October 21, 2021

Needle drop-off resolution goes to Legislature

If a resolution to put a needle disposal unit at the Cortland County Office Building passes the full legislature Nov. 21, it may be months before the unit is actually installed, a county health official said.

“I’m waiting to get the specs for the concrete,” said Catherine Feuerherm, the county health director. By then, the ground may have frozen, so she said a few months may pass before the collection unit is in place.

The unit, one of three that county health officials hope to establish, would allow people to safely dispose of used syringes, be they opioid users — some of whom now leave used needles in Courthouse Park and elsewhere around the community — or people who must inject medications, such as insulin-dependent diabetics.

The legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday, 5-0, to endorse signing a memorandum of understanding with the Southern Tier AIDS Program to install and maintain the needle kiosk. Legislators Joan Coombs (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet) and Richard Stock (D- Cortland) were absent.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee voted Tuesday, 6-1, to sign the memorandum. Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-Cortland) voted no on Tuesday, but yes at Health and Human Services to endorse it.

“Let it go,” he said. “I don’t like it any better today than I did yesterday.” There is no cost to the taxpayer to do this, said Legislator Beau Harbin, chairman of Buildings and Grounds. “Cortland is the last county in (New York) without any municipal needle disposal boxes, and I am so glad we could help move this forward to the full legislature,” Harbin said in a social media post. “Hopefully we can expand this program and bring on board other local municipalities to host their own needle disposal boxes.”

Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) said he voted against the resolution Tuesday, although the meeting minutes say he voted in favor.

“I just want to state in Buildings and Grounds I voted against this,” he said. “Not that I’m not for it, but I don’t think it went far enough. I think Marathon, Cincinnatus, these small towns also need a receptacle, unless we’re saying the only drug users are in the city of Cortland and we know that’s not true.”

Feuerherm said the resolution for the county office building was just the beginning.

“I have asked all of New York state and STAP (Southern Tier AIDS Program) of the availability and willingness to house kiosks in all municipalities should they agree to do so or desire to do so,” she said.

She has not gotten an answer.

“It can happen one way or another,” she said, noting her department has authorization to maintain a sharps container and county maintenance crews can dispose of the needles.

“We can be anything we want to be,” she said.

Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland) said the kiosk wouldn’t be “promulgating illicit drug use” and would give people who use needles for medical reasons such as diabetes a safe site to dispose of them.

“Despite some folks’ concerns, this really is not a huge liability for us,” she said.
The full plan is to have three locations — one at the county office building, one at the Homer Police Department and one at Cortland City Hall. Feuerherm said Cortland Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy is bringing the concept to the city council and Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman will bring the idea to the Homer Village Board.