The Cortland County Legislature had an eventful 2017, ending yearlong discussions with actions such as implementing flow control, while also encountering many deja vu moments with various issues. Those issues, including the county’s jail project, recycling center and 2018 budget, will now be the concern of next year’s Legislature —which will include eight new members.
Flow control enacted
After the Legislature approved flow control in August, it officially began Nov. 1. The law requires all solid waste haulers who collect trash in the county to dump it at the county landfill.
Previous records and state data show flow control could bring in between 4,000 to 11,000 tons of trash each year; Landfill Supervisor Greg Ernst previously said the county estimates 10,000 tons. With a $65-a-ton tipping fee and an intake of 10,000 tons, the law could generate up to $650,000 a year.
The law was approved to close an $800,000 annual gap in the solid waste budget, which includes the landfill and recycling.
By the end of November, Ernst estimated a 30 to 40 percent increase in tonnage.
About 23,000 tons of trash was brought to the landfill each year before flow control. A 30 to 40 percent increase, if it continues, would see 30,000 to 32,000 tons of trash brought to the facility each year, generating about an extra $455,000 to $585,000 a year.
However, Ernst had concerns not every hauler was abiding by the law.
8 new legislators elected
A common theme among Cortland County communities around election season was they wanted change, and they brought, it electing eight new legislators, nearly half the 17-member Legislature.
Four of those eight won their seat during September’s primary election, while the other four essentially did it during the general election. Also, four incumbents lost in either the primary or general election.
In the September primary, Democrats Douglas Bentley and Beau Harbin won party nominations against incumbents John Troy (D-Cortland) and Amy Cobb (D-Cortland), respectively. Democrat Ronald VanDee, who was nominated to replace retiring Legislator Richard Bushnell (D-Cortland), and Republican Paul Heider, who was nominated to replace retiring Legislator Jim Denkenberger (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton), were uncontested during the primary and general election.
Republican Chad Poli was also uncontested to replace Luke Snyder (I-Cortland), who resigned in September.
In the general election, Democrat Michael Barylski beat incumbent Joseph Steinhoff (R-Cortlandville). Republican Kelly Preston beat incumbent Gordon Wheelock (R-Homer).
Also, Republican Ann Homer beat Democrat Gerald Riter, for the District 7, Cortland seat, which current Legislator Raylynn Knolls decided to step away from.
Jail project delayed
In the Cortland County Legislature’s final act on its jail project for the year, it voted down a proposed resolution this month to move forward with the design process of an almost $50 million jail.
With the project once again delayed, it will now be up to the nine returning and eight new legislators to determine how to address the jail’s crowding.
Approving the resolution would have seen the county move ahead with Phase II of its jail project — completing design work, finishing state-mandated environmental studies and getting the project ready to go out for bid. The project being considered was a a 96,650-squarefoot, $49.8 million facility with 148 beds, sheriff and administration offices and 911 center.
The longer the county waits, the more construction prices go up, said Mike Bollin, project executive for Pike Co. of Rochester.
The 96,650-square-foot option the county considered started at $47.3 million about six months ago.
Also, the state Commission of Correction pressured the county in October to address the crowding issue, approving a variance — for three of the 43 extra beds — for just 60 days.
This month the commission again approved the variance for another 60 days, but stated it would be hard-pressed to approve an additional extension unless it sees progress on jail overcrowding, said Sheriff Mark Helms.
The 26-year-old jail was designed to house 50 inmates, but routinely houses 90 or more with state variances for 13 beds and special permission to house 30 inmates in what used to be indoor recreation space.
Recycling firm rehired
Two weeks after the Legislature’s Solid Waste Committee unanimously rejected a contract with Casella Waste Management to continue running its recycling center, the full Legislature approve it this month.
Upon request of the county Environmental Improvement Committee — which advises county leaders on ways to improve county environmental policy — and legislators, the Solid Waste Committee had a special meeting to reconsider the contract. It was endorsed there and sent to the full Legislature where it was approved 9-7.
The county agreed to a three year term, at $13,000 a year — up from the $12,573 the county now pays — for Casella to continue to run its recycling center on Port Watson Street in the city. However, the county has the option to opt out of the contract after a year, which legislators alluded to wanting to do. A similar idea was discussed by the Legislature last year.
County budget passes
After a yearlong process of winnowing an expected $3.3 million budget gap, the Legislature approved a $134 million 2018 budget in November with a 0.4 percent tax rate increase. In the 2018 budget, the county’s tax levy will increase 1.3 percent to $34.7 million from 2017’s $34.3 million. The tax rate will increase to $15.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value from 2017’s rate of $15.11 per $1,000.
With no mandated services, the highway department cut its county spending 10 percent, about $500,000. The cuts included fewer miles of road rehabilitation and surface treating.
The Sheriff’s Department cut the purchase of a new road patrol vehicle, a decision County Sheriff Mark Helms said won’t hinder the department.
The Department of Social Services cut its county-financed spending 4 percent — about $600,000 — in part by eliminating three vacant positions.
One major cut the county avoided making is to the Health Department’s Early Intervention and Pre-Kindergarten programs.
About $360,000 was to be cut from the programs, forcing two layoffs. But the Health Department will use unspent 2017 money and other funds to save the programs and the jobs. There are already concerns about 2019.
“It’s going to catch up,” County Treasurer Ralph Canfield said. “We’re just utilizing the unappropriated fund balance, rather than borrow, rather than go to some unrestricted reserve, which I’m not aware there’s any.”