March 28, 2007

Flooding closes three county roads

East River Road reopens, Tioughnioga level drops


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Adam Hewes, left, and Robert Schmidt ride their bikes along Kellogg Road after looking over the flooded roadway Tuesday afternoon. The road has been closed due to flooding from the adjacent Tioughnioga River.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Although the Tioughnioga River crested Tuesday just short of 10 feet, it should be dropping below its flood stage today and Thursday.
No rain is expected over the next few days, said Binghamton-based National Weather Service meteorologist Mitch Gilt. Temperatures should remain seasonable, with highs in the 50s.
The Tioughnioga River crested at 9.8 feet Tuesday evening, and should drop to 8.9 feet by tonight and then to 8 feet by Thursday morning, according to Brenda DeRusso, the county’s assistant emergency management coordinator.
Flood stage for the Tioughnioga River is 8 feet.
Flooding closed three roads in the county on Tuesday — Kellogg Road in Cortlandville, Upper Lisle Road in Willet, and East River Road, between Cheningo and West Cheningo roads, in Preble.
County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said this morning that East River Road reopened by 9 a.m., but Kellogg and Steger roads remain closed today.
Minor erosion to the shoulders of several county roads will require some repairs, Chambers said, but there has not been any severe damage to the roads.
The county 911 Center has only received a few calls about water problems in private homes, according to DeRusso.
Further details were unavailable this morning.






Cuyler judge will fight state dismissal

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — A local judge who is appealing a state panel’s decision to have her removed from office said Tuesday that she is being “persecuted.”
Cuyler Town Justice Jean Marshall, 56, of 4710 State Route 13, said she is going to fight a state Commission on Judicial Conduct’s decision that recommended she be removed from office.
“My position is that I hope they treat me fairly instead of just listening to the commission’s side,” she said, in her first public comments about the matter.
Based on the commission’s February recommendation, the state Court of Appeals suspended Marshal Tuesday with pay pending her appeal, according to a posting on the court’s Web site.
“I haven’t gotten anything in the mail,” she said of the decision. “I’m hearing this from my friends.”
The commission said in its decision that Marshall dismissed four cases in 2003 based on “ex-parte,” or out-of-court conversations.
“I don’t even think they were ex-parte conversations,” she said. “The defendants had said the problems are taken care of. I didn’t discuss anything about the case with them.”
Marshall said the four defendants — who were accused of being in violations of town codes regarding building permits and too many unregistered vehicles on their properties — called her before a court appearance and told her that they had remedied the violations.
She said that when the town’s Code Enforcement Officer Douglas Staley came to the court appearance she told him to reevaluatethe properties. Staley never updated her on his findings so she dismissed the cases, she said.
Staley could not be reached for comment this morning.
The commission’s decision states that during the investigation into the dismissals it discovered Marshall made the decisions only because she did not like the way the town was dealing with the violations. She felt Stanley was only targeting poor people in the town, the decision said.
Marshall said Tuesday her disagreement with Staley did play a role in her decision.
“The code enforcement officer was being biased,” she said. “That was part of the reason, the other part was because they (Staley and Victoria Monty, the former town attorney) didn’t get back to me.”
The commission’s second charge accuses Marshall of trying to cover-up the dismissals by changing calendar dates and then lying under oath during the investigation.
Commission members said in their decision that they feel the deception were a much greater violation than the initial dismissals.
“In our view this was not a routine alteration and that respondent’s purpose in altering her calendar was to obstruct the investigation,” the decision said.
Marshall maintains that she altered the calendars before the investigation, not as a way to cover up any wrongdoing. She also says that she never lied under oath.
“I had put the date in the calendar with a question mark,” she said Tuesday, explaining that she then made the alteration the day after the December 2003 court appearance.
Commission spokesman Robert Tembeckjian declined to comment this morning about Marshall’s comments, stating that he would allow the commission to address her statements in briefs during the appeals process.
Cuyler Town Supervisor Steven Breed has not answered phone calls seeking information about who will act as the judge while Marshall appeals the decision.
Breed, who is Marshall’s brother, was upset by the commission’s recommendation and said in February that if the state removed her he would reappoint her.


Wal-Mart site plan review under way

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Over the course of the next month and a half, the town Planning Board will review the site plan and Aquifer Protection Permit application for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13.
The schedule for hammering out the details of developing the 205,000-square-foot store was set at a Planning Board meeting Tuesday night. The board briefly discussed preliminary “sketch” plans for the development of two other retail locations.
The building-supply chain Lowe’s has owned the current Wal-Mart location on Route 13 since January 2004, and would demolish that store and build a new one once Wal-Mart has relocated. Meanwhile, Country Max is looking to relocate from Cortlandville Plaza on Route 281 to a site on the south side of Route 13.
Three meetings in April and one in May are expected to constitute the Planning Board’s review of the Wal-Mart proposal, and each meeting will deal with a separate subject in order to keep the discussion focused.
One meeting would deal with the layout, landscaping and architecture of the site; a second would examine traffic on and off-site (including the Bennie Road relocation); a third would handle stormwater management and utilities; and a fourth would pick up whatever else fell through the cracks.
The board now has 45 days to review the site plan and aquifer permit before forwarding the information to the county Planning Department, which would then have another 45 days to return its suggestions to the town.
One likely point of interest would result from the recommendation that two outparcels in the southwest corner of the site be left as green space, and possibly used as a town park, as suggested by the Town Board and attached to the March 6 approval of Wal-Mart’s Planned Unit Development zoning application by the Town Board.
The Planning Board felt this scenario would help buffer the Walden Place senior assisted living community from the rerouted Bennie Road and Wal-Mart’s traffic.
An 8-foot tall buffer wall is planned for that section of the site, but Planning Board member Nick Renzi noted that any wall that high would be an eyesore, and that open space would further protect Walden Place.
Steve Cleason of APD Engineering, Wal-Mart s engineering firm, contended that if the outparcels are turned into a park, the location in a commercial area would not generate many visitors, and if it did, that the pedestrian traffic would present a hazard.
“Quite honestly, I think you guys are going to miss the boat if you take away those outparcels,” Cleason told the board. “And the reason is — and again, I’m surprised you don’t agree with me on this, but — having the development along this corridor isn’t going to help this corridor if you have two very strategically placed, well-planned outparcels here. Because this is a better suited area for development, with this (planned) traffic signal, than having that development occur along the corridor.”
The approval of Wal-Mart’s PUD application earlier in the month after a three-year process is what drew Lowe’s back in front of the Planning Board, said Site Development Manager for the building supplies chain, Tyler McDermott.
The existing Wal-Mart would be demolished to make way for a new Lowe’s, which would be 94,000 square feet, and rest on a 14-acre parcel.


City schools’ $38.4M budget would add jobs

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city school district is proposing adding staff in its $38.4 million budget proposal for 2007-08, in sharp contrast to recent years when staffing levels have been cut or remained flat.
But, as usual there are uncertainties in the budget and it is not likely a state budget will be in place by the April 1 deadline.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 1.
The biggest uncertainty in the budget is with Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s “Contract for Excellence,” which for Cortland schools would call for spending up to _$1.2 million to address specific problem areas.
Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said there is no clear direction on either the amount or how the money is to be spent. “There is a significant amount of aid coming in but there will be some strings attached,” he said.
The aid should be used to show improvement in weak areas, such as in the graduation rate among special education students, Spring said.
Under the Contract for Excellence, the district is proposing adding 3.5 special education teaching positions district-wide for $200,000, 2.5 instructional coaching positions for $150,000 and using another $150,000 for other staffing needs.
Spring proposed adding $500,000 in Contract for Excellence funds for the new positions to the budget that would only be spent if this additional state funding comes through. With this funding the budget would increase by 6.4 percent or $2.3 million from the current budget.
Another $500,000 of the Contract for Excellence money would be spent on an existing reading recovery program, which works with students struggling with reading and writing skills in small groups and individually, and keeping smaller class sizes at the primary level, he said. The money would be spent regardless if the additional aid comes through.
If the additional funding is not approved by the state, the district would not spend the additional $500,000, resulting in a budget just shy of $38 million and a budget increase of 5 percent.
In either proposal, staff positions are added, said Director of Business Services Stephen Pearsall. The $38 million proposal adds a half-time psychologist for $30,000, a full-time teaching assistant for special education for $27,000, nine one-to-one aides for special education for $202,500, half the estimated cost of a school resource officer (with the other half, estimated at $40,500, proposed to be paid by the City of Cortland) and a full-time literacy coach. The literacy coach would replace an elementary teacher position at an additional cost of $6,000.
The budget also calls for an increase of students in the BOCES Workforce Prep programs, costing an additional $153,000 and training for two staff members in reading recovery.
Budget decreases include savings from teacher retirements, a position in the business department that is currently vacant, eliminating a vacant library media specialist position and replacing it with a teaching assistant, assigning more classroom teaching to curricular leaders and decreasing the number and cost of placing special education students in BOCES programs.
Local property taxes and state aid make up the bulk of the revenues for the budget. Projections are for state aid to increase by $1.8 million for the district, from $19.4 million to $21.2 million.
The proposed tax levy is $13.6 million, a $332,037, or 2.6 percent increase, from the 2006-07 levy.


Indacom Tool auctions off its equipment

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A metal machining company in the former Smith Corona building is leaving after allegedly not paying rent and utilities for seven months.
The company — Indacom Tool & Mold — held an auction Tuesday at which a room full of equipment was for sale and scores of people attended.
The pieces of equipment for sale are the last remnants of Smith Corona, said Michael Chernago, general manager of Indacom Place, the building housing the equipment, and former vice president of operations for Smith Corona.
“Some of this equipment that’s been here in this building has been here for 22 to 30 years,” he said.
Thomas Cela, the owner of Indacom Tool & Mold, owes Indacom Place $29,466 in rent, electricity and heating charges, according to documents filed Monday with the Cortland County clerk. Indacom Place, a 413,000-square-foot building with 26 tenants, is owned by Karl Ochs.
The documents state that despite repeated requests for payment, Cela has failed and refused to pay the costs. Cela did, however, in March send Chernago a letter stating his decision to terminate his lease on March 31.
Cela could not be reached Tuesday afternoon to say how many jobs  would be lost with the closing of the local facility.
Chernago said he thinks as of last week the company had two employees, though he is not sure.
He said he used to be president of the company, before Karl Ochs sold it to Cela about a year ago. He said when Cela bought the company he took on the 10 employees he and Ochs had.
Chernago said he does not know if the employees were laid off little by little over time or on a certain date.
Cela has been summoned to answer a complaint about the amount he owes within the next several weeks.
If he does not answer the complaint, a judgment will be sought, according to a letter from Robert Shafer, the plaintiff’s attorney.
Chernago said several parties are interested in leasing from Ochs the 10,000 square feet used by Indacom Tool & Mold. He said almost all the building is full with tenants.
The J.M. Murray Center is one of the interested parties, said Greg Frank, the nonprofit’s vice president of operations. Frank said this morning the company would like to expand its spool refurbishing and plastic bin reprocessing operations within the building. About 20 employees already use 60,000 square feet of the building, he said.
“We’ve been told by both BorgWarner and Albany International they’re anticipating an increase in business this year,” Frank said of the need for the additional space.