October 27, 2021

The year’s top 10 stories

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, congratulates Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin, left, on Friday after announcing the winner of the Revitalizing Downtown Cortland grant at the Cortland Repertory Theatre in Cortland.

Think about what history might say about 2017 in Cortland. Heroin scourged the population for the first time in decades, but almost as important to residents was a spree of grafitti in downtown Cortland.

The county’s urban core saw announcements and projects that would — if they all come to fruition — invest more than $75 million in businesses and other economic development — including winning a competitive $10 million revitalization initiative from the state — but people were just as interested in the pending closure of one century-old shop run by a man who was behind the counter for the better part of seven decades.

A spring snowstorm dropped more snow on Cortland than any storm in nearly 25 years, and floods left people homeless and communities cleaning up in July. The county enacted flow control, saving it hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but ended the year stalled on plans to build a new jail, with delays adding millions to the potential cost.

Cortland Standard editors ranked their top stories of the year, which were surprisingly close to the results of an online poll it conducted of readers. Here they are:

10. Cortland schools consider space needs

Cortland City School District officials commissioned a study of space needs in school buildings in response to $37 million in anticipated costs of maintaining aging academic buildings while enrollment is decreasing.

Parker and Virgil elementary schools have been cited for potential closure, upsetting families whose children attend those schools, but district officials say no decisions have been reached. The district may also create a middle school, either by adding sixth graders to the existing junior-high school, or re-purposing one of the elementary schools.

Several options are being considered on re-configuring the schools, which also would include construction of new academic space. The study is expected to be completed next month and changes, if any, are not anticipated until 2019.

8. (tie) Legislature sees eight new members

The November general election and September primary elections resulted in eight new members of the Cortland County Legislature, nearly half of the 17 members. Republicans held onto their majority. Of the group, only former Legislator Ron VanDee, a Democrat from Cortland who returns to the Legislature, has experience as a county lawmaker. The county still faces an order by the state to solve its jail crowding. A flow-control law closed some of a solid waste budget gap, but not all. The county signed a contract with a recycling center operator, but wants to run the facility itself. And the county treasurer said the budget has tapped every reserve.

8. (tie) County enacts flow control

After years of occasional discussion, the Cortland County Legislature in August approved a flow control law, requiring that all garbage generated in the county be disposed of at the county landfill. Concerns of a lawsuit from trash haulers were overshadowed by the need to stem annual losses of about $800,000 in the county solid waste department, which includes the landfill and recycling center.

During the first month of flow control, in November, volume of waste accepted at the landfill in Solon increased 30 to 40 percent. County officials cautioned that it was too early to determine the long-term trends, and suspect some haulers are not complying, but that rate of increase would result in $650,000 more in extra income each year.

6. (tie) Crescent Commons project tops $16 million

Construction began in July to renovate the vacant former Crescent Corset factory on south Main Street in Cortland into Crescent Commons, a $16.2 million mix of commercial space and 47 market-rate apartments by David Yaman Realty Services.

The 149,000-square-foot building once produced women’s undergarments. It is listed on both the New York State Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places.

6. (tie) Floods cause millions in damage

Summer floods caused millions of dollars in damage and disrupted many lives, but the federal Emergency Management Agency ruled this month that the damages would not be eligible for federal aid.

Cortland, Broome, Herkimer, Madison, Tioga and Oneida counties all saw significant flooding. Many roads were covered by floodwaters and several were significantly damaged. Especially hard hit were Moravia, Virgil and Harford. Between 10 and 20 inches of rain fell in a 90-day period in the region. One storm on July 14 dumped 3 inches of rain.

Municipalities were left to cover the cost of repairs in the absence of any federal assistance.

5. Developments in Dryden

The town of Dryden, which only a few years ago was on the cutting edge of opposition to proposed state regulations that would have governed natural gas hydrofracking, was deeply divided this year over another environmental energy issue: solar power.

An ordinance for solar power projects was approved in February and two large-scale solar project were later approved after much debate, where complaints centered around the trade-off of green energy with the aesthetic changes it would bring to the community.

It was a campaign issue for town offices, swept by Democrats, who supported the projects as proposed. Republicans backed solar power, but not the locations of those two projects, one near a cemetery and the other off Ellis Hollow Road.

A wind turbine in Freeville also brought mixed reaction, before town officials eventually forbade it, along much the same line of reasoning.

But many of the same people who disagreed on the energy issues worked together to develop 8.1 miles of a 10.5-mile rail trail connecting the village of Dryden to the village of Freeville, and then to Ithaca.

4. McNeil & Co invests downtown

McNeil & Co. continued a $7.2 million, seven-building construction and renovation program in downtown Cortland to create a corporate campus that would keep 100 jobs in the city and allow for future growth.

The work left parts of downtown covered in scaffolding, with cranes, dumpsters and vehicles dotting the landscape. When it’s completed, buildings at 9, 11-15, 17-29, 65-67 Main St., 16 and 20 Church St., and 24 Central Ave. — several of them previously vacant — will be filled.

3. Heroin comes home to roost

The eight opioid overdose deaths in 2016 in Cortland County were, more or less, expected when they were reported in 2017, confirming a national trend coming home to Cortland. But that didn’t make it any easier on the families who had to deal with it.

Families told the stories of affected loved ones; addicts described how hard it can be to stay sober. Health officials discussed strategies to treat addiction, rather than prosecute it.

The Cortland County Jail began using an opioid addiction treatment in March as county agencies lobbied doctors to reduce opioid prescriptions, increased drug education for youths and reminded residents a Good Samaritan law prevents charges from being filed against someone who reports an overdose.

Heroin and opioid use has washed over America with the number of overdose deaths each year quadrupling since 1999, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The trend had largely missed Cortland County, until now. In 2015, so few overdose deaths were reported in Cortland County that state authorities couldn’t identify the drugs involved without also identifying the patient.

But total overdoses also spiked to 43 cases in Cortland County from 18 the year before, a trend that continued through at least the first quarter of 2017, state data show.

Administration of naloxone, the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, likewise climbed, to 82 administrations in 2016 and 29 in the first six months of 2017, up from 44 in 2015.

And admissions to treatment facilities jumped 50 percent, to 326 in 2016, and 115 in the first quarter of 2017, from 217 in 2015.

2. Hospital seeks affiliation

Cortland Regional Medical Center announced in September it seeks an affiliation with Pennsylvania-based Guthrie Medical Group, which would provide $41 million in investment, local control and no service cuts for at least a decade.

The deal, if it’s completed in 2018, would help protect more than 700 jobs — the hospital is the largest private employer in Cortland County — and perhaps stem operating losses that topped $10.4 million in 2016.

Guthrie, a 300-doctor, 200-advance practice provider network based at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania, is itself affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, a 4,500-doctor research-oriented health network whose keystone facility in Minnesota was rated the best hospital in America by U.S. News and World Report.

Besides the hospital in Sayre, Guthrie has hospitals in Corning, Troy and Towanda, Pennsylvania, totaling 379 inpatient beds and 20 observation beds. It also has a network of five walk-in clinics, six medical supply stores, a 66-bed assisted living facility and 5,500 full- and part-time employees.

Cortland Regional, besides the hospital and nursing home, has eight other locations in Cortland and Homer. It employs 43 doctors and advance practice providers for a region including 74,000 people in and around Cortland County.

1. State invests $10 million downtown

The $10 million the state awarded in October to Cortland in its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, while no small peanuts, is only part of the prize.

The $10 million award, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Cortland to announce, begins a process, guided by a state-appointed consultant. The money will be invested in projects meant not simply spruce up the downtown area, but prepare it for the next generation of development. In other communities, the $10 million has led to $40 million, $50 million or more in both public and private investment.

So far, 42 sponsored projects have been pitched, from upscale, market-rate housing and mixed-use developments to downtown Wi-Fi, electric-vehicle charging stations and even a municipal internet service provider. The list of projects will be finalized in March.

The final rankings

According to the editors

• 10. Cortland schools consider space needs

• 8. (tie) Legislature sees eight new members

• 8. (tie) County enacts flow control

• 6. (tie) Crescent Commons project tops $16M

• 6. (tie) Floods cause millions in damage

• 5. Dryden developments bring conflict, cooperation

• 4. McNeil & Co. continues $7.2M investment

• 3. Heroin comes home to roost

• 2. Cortland hospital seeks affiliation

• 1. City wins $10M revitalization

According to the readers

• 10. Great Graffiti Spree — Two men are charged in October in a four-month spray-painting spree in downtown Cortland. Jacob A. Vassalotti, 21, of Cortland, and Mark E. Southworth, 22, of Cortland, both faced felonies.

• 9. Jail design picked — Twenty- five years after it opened, and 20 years after it began housing more inmates than it had capacity for, debate on renovating or replacing the Cortland County Jail comes to a head. A committee picks a 148-bed, $49.8M facility. However, a monthslong delay adds millions to the cost. County legislators defeat the resolution to proceed in December, leaving it to a new Legislature.

• 8. March snow storm — Cortland County closes — streets, roads, schools and businesses — March 14 when 25 inches of snow blanket the area. It is one of the worst storms in the county since the Blizzard of 1993 dropped 38 inches.

• 7. Bermudez pleads guilty — Brian Bermudez accepts a plea in October following a 2016 fire that killed a neighbor. He was making meth that started the fire Sept. 2, 2016, in a historic building in downtown Homer, killing Dewayne Block, 81. Bermudez will be sentenced Jan. 4 to five to 15 years in prison.

• 6. Nonprofits to cluster on Homer Avenue — Developer David Yaman and a consortium of nonprofits announce a $5.5 million plan in November to fill a Homer Avenue plaza with day-care programs, apartments for abused women, historical exhibits and a year-round farmers market, re-developing an underused property.

• 5. McNeil & Co. continues $7.2M investment

• 4. Cortland hospital seeks affiliation

• 3. Mullen Office Outfitter closes — Fritz Mullen, 94, announces in November the pending closure of his store, Mullen Office Outfitter, which has been a fixture on Cortland’s Main Street for 104 years.

Today is the store’s last day.

• 2. Cortland wins $10M revitalization

• 1. Heroin comes home to roost.