Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Building Code

I interrupt coverage of last week's Board meeting to bring you some thoughts on building/zoning codes.

Thursday the planning board will be interviewing candidates for consulting on the zoning ordinance revision process. One of the proposals received included a suggestion that board and committee members take pictures of examples of good and bad examples development in Dryden. That firm has not been invited to interview, but I like the suggestion. So, watch this space for photos reflecting my perspective. If you have photos to add, feel free to send them to me or create links in the comments section of this post.

Aside from my personal preference for undeveloped land, it seems to me that this view from the highest point in the town is indicative of the town's character. This panorama is about 110 degrees. But I could have done 360 degrees with the same result.

One thing I've noticed is that many unattractive areas that could be improved by the addition of some trees. Here, on the corner of Rt 13 and Johnson Road the veterinary office on the northeast corner has no landscaping.

The dentist's office on the northwest corner has made a better effort.

This is my favorite kind of view - note especially no electric wires in view. This is looking north on Ringwood Road.

So you can understand the disappointment when you wind up staring at this while you wait at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill.

And perhaps one of those people who object to the appearance of windmills can tell me what's so lovely about these behemoths. (That second one is on my property .)

Friday, May 11, 2007

May Town Board Meeting, Part I

It was a long meeting again last night - 7:00 PM to 12:30 AM. But I think it was Councilman Makar (thank you, David) who suggested that we take a short break around 10:45 PM. Under the heading of "misery loves company" I was pleased to find when I got home at nearly 1:00 AM and switched on CSPAN, that the House of Representatives was still in session and having a lively debate about intelligence funding - so lively that it sounded more like the House of Commons than the House of Representatives.

The Town Board meeting began with Public Hearings regarding unsafe structures on two different properties. The owners of 1195 have expressed no interest in dealing with the collapsed garage. When the time period for them to respond expires the Board will act to have the building demolished and add the cost to the tax bill for the property. Evan Carpenter, co-owner of 2242 Dryden Road, was present at the hearing. He reports that he has received a Historic Preservation grant for the restoration of one of the barns in question and wants to salvage materials from the other for use in the restoration. We agreed to allow him to continue working on it providing he will be finished by November 1, 2007.

Kris Bennett, representing the Dryden Youth Commission, presented their 2006 annual report. DYC's $82,000 budget is funded by the county and state with matching funds from the town. Take a look at the annual report for descriptions of the many programs offered by DYC. Dave Hall and Tom Archibald discussed Dryden Youth Services available in cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension. With them were two young people who enthusiastically described their participation in the programs, particularly "Primitive Pursuits" which helps develop self-responsibility and leadership through wilderness activities. Finally, Linda Schoffel described the work of Tompkins County Rural Youth Services.

Ann Grant, on behalf of the Southworth Library Booksale, described the benefits to the library as a result of the booksale fundraising. Booksale funding has increased the library's DVD and large print book collections. Ms Grant asked us to consider providing storage space to facilitate the volunteers work for the booksale. Ms Grant also spoke on behalf of the Sleeping Bag Ladies. (Turns out that's Sleeping-Bag Ladies, not Sleeping Bag-Ladies.) They are part of a nationwide movement to provide sleeping bags to homeless people. They've received a grant and are asking the Town to allow them to donate a memorial bench to honor members of the group.

Mr Perazone, from Mason Dixon Energy, representing Ansbro Petroleum, described the company's natural gas exploration work in the area. Some town owned land is within their "area of interest" and they want to talk to town officials about mineral leasing. Supervisor Trumbull will meet with him.

Under Citizens' Privilege, Helen Mandeville, who lives in the far southwest corner of the town (not far from Councilman Makar), asked the board to find ways to make more information about town activities available to the public. Joseph Solomon, from Etna, asked the board to find a way to make the right-angle turn in Lower Creek Road safer.

Highway Superintendent Jack Bush reports that work on the sewer extension to the new town hall site is complete much to the satisfaction and relief of the people who worked on it. Jack also discussed the need for changes to the "284 Agreement" which describes roadwork the department will undertake this season. The agreement is considered by the board in January and spring inspection of roads often reveals different priorities. Some of the roads scheduled for surface treatment this season actually need replacement crossover culverts. So, surface treatment will be postponed 'til culverts replacements are complete and a group of roads next on the list for surface treatment will be moved up to this season. The goal is to surface treat all roads once every five years to prolong the useful life of the surface. Though the department continues to try, they are not yet meeting that goal partly because of budgetary constraints and partly because the crew has spent more time than usual on public works tasks associated with the construction of the new town hall.

With apologies to County Legislator Martha Robertson, I don't have any notes on the County Briefing. But I remember that it was very brief.

T G Miller engineer Dave Putnam reported that he's very pleased with the quality of work recently completed by the Public Works department on the sewer extension to the new town hall site.

Recreation Coordinator Jen Dube presented a request which the board approved to hire six summer recreation assistants to staff the new skateboard park. This year funding for this staff comes from the Dryden Youth Commission. Jen asked for authorization for Supervisor Trumbull to sign contracts for artists scheduled to appear in the Music in the Park series. This year there will be eight concerts at Montgomery Park in the Village of Dryden and six at the Ellis Hollow Community Center. I hope the schedule will appear on the Recreation Department website. I hesitate to provide the link to that page 'cause, well, it's a mess right now. In further news, Jen and one of her assistants will now be listed as authorized Red Cross training providers and the board approved a raise for Recreation Assistant Amanda Christofferson who has recently completed her associates degree.

Attorney Perkins asked for the sense of the board regarding keeping Cortland Road Sewer District rates and the amount quoted by the Village earlier this year although the Village is actually charging a tiny bit less than the original quote. The board agreed to let the rate stand. Any resulting surplus will be applied to future district costs. Perkins reported that negotiations with Hunt Engineering and DiVincentis contracting have resulted in a potential agreement to complete the CRSD flow monitoring for $90,000, somewhat less than the original bid. The equipment has been received and this agreement will allow the work to proceed.

That was item #11 on the agenda and it was 10:45. We took a break which I'm going to do, too. You may be as tired of reading this as I am of writing it. I'll finish tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Community Preservation Fund Legislation

At last night's Conservation Board meeting, former environmental planner Debbie Gross brought to our attention legislation pending in the NYS Senate to enable towns to create a Community Preservation Fund and to fund it with a new tax on transfers of real estate above the local median price. Sounds like a good idea to me. So, this morning I started looking for more information and ways we might encourage legislators to act.

First, browsing the New York State site I started to see why it's hard for the legislature to get anything done. More on that in a minute.

There is a bill, S716, apparently introduced in 2005. It is one of about fifty bills sponsored by Senator Neil Breslin, a democrat in his sixth term representing district 46 in Albany County. The bill remained in the Senate Committee on Governmental Operations until January 8, 2007 when it was referred to the Environmental Conservation Committee where it now sits.

Here's the part I find interesting. It is currently possible for a municipality to establish a Community Preservation Fund, as described above, only by seeking state legislation specific to that municipality. In this way, five Long Island towns have established CPFs. But, as the sponsor's memo says, "This can be a difficult and time-consuming process, and in the recent past, several localities have not been able to secure State legislative approval despite local public support for the initiative."

There are 932 towns in the State of New York. Why would it be necessary to pass separate legislation for each and every one? If S716, enabling all towns to establish CPFs, has taken more than a year to make it to its second committee, how long will it take to pass it? How long (and how many man hours) would it take to pass 927 such bills? The web pages for committees only list members and scheduled meeting times, so I have no idea what discussion of the bill may be going on in the Environmental Conservation Committee.

This is the same procedure required for local governments to enact property tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters. Several dozen towns or counties have enacted such exemptions but it looks like there are several hundred to go. And each one is going to require separate state legislation.

[ed. 5/10/07 This morning Debbie sent me a link to a page of Environmental Advocates of New York advocating for another version of this bill. S3836, introduced by Marcellino, Lavalle, Leibell, Little, Morahan and Robach this year (formerly S6949-A in 2004 and S3153 in 2005-2006) was referred to the Environmental Conservation Committee on 3/16/07. While it has a great deal in common with S716, there are substantial differences.]

Monday, May 07, 2007

Development Incentives

An article in the Saturday Ithaca Journal describes the decision of the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency not to revoke tax abatements for Emerson Power Transmission. In 2002 the IDA granted sales and property tax abatements totaling an estimated $428,000 to help Emerson move a subsidiary to Ithaca. The move was expected to bring 137 new jobs to Ithaca. It has resulted in 129 new hires and Emerson is still planning to hire six more people.

Two weeks ago Emerson announced plans to move 55 corporate jobs out of state. IDA has decided that, in view of recent recession in the industry, the 135 new jobs meets the goal of the tax incentives. The loss of the 55 corporate jobs is unrelated to the tax incentive plan.

A similar decision making process is ongoing in the Town of Dryden. In 2001 the Town of Dryden gave Cayuga Press a low interest HUD loan of $385,000 for a term of 15 years to finance a new press expected to create 15 new jobs. They met the hiring goal promptly. They have consistently made timely payments and have repaid more than a third of the loan plus 2% interest.

In 2006 Peter Schug, owner of Cayuga Press, announced that they are expanding. Because they were unable to find an adequate existing building Dryden and the cost of a new building was prohibitive they planned to move the entire company to the Empire Zone in Cortland and they have now completed that move.

Schug appeared before the Town Board to requests permission for the move as stipulated in the loan agreement and the Board immediately voted to allow the move.

The loan agreement further specifies that if the company moves out of the town a default condition is created under which the Town may decide change the terms of the loan. But since the announcement of the planned move, the Town Board has been dragging its feet through a discussion of the terms of the loan. See discussions in Town Board minutes of 9/14/06, 11/15/06 and 12/7/06 among others. Some board members think Schug, as a long time resident of Dryden, deserves special respect. And that since all employees of Cayuga Press who live in the Town of Dryden are expected to keep their jobs and commute to Cortland, the company has, in fact, met their obligation. And that Cayuga Press is a respectable company and we should continue to support them.

Others, including myself, think that jobs in Cortland are not the same as jobs in Dryden. And that, especially in light of tax incentives available to Cayuga Press in the Cortland Empire Zone, we need not continue to support them. We should make the low interest loan money available to businesses in Dryden. We are willing to extend the loan to Cayuga Press at a competitive interest rate while we recruit other businesses who could expand if they had this low interest loan available. This extension would give Cayuga Press time to arrange other financing.

It seems pretty clear to me. What do you think? Maybe we should have a public hearing.