November 15, 2007


City struggles to deal with roosting crow infestation


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Crows roost in a tree on the former Rosen property, south of Huntington Street Wednesday afternoon.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Aesa Kailas was walking home with friends last weekend after being downtown for Cortaca Jug-related activities when a large flock of crows flew out above them.
“One of my friends got pooped on,” Kailas said Wednesday evening as he loaded groceries into his vehicle, which was covered in bird droppings.
The city has had a crow infestation for the last four or five years in fall and winter. Each year, the Common Council has taken measures to scare away the birds from roosting by hiring Sweeney’s Pest Elimination.
Mike Sweeney said the company would use a loud device that launches out of a starter pistol. This would scare the birds to another area.
Last year, the city paid $437 for the service, which Sweeney did three nights in a row. Sweeney said the cost fluctuates each year from between $300 and $500.
This year, however, Mayor Thomas Gallagher said there is no money in the city’s budget to hire someone to scare the crows away from the city.
Instead of hiring Sweeney’s Pest Elimination, Gallagher said the Cortland City Police Department and Fire Department will be going through the neighborhoods where the crows are prevalent and using air horns and power lights to scare the crows away.
Gallagher said this will be done at the convenience of the city police officers and city firefighters and will be done until it is no longer effective or needed.
Dottie Thornton, a medical services clerk at the County Mental Health Clinic, said she washes her car every other day to try to get all the bird droppings off.
“It covers everyone’s car,” she said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to get off and you have to be careful not to chip your paint.”
She added that her co-workers are also fed up with the mess on their vehicles after work.
“We know there is nothing we can do about it. What are you going to do, it’s a part of nature,” Thornton said. “I love the bird but I hate the output.”
Lance Clark, a senior wildlife biologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Cortlandville office, said the crows come to the city in the evenings looking for a place to roost.
“Cities tend to be a warmer, food rich environment with garbage and restaurants,” Clark said. “Certainly they are able to fend for themselves in the wild but it’s easier here. When they are in large groups they are also less likely to be killed by predators.”
Both Gallagher and Sweeney said there are not many more crows than in previous years.
“There seems to be just as many,” Sweeney said.
Last year, it was estimated there were approximately 15,000 crows in Cortland.
Clark said the crow problem is common in any city of any size and they will disperse when the winter weather breaks in March, the same time as when the birds breed.
Sweeney said he has not received any complaints from individual residents concerning the crows in the area, but added that it would be hard to help them anyway.
“There is not much you can do for the individual because the devices we use are so loud that we would need to publicize it,” he said.
Gallagher said residents could scare the crows away by shining bright lights or banging pots and pans.
Clark also suggested laser lights and sometimes if one can get close enough, spraying the birds with a hose.
Causing bodily harm is illegal, though, Clark said.
Although crows are both state and federally protected, there is a crow hunting season in Cortland County which runs from Sept. 15 to March 15, Fridays through Mondays. Crow hunters do not need to be registered, but hunting inside the city is illegal, and no firearm may be discharged within 500 feet of any dwelling.
“There is no real human health concern” from crows, Clark said. “There will be a lot of dropping in the places they roost at night, which obviously contain bacteria like any other animal dropping. But I don’t know of any health concern to humans.”




New salary proposal for officials

The county Legislature recommends lowering election commisioner pay

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Legislature’s Personnel Committee recommended a new salary for election commissioners this morning, but will continue discussing whether to prohibit the commissioners from serving simultaneously as the chairs of their respective parties.
Local Law No. 2 for 2007, which would set the salaries for both commissioners at $27,176 in 2008, will next go before the Budget and Finance Committee for consideration.
Meanwhile, the Personnel Committee decided that including a prohibition limiting who could serve as election commissioner would be more appropriate within an ethics law, following the advice of the county administrator.
Legislator Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) was the only Personnel Committee member to vote against the salary and he had proposed something closer to $15,000 at the beginning of the discussion.
“I think we’re going too fast on this,” Spaulding worried, nevertheless acknowledging that the Legislature would have to approve the law before Jan. 1 in order for it to take effect. “I still think that ($27,176) is too high to pay an election commissioner and I won’t support it.”
Legislature Chairwoman Marilyn Brown said she agreed the salary was too high but Brown and other committee members felt comfortable with basing the salary on the system that had been used to set the salaries for election commissioners in the past.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said that in 2004, he asked the sitting election commissioners to fill out a survey documenting the time they spent working in the position over the course of a month in the early spring.
Schrader said the surveys indicated election commissioners spent about 75 percent of a workday attending to their county duties. That portion was then applied to the pay grade of comparable positions in the county — grade 10, which includes the clerk of the Legislature and the director of fire and emergency management — to arrive at the salary.



Criminal probe of Stewart Place home sale planned

Staff Reporter

A local police agency will investigate circumstances surrounding the attempts of a local woman to buy a long-vacant property at 17 Stewart Place, a county official said Tuesday.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said District Attorney David Hartnett presented an update on the investigation to the county Legislature’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee in an executive session Tuesday morning. Schrader added that Hartnett disclosed the investigation would be handed over to a local police agency.
It is the policy of the District Attorney’s Office not to comment on ongoing investigations, Hartnett said Tuesday after the committee meeting.
Both city and county police said Wednesday morning that they were unaware of any investigation into the matter. State Police Investigator Jeffrey Hall said Wednesday afternoon that the State Police are not involved and would not likely be involved in such an investigation.
The property became a contentious issue in the county Legislature’s 5th Ward election race, in which legislator-elect Kathie Wilcox, a Republican, defeated incumbent Majority Leader Ron Van Dee.
Attorney Larry Knickerbocker is handling the case for the county due to a personal conflict for County Attorney Ric Van Donsel. Knickerbocker said Wednesday that at the request of the county Social Services commissioner, he was retained to “determine if any illegal activity had taken place” and to “determine what the factual underpinnings are in what was done with that property and when.”
“I don’t know if there’s any particular person or persons that they’re focusing on,” Knickerbocker said Wednesday morning.
The county’s Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Van Dee, first considered waiving a $73,000 Department of Social Services lien on the property at its March 15 meeting.




Village of Homer deals with growth spurred by the need for apartments

Staff Reporter

HOMER — JoAnn Dukelow gets about 50 calls and e-mails a month from young professionals inquiring about renting opportunities in the village.
Almost each time she has to tell them there is nothing available, she said.
“I’m discouraging young professionals from coming into this community because I don’t have what they need to live here,” said Dukelow, owner of Homer-based Dukelow Real Estate.
Dukelow, who also gets inquiries each month from senior citizens looking for a place to live, believes two proposed housing projects for the village will help fulfill a need.
Village officials and former mayors agree, saying if Homer wants to grow as a village and expand its tax base, it needs to embrace the new development proposals, which when coupled with the recently completed low-income senior housing project represent a spurt in development that is unprecedented in recent years.
Currently, the Village Board has an application before it for developer Elaine Olson to build 24 condominiums for senior citizens on 9 acres on Creel Road. It has just sent for county Planning Board review an application from developer Ken DeMunn to built seven four-unit apartment townhouses on 4.2 acres at the corner of Routes 281 and 41.
Both proposals require zoning changes.