December 21, 2007


State approves grant for fire truck maker


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Workers from K-Crete concrete specialists in Moravia, pour a footer at the Plastisol truck factory. The state approved a $341,000 economic development aid package to help Plastisol’s move to Groton.

Staff Reporter

GROTON — A $341,000 economic development aid package from the state’s Office of Small Cities announced Thursday will help fund an emergency vehicle body manufacturer’s move to the village.
The aid to Plastisol North America is among eight companies statewide receiving a total of $3.3 million in economic development funds announced Thursday by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Plastisol began construction Thursday in Groton’s planned industrial park.
The local grant will be split between Plastisol North America, currently headquartered on Luker Road in Cortlandville, and the village of Groton, with $222,000 going to the village for infrastructure development and $106,000 in a deferred-payment loan to Plastisol.
The remaining $13,000 will be used by the village for grant administration, said Charles Rankin, Groton’s village administrator.
Additionally, the state Department of Transportation is providing $175,000 in total grants and loans for the project, Rankin said, which will include construction of a village road connecting the planned 25-acre industrial park, which is owned by the Village of Groton Industrial Development Agency, off Route 222.
Waiting for grant approval held the construction project up for six months, Plastisol North America President Alan Saulsbury said, but it would not have been possible without the additional funds from the state.
The village accepted bids on the infrastructure contracts Thursday, and Rankin said work on the new road, water, sewer and power services will begin as soon as bids are approved, weather permitting.
“Eventually, this will be a good source of taxable _revenue,” Rankin said. “It’ll also provide jobs for local residents.”
Saulsbury said he plans to hire 35 employees for the plant, which will initially cover 20,000 square feet. He said long-term plans are to at least double the number of employees and expand the facility to 75,000 square feet.
The new Plastisol plant will occupy Saulsbury’s 3.8-acre parcel of the 25-acre industrial park property.
“Eventually, we hope that other businesses will be going into this property,” Rankin said.
The Saulsbury family has a long tradition building fire vehicles. It sold its Preble-based Saulsbury Fire Rescue to Federal Signal in 1998 and the agreement kept the family out of the business for eight years. Federal Signal later closed the Preble factory.
Once the agreement with Federal Signal expired, the family formed several related companies, which it based on Luker Road.
Saulsbury began working with Netherlands-based Plastisol Composites, which produces utility vehicle bodies for fire trucks, ambulances and military vehicles using a lightweight fiberglass-based composite.
As its new ventures expanded, the family began looking for a site for a manufacturing facility. It looked at locations within the county, but none had the necessary water and sewer lines.
Groton provided a suitable alternative, offering 8-inch water and sewer lines, as well as cheap electrical power from the village.
The Groton plant will be Plastisol’s first North American production facility, and Saulsbury said he expects to begin operations May 1.



County decides to buy site for DMV building

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county Legislature voted to purchase a site off Port Watson and River streets for a Department of Motor Vehicles office at its last session of the year Thursday night.
The roughly 1-acre property would cost the county $375,000, which will be paid out of the county’s $2.8 million share of state _settlement funds from tobacco companies.
The only legislators to vote against the purchase — a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is necessary for property acquisitions — were Newell Willcox (R-Homer), Tom Williams (R-Homer) and Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville).
Legislator Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) was absent.
Part of the property would be subdivided from the BOCES plaza at 240 Port Watson St., owned by Joe Armideo of Homer.
The neighboring Barbarito Auto Body shop and a single-family home on that parcel at 112 River St. has been bought by Armideo and will be included in the sale of the property to the county.
Both will be torn down to make way for the DMV office, which the county will build for approximately $400,000, according to estimates. That cost can also be paid out of tobacco settlement money.
A resolution to lease was on the Legislature’s agenda but became moot after legislators approved the purchase of the property. The lease would have cost the county about $60,000 annually over a 10-year period.
Armideo provided the county with the rough costs of a building he would have constructed and later leased. At between $120 and $150 a square foot for a 4,000-square-foot building as the county envisions for the DMV, the building could have cost as much as $600,000 after a 10-year period.
“We’re basically paying for that building over its life span,” Schrader said.
A $60,000 yearly lease would amount to a half a percent tax increase, Schrader said. The county could not use tobacco money to lease; the money can only pay for capital improvements.
Willcox said he wanted more information about leasing.
“I didn’t vote against the DMV,” he said. “I didn’t feel the lease options were fully explored.”
Also, a higher $777,000 figure for the lease was included in the Legislature’s agenda for the night, which Schrader said had been inserted before the $600,000 lease price had been provided.


State puts focus on local education —

Two schools need improvement

Freeville principal explains state incorrectly includes her school.

From staff and wire reports
CORTLAND — The state Education Department on Thursday placed more elementary and middle schools on its list of schools needing improvement, including two local schools.
That bringing the total to 444 out of the state’s 3,085 schools teaching kindergarten through eighth grade on the list.
One local school was placed on the list in error. Audrey Ryan, principal of Freeville Elementary, said a data problem in the state placed her school on the list even though the school teaches kindergarten through second grade only and the testing does not begin until third grade. Freeville is in the Dryden district.
Homer Intermediate School was also on the list. Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said special education students were identified as the group that underperformed on the test, in particular in fifth and sixth grades.
He said the state is looking at the results in a cumulative way with grades three through eight lumped together, creating a larger testing group; the state does not report on groups of less than 30 students. Larison said in the past special education students would not have been looked at as a subset.
Larison said teachers in the district are looking more closely at models of how special education students learn and teaching at an appropriate level of instruction. He also said special education students are graduating.
“Graduation rates at Homer in special education stack up against anyone in Cortland or Onondaga County,” Larison said.
Larison said the test is not a benchmark test as the state had said it would be, but rather a bell curve test. On a bell curve, levels float so there are the most students performing in the middle and fewer students on either ends (high performers and low performers).
The state Education Department put 106 schools on the list of schools needing improvement for the first time, while 22 elementary and middle schools are being removed from the list for showing clear improvement in student performance. There are about 1,000 middle schools and 2,000 elementary schools in the state.
Standardized test scores and other measures are used to determine if a school is making adequate progress in educating students to the state’s standards.
State officials said the increase in the number of schools on the list is because more students are now required to take the English and math standardized tests.



Town delays vote on Virgil church project

Board requests new master plan with larger building setbacks and parking lot plans

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — About 10 people spoke in favor of a church’s proposed zoning change at a public hearing Thursday, but the Town Board delayed action until it can review more information from the church.
The board could vote on the zoning change at its Jan. 10 meeting.
Reigning Miracle Ministries, at 2910 Douglas Road, is requesting zoning on its 16.5 acre parcel be changed from residential to planned unit development.
The change would allow it to expand into a bible college with such additions as classroom buildings, dormitories and a gymnasium.
Charles Sturmer, of 68 Lincoln Ave. in Cortland, said during the public hearing the church’s current grade school has done wonders for his daughter.
“It’s changed her attitude and her spiritual life,” he said.
Town Board members said they do not doubt the church does good things, but question whether the board can legally grant the site planned unit development status.
Reigning Miracle Ministries is not proposing public water and sewer, they said.
“That would be a dangerous precedent if we allow a PUD with no public water and sewer,” said Mary Beth Wright, a Town Board member.
Chuck Feiszli, Reigning Miracle Ministries’ engineer, said the county considers the church’s planned well system a public water system, but the church has no plans for a public sewer system.
He said he hopes the Town Board will let that requirement slide. “You can override it,” he said.
Town Board members were also concerned that they did not have information the county Planning Board had recommended Reigning Miracles provide, such as a new master plan with larger building setbacks and parking lot plans.
Feiszli said he turned those things in to the town, and was not sure why board members did not have them. Board members decided to table making a decision on the zoning change until they get those documents.
“We can’t make a decision based on something we don’t have,” said board member Dale Taylor.
Given Reigning Miracle Ministries has no public sewer plans, the Town Board tinkered with the idea of the church getting a variance for each new building it would like to add on its parcel.
The parcel’s current residential zoning does not allow for the structures.




Grants will preserve area farmland

More than $3 million awarded to 2 area farms to purchase development rights

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Two local dairy farms will be preserved from housing or other development with $3 million in state farmland protection grants.
Mahon’s E-Z Acres, a 750-acre dairy farm on West Scott Road, will receive $2.3 million, while Jerry Dell Farm on Gee Hill Road, a 419-acre organic dairy farm in Dryden, will receive $670,000.
The farms are two of 35 farms statewide receiving grants in the latest round of funding.
State agricultural officials and local assemblymen announced the awards, which total almost $35 million, in front of 60 people at a press conference Thursday at E-Z Acres.
Technically, the grant money goes to the county a farms is in, which buys development rights from the farms.
The state funding represents 75 percent of the conservation easement costs, while the farmers chip in the remaining 25 percent.
The easement, which is noted in the farm’s deed, restricts the use of the land to farming.
Officials at E-Z Acres Thursday, including Assemblyman Gary Finch (R-Springport), emphasized the importance of keeping farming alive as many of them are giving way to housing developments and commercial enterprises.
Farming helps the local economy, preserves open space and is good for the environment, they said.
Mike McMahon, who owns McMahon’s E-Z Acres with his brother, Pete, said preserving his family’s farm will help protect a trout stream and the aquifer, both of which run through his land.
That is obviously good from an environmental standpoint, but also a practical one, he said.
“I can only imagine the public outcry if someone tries to develop over the aquifer,” he said.
He said his family intends to keep the farm for many years to come. His son, Joe, works there, and his other son, Neil, may come on board in the future, he said.
The money from the state will help the farm succeed, and encourage the family to invest more money in new technology, McMahon said.
Over the last 20 years, more than $4 million in investments have been made to the farm, McMahon said.
Susan Sherman, who owns Jerry Dell Farm with her husband, Vaughn, son Ryan and nephew Troy, said she believes her family will also invest the state money it receives.
Sherman says the family has applied a couple times before for a farmland protection grant and is thrilled it finally received one.