December 21, 2006

County plans new health building

The $5.5 million facility would be constructed on the lot of the former Moose Lodge on south Main Street.


Images by Barton and Loguidice P.C.
A street-level rendering of south Main Street shows the proposed two-story public health facility.

Staff Reporter

The county announced plans Wednesday to build a $5.5 million public health facility on south Main Street, the latest in a series of public and private projects aimed at revitalizing the area.
The 15,300-square-foot building, which would be on the lot currently occupied by the vacant Moose Lodge at 159 Main St., would house both the county’s public health department and its mental health department, County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
The Legislature will vote tonight on acquiring 2.46-acres, spread across nine different parcels owned by six different people, needed for the project.
The property acquisition, if approved by the Legislature, will cost the county $894,000.
The county can use $3 million in tobacco settlement bonds it has been holding to pay for a portion of the project, Schrader said, but will need to bond for the remainder over a 30-year period.
The county currently leases space for the Mental Health Department in the former Masonic Temple on Clayton Avenue at a cost of approximately $100,000 per year.
Schrader suggested the cost of repaying the bond over a 30-year period would be less than maintaining that lease agreement.
“I can’t imagine having to put any more money into the budget to pay for this project,” he said.
County Mental Health Administrator Michael Kilmer agreed with Schrader, saying his department would save money with the new building.
“It’s like throwing money into the wind,” Kilmer said of the department’s current situation. “We’re really excited about this because we’ll finally be able to offer the services the community needs, and it’ll all be in one building, our building.”
Many county and city officials on hand at a news conference Wednesday lauded the proposal as a way to continue to develop and promote downtown Cortland.
Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward), who represents that area of the city, said the project would be a welcomed improvement.
“That’s an area that really needs cleaning up and I think this fits right in with what they’re trying to do down there,” Van Dee said.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Business Development Corporation, said the city’s $6 million south Main Street rehabilitation project has helped draw investment to the area, and suggested the county’s project would do the same.
“I think we sometimes undervalue the role the public sector plays as a priming pump for private sector investment,” Hartsock said.
Mayor Tom Gallagher agreed.
“I think it can be a real positive for that area,” Gallagher said. “The possibility of new businesses looking to locate there from the medical field is great for downtown, and I think it fits in nicely with all the visions we’ve had for the South End.”
Schrader said the county had been committed to locating the facility in the city.
Approximately 200 county employees would wind up working at the proposed facility, Schrader said, and roughly another 200 patients would frequent the facility daily.
Parking was a primary concern for the initial conceptual designs, according to John Donohue, vice president of Barton and Loguidice P.C., the engineers who developed the designs.
“The county needed around 200 total spaces, so we had to really look at how we could do that with limited space,” Donohue said.
The preliminary plans call for 166 on-site parking spaces, with another 38 available on the street, within the required 300 feet of the building.
Schrader said the county had been as anonymous as possible in bidding for the properties, and was pleased with the $894,000 price tag, although the properties have an assessed value of $646,000.
“I don’t think the cost is very far out of whack, I think we got fair market value,” Schrader said. “If somebody is selling a property, you have some leeway to negotiate the cost down, but if they’re not actively selling and you’re approaching them to buy the property, you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Beyond the nine parcels named Wednesday, a handful of other property owners were approached with potential purchase offers, Schrader said, but they were either asking for too much or didn’t respond to the county’s inquiries.
Because the parking area behind the proposed facility could benefit from acquiring those properties, Schrader said he would bring any potential offers from those property owners to the Legislature as the project progresses.
The county’s potential purchase of the properties would represent an approximately $10,800 loss in tax dollars to the city, said Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance for the city.
For a home assessed at $80,000, the loss of the properties from the tax rolls would mean an annual increase in city taxes of about $2.50, Damiano said.
“The impact is very minimal, but the potential positive impact is worth consideration,” Damiano said. “If it helps development along that corridor, we can more than make up the $10,000.”
Should the Legislature approve the purchase of the properties, Schrader said that initial demolition work on the project could begin this spring, with a final completion date of December 2008, which is when the Mental Health Department’s lease runs out for the property on Clayton Avenue.



County still faces decision on jail

Staff Reporter

As the county unveiled plans to purchase 2.46-acres of property on south Main Street for a new public health facility, some legislators questioned why the county wasn’t moving first on the need for a new county jail.
“Truthfully I think that the jail should be the number one priority for the county right now,” said Newell Willcox (R-Homer), who, with fellow Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville), brought up the issue of the jail at Wednesday’s press conference about the health facility. “Especially from a taxpayer’s standpoint, our jail right now is a huge cost for the county.”
County Administrator Scott Schrader agreed that the jail was draining county finances — he said that out-boarding inmates due to overcrowding was costing the county about $750,000 annually — but said finding the right property for a new jail was difficult.
A jail would require at least 18-acres of space, Schrader said, public water and sewer, a close enough proximity to county court to limit transportation costs, and it would have to be in a location acceptable to residents.
“We have to find the best spot for this community, and it has to be as unobtrusive as possible because no one wants a jail built in their backyard,” Schrader said.
The county has received a draft report from Carter, Globe & Lee, which was hired in April for $30,000, on the county’s space needs for a new jail, Schrader said, and a final report is expected in the next two weeks.
“I think the Legislature has made the jail a priority, it’s just a project that’s going to take a lot of planning,” Schrader said. “This was an opportunity that came along, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to do two necessary projects at once.”
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward), said that the availability of the Moose Lodge, which closed in March, spurred the county to pursue the public health project.
“When the Moose Lodge became available, it was really an ideal fit for what we needed to do with our public health services,” Brown said. “I’m excited we’re able to bring this to Main Street, and I’m pleased we’ll be able to serve our clients better.”
Willcox said that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the public health facility project, but that he would rather the county keep its options open at this point.
“I just think this might be a rush to judgment,” Willcox said.




Flooding worries raised with museum complex

Staff Reporter

The county Planning Board was enthusiastic and supportive of an application for a number of permits by organizers of the proposed Brockway and Homeville museum complex on Route 11 in Cortlandville.
The only concern the board had was the proposed museum’s location in a floodway.
The proposed facility, which would include a Brockway Truck Museum, a Homeville Museum and various other antique collections, would be built in and around the former A.B. Brown hardware and appliance store building on Route 11.
“That’s really been sort of a blighted area,” board member David Miller said. “I think potentially that’s a wonderful improvement.”
That the building lies along the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River, however, caused concern among board members.
“I love this project too, it’s just an unfortunate location,” said board member Ann Hotchkin. “It’s not even a matter of if it’s going to flood — it’s when.”
Dan Dineen, director of the Cortland County Planning Department, said he didn’t have any data that showed the building had received flooding in the past.
“I do know that back closer to the river there’s definitely been some flooding,” Dineen said.
The opposite (east) side of the river has a lower elevation and receives the worst of any flooding, Dineen said.
Bob Brown, who’s family owned the A.B. Brown property for 74 years, this morning agreed with Dineen, saying that flooding had never been a problem aside from some encroachment along the river banks.
“We never had a drop of water in any of our buildings in all those years,” Brown said. “I don’t think they’ll have any problems with flooding.”
Still, because the building falls within the floodway, the board recommended that a study be performed to determine what impact new construction on the site would have on flooding in the area.
“That’s actually a requirement of the town of Cortlandville,” Dineen said. “If you want to do any building in a floodway, you have to have a technical study that shows that any new construction won’t alter the floodway.”
Museum planners have proposed building, initially, a 320-square-foot entranceway to the building, a 120-square-foot stairway at the rear of the building and a 736-square-foot deck, also at the building’s rear.
Later phases of the project call for an additional 1,296 square feet for display space for the Brockway portion of the museum, and another 2,200 square feet for a mock firehouse for an antique fire truck museum.



New law allows city to take tax-due properties

Staff Reporter

The Common Council approved a local law Tuesday that will allow the city to seize and auction properties that owe back taxes.
The law, which will be enacted in January 2007, is nearly identical to the county’s procedure, said city Corporation Counsel Larry Knickerbocker.
“The process will be the same, (but) there are time frames within the process that will be different,” Knickerbocker said this morning.
The timing of how long a property owner will have to pay the taxes owed after being notified has yet to be set by the Common Council, he said.
“Once they go into default on the statutory time frame for payment of the taxes, typically a municipality will give them kind of a drop dead date to pay all delinquent taxes, or the property will be sold,” Knickerbocker said. “All municipalities give different dates for that to happen, because no municipality wants to dispossess people of their properties.”
The law will allow the city to seize and auction off properties that are three years behind on their property tax payments.
“On Jan. 1 of the third year, if the taxes aren’t paid, then the tax sale could be later that same year,” Knickerbocker said.
The legal proceedings will begin in 2008, and Knickerbocker said the hope is that beginning in 2009, the city will be able to seize properties and auction them off for the amount owed, as well as any interest and penalties.
“The municipality gets the full benefit of what’s paid, even if it’s way beyond the taxes and the penalty due,” he said.
During his State of the City address to the League of Women Voters on Dec. 2, Mayor Tom Gallagher said that some property owners haven’t paid their property taxes since 1986.
The city is owed about $1 million dollars in back property taxes, Gallagher said at the time.