November 30, 2007


Ski resorts ready for start of new season

Area slope owners hope the weather is more cooperative this year


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A ski trail is groomed Wednesday morning in preparation for the 50th season of skiing at Greek Peak in Virgil.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Local ski hills have gathered up enough natural and man-made snow to get a start on the season.
Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Virgil is scheduled to open two lifts and a few trails starting Saturday, said ski center President Al Kryger.
“Our plans for the season are to have a better winter than last year,” Kryger said with a laugh Thursday afternoon.
Greek Peak started making its own snow at night on Thanksgiving and has been working some of the kinks out of the snowmaking system.
“It’s a good start, and the weather looks like it’s going to be somewhat cooperative in the next couple weeks, at least in our long-range forecast,” Kryger said.
Chairlift 1A will be running and servicing Elysian Fields and the Stoic, and Chairlift 3 will service the Alpha, or “Bunny” trail. The Magic Carpet surface lift will be running and servicing the beginner’s area.
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Joanne Labounty, based in Binghamton, the next week or so should see temperatures a little lower than the average for this time of year.
“For the next week or so, it looks like it’s going to be on the cooler side — the normal high this time of year here in the Binghamton area is 39 degrees,” Labounty said this morning. “Through the next week, we’re looking at temperatures mainly in the upper 20s to low 30s, so we’ll be below normal temperatures for the next week or so.”
A complex storm this weekend would likely start with snow but move into sleet Saturday evening and Sunday. Cold air will follow that storm and Labounty said that snow showers are likely Monday and Tuesday.
“Once we get past that mixed precip on Sunday, it looks like there’s a good chance to pick up some more natural snow and get the good temperatures to make snow for the ski areas,” Labounty said.
Although there is a trend that might point towards a brief warm period followed by more cold temperatures, Labounty said that it’s too far off to predict with any certainty.
At the Labrador Mountain Ski Area in Truxton, Marketing Director Rick Bunnell said the area is known for its manmade snow and has been able to weather some of the warm spots over the past week since beginning snowmaking operations last Thursday.
The mountain could open at the end of next week, he said.
“We’ve got about 24 hours of snowmaking in already, and we had enough down to get through the warm weather that came through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Bunnell said Thursday morning. “We are ready to resume snowmaking as soon as current weather conditions permit.”
Bunnell is expecting the snow and cooler temperatures at the beginning of next week — Labrador makes snow once the thermometer drops to 25 degrees, he said.
In Tully, Song Mountain Resort would probably begin making snow Saturday, said office manager Melissa Meriwether. She was not sure when the mountain would be open.
“Basically, we’re just getting everything in place, getting it set and ready,” Meriwether said Wednesday afternoon. “We would definitely have to make some — they’re not calling for any big storms.”
Song Mountain was only able to open for six or seven days in December last year, she said.
“I think our first day was Dec. 10, but it was just so hit and miss last year that we weren’t really able to get fully up and running until January,” Meriwether said. “Hopefully we can get open and stay open.”
Meriwether said the first trail to open up is usually either Sentimental or Stormy.
At Labrador Mountain, Bunnell said Jacopie and Upper and Lower Muzzle trails are usually the first to open. By the next weekend, Slackwater and Minipi Rapids are the next trails that should be ready.
The mountain will be debuting three new rails for trick skiers as part of its terrain park on Razorback at a rail jam competition on Dec. 29; Bunnell also said Labrador relocated its half-pipe to the back of the terrain park.
Greek Peak would likely concentrate on Chair 2 and the trails it services for the next portion of the mountain to open up.
Greek Peak has weeklong plans to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, spanning New Years Eve to Dec. 5, said marketing director Kevin Morrin.
The annual New Year’s Eve party will coincide with the celebration’s kickoff, followed by a Mardi Gras theme on Jan. 1, a scavenger hunt the following day, Greek-theme day on Jan. 3 with a toga party that evening, a beach theme and rail jam competition on Jan. 4, and a retro ski apparel day on Jan. 5.
Morrin also said that anyone who is celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year can ski for free on Jan. 5.




$114M county budget approved

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county’s $114 million 2008 budget was approved Thursday night at a regular Legislature meeting.
The budget would reduce the average county tax rate of $14.91 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2007 to a 2008 rate of $14.31 per $1,000.
The budget calls for $2.7 million in new spending for 2008, while the overall $114 million budget represents a $6 million, or 5.2 percent, increase over the $108 million 2007 spending plan.
Despite the spending increases, the proposed budget reduces the overall tax levy by $111,000, or 0.5 percent, to $24.7 million.
The Legislature added a last minute amendment to the budget, voting unanimously to transfer $10,000 that had been budgeted for the county contingency fund to the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture.
Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) had proposed the change early on in the budget process, but the request was apparently lost in the shuffle.
The recommended contingency fund balance was $500,000, as was originally budgeted.
The county also passed an increase in the senior citizen tax exemption, increasing the base exemption income limit from $10,500 to $16,500 with an upper income limit of $22,199.99.
Residents over 65 years old who make $16,500 or less are exempt from 50 percent of the potential county property taxes. The exemption percentages reduce gradually, so that a senior making between $21,300 and $22,199.99 — the upper income limit — would be exempt from 20 percent of the potential property taxes.



City’s sales tax request denied

Legislature chooses not to reopen negotiations into sales tax distribution

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Legislature turned down the city’s request to reopen negotiations over the distribution of county sales tax revenue, but did decide to arrange an early December meeting with city officials to discuss long-range possibilities for saving money.
Legislators Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) and Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) were the only ones supporting a resolution that could have sped up the rate at which the city and other municipalities would have received larger shares of the total sales tax revenue.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano brought up the sales tax agreement and the city’s 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 (D-8th Ward).
The city’s fund balance is effectively depleted and taxpayers are expecting a 9.8 percent tax rate increase for 2008.
In 2008, the city would be receiving 18 percent of sales tax revenue under a six-year agreement reached in 2006. The city would receive 18.2 percent in 2009, and the towns and villages would split the remaining 29.8 percent.
The county expects to take in just over $12.7 million in sales tax revenue this year, while the city expects to take in about $4 million.
Under the new agreement, the county will gradually reduce its share of the revenue from its current 56 percent to 52 percent by 2009.
In his letter, Damiano asked that the distribution be returned to its pre-2004 levels — the county had been receiving 52 percent, the city had received the 18.24 percent it would be returned to in 2009 and the other municipalities had received a combined 29.76 percent.
Van Dee said the county, had it decided to reopen negotiations, would have likely sped up the distribution schedule so the city would receive 18.2 percent next year.
Although Legislator Merwin Armstrong (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) had been concerned about the other municipalities losing out on sales tax revenue if the city request had been honored, Damiano pointed out this morning that under his plan, the other towns and villages would have received a larger percentage of the total revenue than they would under the current agreement.



Settlements lower for South Main parcels

2 property owners drop $10,000 from claims over failed public health building project

Staff Reporter

The settlements for two failed residential property purchases on William and Randall streets in connection with the county’s aborted public health building proposal could be about $30,000, roughly $10,000 less than the property owners had originally requested.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel requested approval Thursday from the Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee to settle the claims, but the committee decided to table the matter until its Dec. 13 meeting.
Settlement with a third property owner involved in the original December 2006 purchase offer for nine properties along south Main Street is still in dispute, Van Donsel said.
The former owner of 6 Randall St. has agreed to accept $17,433.40 in damages, Van Donsel said. Steve Lissberger originally requested $19,857.96 from the county.
The property was sold at the beginning of August for $72,500, according to the County Clerk’s office. The county had originally planned to purchase the property for $73,000.
James and Yvonne Cole, who still own the property at 11 William St., would accept $12,475 in damages, Van Donsel told the committee. They had originally sought $20,000 from the county, which had agreed to buy their house for $90,000.
Van Donsel said the county should not offer a settlement to the former owner of a third property at 8 Randall St. Annamaria Maniaci wants a $4,000 settlement, but Van Donsel said he did not agree with what Maniaci purported to be the costs she accumulated between the county’s backing out of the contract and the property’s sale to a third party.
The county originally agreed to pay $96,000 for the property. Maniaci sold her home for $9,000 more than the county had agreed to pay and claimed in a lawsuit that the county’s retreat from the original deal cost her $13,000 in various expenditures, seeking to make up the difference. An attorney with Maniaci’s law firm, Riehlman, Shafer & Shafer, was unavailable for comment this morning.
Budget and Finance Committee member Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) said he would be in favor of trying to purchase the Lissberger and Cole properties, but Van Donsel and County Administrator Scott Schrader pointed out that the Lissberger property has been sold.



Cleanup of Buckbee plant progressing

Staff Reporter

Work is continuing at Buckbee-Mears to pump out tanks containing caustic chemicals and clean out more than 100,000 linear feet of pipe that had been used to transport the chemicals from the storage tanks to the production areas.
Beth Totman, a press officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said pumping out tanks should be completed by the end of the year or early January.
Draining the pipes and cutting them down should be finished by late spring.
Mike Basile, community involvement coordinator at EPA Western New York Public Information Office in Buffalo, said the cleanup has cost about $1.2 million so far.
“We do have funding in place to continue cleanup well into 2008,” he said, noting all the inside work should be finished in early summer 2008.
He said he did not know how much money would be required for the job. Jack Harmon, EPA’s on-scene coordinator at Buckbee-Mears, had requested $3 million in additional funding until summer 2008. That was approved at the end of September, he said.
The chemicals were left in the 330,000-square-foot facility when India-based owner International Electron Devices shut down operations in 2005 after only operating a few months. Damage from leaking chemicals occurred during the winter of 2006-07 when the building was not heated.
Most of the damage was in the original building built in 1974 on the site, which contains roughly 80,000 square feet.
The chemicals, used in the etching process in making aperture masks for televisions, include ferric chloride, anhydrous ammonia, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, Totman and Basile said.
Basile said he visited the site in October and passed out an update on the project to 50 to 60 residences in the area, including a couple of farm businesses.
The update informed residents that the EPA’s Removal Branch began 24-hour security at the site Jan. 11, after the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation requested the EPA’s services.
The EPA started an inventory of the chemical waste. Between then and October, more than 6,000 containers of chemicals found throughout the property were identified and removed and an additional 13,000 gallons of various acids and ammonia were shipped off-site for recycling or reuse. Basile said throughout the process, he would continue to update the surrounding community.