December 07, 2007


Fire destroys Taylor house


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortlandville Firefighter Christopher Gilfillan escapes the smoke holding a small, shorthaired cat charred from the fire at a Taylor residence Tuesday afternoon.

Staff Reporter

TAYLOR — A house on Duran Hill Road was destroyed by fire Thursday afternoon and the flames singed a family cat, but no other injuries were reported, a fire official said.
Smoke was billowing from the house as six fire departments responded to 4792 Doran Hill Road after a passing neighbor saw the flames and called 911, fire officials said.
“The whole back of the house was up in flames,” said Assistant Cincinnatus Fire Chief Bob Burke, who was the first at the scene. “I saw it as I was coming up the hill from the (Knickerbocker Country Club) golf course.”
The home is owned by Zachary Nowalk, who lives there with his wife, Carylon, and 8-year-old daughter.
Nowalk declined to comment at the scene.
Burke said the 8-year-old girl and her grandmother were home at the time of the fire, but went outside once they heard the blare of the smoke detectors.
It took about 50 firefighters five hours to put out the fire at the residence.
Cincinnatus Fire Chief Jeffery Peck said the cause of the fire is still undetermined and it is unknown if all the family pets made it out of the residence.




Legislature will seek final offers on DMV site

Sale and lease options both considered

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Legislature decided Thursday night to seek final offers for both the sale and lease of a River Street property that could be the site of a new Department of Motor Vehicles office.
The property is in the BOCES plaza on River and Port Watson streets in the city, and the decision to lease or buy it will likely be determined at the Legislature’s Dec. 20 meeting.
The Legislature went into executive session to discuss the negotiated sales price of the preferred property identified by the Legislature’s ad hoc space needs committee.
Legislators Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville), Newell Willcox (R-Homer) and Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) voted against discussing the prices in executive session.
A price for a runner-up site on Cleveland Street in the city had also been negotiated, but the ad hoc committee chose to focus on the BOCES plaza site at a meeting Tuesday morning.
After Thursday’s meeting was reopened to the public, the legislators voted on whether to direct County Administrator Scott Schrader to negotiate a final sale price of the property or to have him find out the cost of leasing the site.
If a site is leased, the money would have to be paid for out of the county’s general fund budget. If the Legislature decides to purchase, the funding would come from the county’s share of tobacco lawsuit settlement money.
They first voted to ask for a price to purchase the property, with Legislators Breed, Willcox, and Tom Williams (R-Homer) voting against the measure. The legislators then voted on whether to ask for the cost of leasing the site, with Legislators Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward), Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward), John Steger (R-Preble and Scott) and Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown voting against the measure.
Legislators John Troy (D-1st Ward), Steve Dafoe (D-Homer) and Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) had originally voted against asking for a lease price, but they changed their vote after Breed asked “why there is opposition to considering both prices.”
Joe Armideo of Homer owns the BOCES plaza, and any purchase or lease of the existing empty lot on River Street would involve the purchase of an adjacent residential property.
The prices have not been released for the BOCES plaza site nor a site on Cleveland and River streets that had been one of the final two sites under consideration.
But it was disclosed that the Cleveland Street site costs $115,000 more than the BOCES site at a meeting of the ad hoc committee on Tuesday.



Committee to revise county ethics law

At center of effort will be measure to bar election commissioners from serving as party chair

Staff Reporter

A committee will be formed to review and revise the county’s Code of Ethics, and such revisions would likely include language barring county political party officers from simultaneously serving as county Election Commissioners.
The formation of the ad hoc committee was announced by Personal Committee Chair Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) at a meeting Thursday morning.
The committee would start work Tuesday and County Administrator Scott Schrader estimated the revisions could be in front of the Legislature for a vote by the end of January.
Included in that could be regulations to provide for a financial disclosure process for campaign funds, something that Personnel Committee Co-chair Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus) said is lacking.
The new ad hoc committee consists of Schrader, McKee, Personnel Committee member John Troy (D-1st Ward) and County Auditor Dennis Whitt.
Both current Republican and Democratic election commissioners are also chairmen of the county committees of their respective political parties.
A Nov. 19 opinion by the state Attorney General’s office said legislatures have the authority to bar election commissioners from serving as party chairs as well.
The proposal to prohibit such dual office holding was first attached to a local law setting the commissioners’ salaries for the next two years that was first proposed in November and was approved Nov. 29.
However, Schrader told the Personnel Committee an attorney on retainer for the county recommended the provision be written into the county’s Code of Ethics.
The existing code was approved in 1984 and revisions were completed in late 2005, but Personnel Committee member Tom Williams (R-Homer) said elections and an incoming group of legislators at the beginning of the next year meant the revisions were lost in the shuffle and never approved.




Consolidation talks focus on city library

County, city officials have second meeting to search for opportunities to merge services

Staff Reporter

City and county officials said Thursday afternoon they hope to hear from city library officials about the library’s funding structure as they search for ways to help the city out of budget troubles.
Meanwhile, city and county officials identified the next steps — such as bringing union representatives and department heads into the discussion — that could lead to the consolidation of services.
Cortland Free Library Director Kay Zaharis said Thursday night that neither she nor any members of the library’s board of directors had a chance to speak with any government officials since the city and the county first started talking about ways to relieve the city’s financial burden at a meeting Tuesday.
The library’s budget is slightly more than $200,000.
County officials stressed they would be interested in picking up the tab of other municipalities that fund local libraries but were unsure how much that would cost.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said Thursday night that any money appropriated from the 2008 county budget for the city would have to be taken out of the county’s $16 million fund balance.
Funding the library in future years would mean incorporating those monies into the regular budget. Schrader said the city library’s funding would amount to a 1 percent tax increase countywide.
The library’s board of directors has complete control over any policy decisions, Zaharis said. She speculated there could be some “charter issues” in any shift of funding and stressed that the library is an autonomous organization.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he was interested in seeing the library’s financial statements.
The city is facing either a 7.8 or 9.8 percent tax increase.
The smaller possibility was proposed at a Tuesday night Common Council meeting by city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano and would involve appropriating $335,000 from the city self-insurance fund, rather than the usual $200,000.
The city’s final opportunity to approve the $16.8 million 2008 budget is Dec. 18. The county Legislature’s last meeting of the year is on Dec. 20.
If the county picked up the city contribution to the Cortland Free Library, the city would be looking at another 3 percent being knocked off the tax rate.




National Grid, city arrive at agreement

Staff Reporter

The Common Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to re-enter into a franchise agreement with National Grid.
The 15-year franchise agreement with the company gives the utility exclusive rights to provide electricity to customers in the city.
The agreement makes the city eligible for grants from the company for economic development.
John Beaudoin, business services manager at National Grid, said the city utilized grant opportunities the company offered in February 2005, when the city applied for downtown revitalization funds for the first phase of the Main Street project. The company awarded the $50,000 grant to city about two weeks ago.
National Grid also has a tree replacement program and grants for redeveloping contaminated industrial sites and other revitalization programs the city can apply for once the new franchise contract is signed.
The city had a franchise agreement with National Grid for 50 years but it expired in 2001.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andrew Damiano said the city did not renew the franchise agreement when it expired because the city was pushing National Grid to begin paying a franchise fee.
Damiano said the city was trying to push for a fee of around $250,000 annually, but National Grid refused.
City Assessor David Briggs told council members that National Grid is in the top 10 percent of those contributing to the city’s revenue, last year paying approximately $88,000 in property taxes on all the utility poles and lights the company owns in the city.
Briggs also presented the Common Council with an update on the city’s reassessment at Tuesday’s meeting.
Briggs said photographs and drive-by examinations of the city’s 5,099 properties have been completed and inventory mailers, which will list the physical characteristics of each residence, will be sent to property owners in coming weeks to verify the information.
Prior to the mailings, Briggs said he wants to set up a couple of informational meetings to inform the public about the project, the time frame of the reassessment and give people a chance to ask questions.