1993, his staff has been cut from 24 to 10.
The council examined and questioned many individual lines in the budget, and proposed some rather extreme measures to combat the rising tax rate.
Damiano, playing devil’s advocate for an idea he did not really support, proposed closing Wickwire Pool in Suggett Park and perhaps cutting back on the hours of operation for Yaman Park beach.
The 2008 budget for those facilities is $157,713.
Youth Bureau Director John McNerney and council members defended the pool — as did Damiano — and came to the conclusion that any cuts in any programs aimed at youth recreation would have a much larger negative effect on the community than their continuance would have on the budget.
But Damiano stressed that every department is operating at “skeleton crew” staffing levels.
The proposed 2008 budget for the fire department is $2.5 million.
Only six paid firefighters, operating four vehicles, respond to each emergency call, Baron said, adding that according to the recognized standards of the National Fire Protection Association, 12 firefighters should respond.



Bestdeck expanding with new management

Staff Reporter

PREBLE — A company that manufactures composite boards for decks, docks and other structures has a new general manager, laid off a few employees and prepared for growth that is expected to more than double its sales over the next year.
Bestdeck, a subsidiary of Cortlandville-based Bestway Enterprises that started production about a year ago, is located in two buildings totaling 76,000 square feet along Interstate 81.
Cortland resident Scott Steve, a builder, developer and former county Legislature chairman, said about a month ago he was asked by Karl Ochs, owner of Bestway Enterprises, to take over Cortlandville resident Michael Chernago’s position as general manager for Bestdeck.
Steve said he was hired to restructure Bestdeck and give Bestdeck direction. Ochs could not be reached Tuesday afternoon or this morning.
When Steve arrived at the company a month ago he laid off Chernago, who was still with Bestdeck as an engineer, and an office manager. “We don’t want to be too top heavy,” Steve said.
He also laid off a couple of production workers, he said, because operations have been streamlined over the last month.
“We’re making the equipment run more efficiently and more effectively, from how you mix the chemicals to how you extrude it through the machine to how you handle it,” he said.
Soon after his arrival a month ago, Steve stopped production at the company to update those processes and add three production lines to the company’s one production line.
Most of the company’s approximately 14 employees continued to work during that period, which lasted three weeks, to help with the transition, he said.
Production has started back up, with two production lines now running. Steve said he hopes to start running the other lines over the next few months, possibly adding more lines and eventually hiring 30 employees.
All that depends on increased sales, which he is banking on. The company is researching what additional products could be lucrative, and should have an announcement to make by the end of the first quarter of 2008, he said.




Dropout rate 20% in city schools

Staff Reporter

As each high school class progresses from ninth grade to 12th grade, around 20 percent have been dropping out while 80 percent continued on to graduate from Cortland High School, according to statistics.
Christopher Mount, director of curriculum and instruction at the Cortland City School District , presented the figures Tuesday night to the Board of Education.
What he found was that the dropout rate was actually higher than what the state has reported in some cases because some students who had not graduated with the class but had later dropped out were presumed still enrolled. For example, for students entering ninth grade in 2000, the state reported the dropout rate at 18 percent, but it was actually 23 percent.
Board member Lisa Hoeschele asked why the data was so faulty. Mount said around 20 people at the district had been entering data including district administrators and secretaries. Now, only two people enter data. In 2000, 10 students were still in the active database who had dropped out.
Now, for students who graduated in 2007 after entering high school in 2003, the dropout rate is 12 percent and the graduation rate is 79 percent. There are 9 percent or 17 students who are in their fifth year of high school. Mount said if the district can get these students to graduate, the graduation rate will truly be almost 90 percent; previous years have reported high graduation rates because the number of graduates were compared against the graduating class.
Mount said the district will be looking at ways to help these students, such as resilience training or counseling to help with problems at home and at school, and providing a safe space where students can go.
Mount said 16 of the students who had dropped out recently were interview by himself, other district principals, Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring or Ces Scott, assistant director of the Cortland Youth Bureau.
“Tracking these students down was not easy,” Mount said. But, he said, once they were found, the students were willing to share anecdotal information on why they dropped out.
Mount said factors that were prominent in their decision to drop out were: low socio-economic status, having challenges both at home and at school, and repeating a grade at least once.
Spring said the district is already addressing the high dropout rate and pointed to the Link Crew program that matches all freshmen with an upperclassman, giving freshmen at least one person they can talk to.




Judge hears arguments in case over Virgil documents

Lawyer for man accused of taking papers from town hall argues case is in the wrong court

Staff Reporter

A former Virgil man accused of taking a document from the Virgil town clerk without permission argued in County Court Tuesday that he was never arraigned and the charges against him should be returned to the proper court.
William Allen, 57, has been charged with one count of second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct, violations, after he allegedly went into the Virgil Town Hall on Dec. 15 and tried to take a town audit from Clerk Bonnie Hand.
Allen’s lawyer, Francis Williams, argued that Allen was taken straight to the Homer Town Court instead of Virgil and was never arraigned.
“He never actually entered any plea,” Williams said to County Court Judge William Ames.
Assistant District Attorney Wendy Franklin said Allen was taken to the Homer Town Court because there was a judge readily available to arraign him.
She added that the District Attorney’s files indicate Homer Town Justice Gary Shiffer arraigned him both with and without counsel in May.
Since then, Shiffer has recused himself from the case, stating he could not be fair, resulting in Franklin requesting the case be moved to Scott Town Court.
The case was argued in County Court Tuesday because County Court is responsible for moving a case from one lower court to another.
Williams and Allen argued that state statute says the case either has to be heard in Homer or moved to the Virgil Town Court, where the charges were first filed.
Allen was originally charged with third-degree robbery, a felony, until the felony charge was reduced in the Homer Town Court to the violations. Allen argued the reduction of the felony charge was done improperly because he never had a felony hearing.
Ames said Williams and Franklin have 10 days to submit memorandums of law as to why the case should or should not be moved to the Scott Town Court, then he will render a decision on where the case will be heard, or decide whether testimony should be heard to determine if Allen was arraigned.
Allen has said he never tried to take the paperwork from the Town Hall. He said he only wanted to move to a room where he could view it privately because Hand was bothering him while he was trying to read it.