December 12, 2007


As sales decline statewide  —

Prices up in local housing market

Median sale price of single-family homes rises 19 percent in county


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Yaman real estate agent Jamie Yaman, right, shows a house on Morningside Drive in Cortland to Sharon Radley Friday. Home sales in Cortland County have fallen at a lower rate than the statewide average, dropping 10 percent since 2005 compared to 12 percent across the state.

Staff Reporter

Cortland County’s single-family home market is stronger than the state and nation as a whole, with sales dropping at a slower rate and median sales prices increasing.
Local assessors attribute the local market’s relative strength to the county’s relatively low housing prices.
“Cortland County never has, throughout the years, experienced the big peaks in the market and the deep valleys,” said David Briggs, assessor for the city of Cortland, Cortlandville, Virgil, Taylor and Willet. “When property appreciates they (sales) don’t drop as much. It’s a much more stable market than in other areas of the state.”
The median sales price of existing single-family homes in Cortland County from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 increased by 19 percent compared with Jan. 1 to Sept. 3 in 2005, from $84,900 to $101,250, according to figures recently released from the New York State Association of Realtors.
Statewide during that period, the median sale price of existing single-family homes dropped by 3.1 percent, from $255,000 to $247,150.
Sales of single-family homes in Cortland County dropped by 10 percent during that period, from 288 to 260, whereas they dropped by 12 percent statewide, from 80,224 to 70,712.
Nationwide things are worse, with median sales prices dropping 6 percent, and the number of existing single-family home sales dropping 21 percent, just over the last year.
The statistics are only based on sales of homes by Realtors. In 2006 about 12 percent of sellers chose not to use a real estate agent, which was down from 20 percent in 1987, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Larry Fitts, assessor for Solon, Harford and Freetown with 36 years of experience assessing for the town of Homer, agreed with Briggs that Cortland’s relatively low prices have helped Cortland County’s market.
Cortland’s low prices are reflected in its lack of extremely expensive homes, Fitts said. As far as he knows Cortland does not have one home worth more than $1 million, he said, unlike neighboring counties. “I did a reevaluation in Skaneateles two years ago and over 100 homes are assessed at over $1 million,” he said.
The county’s most expensive homes, which are in Cortlandville’s Renaissance area, Homer’s Main Street, and on Little York Lake, range from $250,000 to $700,000, Briggs said. That’s where a lot of the growth is occurring, pushing median sales prices up.
At the same time a significant number of people are buying homes cheaper than $150,000, Briggs said. The average price of a residential home sold in the county from Jan.1 to Dec. 6 was $118,682.
“It’s that $150,000 to $300,000 range that seems to be the softest,” he said.
Additional single-family home trends in Cortland County include more people moving from Tompkins County to places such as Virgil, more people from countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine buying homes in the city of Cortland, and more people converting multi-family homes to single-family homes in Homer, Briggs and Fitts said.
Briggs said more businesses are eyeing the Route 281 corridor and Route 13 near Wal-Mart and more people from outside the county are purchasing land for recreation purposes such as hunting or to build a getaway cabin, particularly in the town of Taylor.
“A lot of people are purchasing these properties, vacant properties,” he said. “For a small town, it’s been an abnormally high number of people building getaway cabins — four or five a year … It’s not just people from downstate, it’s people from Syracuse, northern Pennsylvania, Binghamton …”
Robert Palmer, owner of United Country Palmer Real Estate, has seen a similar trend, as well as people from out of state buying local farmland to farm on. “In Pennsylvania crop land is $6,000 an acre, while here it is $1,500 an acre,” he said.
He added a fair number of people are taking money out of the stock market to buy land in places such as Cortland County and reselling it. Palmer, who mostly sells farmland and commercial property, said his sales have increased by 34 percent over the last year.
Local real estate agents besides Palmer either did not return calls or referred calls to Nicki Wynn, president of the Cortland County Board of Realtors.
Wynn issued a short press release, saying the Cortland housing market is strong. She was unable to provide detailed information during a telephone interview.




School Board approves teacher contract

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Administrators and the Cortland United Teachers union have reached a three-year teacher contract that includes a 3.5 percent raise the first year and 4 percent increases for the second and third years, union President Lori Megivern said Tuesday.
The contract is retroactive from July 1 and runs until June 30, 2010.
The Cortland City Board of Education passed the contract unanimously Tuesday night. The union passed the contract just before Thanksgiving break.
Director of Business Services Arthur Martignetti said the total cost of the contract is about $1.6 million. For this school year the cost is about $446,500; for 2008-09 the cost is $563,500 and for 2009-10 it is $590,000.
There were essentially no changes for medical insurance, although Megivern said the medical premium for individuals will be calculated as a percent of the premium rather than a fixed dollar amount, thus it will increase slightly when premiums increase.
Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring said under the 2005 teachers contract, union members paid $200 a year and under this contract the members will pay 3.6 percent of the premium. Initially, this works out to the same figure.
The contract covers nearly 300 teachers, teacher assistants, nurses and this year _psychologists.
The base pay for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $36,799 and the base pay for teacher assistants is $17,175.
Megivern said the biggest change came in the way the contract was negotiated because administrators and union representatives were trained through Cornell University’s International Labor Relations School starting in December 2006. She said this was Spring’s idea.
Spring said he did not remember whose idea it was but he had used the training at his previous school districts, Wayne Central School and Churchville-Chili Central School. He said the process goes by a number of names including win-win, mutual gains or issues-based negotiations.
“It truly was a more civil process,” Megivern said. “We looked at it as a team and what were the goals.”
The union leader said the goals identified focused on student improvement.



Building project vote on Feb. 12

School construction requires public approval for go-ahead

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city Board of Education approved a $41.6 million districtwide construction project Tuesday that will go to a public vote on Feb. 12.
The approval included acceptance of the environmental assessment review.
Some reductions were made to the first proposed two-phase project that had come in at $50.7 million. The biggest reduction was in computer networking and there were small reductions in scope, such as paving the worst portions of parking lots or reducing the number of lights on expanded lots.
Before Tuesday’s decision by the board, parents who choose to educate their children in Cortland city schools instead of Homer requested that the music program not be left out of the school renovation project.
Michelle Brooks of Homer and Lorraine and Charles Heasley of Cortlandville praised the music program at Cortland and wanted to see the district continue to support it in the upcoming project.
“I’m so blessed to have two children who are musically inclined,” said Brooks.
She said a big reason why she brings her children to Cortland is the music program, especially the string program.
Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring said the project includes mostly health and safety items such as heating systems, roofs and window replacements but the project also includes improving the acoustics in the junior-senior high school auditorium as well as in the band and choral practice areas.
New equipment for music as well as the TV production studio is also included in the project. Spring said the TV studio has to convert to digital programming.
Two buildings will have complete overhauls of their heating and ventilation systems — Virgil and Randall elementary schools. Every building will have windows and roofs replaced. Every school will also have security, fire alarm and communications systems revamped.
Financing for the project comes from about $37.6 million in state building aid, and about _$2 million each in Expanding Our Children’s Education and Learning, or EXCEL, aid and district capital reserve funds.
Enlarging a football field so that multiple sports can be played on it, including girls sports, is also in the project. The field at the high school also requires drainage problems be addressed. The turf field is still included in the project.
“We want to make sure the project will not impact the taxpayer directly,” Spring said.




Homer survey results released

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Most village residents want a pharmacy, fear neighborhood deterioration and think the village should share services with the Homer school district, according to a recent survey completed by more than 200 village residents.
The results will help guide the committee that is developing a comprehensive plan for the village, according to Ann Hotchkin, program manager for Thoma Development Consultants, which is developing the plan.
The comprehensive plan is expected to be completed in the fall and will also be shaped by three public input sessions that have already taken place and census and other demographic information.
The plan will guide development and help the community secure grant funding.
The survey was mailed to 478 households at random, and 233 households completed and turned in the survey, a 48.7 percent response rate.
The survey had 23 questions, six of which were open-ended, allowing residents to write out responses. Question topics included demographic information; which land use issues should be better regulated in the village, such as junkyards; and what type of housing people would like to see in the village.
Most of the respondents were homeowners who are older than 45 and have lived in the village for more than 10 years.
Hotchkin said it is clear from people’s responses many are very happy with the community they live in. People cited a number of factors in why the chose to live in the village.
The most popular responses were small-town atmosphere, which applied to 61 percent of respondents, quality of schools, cited by 48 percent of respondents, and community appearance, which applied to 45 percent of respondents.
Survey responses indicated Homer residents are more likely to shop in Cortland and Cortlandville than Homer, residents favor going downtown to go to the post office and the bank and that relatively few residents go downtown to work, eat or go to the library.



Virgil to hold hearings on church, aquifer district

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — A church’s request for a zoning change allowing it to expand and a revised aquifer protection district will be the subject of two public hearings Thursday night at a Town Board meeting.
The hearing on the aquifer protection district is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., with the hearing on the zoning change to follow.
Reigning Miracle Ministry at 2910 Douglas Road is requesting zoning on its 16.5-acre parcel changed from residential to planned unit development.
The property includes a mobile home, a church building with a school inside and a colonial-style home.
The change would be the first step in the church’s expansion to a bible college. Plans for the property off Route 13 include classroom buildings, dormitories, a gymnasium, a large church building and a second mobile home for staff offices that would bring the parcel’s building square footage from 9,282 square feet to 55,718 square feet.
Residential zoning does not allow for the structures.
The town Planning Board voted unanimously on Nov. 1 to recommend rejecting the zoning change application. Board members agreed a zoning change could not be made until the church moves the mobile home on the site.
The home is placed at an angle 90 degrees different than what the site plan for the property shows, according to Planning Board members.
The Town Board gets the final say on the zoning change and could vote on it after Thursday’s public hearing.
Town Supervisor Jim Murphy has expressed concern that the church has no plans to build sewer lines for the project.
Currently, the town has just one type of aquifer protection district in its zoning, according to county Planning Department Director Dan Dineen, and it does not cover portions of the town it should, including the proposed site for a gas station at the corner of Route 13 and Webb Road.
A proposed new district would cover the whole town, according to Pat Reidy, water quality specialist for the County Soil and Water Conservation District.