November 21, 2007


Holiday feasting

More families going out to eat for Thanksgiving


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Wayne Allen, the chef and owner of Starr Bistro at the corner of Main and Port Watson streets, carves a turkey that he plans on serving on Thanksgiving day. Allen said he has 500 pounds of turkeys to prepare.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Judy and Michael Wood used to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at their home, but now they prefer going out to a restaurant
“The kids are grown and have their own lives so it’s just the two of us,” said Judy Wood, 59, of Cortlandville. “Rather than cook for three days we prefer to go out to eat.”
The Woods, who will be going to Uncle Louie’s Backyard on Thursday, are among a growing number of local residents who are going out to dinner on Thanksgiving instead of cooking the meal, according to local restaurant owners and employees.
More restaurants are open on Thanksgiving Day, families are spread out across the country and lives are busier, restaurant employees say.
A number of local restaurants, including Uncle Louie’s, Starr Bistro and Fabio’s Italian Restaurant, have just recently started being open on Thanksgiving or holding special Thanksgiving dinners.
Uncle Louie’s, which is having a Thanksgiving dinner for its third year, has seen its customer base on that day go up from about 100 people its first year to more than 200 people expected Thursday, said Kelli Maricle, bar manager at the restaurant.
Maricle suspects the increase in restaurant choices is a big reason behind people’s changing habits.
“Back then I think nobody went because nobody was open,” she said. “There wasn’t an opportunity to do it.”
The Groton Hotel, however, has been hosting Thanksgiving for the last 25 years. Sue Toolan, who owns the hotel with her husband, Dennis, said the hotel has pretty consistently attracted between 100 and 150 people each year.
That number would have probably gone up, with the growing popularity of going out to eat on Thanksgiving, if more restaurant competition wasn’t arising, she said. “Originally a lot of restaurants didn’t open on the holidays,” she said.
Starr Bistro in Cortland, which opened five years ago, has seen a significant increase in its number of customers.
Chef Wayne Allen said the restaurant attracted just a few parties its first and second year, but now gets more than 100 people.
“As time goes on it just seems like a trend that people don’t cook as much,” Allen said. “People aren’t as familiar with doing a big Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just a different society, people have kids, full-time jobs and there’s not as much time for making the pies and the Thanksgiving dinner.”
Allen said a fair number of his customers are bigger parties, who might have diverse tastes and like the freedom of being able to choose any entrée, from turkey to seafood.
Fabio Santalucia, owner of Fabio’s Italian Restaurant in Cortland, said he tends to see just small parties, which may not have extended family living nearby and find it more practical to go out to eat.
“With bigger families they have a lot of people contributing to the cooking,” Santalucia said. “Everyone does a little thing. It’s more fun.”
Santalucia said his restaurant’s customer base has increased from a couple of small groups when it first started doing Thanksgiving five years ago to more than 40 people expected for this year.
Despite the increase in choices for local residents, some restaurant employees think it is still best to have Thanksgiving at home.
“Most people used to stay at home and cook with their families,” Maricle said. “I think it’s a shame (people aren’t doing that any more). That’s what Thanksgiving was there for. It wasn’t there for commercial reasons.”
Judy Wood said she would prefer having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner if more family were around.
“I miss the family and all the preparation, but it’s just not practical,” she said.





Legislature to receive city sales tax request

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Budget and Finance Committee has decided to forward the city’s request to reopen sales tax negotiations to the full Legislature, despite disagreements with the city’s method of broaching the subject.
Committee chair Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) said the manner in which city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano requested that the city’s poor financial state be taken into consideration and the 2006 sales tax agreement renegotiated was “a very poor way to conduct business.”
Damiano brought up the sales tax agreement and the citys difficult financial situation in a letter to the editor of the Cortland Standard that was delivered on Oct. 30 — a copy of the letter was also sent to Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown.
Van Dee said he was willing to put aside the manner in which it was received and instead concentrate on the request itself.
“I think that’s the proper thing to do,” Van Dee said, “for all 19 legislators to say ‘Yes, we will reopen the contract,’ or ‘No.’”
The measure passed without any opposition, clearing the way for Damiano’s proposal to be debated at the Legislature’s Nov. 29 meeting.
Still, Brown and county Administrator Scott Schrader pointed out that the county and town budgets have been either already drawn up or  passed. Schrader said he believed there was little chance of any renegotiated contract having an effect on next year’s city tax rate.
Brown contended that the city should have realized that it was on the verge of a 9.8 percent tax rate hike and perhaps should not have sided with Cortlandville’s request for an extra 1 percent of the sales tax revenue last year.
Van Dee wondered if Damiano “trusted” the county at the time of the negotiations for the six-year agreement that went into effect at the beginning of this year.
Damiano asked in his letter that the county amend the sales tax agreement to give the city a larger percentage of sales tax revenue in light of its 9.8 percent proposed tax rate increase and a depleted fund balance.
Under the current agreement, the city would receive 18 percent of 2008 tax revenue while towns and village would split 27.5 percent and the county the remainder. The city would receive 18.2 percent in 2009, and the towns and villages would split the remaining 29.8 percent.



Police chief seeks more staff, cars

Staff Reporter

The city police chief asked the Common Council for five replacement cars, three more patrol officers and two more supervisors for a cost of about $475,000 at a budget work session Tuesday evening.
But aldermen said afterward the 2008 budget proposal contains no money for the requests.
“I think we’re looking at ways to cut (the budget),” said Alderman Val VanGorder (R-1st Ward).
The police department’s budget is proposed to increase from $3,343,202 this year to $3,437,853 in the $16.8 million 2008 budget. The increase can mostly be attributed to salary increases resulting from union negotiations, Damiano said.
Police Chief Jim Nichols said at the work session the budget increase is not enough. The current nine uniformed patrol officers per shift are too few, he said.
One officer works at the front desk, one position per shift is expected to be vacant over the next year as replacement officers are trained and a few officers per shift are off at a time for vacation or sick time.
Those constraints can whittle the number of officers per shift down to three, he said, which necessitates overtime in certain cases.
Those include weekends, he said, when a minimum of four officers per shift are required by contract.
According to Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance, the city budgeted about $117,000 for overtime this year. The department will end up spending about $200,000 on overtime this year.
A big reason for the overtime is police officer vacancies, Damiano said, but at the same time the vacancies have given the city extra money, which is paying for the overtime.
While Nichols did not discuss the requested vehicles or supervisor staff at the work session, a letter he wrote to the Common Council cited the reasons behind his requests.
Current patrol cars from 2002, 2003 and 2005 have exceeded their mileage standards, Nichols wrote, and there’s a chance two supervisory staff members may retire this year to take advantage of a retirement health benefit.
It would not be prudent, he wrote, to merely shift current patrol officers to supervisory duties because the department already is at the bare minimum staffing level.




Proposals would lower election heads’ salary

Legislature has choice between two measures with $800 in salary difference between them

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Legislature will have two options within just under $800 of each other when it considers the 2009 salaries of the county election commissioners at the Nov. 29 Legislative session.
The 2008 election commissioner salary would be $29,967, according to the draft of Local Law No. 2 for 2007.
The salary for the part-time position in 2009 would either be $27,176, as county Personnel Committee proposed last week; or $26,385 according to a resolution passed by the Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday morning.
Both proposals are based on 75 percent of the salary of pay grade level 10 in the county’s management compensation schedule — 75 percent is the proportion of a full workday that the election commissioners spend fulfilling their duties, according to an informal survey completed in 2004.
The lower salary proposal reflects that pay grade this year and the higher figure reflects 2008’s grade 10 pay.
Members of both committees have said that they support basing the numbers on the 75 percent of grade 10 salary because it shows that they’re not just picking an arbitrary figure.
Budget and Finance Committee Chair Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) said that sending the two proposals to the full Legislature would give “all 19 legislators a chance to vote — I think that’s a good thing.”
Personnel Committee Chair Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) said that he supports the higher salary, while outgoing Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) said that she supports the lower salary.
A provision in the law as it was originally presented to the Personnel Committee would have barred election commissioners from serving simultaneously as party chair, but the Personnel Committee decided to remove that portion of the proposed law and save it for further discussion next year within the context of the county’s code of ethics.
For 2006, Democratic Election Commissioner Bill Wood was paid $25,616 while Republican Commissioner Bob Howe was paid $29,967. Howe’s salary included longevity payments based on his 10 years in the position. Wood is in his second year as election commissioner.
The position had been removed from the county’s management longevity compensation plan last December in an attempt to equalize the salaries.




Lime Hollow Road DMV site rejected

Staff Reporter

A site on Lime Hollow Road won’t be among the possibilities for a Cortland County Department of Motor Vehicles location that will be presented Dec. 6 to the county Legislature.
The Legislature’s ad hoc space needs committee will choose between the final two possible sites at a 10 a.m. meeting.
The negotiated prices of the two sites under consideration were not released at a Tuesday morning meeting of the space needs committee but the committee did go into executive session to discuss the prices with County Administrator Scott Schrader.
Legislators first reconsidered a parcel off Lime Hollow Road in Cortlandville that had been initially tossed out as a possibility — some legislators had questioned why the property was not among the three that had been publicly disclosed as possibilities.
The MVE Homes property off Route 13 in Cortlandville had been among the final locations under consideration but it is now being sold to an undisclosed company.
The other two sites are located in the city of Cortland’s 7th Ward; one is attached to the BOCES plaza on Port Watson Street and the other is between Cleveland and River streets.
The chair of the ad hoc space needs committee, Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward), said Tuesday that the ultimate goal is to choose one site that would be voted on by the Legislature.
The committee decided that rather than sending the final choice through the Budget and Finance and General Services committees, upon which the same legislators serve, the whole Legislature should be presented with the final choice all at once.
Schrader said if the project’s design phase could be started and completed over the winter months, construction on the final site could begin with the start of the 2008 construction season.
The 2.2-acre site between River and Cleveland streets across from Hampton Inn has an asking price of $400,000 — that site has an existing Morton-type metal building that may be of use to the county.
The second site near the south end of River Street includes part of the BOCES facility parking lot. No price has been disclosed for the site. The purchase of an additional adjacent property would be necessary to make that site viable for the county. The owner of the adjacent property said recently he would sell.