January 20, 2022

Finding Homer Avenue funds

Cortland looks to piece together grants to cover cost of rebuild

Kevin Conlon/city editor

The curbs are broken in many places along Homer Avenue in Cortland, but the city has been invited to apply for federal loans through the Environmental Protection Agency to replace mains under the street, and rebuild the street itself, much like it is now doing with Clinton Avenue.

The city of Cortland plans to seek a $12 million federal loan to rebuild and improve Homer Avenue, but the ultimate plan is to obtain grants to fund any work, a city official and the incoming mayor said Monday.

The Homer Avenue project and the funding are similar to a project that is under way to rebuild Clinton Avenue, said Mack Cook, the city director of administration and finance.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that Cortland was one of 39 municipalities across the country that were given an opportunity to seek Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans for public health and water quality projects.

Cortland was approved for a $16.1 million EPA loan for the Clinton Avenue project, but the city pieced together grants from about six or seven state programs over eight years that covered the entire cost of the work. The total cost is about $13 million for the project expected to be completed next year, Cook said. That does not include a path linking to Yaman Park.

The same approach is planned for the Homer Avenue project, said Cook, who said grants are being sought to avoid loans and the effect on property taxes of repaying them.

The project’s final scope would depend on how much in grants can be obtained, Cook said.

“You try to knock on every door that is open,” he said. “The city’s tax base sure doesn’t have it.”

Mayor Brian Tobin could not be reached for comment Monday. His term expires Dec. 31 and he will be replaced by Scott Steve. Steve said Monday the city must rely on grants if it is to proceed with work on Homer Avenue.

“It depends on the availability of (grant) funds,” he said. “That’s a big undertaking.”

The “wish list” plan for Homer Avenue is $25 million, but a more likely estimate is $12 million, Cook said.

Homer Avenue is one of the two primary entrances to the city for people coming from Interstate 81. The project would extend the length of Homer Avenue, between Groton Avenue and the city’s border with Cortlandville.

It would replace water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer pipelines, rebuild the road, replace curbs and sidewalks, plant new trees and add a bicycle path.

The state is expected to announce this week the winners of the annual Consolidated Funding Application process, which includes aid from many agencies, said Cook, who is awaiting word on requests for the Homer Avenue work.

There have been discussions for years about improving the entire route from Interstate 81’s Exit 12 into the city. The village of Homer has been working on a river trail on the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River along Route 11 on part of that path. Cook said the city’s Homer Avenue project is independent of that effort.

The city’s infrastructure is about a century old and it costs about $2 million per mile for each of the water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer lines, Cook said. He said it is not worth rebuilding the road and improving the sidewalks and curbs without also replacing the underlying infrastructure.