Courthouse Park goes Celtic in ’07

Annual festival plans to move downtown from fairgrounds


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Local bagpiper Nick Lundberg plays as Cortland Mayor Tom Gallagher, Lloyd Purdy and Danny Ross look on in Courthouse Park Wednesday. The men announced that the annual Celtic Festival will move from the county fairgrounds to Courthouse Park and Court Street in August.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Whether Wednesday afternoon was the first time bagpipes were ever heard in Courthouse Park, it certainly won’t be the last once the Cortland Celtic Festival moves to downtown Cortland in August 2007.
The event has called the Cortland County Junior Fairgrounds home since the festival’s inception in 2000.
The sixth annual festival will coincide with SUNY Cortland’s student arrival weekend and, for the first time, will take place over three days, from Friday, Aug. 24, to Sunday, Aug. 26.
Dressed in kilts, Mayor Tom Gallagher, Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy and county Legislator Danny Ross made the announcement in the park after a brief procession in the wake of similarly clad bagpiper Nick Lundberg, 14, a ninth-grader at Homer High School and a Celtic fest veteran.
Ross said the Cortland Celtic Cultural Association, which runs the festival, “decided that it was time to involve more people, organizations and businesses in the process.”
“I think bringing it downtown will help merchants,” Gallagher said. “Anything that we can do to help promote the downtown.”
Following this year’s Celtic Festival in August, Purdy said, he had approached the Cortland Celtic Cultural Association and proposed the downtown area as a venue.
“It adds to a full calendar of events for downtown,” such as the annual Brockway Truck Show, Pumpkinfest and the Arts in the Park, as well as the summer Main Street Music Series, Purdy said. “This is one example of a truly community event that brings people together.”
The festival usually includes a variety of traditional dance and musical performances, vendors and informational exhibits, and admission was charged at the gate. For the 2007 festival, there only will be a fee for admission to the main musical performances.
Purdy was wearing a black Lucky’s T-shirt underneath his kilt, in addition to black socks, black shoes, and a high-energy hairstyle.
“It’s the Enter the Haggis version of the traditional Celtic outfit,” Purdy said, referring to the high-energy Celtic-based band that has been a popular draw for several years.
With the experience of the Main Street Music Series under the city’s belt, Purdy said, staging the performances should not pose a problem.
“We’ve actually looked at how the space would work out,” he said. “We intend to extend activities from the park into the retail district of downtown. Odds are, the music will be held where the music usually is downtown, in the Marketplace Mall parking lot. The music is an important part of the Celtic Festival. That’s how we’ll raise money to keep the festival going — we’ll charge for the music, but not the festival itself.”
Assistant Youth Bureau director and event organizer Ces Scott said the two main musical performances on Friday night and Saturday night will cost money to attend, but other musical groups will be playing throughout the day, gratis.
The admission fee for adults this year was $13 if tickets were bought in advance or $18 at the door. Scott said this wasn’t unusual compared to other festivals in the state, but many local people have said the prices were more than they expected.
The city helps put on the event by allowing Scott to work with the Cortland Celtic Cultural Association to organize and stage the event. The county has provided the festival with funds from the occupancy tax for three years, Scott said, and the Cortland Regional Sports Council sponsors the heavy athletics and the festival’s promotion.
Vendor fees, admission ticket prices and a portion of the beer sales also help cover the costs. The annual fundraiser, a Celtic Evening at the Castle, will be held at the 1890 House on January 20.
Ross said the economic impact of the cultural festival in 2006 was estimated at $113,834.50, and all expect that the impact will only increase due to the proximity to downtown.
Vendors possibly will line up along one of the side streets, such as Court Street or Central Avenue, Purdy said, though he did not know exactly where.
Meanwhile, activities for children will be placed on the half of Courthouse Park closest to Main Street, Purdy said.
Another big draw, the Highland Games events that attracted nationally competitive athletes to this year’s festival, will be held on the Greenbush Street side of Courthouse Park, said Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council, which sponsors the Scottish games at the festival.
The venue still will have to be approved by Will Barron of Syracuse, the event’s coordinator and an athlete, Phelps said.
The size limitations of the park — and nearby neighbors’ windows — will be taken into consideration, Phelps said, and the assortment of eight events might be different from years past.
“It’s going to be a little more challenging for the heavy athletics,” Phelps said after the announcement, “but I think it’s going to be better for the festival as a whole.”
Scott said that although it is a bit sad to leave the fairgrounds, which have generated a certain amount of nostalgia, the proximity to the college during the new students’ arrival will be good both for parents and students.


County election commissioners call for equal pay

Staff Reporter

Citing state law, the county election commissioners are asking the county Legislature to forego its usual pay scale and even their salaries.
Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe sent a memo this week to members of the Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee claiming state law requires that both part-time county election commissioners be paid the same salary.
A commissioner since 1997, Howe makes $29,968 annually, $3,000 more than his Democratic counterpart, Bill Wood, who was appointed in January and is making $26,168.
Howe, who also chairs the Cortland County Republican Committee, was unavailable for comment this morning, but Wood said the two were united in their desire to see their salaries evened.
“The bottom line is that state Election Law says that the salaries are supposed to be equal,” Wood said.
Currently the election commissioners’ salaries are based on the county’s management compensation plan, according to County Administrator Scott Schrader. The plan, which calls for a 4-percent pay increase for every two years of service, was passed by the Legislature in December 2005.
Schrader disagreed with Howe and Wood’s assertion.
“The law, as it exists right now, is the resolution adopting management comp plan and until that law is deemed invalid, it’s in effect, and I have no authority to pay anyone differently than what that plan says,” Schrader said.
Wood, however, said the election office pay should be separate from the rest of the county.
“The election office has got to be independent,” said Wood, who is also chairman of the Cortland County Democratic Committee. “For somebody to say we don’t have to set up the pay according to the law, that’s just not satisfactory. State law supercedes county law in this case.”
Schrader countered that because of longevity pay that was in place prior to the adoption of the management compensation plan, election commissioners have not received equal pay for years, to the best of his knowledge.
“If their contention is correct, then they can’t get longevity pay either,” Schrader said. “And if they’re going to be excluded from the plan, that would mean they would revert back to the local law passed in 2001 that set their salary at $23,100.”
Ultimately the decision to either raise Wood’s salary to Howe’s level, or reduce Howe’s salary to Wood’s, will be up to the county Legislature, Schrader said.
“Certainly the Legislature can amend the plan to exclude them if they so choose,” he said. “Or they can do nothing, and if a challenge is brought by an aggrieved party, which would be Mr. Wood, then the courts can decide.”
Wood said he was hopeful the Legislature would decide to even the commissioners’ pay, but that taking the issue to state court was an option.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) said he was waiting for a legal opinion from the county attorney.
“I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong, but if you read the law, it does say equal pay for both,” Van Dee said, adding that there could be equal validity to the claim that the management compensation plan overrides the state law.
“I want to talk to the county attorney, get a solid opinion and we’ll do what’s right,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a political issue.”
The issue is expected to be discussed at the December meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee.



DEC studies deer herd

Staff Reporter

The hunting season is well underway, and Department of Environmental Conservation officers have been making rounds to area meat cutters and taking stock of the deer that have been killed.
David Riehlman, senior biologist with the DEC, said the agency has been cataloging the sex, age and antler size of deer that have been taken in the DEC’s Region 7 Wildlife Management Unit, which includes Broome, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, Oswego, Tioga and Tompkins counties.
The state agency tries to check about 300 animals in the region, Riehlman said at his office on Fisher Avenue in Cortlandville on Wednesday. Checking has been completed predominantly during the gun season, he said, because not as many deer are killed during bow season.
“It’s going slow in some areas,” Riehlman said of the amount of deer that have been collected. “It’s not a banner year by any means.”
Many factors can account for why the take has not been impressive, Riehlman said.
Dave Metzger, owner of Dave’s Archery & Sports Center in Little York, which processes deer carcasses, said that not only do deer tend to move around less when the weather is more temperate, but that hunters are also more prone to spend time working around their homes or yards.
However, he has actually seen a roughly 25 percent increase in his intake over last year at this time. Between 400 and 450 deer are processed by eight employees each year, he said.
Although hunters are required to alert the DEC when they have killed and tagged a deer, between 40 percent and 60 percent of kills are not reported, Riehlman said.
About 20,000 deer were reported as having been killed by the hunters during bow season across the state between the season’s start on Oct. 14 and its end on Nov. 17. So far, about 34,000 have been killed during gun season, which began Nov. 18 and will end on Dec. 10.
These numbers appear consistent with previous years, Riehlman said.
A 10-day archery and muzzleloader period follows the end of the regular season in December, Riehlman said.
In order to calculate the total take, the DEC compares the license numbers it has received from the hunters calling in their kill and then compares that to the animals that are recorded when dropped off at meat cutters.
A formula that takes reported and observed deer counts into its calculations is then used to estimate how many deer were taken during the hunting season.
Numerous outside audits have shown that the data are statistically sound, Riehlman said.
The statistics on the deer are also used to calculate the general health and status of the population in the state.
The measurements of deer antlers and age estimates based on the wear of teeth are used to calculate the general health of the population, Riehlman said.
The diameter of a buck’s antlers about 2 inches from where the bony protuberance meets the skull is measured and is a reliable indicator of the animal’s age and weight, he said.