December 20, 2006

City hopes noisemakers will drive crows from roosts


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Crows look for choice spots in trees around the city soon after 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Starting tonight and continuing through at least Thursday and Friday, Sweeney’s Pest Elimination will use noisemakers to drive crows from the more populated areas of the city.
The city had budgeted about $1,000 for the process for this year, and the costs are also included in the 2007 budget, said police Police Chief Jim Nichols.
This will be the second time this year that Sweeney’s has performed the service, Nichols said, and the price runs between $400 and $500 each time.
“We’ve contracted with Mike Sweeney (owner of Sweeney’s Pest Elimination) for the next three nights to carry out the process of rousting the crows from their roosting areas here in the central part of the city around the Courthouse and around Tompkins Street,” Nichols said this morning. “Typically, Sweeney’s operates for three nights in a row, and they start at dusk, around 5 o’clock, and the operation takes about an hour and a half.”
Complaints from residents have poured in, said Mayor Tom Gallagher. The birds are thought to number 15,000.
“It’s a mess down here. They’re all over Courthouse Park, and they’re all over between Clayton and Court and Tompkins streets,” Gallagher said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over the airspace, and there’re a lot of them. And because we haven’t had any snow, it shows up real well.”
The city can’t wash the sidewalks because the freezing weather could cause a public safety hazard, Gallagher said.
“The goal is to rout the crows so they migrate to an area such as the Waterworks, where they would not be such a detriment to the neighborhoods,” Nichols said. “From what I understand, eventually they will migrate out of the city.”
Kelly Sweeney, of Sweeney’s Pest Elimination, said two tools will be used to disturb the crows — one type of noisemaker called a “screamer,” and another called a “bird banger.” The former emits loud whistles, and the latter produces a popping sound, Sweeney said.
Between 4 and 5 p.m., the crows flock together over the center of the city, wave upon wave, filling the sky just before dusk as they search for their evening’s perch.
Gallagher said banging pots and pans together is one effective way for residents to drive the crows out of their trees.
Crow hunting season in Cortland County runs from Sept. 1 to March 31, Fridays through Mondays. Hunting inside city limits is illegal, and no firearm may be discharged within 500 feet of any dwelling.



Kettles come up empty

Local Salvation Army campaign needs about $10,000 to reach its goal for holiday season

Staff Reporter

Volunteering for the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign is a deep-rooted Christmas tradition, but this year, business hasn’t been good locally.
The Cortland chapter of the Salvation Army is expecting significantly less revenue from its primary annual fundraiser than it brought in last year, according to Capt. Scott Dorchak, and it seems unlikely it will meet its goal of $37,000 for this holiday season.
As of Saturday, the Red Kettle campaign had brought in $25,493, Dorchak said, meaning that volunteers would have to double their combined daily average of $950 raised to reach the goal for 2006.
“I think we’re going to probably end up with a little over $30,000 when it’s all said and done, and that’s going to put us in a bit of a hole heading into 2007,” Dorchak said.
The Red Kettle campaign is the local Salvation Army’s only major annual fundraiser, Dorchak said, and the goal of $37,000 represents about 40 percent of the agency’s annual budget, with the remainder of funding coming from the United Way and individual contributions.
“We might have to rework our budget a little bit. It might come down to raising the fees for a few of our programs or limiting some of the special events we do,” Dorchak said. “We’ll look at different options for making it up. One is a Christmas in July kind of thing. We’ll see if stores will let us stand then and solicit some help.”
Last year the Red Kettle campaign brought in $45,000 locally, Dorchak said, likely due to public awareness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“The Salvation Army was still very visible at this time last year, and I think that definitely helped with the campaign,” he said.
Volunteer John Gillespie, who was stationed outside Wal-Mart on Route 13 Tuesday afternoon, agreed.
“You never wish that kind of disaster on anyone, but let’s face it, that opened people’s eyes and brought out that spirit of giving,” Gillespie said.
More typical winter weather could also help foster that spirit, according to Gillespie.
“I think if we could get a little snow coming from the sky, it might feel a little more like Christmas, and we’d see some more people giving,” he said.
Meanwhile Ed Van Slyke, who has been a member and volunteer for the Salvation Army for the past 10 years, suggested that tough times financially contributed to the shortfall this year.
“Prices being what they are, I think people just have less money to give,” said Van Slyke, who was stationed outside Tops on Route 281 Tuesday. “I’ve definitely noticed a difference from last year and years past.”
The task of raising an additional $12,000 in the final week before Christmas will be made more difficult this year by the fact that Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, according to Dorchak.
“We don’t stand on Sundays, so we’ll be losing that day, but I’m not sure there will be as many people out as usual anyway,” Dorchak said.
The fundraising effort has also been stalled this year by a lack of manpower, Dorchak said.
The Salvation Army tries to keep at least five stations open at all peak hours, he said, but that has been difficult this year.
Tuesday afternoon, both Tops and Wal-Mart had volunteers on hand, but K-Mart and Price Chopper had unmanned Salvation Army stations.
“We actually have more volunteers than last year, but last year we had individuals who could stand for 10 hours a day, and this year we just don’t have that,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of slots still to fill, so hopefully we‘ll get some more volunteers this last week and we can man as many slots as possible.”
Although the Red Kettle campaign has struggled, Dorchak said the Salvation Army’s other programs, including its toy drive and adopt-a-family program, have thrived.
The Salvation Army has received 149 applications from people willing to donate Christmas baskets this year, Dorchak said, and an excess of toys in the toy drive should help between 50 and 100 more families than expected.
Meanwhile, the adopt-a-family program, which last year drew nine applications to help provide food and gifts for a family in need, has drawn 43 applications this year.
“We’ve gotten a really good response with adopt-family,” Dorchak said. “Even though our kettle campaign is down a little bit, our in-kind donations are up.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate to the Salvation Army can contact Dorchak at (607) 753-9363.




City approves $15.8 million 2007 budget

Staff Reporter

Cortland’s Common Council approved a $15.8 million 2007 budget, with a tax rate increase of 4.9 percent and spending increase of 3.4 percent, at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The 2007 wastewater budget, with a rate increase of 8.7 percent, and water budget, with a rate increase of about 12.1 percent, also were approved at the meeting.
Rate increases for sewer and water service, in addition to the tax increase, will result in the average single-family homeowner paying $62 more in 2007 than in 2006.
Total revenue will increase from $14.9 million this year to $15.6 million in 2007. The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation would increase to $16.38, up from $15.61 this year.
A drop in water consumption — mostly because of the closing of the Buckbee-Mears factory — has resulted in a rate increase of about $7 in the quarterly billings of the average household. The domestic rate per unit, or 100 cubic feet, will rise to $1.85, from $1.65.
In an effort to reduce its reliance upon appropriations from its fund balance, the budget will would take $182,316 for 2007 from the fund balance, as opposed to the $380,803 that was appropriated in 2006.
The increase in the tax rate is due, in large part, to escalating pension and health insurance costs, contractual salary increases, and dramatic rises in the prices of fuel and utilities.
Union-established contracts are in the second year of a three-year agreement that has increased salaries, and Mayor Tom Gallagher has anticipated that health insurance costs will continue to rise at a rate of about 12 percent a year.
Andy Damiano, city director of administration and finance, said this morning that taxes account for about a third of the city’s total revenue. Gallagher has said that 73 percent of the appropriations go toward personnel costs.
Damiano referred to the 2007 budget as a “maintenance budget,” because there haven’t been any staffing cutbacks and no programs have been eliminated.
A $15,000 decrease in the city’s costs for workman’s compensation insurance allowed the council to transfer the funds to the Cortland Police Department to help replace some handheld radios, all of which Police Chief Jim Nichols has said are in poor condition. The funds for the radios had not been included in the city’s budget proposal.
During budget work sessions in November and December, Fire Chief Dennis Baron had requested additional personnel to ensure an adequate daytime response, but the Common Council declined to add the minimum of one position to the Code Office. That measure would have allowed the Fire Department to hire a firefighter to fill the vacant position left open by the transfer of a senior firefighter to the Code Enforcement Division. Damiano recommended that the council forego the addition because it would result in about a 1 percent increase in the total tax rate.



Marathon parents question notification of high lead levels

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — One question kept reoccurring at a public information meeting on elevated lead levels in the water at Appleby Elementary School: Why was public notification such a long time coming after four years of elevated lead levels?
“It got out of control,” said Cindy Torres. “Why wasn’t it made (public before)?”
Approximately 30 parents attended a public meeting on Tuesday in the Appleby Elementary School cafeteria seeking answers about elevated lead levels found at the school.
At the meeting, Torres, a parent of a 7-year-old, said her son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and he was fine until he started going to school.
Torres believes elevated lead levels had played a part in her son’s diagnosis. She said she hadn’t had his blood tested for lead, but he was diagnosed with the disorder last year.
Officials at Appleby elementary started rechlorinating the school’s water supply in the fall of 2002. Because of rechlorination, the school had to follow rules pertaining to a public water supply, which includes testing for elevated lead levels.
Over a four-year period the school consistently tested for elevated lead levels reaching as high as 0.228 in September of 2003. The highest reading is 15 times the action level at 15 parts per billion or .015 micrograms per liter.
On Dec. 8, Appleby was retested for elevated lead levels in its water and School Superintendent Tim Turecek said only classroom 109 tested positive for elevated lead levels at 0.215.
Tests for the high school also came back and five classrooms were found to have elevated lead levels. That was the first the high school was tested.
Turecek said faucets in classrooms that were found to have elevated levels of lead in the water were “not typically used for drinking.”
“Marathon is not on the ball. How do we know that the lead wasn’t high all the time?” said Alene Voght, the mother of a 10- and 13-year-old.
Turecek said he first became aware of the elevated lead levels in December 2005.
“My first instinct was to act on it,” said Turecek. He said he held off on a public notification because he was told the village would be switching to a new water source. Prior to this year, the village well, which was the water source for the school, was close to surface water — the Tioughnioga River, which increases the likelihood of lead in the water.
Even after the village’s new wells were put on line, the school still had high lead levels in its water.



C’ville delays Wal-Mart review

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Owing to a misstep in communication, the town Planning Board decided Tuesday night to delay a decision on the application for a Planned Unit Development designation for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13 in Cortlandville. The board also forwarded conditional permit, aquifer protection and lot line adjustment applications for expansion of Suit-Kote Corp. facilities at Loring Crossing and in Polkville to the County Planning Department.
At the urging of Planning Board member Nick Renzi, the board voted unanimously to withhold its decision on the Wal-Mart proposal until Jan. 10, when all the members have had the chance to review the findings statement for the State Environmental Quality Review process, as prepared by the engineering firm Clough Harbour & Associates and issued by the Town Board on Dec. 6.
The attorney representing Wal-Mart, Kelly Pronti of the Rochester firm Harter Secrest & Emery, said copies of the document had been delivered to the Town Hall. But members of the board had not received the packet until just before last night’s meeting when Clough Harbour engineer Scott Smith brought extra copies. Renzi said the findings statement should be part of the “backbone” of the board’s decision, along with the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Town Attorney John Folmer said that until all of the board members read the findings statement, “they’re not in much of a place to make a decision.”
A PUD designation allows for more flexibility with land development designs, but a PUD also requires more in-depth scrutiny from Planning Board members. More information is required from PUD applicants than from conventional zoning applicants.
Board member Gene Waldbauer questioned Pronti and Wal-Mart engineer Steve Cleason, of Rochester-based APD Engineering, about the requirement that PUDs allow for more innovation and creativity in design than most developments.
Cleason pointed to the inclusion of pedestrian walkways, picnic tables, and, perhaps most importantly, the possibility of constructing a road along the southwester perimeter of the project site that would later be granted to the town for use. Smith said Bennie Road would be closed off where it meets Route 13, and that the access road that Wal-Mart would construct on its own property between Bennie Road and Route 13 would then become a town road.
Also in response to questions by Waldbauer, Pronti, Cleason and Smith all said the PUD designation is not uncommon for large retail stores such as the Supercenter.



Virgil man charged with robbery after row with town clerk

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Ongoing tension between the town and a Virgil resident culminated in a dispute and an arrest on Friday.
State Police said they charged Bill Allen, 56, of 1990 Artemis Drive, with robbery after he tried to leave the Virgil Town Hall with the town’s financial audit documents.
He tried to take the documents from Town Clerk Bonnie Hand, police said. Allen was charged with third-degree robbery, a felony.
Hand, 56, of 1940 Kohne Road, told police that Allen came to the Town Hall around 11:30 a.m. Friday and asked to see the documents. She said she allowed him to view them but he then tried to leave the building with them.
Hand said she told Allen he was not allowed to leave the building with the documents but Allen would not listen, police said.
Hand told police that a confrontation ensued, and she physically tried to get the document back from Allen. Police said no one was injured during the incident.
Allen was arraigned in Homer Town Court and released on $500 cash bail. He is scheduled to appear at 4 p.m. Jan. 8 in Homer Town Court.