The overhaul of Clinton Avenue, the city dropping out of a Drug Enforcement Agency task force and the possible purchase of the former Parker Elementary School by the city were among the top stories for the city of Cortland in 2019.
Work began in July on a $21 million project that will replace the infrastructure of the city’s east-west corridor along Clinton and Groton avenues between Pomeroy Street and Floral Avenue.
The first part of the project replaced the water main along Clinton Avenue from Pomeroy Street to Main Street, while subcontractors from Carter’s Tree Service in Cortland cut down trees that were growing over the old water main.
Next summer, the sewer and storm water pipes will be replaced along Clinton Avenue, and new sidewalks, curbing, a bike path, trees and landscaping will be added.
In total, the project will take four to five years to complete.
The project will replace water, sewer and stormwater pipes that are more than a century old, according to Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance.
The project is being funded by $21 million in state and federal grants and loans, including $4.8 million that will construct bike paths between Yaman Park and SUNY Cortland.
DEA Task Force
The city Common Council voted in two separate meetings on Sept. 17 and Oct. 1 for the city police department to drop out of a federal Drug Enforcement Agency task force based in Syracuse. The decision triggered a public outcry, but when council then reconsidered its vote, it voted once again to not participate in the task force.
Aldermen in favor of dropping the program cited overtime costs, inadequate federal reimbursement ($18,000 a year), the absence of the officer from the city, concerns about compensation payments if the officer were injured outside the city and vehicle mileage and wear and tear as reasons for dropping out. One city officer participated part-time in the task force; Lt. Michael Strangeway was the task force member for more than two years. Both he and Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said they were shocked by the decision.
Resident Dean O’Gorman, who lost his son Spencer in 2017 to a heroin overdose, sharply criticized the council for its decision to exit the task force.
“Money shouldn’t be a factor,” he said. “You want to talk money? You want to talk numbers? How much is one life worth?”
After more than a year of uncertainty, the future of the former Parker school became a little clearer this month, after the city Common Council scheduled a Jan. 7 vote on whether to purchase the old school from the Cortland Enlarged City School District. The former Parker and Virgil elementary schools closed in June following the consolidation of the school district’s five elementary schools into three buildings.
The school’s future got another boost last week, when the city secured a $500,000 state grant to renovate the building. The building is expected to require $2 million in capital expenses over 10 years, $460,000 in start-up expenses and $166,000 in annual operating expenses.
If the city votes to buy the building, the school board could vote as early as Jan. 14 to agree to the sale; the sale would then be decided by public referendum.
The city has considered a proposal to allow two local nonprofits — the local YWCA and CAPCO — run child care programs in the building.
Use of the building, however, would be restricted by bonds connected with the school issued by the New York State Dormitory Authority. One restriction bans use of the school by religious groups — a provision that prevented another group, the Cortland Christian Academy, from also using the former school.
Bond requirements would allow the city to charge the YWCA and CAPCO for operational expenses, but the city would be prohibited from profiting from the arrangement.