January 25, 2008


Truxton woman to chair organic farming panel

Twin Oaks Farm owner says goal to expand markets for, offerings of N.Y. grown products


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Organic dairy farmer Kathie Arnold of Truxton has been named chair of a state organic farming task force. The panel, which will hold its first meeting Feb. 6 in Syracuse, will examine the challenges and opportunities within the organic industry.

Staff Reporter

TRUXTON — Truxton organic dairy farmer Kathie Arnold  has been chosen to lead a statewide effort to bolster naturally made farm products.
Arnold, who has operated Twin Oaks Farm in Truxton with her husband, Rick and his brother Bob since 1980, will chair the new 19-member New York State Organic Advisory Task Force.
Also named to the panel was Vaughn Sherman, who owns Jerry Dell farm with his wife, Susan, on the Virgil-Dryden town line.
The panel will examine the challenges and opportunities within the organic industry today.
“I already have a lot of other involvements but the opportunity to help guide and develop organic agriculture and sales in New York was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Arnold said. “I’m pleased to see New York taking that step to get input from those involved in organic agriculture.”
The Twin Oaks Farm was certified to be organic in 1997 and began shipping organic milk in 1998. The farm has 125 milking cows and 700 acres of certified cropland.
Arnold said an issue she sees facing organic farms in New York is that a lot of stores in New York state want to deal with one supplier and its hard for a grower or seller in New York to get organic products year-round. As a result, some stores are going to Western states to get organic products.
“I would hope we could encourage more purchase and contracting of New York-grown produce and products — expand the market here,” she said. “Then more farmers could make the transition to organic and supply that need.”
Arnold also said she would like to see more clarity in the regulations of organic dairy farming.
Organic dairy farms are the largest segment of the organic farm community in New York, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“By working together we can do far more than by working alone,” Arnold said. “The reason to have the task force is to bring a lot of people involved in the organic industry and form a vision on how things could be changed to create a more farmer-friendly and consumer-friendly organic market in New York.”
Sherman has been running Jerry Dell Farm with his wife since 1976. With 300 milking cows and 1,000 acres of land, Sherman’s farm is one of the largest organic farms in the state. It was certified organic in 2000.
“Our whole family has embraced the organic philosophy,” he said. “It’s a consumer-driven force.”
With the rapid increasing demand for organic agriculture, Sherman said he would like to see more youths get involved with organic farming and also have stable prices for both the consumer and farmer.
Organic foods grew 16.2 percent in 2005 in the United States, accounting for $13.8 billion in retail sales, according to the Organic Trade Association, which conducts an annual manufacturing survey.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture for over a decade. The United States had under a million acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005. Organic livestock sectors have grown even faster.
“We’ve got the resources here to supply the organic demand, but if we don’t grow the organic business as fast as the consumer wants it, we will have to bring in foreign suppliers,” Sherman said.
According to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York is among the top 10 states within the country in the number of organic farms. In 2006, there were nearly 600 certified organic farms with approximately 700,000 acres in production.
“The new administration that came in last year recognized organic as an important market in agriculture,” said Jessica Chittenden, spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. “We are looking for ideas on how we can better serve the organic industry by opening communications between the organic industry and the department.”
Chittenden said the members of the task force, who are from all over the state, were chosen based on their involvement in the organic industry and leadership abilities.
Arnold has been involved with various organizations and committees including the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance as a board member, policy committee chair, a writer and co-editor for its quarterly newsletter, NODPA News, and a farmer representative to the National Organic Coalition, which is an organization that gives member groups a Washington, D.C., voice.
Arnold is also a part of the New York State Organic Dairy Task Force and the New York State Dairy Task Force, has written columns for a couple other publications, including Graze magazine, Organic Farms, Food & Folks, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York newsletter.
Sherman is an active member with Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based farmer co-op and a member of its quality and nominated committees.
The New York State Organic Advisory Task Force will be meeting for the first time on Feb. 6 in Syracuse, when each member will identify the most significant issues facing the growth of organic agriculture in New York today.
Chittenden said the meeting will be open ended and the members will form their own agenda, decide how often they should meet and as issues are identified the state will look at how it can help.




County may be close to selecting voting machine

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The County will likely choose the same model of ballot marking devices as its neighbors in the push to come into compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act.
Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe said the county would likely purchase the Sequoia Imagecast ballot marking device, one of three options approved Thursday by the state Board of Elections.
The machine has been endorsed by representatives of the counties that make up the state Election Commissioner Association’s Region 5, which includes Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins and Yates counties.
Because it operates as both a ballot marking device and as a voting machine with minor modifications, Howe said he hopes that the machines, estimated to cost a total of $250,000 initially, would allow the county to fund the purchase of its new electronic voting machines entirely with state monies.
The three machines approved by the state are the Sequoia Imagecast, Premier Automark and the ES&S Automark. All three are optical scan ballot machines.
The optical-scan machines were the choice of the state Democrats, while Republicans favored touch-screen voting machines.
Democratic Election Commissioner Bill Wood refused to comment Thursday to the Cortland Standard.
Counties in the state will be required to have at least one handicapped-accessible polling place, using the so-called ballot marking devices, or BMDs, for the Feb. 5 presidential primary. The county currently owns an Avante BMD that will be used on Feb. 5.
“Anyone that feels they need a machine like that to vote on, they can come to the County Office Building,” Howe said Thursday.
By the primary election in September 2008, every polling place in the county has to have a handicapped-accessible BMD in place. Since each device costs more than $6,000, this would cost about $250,000 to put a BMD in each of the county’s 42 polling locations. Some locations actually encompass more than one polling place, but a single BMD should suffice at each location for 2008, Howe said.
Ballot marking devices simply allow a voter to fill out a ballot, while the voting machines actually record the votes.




Legislative moves —

Anti-crow device gets OK

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Legislature decided Thursday to buy a mobile noisemaker to push crows out of the center of the city, but not without some dissent.
Some Democrats also broke ranks to protest committee assignments favorable to Republicans.
The most significant opposition was lodged against the Legislature’s eventual decision to purchase a mobile noisemaking device to combat the crow problems, mostly within the city limits.
For $2,116, a Canadian company — the same one that installed a stationery unit on the top of the County Courthouse last year — will build a portable unit that would be able to dislodge crows in a 2-acre radius. The unit would be small enough to fit on the back of a truck.
The Legislature approved the purchase 13-6.
Legislators Newell Willcox (R-Homer), Kathie Wilcox (R-5th Ward), Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward), Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward), Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) and Steve Dafoe (D-Homer) voted against the purchase.
Dafoe said that the noisemakers “don’t work,” and would rather see the money go toward the Cortland Free Library, which had $50,000 cut from its 2008 appropriation by the city.
Willcox later agreed the money would be better spent on the library.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said the unit would likely be kept on the back of a Highway Department vehicle until an agency — nonprofit agencies would have priority — requested some help with the crows.
A county employee would drive the truck over and drop off the unit, and would return to pick up the device once the crows had been chased off.
Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said she was pushing for the purchase because the YWCA in her district is unable to allow children to play on the crow feces-encrusted playground. She hopes a mobile noisemaking unit would push the crows off into a better area.
Throughout the meeting, Dafoe, Tagliente, Hartnett, and Spaulding voted together against several committee appointments involving the appointment to extra-legislative committees of Legislature Chairman John Daniels (D-Cortlandville) or Republican legislators.
These included the appointments of Willcox to the county Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors; the appointment of Daniels and legislator Tom Williams (R-Homer) to the Criminal Justice Advisory Board and county Traffic Safety Board; and the appointment of Daniels and Minority Leader Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) to the Tompkins Cortland Community College Financial Oversight Committee.
“We didn’t agree with the appointments,” Dafoe explained afterward. “We weren’t asked to be on any committees.”



Schools, state mandates key to tax reform 

Local officials say each requires consideration as state commission looks at tax relief

Staff Reporter

Longtime Cortlandville resident Carol Duff thinks property taxes, especially for schools, are one of the most unfair forms of tax.
“I have no kids in school, why should I pay a property tax?” said Duff, 63. “This has been a gripe for me for many years.”
She thinks higher sales taxes could eliminate school taxes.
“When you buy an item you pay a little more — you don’t see a nickel, but when you have to come up with $1,200 off the bat, it hurts,” the Fisher Avenue resident said.
One of the goals of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s newly formed property tax commission, the members of which were announced Wednesday, is to examine whether the state should cap school taxes and increase state financial support of school districts.
Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) agrees with Duff that shifting away from property taxes would be a more fair way of doing things. He is open to a higher income tax to replace increases in property tax.
“With the property tax there’s no means testing,” Seward said. “It’s not a matter of what your ability to pay is. You still get your property tax bill. To pay income taxes you have to make money.”
Local government and school district officials agree high property taxes in upstate New York is a problem, driving away people and businesses. But they also fear the commission could do more harm than good, or mask other problems with the state’s property tax system.
McGraw Board of Education President Michelle Stauber said she worries that the state taking over the school’s taxing power would force it to do more with less.
The state has many mandates on school districts, such as requiring a certain number of hours of physical education each week, Stauber said. Unless it does away with them, or guarantees enough state aid, the districts could be in a tough spot, she said.
“I think some of the small schools would be forced to merge,” Stauber said. “I don’t think they would have a choice. Where else would they get the money from?”




Towns question county road repair program

Staff Reporter

Officials of several towns questioned Thursday how the Cortland County Highway Department plans projects in its 10-year capital improvement plan.
County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers and Deputy Highway Superintendent Bob Buerkle fielded the inquires during a meeting of the County, City, Towns, Villages, and Schools Committee.
Town officials were primarily concerned about the piecemeal nature of the county’s program to fix deteriorating roads, bridges and culverts.
Buerkle explained that the Highway Department had drawn up a 20-year plan in 2004, which essentially kicked off the development of the 10-year capital plan, stretching from 2008 to 2017.
The total cost of the improvement program is just over $3.5 million, with 14 percent devoted to bridge improvements, 17 percent devoted to large culvert rehabilitation and the remaining 69 percent set aside for roadwork.
There are essentially three tiers of road maintenance, Buerkle said. The most basic involves surface treating a road, followed by a new process called “mulching,” which involves grinding up the top layer of a road, adding some binding chemicals and laying the material back down on the road surface, with a layer of oil and stone on top.
Partial-depth rehabilitation is the most involved work the county performs, which involves grinding up the top 4 to 5 inches of the road, combining the old material with new material, laying it back down and stabilizing the entire road surface, waiting a year to identify any problems and then putting down the top course of asphalt.
Buerkle said mulching should allow roads in moderate need of repair to last another five to 10 years, by which time the Highway Department would be able to perform partial-depth stabilization of the road.
The 10-year plan would likely have to be redrawn every five years to account for changing conditions, Buerkle said.
There are 248 miles of county roads and 60 county-owned bridges, Buerkle said. The county is trying to rehabilitate 10 miles of road each year, he later added.