December 13, 2007


55 years in the books —

Library trustee stepping down


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Lee Taylor stands on a landing leading to the upper stack s of Cortland Free Library Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

Out of the 81 years that the Cortland Free Library has been in existence, only 26 years were spent without Lee Taylor’s guidance.
Taylor, of Graham Avenue, attended his final board of trustees meeting Wednesday morning, having been a member of the library board for 55 years.
The board chose not to comment on recent discussions between the city and the county about cutting funding for the library and instead focused on Taylor.
Board President Diane Ames read the resolution making Taylor a trustee emeritus, while Library Director Kay Zaharis read off some of the more important motions that Taylor had made since he began serving as a board member in 1952.
“You left out all the motions to adjourn,” Taylor said afterward, laughing.
The young lawyer had only moved to Cortland in 1948, four years before he joined the library, and had been elected city judge in that short amount of time as well.
Taylor was born and grew up in Poughkeepsie during the Great Depression. His father had a tailor shop downtown, near the library.
“Nobody had any money — everyone was poor,” Taylor said after Wednesday’s board meeting. “It’s great because when you’re young and you go to the library and get a book, it’s your book.”
A member of the Naval Reserve, Taylor was attending Syracuse University when he was called to active duty. He served as a supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.
The war ended and he married his wife, Rosemary, in 1945 before finishing law school. Taylor moved his family to Cortland, where they raised four children.
He said he was surprised how quickly he was drafted into serving his new home.
“It’s a great community. They adopted me, and I adopted them,” Taylor said. “I was surprised, really. I didn’t know anything about a library … as a lawyer, I learned a lot.”
Taylor replaced H.A. Buck on the library board, a well known attorney who had recently died.
 He said the board members at the time rose to the occasion and put a lot into the library. Businessmen such as Porter Bennett and Charles Wickwire would loan their workers to make needed repairs and maintain the building.
“And they always said to me, ‘You’ve got to give us free legal advice,” Taylor said.
Instead of hiring an attorney, the library traditionally has relied on a trustee — the board always includes one lawyer — for legal guidance.
Now, attorney and board member Russ Ruthig will fill that spot, and Ruthig even agreed to pick up the slack when it is time to make a motion to adjourn the meetings.
But filling Taylor’s position could be tough, as demonstrated by the accolades heaped upon him by former library Director Warren Eddy.
“This library and this community are better places because of what Lee did,” Eddy told the trustees and other guests at Wednesday’s meeting. “He is a giant in this library and in this community.”
Friend Mike Dexter said that far more than many others, Taylor had contributed “more than his fair share of time” to the library.
“I never realized I stayed this long,” Taylor said, only half-kidding.
Over those years, Taylor said he has seen changes for the better— when the second floor was added to the interior of the building and when the library systems became fully computerized and integrated into the Finger Lakes Library System (last year) — and for the worse, such as when the state libraries lost direct state oversight.
Recent events seem to echo those of the past. Taylor said there had been funding crises in the past, when the city of Cortland debated cutting library funding. And talk of consolidating libraries countywide is old hat, as well.
“We’ve had these discussions twice over 50 years, with the county and other libraries,” Taylor said. “The economics do not come out.”
In the end, Taylor has seen the library change while its basic purpose has remained
People will always want to read something on paper, and the Internet is notoriously unreliable for unbiased information, he contends — people want to verify things in print.
But perhaps Taylor still identifies most with his experience with a library as a youth.
“I think the greatest job is being a children’s library,” he said, “because you can see them with their first book.”




Probe of county attorney proposed

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county administrator today said he will request a criminal investigation into the county attorney’s office over the proposed cash settlement for a Randall Street property related to the failed south Main Street public health building proposal.
The recommendation by Scott Schrader came at a meeting at which the county Budget and Finance Committee rejected settlement proposals for two residential properties involved in the deal, including the property sale questions by Schrader.
He recommended an investigation into the settlement proposal, and indicated that he would ask the District Attorney’s office to initiate an investigation.
Schrader also recommended that the county hire an outside counsel to conduct an examination and discovery hearing, which would obtain a sworn deposition from Steve Lissberger, former owner of the 6 Randall St. property.
The committee rejected County Attorney Ric Van Donsel’s proposed settlement for the two properties in question, citing both Schrader’s recommendation concerns as well as a reluctance to pay nearly $30,000 in settlements.
Van Donsel did not return a call for comment this morning.
In a memo distributed to the committee this morning, Schrader cited discrepancies and a lack of proof for claims of lost profits due to the county’s backing out of a deal to purchase the property at 6 Randall St. The property was one of several parcels, including the Moose Lodge, the Legislature voted to buy in December 2006 — and then canceled the deal in January 2007.
In addition, the county administrator pointed to a possible conflict of interest involving the former property owner’s legal representation.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel had recommended the county settle with Lissberger, for $17,433.40 in damages. Lissberger had originally requested $19,857.96 from the county.
James and Yvonne Cole, who still own the property at 11 William St., would accept $12,475 in damages. They had originally sought $20,000 from the county, which had agreed to buy their house for $90,000.
Van Donsel had presented the two settlement possibilities to the Budget and Finance Committee in November, and at this mornings meeting wondered why he was only now being informed of these concerns.
After the committee’s meeting, Schrader said he had only finished researching and drafting his memo Wednesday night.



Failure rates lower in city high school

Report also shows more students are taking and passing Regents level classes

Staff Reporter

The city schools’ first quarter academic progress report released Tuesday emphasized progress in high school, especially in ninth grade, with dramatically lower failure rates.
Christopher Mount, director of curriculum and instruction, presented the news to the Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday.
For example, from 2006 to 2007 the failure rate for three or more courses was reduced from 24 percent to 13 percent of students. Still, 34 percent are failing one or more courses, although this compares to 49 percent in 2006 after the first quarter.
Mount said the addition of the Link Crew — a buddy system that pairs a junior or senior with a freshman or transfer student — along with ninth grade teachers acting as a team could be reasons for the improvement.
“These are early signs those efforts are paying off,” he said.
Mount also said more students are taking and passing Regents level classes in the high school.
“I do think it’s a part of the overall success,” said guidance counselor Michele Hughes, who is one of the adult leaders of the Link Crew. She said surveys of ninth-graders have been taken and one student noted that his link leader has become his math tutor. Other students have found the social aspects of the program helpful.
Hughes said the ninth grade team approach is also helping. She said her team sends out progress reports every two to three weeks on both accomplishments and deficiencies in student work. Extra help is also set up on a consistent schedule. For example, math help is available Monday and science help Tuesday. Tests then fall the next day.
“I think teachers have always been available for help, but now we’re throwing it at them,” Hughes said.       
The lowest failure rates are in 11th and 12th grades, with 12th grade recording only 6 percent of students failing three or more subjects in 2007 compared to 8 percent in 2006 during the first quarter.
There are 217 seniors this year, including three foreign exchange students. Of those students, 151 or 71 percent are eligible for a Regents diploma. The number of dropouts declined from 21 to 15 from first quarter last year to first quarter this year.




Police increasing holiday DWI patrols

Two-week effort to curb drinking and driving begins Saturday and ends Dec. 31

Staff Reporter

Local police agencies will be joining a statewide initiative from Saturday to Dec. 31 to stop drinking and driving.
“The goal is to save lives,” said Capt. Glen Mauzy, of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department. “If you have ever been to a fatality due to alcohol, it is devastating. It’s devastating for everyone involved.”
Last year, the Sheriff’s Department had 48 DWI arrests. So far for this year, it has had approximately 95.
Mauzy attributes the increase of arrests to Lt. Mark Helms, who was promoted in August 2006.
“He has driven an aggressive campaign,” Mauzy said.
Along with the Sheriff’s Department, the State Police, Homer Police Department, SUNY Cortland University Police and city police are increasing patrols, hoping to reduce the number of alcohol-related injuries and deaths, as well as to make sure people are safe during the holiday travel period.
“Every weekend for the entire year and around holidays we put extra patrol out,” said Lt. Jon Gesin of the city police. “We need to protect the sober drivers on the road. The department thinks it is important to enforce the DWI laws.”
Each area police department will be using funds from the county’s STOP-DWI program to pay for the extra patrols.
The Sheriff’s Department, which has been running the county’s STOP-DWI program since the early 1990s, receives money from the state to allocate to local enforcement agencies.
The state money comes from fines collected for alcohol and other drug-related traffic offenses occurring within a county’s jurisdiction.
New York counties receive approximately $22 million to operate the STOP-DWI programs. In 2006, the Sheriff’s Department received $116,000 from fines in Cortland County.
In 2007, the county received $22,551.50 in the first quarter, $36,726.43 in the second quarter and $37,066.80 in the third quarter to run the STOP-DWI program.
With the money, the STOP-DWI program also buys equipment for local law enforcement agencies, such as alcohol sensors and blood collection kits, funds nonalcohol parties for high schools around prom time and creates an educational magazine to distribute to all schools in the county, including Tompkins-Cortland Community College.
STOP-DWI stands for Special Traffic Options Program for Driving While Intoxicated. New York State’s STOP-DWI Program was developed in 1980 in an effort to decrease alcohol-related fatalities and injuries in the state.



Marathon awarded $143,000 fire grant

Money will buy fire department 30 new pagers, 35 sets of fire gear and 13 air packs

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — The Marathon fire district is getting a $143,000 federal fire grant to purchase new equipment.
The money will be used for 30 new pagers, 35 new sets of fire fighting gear and 13 air packs, according to Fire Chief Norm Forrest.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced the grant Wednesday.
Forrest, who wrote the grant application, said this is the largest grant the fire district has gotten through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
The department, which applies for grant funding every year, received a grant in 2002 and two grants in 2005.
The 2002 grant paid for a new brush truck, while the 2005 grants paid for radios, smoke detectors and fire prevention education materials.
The grants are competitive, Forrest said, since fire departments across the country are competing for the money.
The grants are awarded to the fire departments that most closely address the program’s safety priorities and demonstrate financial need, according to Schumer.
The latest grant will significantly help the Marathon Fire Department, he said, noting it nearly equals the department’s $165,000 annual budget.
The new pagers will replace current low bandwidth pagers, and conform with the county’s more modern paging system. The new air packs weigh less and run on different pressures, while the new firefighting gear will replace older gear.
“It’s everything top to bottom,” he said.
With the grant funding, most of the district’s 55 active volunteer fighters will have brand new equipment or relatively new equipment. Typically each year the district purchases a couple of new sets of gear, he said, which represents about 15 percent of the department’s budget
Forrest said he anticipates the fire district will get the grant money on Friday.
He said he expects the new equipment will be purchased within the first six months of 2008. The department will have one year to spend the money, he said.