December 29, 2011
Landfill debate splits legislators
County goes back and forth on outside trash, loses out on CHHA transfer
The year 2011 was marked by contention on the Cortland County Legislature as officials grappled with a decision of whether to allow outside trash at the landfill before ultimately deciding against it.
The Legislature next year will be faced with the issue of what measures to take to cut down on losses in the county’s solid waste fund.
The county anticipates losing about $1 million between operations and debt at both the recycling center and landfill in 2012. As a result of its November action accepting a state environmental quality review study of the solid waste law change, the Legislature is now facing a lawsuit being brought by three McGraw landowners claiming the SEQR was flawed.
Local attorney Lee Miller filed the suit in Madison County on Dec. 14.
The Legislature was also disappointed by the loss of about $1.2 million from the sale of the county’s certified home health agency to Rochester-based HCR Services. The transition of services will not carry with it the planned sale price, after a decision by the state in early December revamped the way CHHAs are formed.
The county has not yet declared how it will respond to that decision.
Cortland County legislators took hold of the county’s fiscal issues during the summer by redistributing Treasurer’s Office duties. County Administrator Martin Murphy took on oversight of the office’s accounting functions in July. In September, Murphy reported he had balanced 48 previously unreconciled accounts.
As a result of the change, the Legislature voted to decrease the treasurer’s salary from the approximately $62,000 Treasurer Pat O’Mara makes to the $32,000 to $39,000 range. The change will take effect in January.
The county budget plan for 2012 stayed within the state-mandated 2 percent tax increase, but managed to raise the tax levy by 4.3 percent over the 2011 levy because of state exclusions. The new tax levy is $32.4 million and the spending plan is $119.8 million.
The budget does not address culvert and bridge maintenance needs, prompting legislators in November to approve a $30 million bonding plan, which would pay for needed replacements over the next 40 years.
The county received good news at the end of December as a $4 million grant was awarded to the county for its radio upgrade that is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission by 2013. The money will offset some of the approximately $10.9 million cost of leasing equipment from Motorola, which is doing the approximately $14 million upgrade for the county.
Change of guard
Legislature Chairman Jack Williams, who served one full term after filling in for a departing legislator in 2009, lost to Republican John Natoli in a close vote in the 8th Ward.
The Legislature in 2012 will have a Republican majority, a shift from the Democratic leadership the Legislature saw over the past term. The defeat of Williams to a Republican in November shifted the majority to Republicans.
The Republicans have stated their support for Legislator Mike Park (R-Homer) as chair, though it remains to be seen if that nomination will hold or if the Democrats will put up a candidate against Park at the reorganizational meeting Wednesday.
Williams had been a critic of Public Defender Keith Dayton’s performance and was in turn sued by Dayton last year over his acquisition of Family Court transcripts.
The suit was dismissed in April as Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dowd ruled Dayton did not have the authority to sue on behalf of his clients, since he did not have signed agreements from them allowing him to litigate on their behalf.
The committee reviewing biennially appointed candidates, decided to post only Dayton’s job in November, interviewing one other candidate and questioning Dayton on his outside employment teaching economics at SUNY Cortland.
Since the committee made no recommendation, county officials are considering re-evaluating the system of making recommendations for these biennially appointed candidates.
The county is gearing up to protect itself against heavy truck traffic associated with the natural gas industry, passing a road preservation law at the end of the year.
About half the land in Cortland County is leased by gas companies and the technology used to extract the gas, known as hydrofracking, has been faulted by some for potentially harming the environment and local water sources.
The county formed a committee to examine the impacts of drilling on all levels and is submitting comments to the regulations put forth by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The county wants further local protections and compensation for any damage incurred by the activities.
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