December 16, 2006

Main Street to shine brightly for Christmas

Chamber offers funds to replace burned out tree lights


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
City public safety department worker John Steele replaces burned out light bulbs in the tress along Main Street Friday morning. Steele and Tom Tobin have been working all week, going from tree to tree, to replace the bulbs.

Staff Reporter

Burned out lights in the trees lining Main Street Cortland were replaced Thursday and Friday, using resources provided by the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s board of directors had approved the purchase of the lights Thursday morning. City Public Safety and Department of Public Works crews began putting in new bulbs and are hoping to have many of them in place by Christmas, said Chamber Executive Director Garry VanGorder, and the city has been a “great partner” during this initiative.
“We were in a position to help and the board just felt like this was something we could do for downtown and for the Cortland community at large,” VanGorder said in a press release. “It isn’t a long-term solution, but I think everyone is going to feel pretty good about seeing those lights on as we approach the holidays. It was looking kind of grim and that’s not the kind of message we want to send about the city center.”
Originally a project of the former Downtown Business Association, the tree lights were inherited by the fledgling Cortland Downtown Partnership, which said last week it was unable to fund any bulb replacement program this year.
“These aren’t off-the-shelf lights you’d find at a dollar store, these are special outdoor lights that cost a lot more than that,” said Downtown Partnership executive director Lloyd Purdy. “Industrial strength lights that have to stand up to a longer burn period, as well as some tough winter weather.”
Purdy said that the DBA spent about $20,000 installing the strands of lights seven years ago.
The Chamber’s costs for the replacement bulbs are about $700, VanGorder said.
The Downtown Partnership would focus on longer-term solutions to keeping the lights burning as part of its program of work in the coming year, Purdy said.
“We knew it was something that needed to be done but as a new organization we just couldn’t do it this year,” Purdy said. “The fund raising that we’re doing through the Winter Nights and Lights gallery show, donation buckets at First Night (New Year’s Eve), and the adopt-a-tree program, will help us find some technological fixes to make the lights last longer and help build a pool of funds we can draw upon for future lighting needs in 2008-2009.”



Downtown partnership seeks funds

Staff Reporter

After six months of operation, the Downtown Partnership has made strides despite having to scramble for funds.
“It’s frustrating that I have to spend this much time begging for money,” Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy said at his office in the Beard Building at 9 Main St. “The group that drew up the original concept for this program expected a lot more of an outpouring of community support, from businesses around the county and local property owners.”
The partnership costs about $5,000 a month to operate, Purdy said, which includes economic development, marketing and planning projects, and communication with businesses and partners.
“We have currently enough money to continue operations for the next two months,” Purdy said Wednesday. “That’s without any new membership support coming in, between now and then, and in the next two weeks we’re sending off letters to the businesses that have been traditionally supportive of downtown through the DBA (Downtown Business Association, a predecessor to the partnership).”
The figure also does not include a $25,000 commitment from the state that Purdy expects “any day now.”
So far, the partnership has helped to entice the Cortland Celtic Festival to relocate to the downtown area, has instituted the “Welcome Downtown” promotion campaign and has applied for several grants, most notably one that will study the feasibility of establishing an arts and cultural district.
Fortunately, Purdy said, the donation, by SUNY Cortland, of the office space that the partnership occupies in the Beard Building eliminates the costs of renting or leasing a space.
The downtown manager is quick to point out that none of the partnership’s activities are funded by city taxpayer money.
Parking permit fees for the city’s restricted-use lots generate about 18 percent of the partnership’s funding, with the city taking more than half of the fees collected.
Another roughly $8,000 in federal funds, administered by the state’s Community Development Block Grant program, was also directed to the partnership by the city. Purdy said that amount would be received annually by the partnership over the first three years of operation.
Much of the 2006 expenditures will be reimbursed through a state grant of $25,000, secured by state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) and administered by the state Department of Economic Development. Purdy expects to receive that funding annually for the first three years, as well.
Purdy said the Downtown Partnership will have established itself as a self-sustaining operation by the time the three-year commitments expire.
Seward’s chief of staff, Duncan Davie, said the disbursement process is tightly controlled by the state Comptroller’s Office.
Perhaps most importantly for the partnership’s finances, Purdy hopes to raise $40,000 through the 2007 membership drive, which is open to businesses, property owners, residents and any other individual or organization that is a “stakeholder” in Cortland’s downtown area.
Much of the funding for 2006 came in the form of dues paid to the now-defunct Downtown Business Association, which merged with the Cortland City Improvement Corp. in October 2005 to form the Downtown Partnership.
“That $40,000 doesn’t include in-kind services,” such as donated technology and other capital needs, Purdy said. “Reaching that goal includes 100 business memberships. If every 2006 DBA member renews, plus the new ones who’ve joined, we will have over 60 members by the beginning of 2007.”
So far, about $8,000 has been taken in.
“Eventually, we’re going to roll out a residential membership campaign that will include information on all the projects the Downtown Partnership is working on,” Purdy said. “In this Community Support campaign, we’re targeting businesses located in the central business district, other businesses around the county who have a stake in downtown, residents, and non-profits. The challenge is finding a way to make sure everyone knows how much work we’re really doing.”
Membership dues for the nonprofit partnership are tax-deductible, Purdy said.
“I’m constantly having to show people the value of the Downtown Partnership — the value of having a full-time advocate for downtown,” Purdy has said. “The value of having a guy who wakes up at 3 in the morning worrying about downtown.”




Election commissioner’s 2006 pay still an issue

Staff Reporter

Despite efforts to resolve the problem beginning in 2007, the request of the county’s two election commissioners that their salaries be equaled continues to cause headaches for legislators.
The Budget and Finance Committee Thursday debated whether the county should pay Democratic Commissioner Bill Wood an additional $4,351 for 2006, to put him on even terms for the year with his Republican counterpart Bob Howe.
In response to Howe’s request that the county even the commissioners’ salaries — Howe will make $29,967 this year based on his 10-year tenure with the county, while Wood, in his first year on the job, will make $25,616 — the Personnel Committee voted last Thursday to eliminate any element of longevity pay from the election commissioners’ salaries.
A local law setting the commissioners’ salaries at $26,384 annually, beginning in 2007, will be voted on at the Dec. 21 legislative session.
However, at Thursday’s meeting, county officials cautioned that the county may still be liable against complaints from both commissioners.
Paying Wood the additional $4,000 would insulate the county from any complaint from Wood, County Auditor Dennis Whitt said at the meeting.
“I’m not making a recommendation, I’m just saying you can eliminate any possibility of a greater expense than what you’re paying them,” Whitt said.
Legislator Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) said during the meeting that he agreed with Whitt, but other committee members were resistant to paying Wood more.
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) cited portions of state election law that said that, when such a discrepancy occurs, “a commissioner probably cannot recover the difference between the maximum salary and the actual salary paid to him … but is only entitled to have the salaries set in equal amounts.”
“The law says the commissioner’s not entitled to get anything extra, we’re following the law and equalizing the salaries,” Brown said
Neither election commissioner attended the meeting, and neither would say whether they would seek legal action against the county should it decide not to pay Wood the extra money.
“All I want is the county to look at and follow state law,” Wood said.
Howe was more vocal, saying he felt the county should pay Wood extra this year to even their salaries.
“It probably would’ve been much easier if they had just paid Mr. Wood the difference,” Howe said. “I think by the time all of this gets through, it may wind up costing more than $3,000 — it would be easier and more expeditious to just do that.”
At the meeting, when asked if the county would have any liability should it pass the local law setting one salary, County Attorney Ric Van Donsel said Howe could potentially bring a claim against the county for decreasing his salary mid-term, but that the county would likely have a good defense against such a claim.
“If he chooses to raise that, I think we would certainly have some defense,” Van Donsel said, adding that the county would simply claim that it was seeking to rectify an illegality that Howe himself pointed out.
Howe did not dismiss the possibility that he might also have a claim against the county.
“They’re cutting my salary down, and I’ve said that’s what I’m willing to do to make sure we’re compliant, but the law may say, ‘that’s very nice, Mr. Howe, but you can’t do that either, they can’t cut your salary,’” Howe said. “I think it would make things easier to just raise Bill up now and put it to bed.”
Ultimately the committee opted not to pay Wood any more for the time being.
“I think we’ve done what they asked, and we’ll have to wait and see,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the issue with the election commissioners is calling into question the management compensation plan passed by the Legislature in 2005, which set up semi-annual pay raises for a number of management positions.
Brown said at the meeting that the county would begin reviewing the inclusion of elected positions in the plan in January.
“I’m actually more concerned about that than the election commissioners at this point,” Committee Chairman Ron Van Dee said of the inclusion of elected officials. “I don’t think elected officials should be getting pay raises like that — I think we should have to do it at budget time and let the people see it.”



Student effort pays off

Staff Reporter

Sue Sherwood is “pretty proud” of her 8-year-old son, Ryan. He was one of 17 children nominated for the McGraw Elementary School Breakfast With the Principal Program.
The program is one of many at area schools that recognize students for their hard work, even those who do not end up on school honor rolls.
Ryan was nominated by his teacher, Diane Brooks, for always doing his best work and always having his homework done.
Ryan was also nominated for the program last year.
“He has his mind made up,” Sherwood said. “I just keep up the encouragement and keep him doing good.”
Laura May, school counselor/social worker, said the program is two years old and it was implemented to honor and reward students in kindergarten through fourth-grade who have shown effort in one of three categories: academics, behavior or social skills.
“Some are really good students,” May said. “You don’t have to have A-pluses or anything. Just having overall good citizenship.”
May said she got the idea to implement the Breakfast with the Principal from Barry School’s CARES Awards — an acronym for Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy and Self-control. Barry Elementary School Principal Fred Amante said students are recognized for any of the CARES attributes on a monthly basis.
The honored children receive a certificate and a zipper pull with a picture of a Barry Bull Dog. Barry also has the Pat on the Back Award and the Lunch Recess Good Citizenship Award.
Other schools in the city such as F.E. Smith, Randall and Parker elementary also have a variation of the CARE Program.
Virgil has the Citizens of the Month certificate given for doing good things.
DeRuyter, Cincinnatus and Dryden elementary school have character education programs; the children get a certificate based on good character.
Cincinnatus Middle School has a Citizen of the Month Award, which is given to students for academics and citizenship. Students receive a certificate and an ice cream sundae. At Cincinnatus High School, students are eligible for the Lion’s Pride Award for academic achievement, academic improvement and citizenship.
At Homer Elementary, students are eligible for Helping Hands, which recognizes them for good citizenship, perseverance, courage and good character. Students receive a certificate in honor of their recognition.
On Thursday’s breakfast menu at McGraw Elementary School, children and parents were treated to banana bread, cinnamon streusel, chocolate chip, cranberry and cinnamon streusel muffins with coffee, milk and juice.
McGraw Elementary Principal James McGuinness said that both children and parents are “equally excited” to be part of the program.
“It’s creating winners in the school,” McGuiness said. “It gives (children) the idea that they can be successful.
May said teachers nominate one student each month, sometimes two are nominated if the teacher feels that two students are deserving of the recognition. The parents of the nominated students are invited to share breakfast.
Kathy Levitskiy, 8, was also nominated by Brooks, a third-grade teacher, for always having a great attitude, always writing neatly and always having her assignments done.
Kathy said that to be nominated next year she is going to “always be good.”
Kathy said she has been nominated three times.
Tarra Brown, 7, said, “It was fun” to have breakfast with the principal. This is Tarra’s second breakfast with the principal.
Jenny Brown, Tarra’s mother, said, “I am very proud of her. She is doing a good job and she is working hard.”
Her teacher, Beth McRae, nominated Tarra for helping the Head Start children in the late afternoons and during her playtime.
May said there was a great response from the community last year when they started the program.
“We got very positive comments from the community,” May said. “Parents felt good about their children being recognized. It is nice (for parents) to come to the school for something positive.”
McGuinness said, “The kids really look forward to this.” He added, days before the breakfast some children will see him in halls and say “I’m going to have breakfast with you.”
McGuinness said he tries to make it a point that all children at the school have the opportunity to be recognized.
Breakfast With the Principal is sponsored by the McGraw Parent Teacher Organization. During breakfast, students are awarded a certificate of excellence. A group picture is taken and the children each get a copy to take home.