January 1, 2004

Looking forward and back

The Ithaca Journal welcomes the New Year with warm wishes to new leaders in local municipalities, including Dryden, and reports mixed results for the county's economy in November.

Posted by simon at 11:31 AM Comment

Early days of Republicans in Dryden

As the Republicans are taking over the town board this year, it seems like a good day to reflect back upon the earliest days of Republicanism in Dryden, during the years before and during the Civil War. George Goodrich relates how Dryden was so opposed to slavery that it became known as "Black Dryden" for its staunchly Republican voting patterns.

Chapter XVII

The Civil War Period - Slavery

It is with a consciousness of our inability to do the subject justice that we undertake to record the history of Dryden in connection with the War of the Rebellion and the great events which immediately preceded and followed it, occupying the third quarter of our Century Period, and extending from 1847 to 1872. It was no slight misunderstanding or sudden outburst of jealousy or anger which caused the enlightened and usually sober-minded people of our country - North and South - to engage with all their might in a fierce and bloody conflict lasting over four years, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives and expending billions of money, involving in its results the very existence of the nation itself. No section of the country stood more loyally by the government, freely offering up its treasure and the lives of its best citizens for the support of the Union and the cause of freedom in this desperate struggle than did the town of Dryden, and none can claim a greater interest in, or credit for, the result. In the darkest days of the conflict, when the draft riots in New York city indicated weariness of the war, and the votes of the majorities in some sections seemed ready to declare the war a failure, our people continued to roll up increasing majorities at the polls for the war party, and with a firm determination to win, promptly responded to all calls for men and money. To the extent in which she participated in it, the history of this war is the history of Dryden and will be so treated.

In the light of history it is no uncertain fact that the cause of this war was negro slavery. It was not so fully recognized as such at the time, neither party being willing to admit it, the North claiming that they were simply fighting to preserve the Union, while the South contended that they were merely seeking their independence. History removes all sham pretenses from both sides and clearly reveals the fact that the subject of the contention was the perpetuation of slavery in the United States.

As we have seen, slaves were held in Tompkins county at least as late as 1820, when the number was fifty. In the year 1799 the population of the state of New York included twenty thousand slaves, but in that year provision was made by the state government for their gradual emancipation, and on July 4, 1827, the last slave in the state was declared forever free. The colored people of the county celebrated the event at that time at Ithaca. While all the Northern States voluntarily abolished slavery within their limits early in the century, the institution flourished with increasing vigor in the South, and the antagonism between the two sections, engendered and maintained by the subject of the existence and entension of slavery, led slowly but surely to the terrible War of the Rebellion.

One of the local circumstances which early served to call attention to and agitate this subject in our county was the trial of Robert H. Hyde, the father of the late R. H. S. Hyde, Esq., of the town of Caroline, who was charged with taking to Virginia and selling a negro slave girl, Eliza, whom he had held here, in violation of the laws which provided for the gradual abolition of slavery in this state and prohibited the removal of slaves to other states to evade this law for their emancipation. In 1805 there had settled in Caroline a small colony from Virginia, including the Hyde and Speed families, who brought their slaves with them. Hyde was indicted and twice tried upon this charge at Ithaca in 1825. He escaped conviction, being ably defended by Ben Johnson, the most noted lawyer of the country in those years, but the affair served to stir up the rapidly growing anti-slavery sentiment in this county. While the South undertook to defend the institution of slavery as of divine origin, best calculated to subserve the highest interest of the colored race as well as that of their masters, the prevailing sentiment of the North was rapidly growing to condemn it as radically wrong. Still the mass of the Northern people were not prepared before the war to interfere with slavery in the old states where it had been established, but the question as to permitting it to be introduced and further extended in the new states and territories led to heated and bitter discussion and an increasing enmity between the two sections. The sentiment at the North was, however, divided on the subject, and there were some citizens, even in Dryden, who, up to the time of the war, openly defended Negro slavery. The writer remembers that Mills Van Valkenburgh, a lawyer of Dryden and afterwards county judge, who taught the Dryden village district school in about 1855, had such pronounced views upon the subject of tolerating slavery that some of the radical abolitionists of the village, R. H. Delamater for one, refused to send their children to school under his instruction, although he was everywhere recognized as an excellent teacher and exemplary citizen.

When John Brown in 1859 made his raid into Virginia to free the slaves and create an insurrection among them in defiance of law, the masses of people in Dryden, as well as elsewhere in the North, condemned it as a mad and foolish act. Still there was a growing sentiment in sympathy with him, which was disposed to resist the fugitive slave law requiring the return of runaway slaves to their masters, maintaining that there was a law higher than the law of the land upon that subject, and the readiness with which soldiers of the North afterwards took up the song:

"John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on,"

demonstrated that this sentiment was not then forgotten.

The presidential campaign of 1856, in which Fremont and Dayton were defeated by James Buchanan, was an exciting time in Dryden, only exceeded by the subsequent election of Lincoln and Hamlin in 1860. While there were never very many colored people residing in the town, the anti-slavery feeling became so intense and prevalent prior to and during the war, and the "Black Republican" majorities given in sympathy with the negroes grew to such an extent, that the town came to be known in those days as "Black Dryden."

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 50-52.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at 5:21 PM Comment

January 2, 2004

Town Board Minutes for December

The minutes for Dryden Town Board meetings of December 3, December 10, and December 18 are now available on line. I'd worried earlier this week that there might not be new minutes, but we seem to have a complete set for 2003. Hopefully this will continue into 2004 and beyond.

The December 3 meeting was brief, largely a public hearing about F&T Distributing, which wants to move from its current location between Routes 13 and 366 to 15 Royal Road, at the Route 13-Hanshaw Road intersection (map). The water issues for that seem to be pretty complicated, as that side of Hanshaw Road is not in the water district, but there are already out of district users there. Other issues discussed included insurance, reimbursement for the Dryden Old Home Days, wastewater, and capital improvements to residential buildings.

The meeting on the 10th was a much longer meeting, including:

  • an ambulance report
  • two county briefings
  • farewells to various legislators
  • a defensive driving course for the highway department
  • mapping of Hunt Hill and Genung Roads
  • a recreation report
  • approval for preparation of a water and sewer map (tied to the F&T work)
  • discussion of converting the Conservation Advisory Council to a Conservation Board
  • executive session discussion of property acquisition
  • approval of a union contract, an abstract, minutes from May through November, an agreement with the Tompkins County Planning Department, and the contract with the SPCA
  • approval of an intermunicipal waste water agreement
  • an increase in the water rate for Bolton Point customers to $2.95 per thousand gallons (from $2.55, judging from my last bill)
  • discussion of more software licenses for the zoning office
  • a report from the environmental planner
  • and discussion of starting the next cycle of fire department contracts.

The minutes for the 18th are mostly about the intermunicipal waste water agreement, with the suggestion of another meeting before the end of the year, though it isn't clear if that happened. The board also approved postage for mailing tax bills next year, insurance for employees through the Teamsters, a transfer of funds, and brief discussion of the fire contracts, and had a personnel-related executive session where no action was taken.

Posted by simon at 10:25 AM Comment

West Dryden Road Church

I drove by the West Dryden Road Methodist Epispocal Church yesterday and took a picture of this historic landmark:

West Dryden Methodist Episcopal Church
West Dryden Methodist Episcopal Church (map).

George Goodrich writes of the founding of this church:

The first Methodist society in the town of Dryden was organized at West Dryden in 1811 by Rev. Geo. W. Densmore. The members of the first class were Samuel Fox and wife, David Case and wife, Selden Andrus and wife, and one other whose name is not known. Densmore was succeeded by Revs. James Kelsey, Isaac Puffer, John Kimberlin, and other old time circuit riders. Meetings were held at the houses of members of the class and other places until about 1815, when a large building was erected on the corner where the blacksmith shop now stands. This was used for both church and school purposes for a few years and was the only church here until the present edifice, constituting with its white dome one of the most prominent and familiar landmarks of the township, was built in 1832 by Peter Conover at a cost of twenty-two hundred dollars. It has sittings for three hundred people. (123)

It hasn't been a church for a while, however. The Town Board minutes for June 4, 2003 include a resolution that notes:

WHEREAS, the property was acquired by the Town of Dryden from Central New York Annual Conference of the Methodist Church by deed dated October 25, 1948, and recorded in the Tompkins County Clerk's Office on November 8, 1948, in Book 315 of Deeds at page 229, reference also being made to a boundary line agreement by and between Brian O. Earle and Joann Earle and the Town of Dryden recorded in Book 733 of Deeds at page 161, and
WHEREAS, by deed dated April 14, 1970, and recorded in said Clerk's Office on May 28, 1970, in Book 487 of Deeds at page 145, the property was conveyed by the Town to Greater West Dryden Rural Community Association, Inc., and
WHEREAS, the Greater West Dryden Rural Community Association, Inc. is the same entity as Greater West Dryden Rural Community Cooperative, Inc., which was incorporated pursuant to Article 2 of the Cooperative Corporations Law on May 14, 1967, and
WHEREAS, the Greater West Dryden Rural Community Cooperative, Inc. was dissolved by proclamation of the New York Secretary of State on June 27, 1988, and
WHEREAS, upon such dissolution, title to the property revested in the Town of Dryden

In 1996, Dryden conveyed the property to Historic Ithaca, who report that they "also owned the 1832 Methodist-Episcopal West Dryden Church for several years, maintained the structure and recently found a suitable buyer."

From the town minutes, it looks like the buyer is Hobasco Lodge, #716, F. & A.M., a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. The building is also a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places.

Posted by simon at 10:51 AM Comment

January 3, 2004

Arts grants

The Ithaca Journal reports that the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, in Dryden's Ellis Hollow area, is accepting applicants for summer residencies and grants. Applications for both are due January 15, 2004.

Posted by simon at 10:14 AM Comment

County organization

The Ithaca Journal also reports that the County Legislature will have its organizational meeting on Tuesday, and that 2003 Chairman Tim Joseph looks likely to be chairman again. It notes some complaints from Frank Proto over his handling of the County Executive proposal at the end of last year. Dryden's Mike Lane is the current vice-chairman, and the Journal quotes Joseph as saying he thinks Lane will run again.

The Journal's editorial page remains mesmerized by the County Executive proposal that Tompkins County Republican Chair Mark Finkelstein made at a press conference the Journal rushed to cover. They continue to think it's interesting, though there's "no instant cost savings", and "will not magically cure budget woes." Still, "the most alluring aspect of a county executive form of government is the separation of powers that it would instill," and legislators should "consider what truly is in the best interest of the county."

Note to self: if I want to propose something new for the County, I should be sure to hold a press conference. The local papers seem to listen when they're addressed directly.

Posted by simon at 4:15 PM Comment

January 4, 2004

Energy efficiency in our old house

Thanks in part to New York State, my 74-year-old house finally has substantial insulation and a new furnace.

When we bought the house, it had been a rental property for years. The owners had lived in it briefly at some point in the 1970s, but we seem to be the first owner-occupants in a long time. On the bright side, we got it very cheaply, but the list of things to do was (and is) enormous. The last major renovation seemed to have been a new kitchen, in the early 1950s, though some of the bathroom fixtures have 1970s dates inside.

We bought it in large part because its mortgage cost far less than the rent on our Lucenteland house-behind-a-house, and because we could live in it during the work that had to be done. We did major electrical work on it immediately, upgrading from a 60-amp to a 200-amp service and rewiring much of the house, and also had plumbing work done. We refinished the floors before moving in. The rest of the house's infrastructure sat for a while.

The house came with an Octopus furnace that we suspect was original. It was an old coal furnace with a gas insert added later, shown below.

old Octopus Furnace
Old Octopus furnace with gas insert

(The furnace is on the right; the brown box in the middle is an old Sears wood stove that came with the house.)

After a few years of amazing heating bills, we read in the Ithaca Journal about a program New York State offered of low-interest loans and rebates to encourage homeowners to modernize their heating systems. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program that focuses on existing homes in need of updates as well as a lot of other options for residential buildings.

The article mentioned Performance Systems Contracting, a company based in Ithaca, as a participant in this program and a provider of $100 home energy audits. We gave them a call and scheduled an appointment.

Jon Harrod, who performed the audit on one of the colder days last winter, got this gleeful smile on his face when he saw our house. He set up a blower door test in our (leaky) back door and pulled amazing amounts of cold air into the house. Our furnace was 53% efficient. The infared video camera showed that a blanket Tracey had put up on one wall was making a big difference - since nothing else was blocking the cold.

It took a while for us to sort out everything (and get the asbestos-laden ductwork removed, a separate process), but in August and September PSC came to the house and started work. They removed what was left of our livingroom ceiling (long story involving mice) and replaced it, and patched a hole in the wall where a wood stove used to be. They rebuilt our attic so that it would still have some storage space but would be a much better place for insulation. They blew insulation into the house, though our house's well-aged and none too thick sheetrock gave them some problems, which they solved. Most visibly, though, they replaced our furnace, removing the old Octopus.

starting to remove the furnace
Starting to remove the furnace

old Octopus Furnace, minus sheet metal
The cast iron insides revealed

the old gas insert
The old gas insert

taking away the cast iron top of the furnace
Hauling away the cast iron top

the old gas burner
The old gas burner

The new furnace (which is 93% efficient) is very different from the old one. It no longer uses our chimney, relying instead on some strange-looking PVC pipes to the outside. It recovers heat from condensation, so periodically it pumps the water into the sewer system. It also has two speeds for its fan, not the single 'whoosh' we used to hear when the old furnace came on.

old Octopus Furnace
New highly-efficient furnace

So far, the results have been great. At the final blower door test, our air leaks had fallen around 44%. (That's without replacing any windows, or adding Tyvek wrappers.) Our timing was good, as NYSEG gas rates now float. Natural gas cost 55.959 cents/therm this time last year, and 62.431 cents/therm now, for an 11.5% increase. NYSEG's estimating every other bill based on last year's usage. Even two weeks after our bill for December was calculated, our meter indicates that we've only used two-thirds of the gas they thought we'd used. Between the insulation and the furnace, it's a very different house.

If you have an older house or are contemplating buying one, this kind of work is an amazing way to make the cost of ownership much lower. The state incentives may help you get started, but the benefits in the long run speak for themselves.

Posted by simon at 10:37 AM Comment

More along 366

I managed yesterday to complete taking photos of all the houses and businesses along Route 366 between the Route 13/366 intersection and the Town of Ithaca line. I probably won't go walking along the road with my camera again until spring, but I have enough pictures to last until then at the current rate. For my next act, I'll take pictures of everything along Route 13 from the Lansing line to the Cortland County line.

To celebrate, here are a few more pictures of houses on the way from here to Varna.

1196Dryden Road
1196 Dryden Road (map)

1189Dryden Road
1189 Dryden Road (map)

1182Dryden Road
1182 Dryden Road (map)

Posted by simon at 5:02 PM Comment

Town meetings for January?

The Town's Public Notices page is kind of confusing right now. It notes a December 30 Town Board meeting to discuss the Intermunicipal Wastewater Agreement, but lists the Planning Board as TBA, the Zoning Board as meeting on the 6th for a variance request, and no meetings at all of the new Town Board.

I'm guessing they'll have an organizational meeting Wednesday and another meeting the Wednesday after if they follow the usual pattern, but an agenda would be helpful.

On the other hand, Mark Varvayanis is still listed as Supervisor on the main site, so maybe we're just stuck in holiday vacations.

Posted by simon at 7:57 PM Comment

January 5, 2004

3-D Dryden

Cathy Wakeman starts a new year of Dryden Town Talk by looking at reasons to "love to live in Dryden".

Posted by simon at 8:51 AM Comment

Fire taxes jump

I picked up my 2004 tax bill at the Town Hall today so I could sort out some questions I have about my mortgage escrow. The staff was pleasant, found my easily-misfiled name quickly enough, and gave me a copy of the bill.

I knew the bill would be higher, as my house's assessment increased by about 23%, county tax rates went up, fire taxes went up, etc. The total amount went up less than I'd expected, probably the relief I get seeing the bill after reading all of these dire warnings in the paper, but one number really stuck out: the levy increase for Dryden Fire Protection, at 31.8%.

Combining information from this tax bill and last year's bill (and removing the six entries for the Turkey Hill Water and Sewer districts), I get a table like:

Description2003 Levy% Change
from 2002
2004 Levy% Change
from 2003
Tompkins County Tax $25.1M17.7%6.468300 $31M23.6%7.48400
Dryden Ambulance $210K-48.5%0.390859 $224K6.9%0.385769
Dryden Town Tax $780K-11.4%1.474037 $846K8.5%1.471969
Dryden Fire Prot $583K3.3%1.314073 $769K31.8%1.597788
Solid Waste Fee Res $2.5M0.6%$51/unit $2.5M1.9%$52/unit

There are increases this year in nearly every levy - something I expected, as it was a tough year, with both state mandates and assessments increasing - but the largest percent change by a wide margin is in the Dryden Fire Protection line, a 31.8% increase in the levy and 21.5% in the rate. I noted earlier that there was something odd in the Ithaca Journal's reporting of an increase from $1.53 to $1.57 earlier this year, and it seems in fact to be a shift from $1.31 to $1.57, making fire protection cost taxpayers in the main Dryden district more than all of the basic town services.

It could be worse - the Town of Ithaca pays a $3.83/1000 rate for fire protection, and $1.26/1000 for Town taxes, but an increase of nearly a third (and nearly 10 times the percent increase of the previous year) seems surprising, especially in a year when the prevailing story was that the Town Board didn't get along with the fire companies.

The total levy for fire protection in the Town is still less than the total levy for Town taxes, despite the higher rate for fire protection. I think that's because the McLean Fire Department has a separate tax district, with a tax rate of $1.72/1000. Tompkins County has a full list of 2004 tax rates.

I'll have to do some more research into why exactly this happened, but it certainly seems strange at the moment. Did the audits find massively unmet needs?

Posted by simon at 2:55 PM Comment

January 6, 2004

Ithaca Weather Calendar

I bought a copy of the 2004 Ithaca Weather Calendar yesterday at Ludgate Farms. I bought it partly because I'm perhaps a little too interested in weather, but also because it turned out to have a lot of Dryden pictures in it. Some are not exactly your typical pictures of Dryden, but weather stations here.

Given the area's many micro-climates, it might make sense to have more stations, but they do mention a cooperative one in Freeville. I also wonder how this interacts with the National Weather Service's very local forecasts.

Weather stations for Ithaca seem to have moved east over the years, from the Ithaca Academy downtown from 1828-53 to various Cornell campus buildings from 1874 to 1943, to Caldwell Field (east of the Vet school) from 1943-69, to the Game Farm Road station just barely in the Town of Dryden in 1969, as well as a Freeville site that began measuring precipitation in 1948 and a Mount Pleasant site that started in 1957. The October page of the calendar reports that Tompkins County Airport is still taking its readings manually, which seems odd to me.

The calendar is published by the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) and Cornell Atmospheric Sciences. The NRCC maintains an Ithaca Climate Page and publishes a monthly New York Climate.

Posted by simon at 7:36 AM Comment

Blogging locally

I put up a weblog entry last night at my employer's site talking about this weblog and what I hope to accomplish with it. I still haven't seen any other weblogs quite like it, and would like to see them sprout.

Today also marks two months of blogging - no missed days, and 123 entries. This was the first entry.

Posted by simon at 7:28 PM Comment


If you have lots of interest in local politics or a case of insomnia, there are at least two sets of legislative minutes available pertaining to Dryden.

The first is the Town of Dryden's own Minutes page, with 2001-2003 minutes from the Town Board and older minutes from the Zoning Board, Planning Board, and Conservation Advisory Council.

The second set is the Minutes of Meetings for the Tompkins County Legislature, which go back to 1999.

It's kind of hard to get started reading them if you aren't used to both the issues and the style of minutes, but it's worth the effort. They're a good source of information, and I frequently encounter them when I'm using search engines (like Google) to find details for particular stories.

Posted by simon at 7:38 PM Comment

January 7, 2004

Dryden Town Board meets with quiet announcement

Well, I'd been planning to go to the Dryden Town Board's organizational meeting, but they never got around to announcing when it was on their web page (local copy), and it was at an unusual time. So I guess I get to hear about it from the Ithaca Journal - they did, at least, apparently let the paper know that the meeting happened. (I was even in the Town Hall on Monday, though in the afternoon.)

The "top priority" for the board is "mending relations with local firefighters," starting with meetings in February, "to establish clearer budgeting and planning practices." Maybe that will help avoid sudden 31.8% lurches in the fire tax?

They also eliminated the "Representatives to Fire Departments" committee, as well as Public Relations committees for the Villages of Dryden and Freeville, and the Public Funds, Tompkins County Cable, Village Water Negotiations, and Union Negotiations committees.

A full list of committee assignments are in the sidebar to the Journal article.

For future reference:

"The council changed its regular meeting schedule due to new member conflicts. The council will now meet at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month in the Town Hall, except for January, when they will meet on the 15th."

Hopefully they'll post minutes at some point. Also, I called the Supervisor's office to ask if this meeting was announced, and hopefully they'll call me back. I'll let you know.

Update: Bambi Hollenbeck, the Town Clerk, called me back. The meeting was apparently announced in the Ithaca Journal Legal Notices on January 1. I guess I'd better make sure to read the Notices on holidays. She apologized that it hadn't made it to the web site (though it isn't legally required), and noted that they're working on a revised site that should make information easier to find and update. I mentioned that this didn't feel like a great start to a new government, but she reassured me that the new board planned to be as open as its predecessor.

Posted by simon at 8:58 AM Comment

Tim Joseph re-elected County Legislature Chair

Tim Joseph was re-elected chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature last night by an 11-3 vote.

Among the Dryden representatives, Democrat Martha Robertson and Republican George Totman voted for him, while Democrat Michael Lane voted against him.

While Lane noted that "I have a different feeling on the direction of the Legislature," Joseph still nominated him to be vice-chairman.

Posted by simon at 10:02 AM Comment

County pushing back on Medicaid

The Elmira Star-Gazette has an article on a press conference in Elmira yesterday including leaders of Tompkins, Chemung, Steuben, Schuyler, Broome, Tioga, and "several other" counties. The press conference comes in advance of Governor Pataki's "State of the State" speech, and asked for some specific fixes:

Long-term relief will have to come in a multiyear plan that could include prescribing only generic drugs, creating a prescription drug list and capping Medicaid costs for the counties at 2003 levels and having the state assume the remaining 10 percent of the local share of costs for long-term care, Santulli said.

The forecast Tim Joseph presented for Tompkins County was pretty grim:

Tim Joseph, chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature, said that if costs continue to spiral, his county could survive only five more years without relief before going bankrupt.
Joseph worries that Medicaid reform will come at the cost of other unfunded state mandates that are eating up the revenues counties generate through sales and property tax.
"If we see Medicaid get under control and everything else get out of control, we haven't gained anything," he said.

Unfortunately, the Star-Gazette, unlike the Ithaca Journal, doesn't archive its articles so the link to the story will break in a week. There is a Tompkins County press release about the overall message and its delivery, however, and the Ithaca Journal has an editorial on the subject today.

(I grew up in Corning, so I read the Ithaca, Corning, and Elmira papers regularly. Sometimes I read Binghamton and Auburn as well.)

Posted by simon at 11:26 AM Comment

Dryden schools examine grades, audit, superintendent

The Dryden Board of Education had a meeting last night to plan grade weightings for average calculations, examine an audit, and plan the search for a new superintendent.

Posted by simon at 4:23 PM Comment

January 8, 2004

The value of archives

Yesterday's postings made me take a closer look at the information about the town available on the web and how long it lasts.

First, Town Clerk Bambi Hollenbeck's saying that the Town was getting a new web site soon led me to look again at what was there now and wonder a bit more about the older minutes I remembered reading a few years ago but can't find now.

Then the piece where I cited the archive-less Star-Gazette made me take a few steps back and admire that the Ithaca Journal is building a permanent archive. It's not something that they advertise, but it's a great way to make them the source for information on the Ithaca area. All kinds of search queries bring me back to the Journal, even when I don't expect it. Sometimes I can't find things I know I read in the paper, but it turns out that there are a few ways to read information if you're willing to play with the URLs directly.

For instance, I remember reading the letters to the editor on the Saturday right before this past election. The election was Tuesday, November 4, so the Saturday had to be November 1. Looking at the URLs the Journal uses for their past opinion pages, it becomes clear quickly that they always have the format http://www.theithacajournal.com/news/stories/date/opinion/ , where date is in YYYYMMDD format. Getting to November 1 requires plugging in 20031101, for http://www.theithacajournal.com/news/stories/20031101/opinion/. That'll bring you to the last round of letters before the election, and to former Supervisor Mark Varvayanis' guest editorial on fire department funding. You can do the same with local news stories.

Of course, there's no guarantee that the Journal will continue to be this generous about their archiving policy. They could start charging for archives, throw the whole thing away, or even disappear. Most sites change over time, and preserving old data isn't always a priority. For this, there's the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. If you visit the Internet Archive, you can enter a URL and get a history back of its prior incarnations. You can even bookmark the results, and navigate within them. (Not everything is always archived, but a lot is.)

For example, you can explore the Town of Dryden site in a variety of incarnations. For the website as it looked under a Republican administration, you can visit the April 29, 1999 version. The oldest version available seems to be December 12, 1998.

Unfortunately, searching for the Ithaca Journal produces a "blocked site error". Given that the Journal updates every day and the Internet Archive tends to visit less frequently, the results might not be complete anyway, just as search engine results for the Journal are incomplete. Even the Dryden site hasn't had an archive update since June 21, 2003.

Despite these limitations, the Internet Archive can be very very helpful. Want to read the 2000 Town Board Minutes? Visit the Town Page as it was December 4, 2000, before the 2000 archives were taken down. (The December minutes for that year don't appear to have made it into the archive, unfortunately.) 2001 Town Board Minutes are also available, as are links to the ambulance proposals which preceded the fire department controversies.

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, you can even combine these sets of archives. Take a look in those pre-election letters for a complaint that:

The original Town of Dryden Web site was conceived, initiated, registered, designed and published by my wife and I (content and graphics) under the direction of then Supervisor Jim Schug. This was done for free in support of our community.
Under the current supervisor's administration the Web site has been poorly modified/updated and our names were removed from the credits at the bottom of each page. The Democratic Party and supporters cleverly tell only select pieces of facts and issues to try and make you believe the current supervisor is doing a great job. Upon further scrutiny and investigation you may find out differently. We are in desperate need of a change in Dryden's supervisor and board.

Then visit the last available view of the Town of Dryden site under the previous supervisor and use View|Page Source (Mozilla) or View|Source (Internet Explorer) to see the page source. Look for a lot of asterisks about three-quarters of the way down and a "Dear Diane & Jim" message in a comment.

It seems the removal of names took place in a prior administration (Jim Schug's) and the complaint in the letter is a false charge. There was no way to respond at the time - and I doubt that particular charge by itself had a huge impact - but it's worth making clear when things aren't right.

Archives are dangerous things. I've had to eat crow a few times myself, especially when I changed my mind on a hard-fought issue. At the same time, though, they're incredibly powerful resources of information that can be used to help figure out which "facts and issues" are worth examining more closely.

Posted by simon at 6:28 AM Comment

Green SPCA expansion

The expansion of the SPCA facility on Hanshaw Road is starting to come together.

SPCA expansion in progress
SPCA expansion in progress

Existing SPCA, 1640 Hanshaw Road
Existing SPCA, 1640 Hanshaw Road (map)

There are a lot of reasons why this new facility is interesting. It's part of their work on a no-kill policy. The expansion is also using green building technology so it'll have less of an impact on the environment and lower costs of operation. Especially given the cost of energy (and the weather) here, this seems like a good idea for other buildings in the area as well.

The SPCA has a plan of the new facility, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list. (It's worth noting that while the SPCA performs contract services with the Town of Dryden and other municipalities, it isn't a government agency.)

Posted by simon at 8:32 AM Comment

State of the State

After Tuesday's county press conferences to pressure the state on Medicaid, I was hoping that Pataki might reply to these problems in the State of the State.

As the Ithaca Journal's editorial page notes, he mentioned these problems, but didn't offer any detailed answers. Answers to such things will have to come in the budget, if they come at all, it seems. Pataki's comments on the subject were limited to:

While Medicaid has played an important role in our achievements, we are now faced with a Medicaid program that is quickly outstripping our ability to afford it.
Clearly, we need to improve the Medicaid system. We must start by providing our growing population of aging citizens with the quality healthcare they need while preserving the system for their children and grandchildren.
And we must address Medicaid costs borne by local governments. Senator Bruno has already identified this as an important issue. Senator, I commend your initiative. Let's work together to reduce state and local Medicaid expenses this year and begin to reverse the costs that have squeezed the finances of so many county governments.

The Journal also has a rundown on responses to the address from local lawmakers.

You can also see or read the entire speech at the governor's site; the HTML version is simplest to read from here.

I guess I won't be counting on any reductions in county taxes next year, but maybe Albany's at least noticed and it won't get worse... or not!

Posted by simon at 5:00 PM Comment

January 9, 2004

TC3 summer school closing

Today's Ithaca Journal reports that Dryden Central Schools may no longer have summer school, as Tompkins Cortland Community College is closing its Regional Summer Program after budget cuts by the SUNY Chancellor, and Superintendent Archambault said that Dryden may not have the money to participate in a possible BOCES replacement. The Ithaca City School District, Lansing, and others may participate in the BOCES program; superintendents are meeting today.

There's also a report on the search for new superintendents in the area, including Dryden.

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

Mike Lane on County Executive

One of Dryden's County Legislators, Mike Lane, has a guest editorial in the Ithaca Journal that examines the many ways that county governments in New York can operate, and some of the history of Tompkins County government, especially as it relates to the proposal for a county executive.

Lane notes that Tompkins County runs under a charter established in the 1960s, and that reviews in 1995 and 2000 haven't suggested changes to a county executive form of government, and notes that one of the advantages of having a legislature and administrator is that "The administrator is hired for his or her credentials."

His conclusion strikes me as the most reasonable thing I've read in these discussions, that a county executive form of government isn't a magic bullet for current problems:

From the outset, however, there must be no misunderstanding. Such a change would only a create a different kind of county government. It will probably not solve our current budget woes, and may in the end prove to be even more expensive.

Lane was just re-elected vice-chairman of the legislature.

Posted by simon at 8:45 AM Comment

Houses on a warmer day

It was at least 50 degrees when I took these pictures. Can't say I'd want to be taking them today, as my weather gizmo tells me it's zero degrees outside.

1175 Dryden Road
1175 Dryden Road (map)

1174 Dryden Road
1174 Dryden Road (map)

Posted by simon at 12:21 PM Comment

January 10, 2004

Cold doesn't stop the news

The weather gizmo I got for Christmas tells me that it got down to -15.7° last night, but that doesn't seem to have stopped the folks at the Ithaca Journal from publishing all kinds of Dryden-related news. There's enough that I'll just do a combined story.

In news, after the obligatory story on last night's record cold in Tompkins County, there are two stories on intergovernmental cooperation. The first is on summer school, where it looks like BOCES will be taking over the work, except that the Dryden district will likely not be participating. The second covers the prospects for cooperation between municipalities. It cites Dryden Town Supervisor Steve Trumbull on highway departments and Village of Dryden Mayor Reba Taylor, who skeptically says "Intermunicipal cooperation is fine to a certain extent but I will not use village taxpayer dollars to offset county shortfalls."

In other Dryden-related news, the SPCA has the lowest number of animals euthanized per capita in the nation for the past two years. The article also notes that the new facility should let them hold three times as many animals.

The Dryden Senior Citizens are having a lunch and meeting Monday at the Dryden Fire Hall, and will be electing three new board members.

In opinion, there are two Dryden-related laurels and a complaint about trash on Sapsucker Woods Road near the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I wonder about some of the trash I find on 366 too; all I can guess is that some of it must fly out of the backs of trucks. Used diapers are especially unpleasant; fortunately I've only found one of those by the road here in four years.

Posted by simon at 11:33 AM Comment


The severe cold lately has some nice side effects in glorious patterns of frost that survive into (and through) the daytime. Taking pictures of sunlit frost is tricky, though, especially if you want to get anything at all of the surrounding window. Here's my best effort from yesterday.

frost-covered window
Frost-covered window

If you'd rather just look at the frost patterns, click here (185KB).

Posted by simon at 11:02 PM Comment

January 11, 2004

Cellular coverage in Dryden

The Verizon Wireless booth at the Pyramid Mall used to have a poster-sized map of their coverage areas. Of course, I signed up with them (or Frontier, anyway) when I lived in a place with coverage, and moved here, which had very weak coverage. The battery in my cell phone would die quickly because it was usually in analog mode. Now there's digital coverage here, and the phone doesn't need to stay plugged in all the time.

Unfortunately, those detailed coverage maps seem largely a thing of the past. I suspect that they've covered enough area that the details of coverage are less important, but I still find enough gaps that I'd like those maps back.

I went exploring to find local maps for various cell-phone companies. I couldn't find anything too specific to this area, but here's the best I could find last night.

If you know of more companies or better maps, let me know. A map just of cell phone towers would be interesting too.

Posted by simon at 12:51 PM Comment

January 12, 2004

Apartment buildings for sale in Varna

I noticed a few weeks ago that several houses in Varna had for sale signs on them, all from Christopher George Real Estate, which tends to focus on Ithaca rental properties.

Christopher George don't seem to have a web site, but the owner of the properties, Kimball Real Estate, does, including a listing of neighboring properties. The site doesn't indicate which properties are for sale, though I think 972, 973, and 977 Dryden Road all have for sale signs.

Clicking on the house pictures brings up a lot more detail, including rental rates - though pricing per person on the houses means that these are a lot more expensive than I'd thought. 973 Dryden Road, a four-bedroom house, costs $325 per person for four people - $1300 a month! Even accounting for taxes of all kinds and mortgage payments, buying a house is definitely an enormously cheaper way to live around here.

972 Dryden Road
972 Dryden Road (map | rental rates)

I'll try to find out what the asking prices on these buildings are.

Update: I called Christopher George Real Estate and Ed Finnegan was kind enough to give me the asking prices. They're asking $129,500 for 972, $139,500 for 973 (it has a larger lot), and $119,500 for 977.

Posted by simon at 12:40 AM Comment

Town meetings

The Town of Dryden has posted an updated schedule of meetings for January (local copy). The first full Town Board meeting is this Thursday, the 15th, at 7:00pm.

Posted by simon at 5:55 PM Comment

Weather station, in weather

I suspect that the keepers of the weather station on Game Farm Road are happy about the automated instruments which collect the data these days.

Game Farm Road weather station
Game Farm Road weather station (map)

Posted by simon at 5:59 PM Comment

January 13, 2004

Another weather station in heavier weather

After visiting the weather station at Game Farm Road yesterday, I decided to go take some pictures of the weather station just north of Freeville, next to Cornell's Homer Thompson Vegetable Research Farm.

The first picture shows the weather station; the second picture shows the weather.

Freeville weather station
Freeville weather station

Snow sweeping through Freeville weather station
Snow sweeping through Freeville weather station

I stopped through Dryden on the way back. Traffic and pedestrians didn't look like they were having a good time.

Snow in Dryden
Snow in Dryden

Posted by simon at 11:22 AM Comment

January 14, 2004

Former Town Bookeeper accused of forgery

Former Town bookkeeper Liva Brong pleaded not guilty to charges of forging $17,900 in checks. Her predecessor, Dianne McFall, has "returned from retirement to fill the position until a permanent replacement can be found."

This probably explains some of the executive sessions to discuss a particular employee in recent board meetings. It sounds like there are more questions regarding the bookkeeping than the two checks involved in the charges, as Brong's paychecks were apparently the initial cause of the investigation. Steve Trumbull, the new Town Supervisor, told the Ithaca Journal, "It's a ticklish situation. We're having the books audited by the state."

Posted by simon at 9:13 AM Comment

January 15, 2004

Counties and Medicaid

There doesn't appear to be much news focused on Dryden this morning, although I suspect the US Airways plane which had trouble lowering its landing gear (but landed safely) flew overhead at some point. There should be news tomorrow, as there's a Town Board meeting tonight. I'll take the opportunity to follow up on the battle between counties and the state over Medicaid that I covered last week.

It sounds like some county leaders are going as far as threatening to challenge incumbents, regardless of party, as this story in the New York Times suggests:

County officials, however, are threatening to challenge some incumbents to protest a rise in Medicaid costs that they say has made it hard for them to govern, and has left them with the political headache of having to raise local taxes just to cover the costs of paying for health care for their counties' poor.
Medicaid is a federal and state health insurance program for the poor. Last week, in public events around the state, some officials said they would go as far as to try to unseat specific state lawmakers from their counties in an effort to bring in senators and Assembly members who would be sympathetic to their cause.
"No one with any political power has ever challenged the status quo like this before," Mr. Horner said.
Many of these county officials think that politically speaking, they must kill or be killed.
"We cannot handle the property tax burden that is being forced upon us by Medicaid, and we will do whatever it takes to get Medicaid reform," said Thomas R. Suozzi, the Democratic Nassau County executive, who is leading the charge. "Some people, like myself, have said, `I am going to take it to the next step, politically, if we don't get Medicaid reform.' "

Of course, the article also notes that "Albany officials are not exactly shaking with fear." I didn't notice the anti-incumbent message as clearly stated in the press conference county leaders held in Elmira, though it was probably there among the frustration.

Closer to home, a panel of Assembly members spoke to the Ithaca Journal about the prospects of Medicaid reform. The online version seems to be cut off at the end, but I think it still provides a picture of where things are, or aren't. Our Assembly representative, Barbara Lifton, "said she's keeping the county Medicaid issue, and what it means for local property taxpayer issues, in the forefront," but Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried suggests that there's a difficult road ahead, aggravated by the state's fiscal health.

"We in the Assembly have been trying to get the state to pick up the local share of Medicaid for years," he said. "It is familiar ground for us. The problem is trying to find money in the state budget to pick up the share."
Posted by simon at 8:45 AM Comment

More houses people drive by

They look slightly different (and colder) this morning.

1171 Dryden Road
1171 Dryden Road (map)

1174 Dryden Road
1169 Dryden Road (map)

Posted by simon at 8:53 AM Comment

Town Board agenda for tonight

The agenda (local copy) for tonight's Dryden Town Board is available. If you can brave the cold, it's at 7pm at the Town Hall (map).

Posted by simon at 12:26 PM Comment

The Town Board and the public

Stapled to the agenda at tonight's meeting was this memorable prose:

The Town Board will conduct the people's business as the law stipulates at the table.

  1. Public comment period will vary depending upon how many citizens wish to address the Board. A maximum of one-half hour is allotted at the beginning of the regular board meeting.
  2. Everyone who signs in prior to 7:00 p.m. will be given his/her pro-rated share of up to 3 minutes.
  3. If more citizens wish to address the Board at the conclusion of the regular meeting, they wil be given the opportunity based on a pro-rated share of time set by the Board.
  4. The regular Town Board meeting will start promptly at 7:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month. The meeting will be conducted as efficiently as possible because it is unfair to both citizens and the Board to conduct Town's business at hours that are unpredictable and beyond the realm of reasonableness. Most people have already worked a full day and need to be focused and alert.
  5. While conducting its business, the Town Board will recognize those with to come before it with proper business.
    1. Any citizen who desires to address the Board is asked to provide a written summary of their statements for the Town Clerk's records.
    2. The Board should provide for this process in its published agenda.
Posted by simon at 10:04 PM Comment

January 16, 2004

No news, sort of

I'd guessed that there would be an Ithaca Journal story today on the Town Board meeting last night, but there isn't - maybe tomorrow? I'll be writing up my own story, though that'll have to wait until later today, as I have a presentation to give this morning.

There is a fair amount of news, though, on county assessments going up thanks to a "scorching real estate market, which hasn't shown any signs of cooling off". The Department of Assessment will be holding public meetings to explain what's going on.

The Journal's editorial page also seems to have stopped flirting with the idea of a county executive and embraced it. I still can't see the point (except maybe to reinvigorate the county's Republicans), but they're enamored of "having a leader who is accountable to all voters and can act with more independence from the legislature."

Posted by simon at 8:29 AM Comment

January Town Board meeting reflections

After nearly a day, the Town Board meeting last night seems to have had four main Dryden-related themes:

  • More interest in efficiency than public input
  • Sewer pump with problems
  • Storm water a growing issue
  • Recreation and trails as important services

The first one, of course, is the most troubling, though hopefully things will improve as the board settles in. On arrival, the rules of procedure attached to the agenda felt like a warning sign. The first speaker at citizen privilege, David Stotz, talked about road work on Hunt Hill Road and a citizens' committee that wanted to work with the town, to little response. (Hunt Hill Road and concerns over its widening have been a long-standing issue.)

David Stotz addresses the Town Board
David Stotz addresses the Town Board

Then, during the Highway Superintendent's briefing, the Board passed a list of road repairs, despite engineering estimations (based on aerial photography) still in progress.

Though Supervisor Steve Trumbull read the list to the audience, no one else had seen this list. County legislator Martha Robertson's request that they postpone voting on this list until the public had had a chance to see and comment on the list was rejected in favor of Highway Supervisor Jack Bush and Councilman Marty Christofferson's suggestion that they could pass it now and amend it later - and the board duly voted its approval, except for Councilman Hattery.

Efficiency seemed to be Christofferson's goal, rather than public comment, as he noted that "Once we start the meeting, our goal is to get through the business part of our meeting.

The sewer pump on Freese Road provided some unfortunate drama, as the Board tried to decide whether they could go ahead and replace the pump (for $27,000+), which stopped working New Year's Eve, or whether they had to put it out to public bid. Trucking the sewage didn't sound like an appealing option, especially as the Town needs its drivers on plows. A temporary used pump ($2000) is helping, though it needs to be checked once a day. Financing the replacement also provided some problems, as $10,000 that had been allocated for the pump was spent on the Varna sewer pump station last year (by unanimous vote).

Storm water looks to be a more and more important issue, as New York State is requiring counties and towns to develop more comprehensive plans for dealing with it. Debbie Gross, the environmental planner, seems likely to be carrying most of this burden for the next few years. She also reported on the availability of a much cheaper Geographic Information System (GIS) package, which would let the Town do more of its own data analysis. Tompkins County has an impressive GIS office and lots of data, and I'd love to see the Town in a better position to use it.

Finally, the Recreation Department report had lots of interesting content and mostly cheerful news, including an ice skating rink in the Village of Dryden where "night skating will be available once they get the bulbs in."

There was brief discussion of a lot of other issues, including vacancies on various boards, fire department contracts that aren't yet complete, and Mike Lane's description of the County Legislature's organizational meeting.

Further from town issues, Medicaid was an important issue in the County briefing. Martha Robertson noted that State Senator Randy Kuhl's recent proposal would only save $600,000 of $11,000,000 the county presently spends on Medicaid, and suggested that while it would help, it wouldn't help much. Mike Lane also noted that county legislators had met with state Assembly members while they were in town, and noted that different tax policies make a big difference in how the issue is perceived in New York City and outside of it.

Posted by simon at 5:48 PM Comment

January 17, 2004

Highway department resolution

I stopped by Dryden Town Hall this morning - they're open Saturdays in January - and asked Dryden Town Clerk Bambi Hollenbeck for a copy of the highway funds spending resolution that was probably the most controversial aspect of Thursday's meeting. I took it home and scanned it. The optical character recognition (OCR) program that came with my scanner just plain doesn't seem to work, so for now here's the graphic in TIFF format.

Town Highway Expenditures approved January 15, 2004 (297K TIFF)

The two bits people at the meeting seemed most interested in were (F) and (G), which I've extracted with a different (though not great) OCR program, and then corrected by hand.

F. On the road commencing at Genung Rd. & Snyder Hill Rd. - and leading to Ellis Hollow Rd., a distance of .7 miles, there shall be expended not over the sum of $35,000. Type cold mix Width of traveled surface 20' + -, thickness __________, and subbase 3.5" crusher run cold mix, surface treat 1A limestone
G. On the road commencing at Hunt Hill Rd. & Midline Rd. - and leading to Ellis Hollow Rd., a distanceof 2.46 miles, there shall be expended not over the sum of$ 99,500. Type cold mix Width of traveled surface 20' + -, thickness _________, and subbase 3" crusher run cold mix, surface treat 1A limestone
Posted by simon at 2:15 PM Comment

January 18, 2004

Dryden in the Gilded Age

It's been too long since we've heard from George Goodrich, whose 1897 Centennial History of the Town of Dryden richly describes what happened here long ago. In today's chapter, Goodrich takes a close look at his own time, and ends up sounding part booster and part scold. (Those tendencies are clear throughout the book, but surface with special fervor here.) Goodrich decries "extravagance" and talks about "so-called hard times", but it's worth remembering that this period was a gigantic economic roller coaster for the entire country, and Goodrich seems somewhat insulated from such problems by his social status.

Apart from the distinct tone of the historian's voice, though, there's a tremendous amount of information here. It seems that the last quarter of the 19th century presented some tough challenges to Dryden, most notably in a general depreciation of real estate values. He also talks about boxing in the town, the improvement of roads and bridges over time, better schools, homes, barns, and dairy faming practice, the increased use of bicycles, and the development of stable land titles.

Chapter XXI

The Period of Maturity

By applying the term "maturity" to this present time, the last quarter of the Century Period of our history, we do not intend to imply that it is a time when perfection has been reached, or that further developments of a progressive nature may not be expected in the future history of our town. It is regarded by us as mature only as we view it from the standpoint of the present as compared with the primitive conditions of the past, while to those who may review it one hundred years hence, the present time will doubtless appear, in some respects at least, as a period of rude development. This period will be treated of here very briefly, as it is not yet ripe as a subject for history, and it is rather to give those who shall come after us and who may chance to peruse our efforts, some idea as to how our times appear to us to-day than for any other purpose that we complete our general history of the town of Dryden with this chapter.

There are some few respects in which great progress has been made during the past hundred years where it would seem that but little improvement need be expected or asked for in the future. One of them is in the matter of highway bridges, of which our town is required to maintain many, although none of them of extraordinary dimensions. In the Pioneer Period it is presumed that there were no bridges of any account, the inhabitants then being required to ford the streams in summer and cross them on the ice in winter. In the Second Period pole bridges were constructed, rude affairs - many of which were carried away with every spring flood. These were replaced in the War Period with comparatively substantial structures of wood, of the truss pattern, but they were subject to decay, the life of such a bridge, however well constructed and protected, being less than twenty years. But now all or very nearly all of them have been replaced during the past twenty-five years by substantial iron structures, supplied by the town at considerable expense, placed upon solid piers of masonry or iron piles, in such a manner that they seem to be alomst indestructible and imperishable.

Another respect in which great progress has been made and apparently the limit of perfection almost reached is in the matter of educational advantages. Common school education for the young is now not only free, but in a measure compulsory, and there can be but little hope for the children of to-day who do not readily improve the superior advantages now afforded them by our schools. If we compare the school buildings of to-day with those of twenty-five years ago, and then again with those of fifty and seventy-five years ago, we shall be impressed with the degree of comfort and elegance which our own times afford in comparison.

The dwelling houses and farm buildings of the present time are not to be compared with the rude habitations of fifty and seventy-five years ago. It was not then considered necessary to winter cattle under cover except in the worst storms, and then the poorest shed was supposed to furnish ample protection. When the country was mostly covered with forests the severity of winter was not felt by man or beast as it is now, and we are told that in the Pioneer Period snow drifts were unknown. Now the cattle barn of the Dryden famer is usually larger and more expensive than the house in which he lives, which is itself a palace in points of convenience and elegance as compared with the homes of his ancestors.

The methods of dairy farming as practiced in the town have met with a wonderful change, since fifty years ago. Then the milk was all made up into butter and cheese at home, while not all that which is not consumed in fattening calves for the city markets is, in most localities, taken to the railroad stations to be shipped on the milk train, or to the nearest of the cheese and butter factories which are distributed through the township.

We should not pass over the present time without mentioning the now omnipresent "bicycle", which within the past twenty-five years has developed from its first appearance as the old "velocipede" and within the past few years come into very general use as a means of transportation even in the country. It promises at last to compel the farmers to build and maintain better roads, which will result greatly to their own advantage and profit in the end.

In one respect there is some reason to complain of our times and that is in regard to the depreciation in the market value of real estate within the past twenty-five years. In the Pioneer Period, as we have seen, land was purchased for a few dollars per acre. For the first seventy-five years and until about the close of the War Period, the value of real estate had a steady and constant upward tendency, until good farms in the town were readily sold at from sixty to one hundred dollars per acre. The young farmer who had invested in land and lived during that time, as old age came on often discovered that his increased wealth was as much due to the natural increase in the value of his farm as to the crops which he had raised and sold off from it, while the farmer of to-day, who invested his resources in the land twenty-five years ago, finds to his sorrow that the depreciation in the market value of his farm often counterbalances the labor and efforts of a lifetime expended upon it. The actual market value of the real estate during that time, in spite of improved buildings, has depreciated nearly, if not quite, one half. From this tendency of the times, which was unforseen and unexpected, many, and especially those who had invested beyond their means in real estate, have suffered severely; but in other respects these times are propitious. It is the abundance and cheapness of the necessities of life which now surround us, and not their scarcity as it was in the year 1816. In spite of this plenteous supply of various products, labor itself is in good demand and well paid, and at no time, it is safe to say, within the century would the same amount of well directed labor purchase so much good common food or clothing as at present. The very prosperous times which have immediately preceded the present have unfortunately stimulated extravagance, and to this more than any other cause is due the complaint of hard times so commonly heard.

As an illustration of this the writer remembers that about fifty years ago old Esquire Tanner used to keep in his postoffice at Dryden village, in two small glass jars with tin covers, and four square red boxes with sliding glass fronts, the stock of sugar candy which supplied the children of the village and surrounding country, more numerous then than now. One jar contained lemon drops - thirteen for a penny; another jackson balls, at a cent apiece; and the four others contained stick candy of various kinds. His total sales of that commodity could not have exceeded twenty-five dollars per annum. Now the merchants tell us that the retail trade in candy in Dryden village exceeds one thousand dollars per annum, and is more than equalled by the sale of southern grown fruit, which fifty years ago was unknown to us. Not only is extravagance exhibited in such kinds of food, much of which is worse than useless, but so extravagant have people become in these "hard times" in the matter of superfluous clothing throughout the country, that during the past winter the Legislature of the great State of New York has in its wisdom enacted a law requiring the ladies who insist upon displaying such a profusion of flowers, ribbons, and feathers in their head gear as to eclipse the view of everything else, to remove their hats when attending entertainments, and at the same time we believe an amendment was offered but lost limiting the number of yards of cloth which might be wasted by the ladies in making up their puffed sleeves.

But in spite of the so-called hard times, useless extravagance, and the depreciation in the value of real estate, there are many respects in which marked improvement has been made throughout the country with prospects of still greater advancement.

We read of many of the earlier settlers who lost the land which they had under many hardships and with much difficulty paid for, without any fault of their own, through defective and fraudulent titles, which were then very common. Now the system of recorded land titles is so perfect that very seldom does any such loss occur, and even then it results from gross carelessness.

We learn that in early times there was a great deal of local litigation, and that a number of pettifogging lawyers were kept busy in every hamlet of the township settling the disputes of neighbors by contested law suits in Justice's Court over horse trades, dog fights, and other foolish matters. This state of things has almost entirely disappeared.

We are told by old people that in those "good old times" there was never a town meeting held without more or less fighting being witnessed. These were not wrestling contests or boxing matches, but real bloody, brutal fights, in which the "bullies" of the town exhibited their powers of inflicting and enduring blows to the crowd of their assembled townsmen. Now happily such an exhibition would not be tolerated at our town meetings or elsewhere, and the most noted of pugilists are obliged to seek a refuge as far away as New Orleans or Nevada in which to exhibit themselves in their contests.

It is said that in the early days of Dryden the Lacy and Knapp families were noted for their pugilistic contests with each other in dead earnest. Think of the family from which our very exemplary late lamented John C. Lacy descended, being noted for its brutal fighting qualities, frequently exhibited at town meetings, and then tell us whether the times and the manners have not greatly improved during the century.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 70-73.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at 10:29 AM Comment

Home Energy Assistance Program

As the weather doesn't show much sign of warming up, it's a good time to note that the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is available. The criteria for HEAP funding are on their web site, noting:

New York's benefit program is structured in such a way that higher benefits are provided to those households that: have larger percentages of their income spent on energy costs; contain a vulnerable individual; and have the lowest income.
Vulnerable individuals are defined as children under the age of 6, adults aged 60 or older, or disabled individuals.

The Ithaca Journal has been publicizing this program regularly, and the Elmira Star-Gazette has an article on the program and heating costs generally. (As always, Star-Gazette links only point to a given article for a week.)

Posted by simon at 10:46 AM Comment

January 19, 2004

Fatal accident at Hanshaw and 13

Slippery conditions led to an accident Saturday that took the life of an Ithaca College student on her way to work as a ski instructor at Greek Peak.

Posted by simon at 8:05 AM Comment

Local school districts, state budget

While it'll undoubtedly be months before the state budget is settled, local school districts don't seem to be looking forward to Governor Pataki's budget, to be released tomorrow. The Newfield and Groton Superintendents hold out some hope for better education funding in an election year, but Dryden Superintendent Archambault doesn't sound particularly hopeful on that score, and notes that the federal "No Child Left Behind" law will also mandate spending.

Posted by simon at 8:11 AM Comment

More rental sites

Last week I noted that some rental properties in Varna were for sale, and Kimball Real Estate's site had a lot of information on them.

Looking around further, I found some other rental agencies with a fair amount of information on their sites:

The last two seem to overlap a bit. We used to live in the smaller back house of one of these before we bought our house in Dryden.

Visiting these sites is not quite like visiting your neighbors (though this page on Observatory Drive includes background music), but there's lots of information here. Not as much on the actual rent as the Kimball site offered, though.

Posted by simon at 6:14 PM Comment

January 20, 2004

Dryden Schools announcing principal

The Dryden Central School District will be announcing a new middle school principal tonight, as well as a consultant to help them find a new superintendent.

Posted by simon at 8:35 AM Comment

Who plows which roads?

The Ithaca Journal has a piece on the challenges of keeping roads clear in winter, which has been especially difficult with recent cold temperatures and blowing snow.

There aren't many Dryden-specific details to the story, but there is a list of which governments plow which roads:

According to the state Department of Transportation, roads in Tompkins County that the DOT looks after include state routes 13, 34, 34B, 38, 79E, 366, Fall Creek Road and portions of McLean Road. County crews care for some state roads, including 96B, 13S, 34S, 327, 227, 79W and 89. Villages and the City of Ithaca tend to care for their own streets. Towns tend to most of their own roads and, in some cases, county roads within their boundaries.

I knew that 366 was plowed by state trucks because I see them go by, but I'd have guessed that the state plows state roads, the county county roads, and towns and villages their own roads. It seems to be a lot more complicated than that, which makes sense given the intricate structure of roads.

Two roads that surprised me are Fall Creek Road (which goes from Freeville to McLean) and McLean Road (which goes from McLean to Cortland). I know people there were unhappy a few years ago about traffic on "the back way to Cortland", and emphasized that it was not a state road. I remember a sign on a barn to the effect that it was a neighborhood, not a highway. They seem to understand that traffic-filled roads aren't great for building communities.

The Journal also has a brief article on what might be coming in Governor Pataki's budget proposal today.

Posted by simon at 8:47 AM Comment

January 21, 2004

Dryden appoints middle school principal

Last night, the Dryden school board appointed Roger Fedele as middle school principal, hired Vincent Coppola as a consultant to find a new superintendent, and contemplated replacing modular music and science classrooms with new construction.

Also in the Dryden schools, Dryden High School seniors Sam Glidden and Jared Delahanty received a $750 grant from NYSEG for a project designing a car that uses hydrogen fuel cells instead of gasoline. The grant money will go toward building a model of the car's electrical system, and then they hope to use that model to solicit further grants toward a full-size prototype.

Meanwhile, school aid in Governor Pataki's budget was described as "nothing too exciting" by Dryden schools Business Administrator Teresa Carnrike.

Posted by simon at 8:21 AM Comment

Another fatal accident on 13

There was another fatal accident on Route 13 in Dryden yesterday, this time near Ringwood Road. "The SUV was going too fast for the conditions."

I had a few scary moments near that section of the road myself last week. It felt like I was driving on a sheet of ice at one point, but fortunately nothing happened.

Posted by simon at 8:42 AM Comment

Visiting the Varna Volunteer Fire Company, Part I

I visited the Varna Volunteer Fire Company yesterday to talk about where our fire tax money, particularly the recent 31.8% fire tax levy increase, is going. I still need to make sure I'm clear on what some of the conversation meant, so that part of the conversation will be a follow-up story. (What I saw seemed reasonable, but I'd like to make sure I've got it right.)

I did get a nice tour of the fire house, and some pictures worth presenting today.

Varna Volunteer Fire Company
Varna Volunteer Fire Company (map)

fire trucks at the ready
Fire trucks at the ready

Halligan Bar
Halligan Bar

Tire chains ready to roll
Tire chains ready to roll

The fire company's own site has a lot more pictures of current and retired apparatus.

Posted by simon at 8:47 AM Comment

January 22, 2004

Reactions to Pataki's budget

I ran out of time yesterday to cover most of the local reactions to Governor Pataki's budget. (I had to drive to Albany and back.) The state budget at this point seems to be the largest determining factor for local taxes - mostly county, though the county's troubles may affect the towns as well.

The Ithaca Journal had a piece yesterday covering the largely partisan response to the budget, citing Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D) and State Senator James Seward (R), both of whom represent Dryden, among those siding against or with the Republican governor on issues like how much the changes to Medicaid will actually help counties. All of this is tricky, as the budget is immense, and really only a starting point for New York's legendary and often long-lasting budget negotiations.

Tompkins County Legislature Chairman Tim Joseph "is awaiting an analysis of Pataki's budget from the New York State Association of Counties, which is due early next month," though he clearly has doubts about some proposed program cuts. Joseph has been vocal about Medicaid in particular, joining with other county leaders to object to state mandated spending.

I already mentioned that the Dryden district saw the budget as "nothing too exciting," though it seems to have been more or less exciting for various surrounding districts. Local colleges faces pluses and minuses. In Dryden, "another proposed cut, which would mean a net loss of $350,000 for TC3, is a $115-per-student operating aid reduction for community colleges run by the State University of New York system."

The Journal also has its own take on the budget, noting "Pataki's proposal to have the state take over local government Medicaid costs. The catch: It would be phased in over a 10-year period, which means that any significant relief is a long way off."

The most worrying part to me is that the New York Times reports that "the proposed budget... relies on some questionable revenue sources to improve failing schools and close a $5.1 billion budget gap, starting with the money expected to come from video lottery terminals." There's no sign that those lottery terminals will land in Dryden, but it's not clear where they'll go:

No one knows what the new parlors will look like or where they will be located, though under the governor's plan, state lottery officials would ask casino operators to submit proposals. The governor has only proposed legislation saying the new parlors cannot be within 15 miles of upstate tracks or in the suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties. Five could be put in the city, but not in the Bronx or Queens, or above 59th Street in Manhattan.

I suspect that, as usual, it'll be a long time before we have any idea what the budget will really look like, and it doesn't look like there's much hope for quick relief on mandates to counties.

Posted by simon at 1:21 PM Comment

Dryden school board on open enrollment and more

The Ithaca Journal reports a Dryden school board meeting as a series of bullet points on decisions, including ones not to support open enrollment for kindgergarten unless there are extenuating circumstance and not to change the boundaries of the district in response to a request. They also kept the topic of summer school alive for future discussion in the budget process, and established an ad hoc committee to examine the impact of the federal "No Child Left Behind" law.

Was this the same meeting as the one covered in this earlier report? Seems like it.

Posted by simon at 1:43 PM Comment

January 23, 2004

Village caucuses

This week's Shopper contains Notices of Caucuses for Village of Dryden Democrats and Republicans, as both parties will be meeting to select candidates for the two 2-year and one 1-year positions for village trustees. The actual election will be in March.

Both caucuses will be held January 27 at the Dryden Village Hall (map). The Republican Party caucus is at 7:30pm, while the Democratic Party will be holding its caucus at 8:00pm. Members of the respective parties who live in the Village are eligible to participate.

Posted by simon at 8:52 AM Comment

Organizational meeting minutes

The minutes for the January 5, 2004 Town Board organizational meeting are now available. It's largely similar to last year's similar meeting, with a different cast of characters, slightly higher salaries, and different kinds of questions.

There's one bit at the end regarding fire contracts and communications between the town and the fire companies that seems worth pulling out:

The Board discussed forming an emergency services steering committee. Cl Stelick said several fire department people had told him they were not in favor of the idea. Cl Christofferson said he had spoken to some who indicate they are not looking for another layer, and getting someone other than just the fire chiefs involved is important. It would be good to get the members who have fiscal responsibilities involved. Cl Christofferson said we need to work with them to develop budgets in a timely manner. Cl Stelick said we need to have something that the fire departments are comfortable. Cl Michaels proposed that the fire department chiefs, members of boards of the departments and any other interested members be invited to a Town Board meeting for an open discussion on how to better facilitate the communication, budget process, etc. Supv Trumbull will try and schedule that meeting, which may have to be a special meeting of the board. Cl Michaels noted that in any new fire contracts he would like to break out the amount of funds going toward equipment reserves. Cl Stelick said it is important that all members of the departments agree to any committee that is formed to deal with the issues and be a part of formation of that committee.

As of the January 15 meeting, fire contracts still weren't signed, though apparently they're settled.

Posted by simon at 2:26 PM Comment

Journal obsessed with county executive?

I think I may have to start a new category just on the county executive issue, or maybe just on the Ithaca Journal's coverage of it, as they can't seem to stop writing about it. Tompkins County Republican Chairman Mark Finkelstein had a brilliant idea when he announced the idea with a press conference rather than through the County Legislature, since he seems to have grabbed the Journal's attention and now they just won't let go.

Today's editorial complains that "there has been no apparent movement on that idea by elected officials, who understandably may prefer things the way they are." This is despite the fact that the idea was floated at a press conference less than six weeks ago, during a time period filled with holidays and organizational meetings that don't happen by themselves.

Maybe there's a roaring crowd calling for a county executive standing in front of the Journal's offices or those of the County; I can't say I've seen those crowds when I've been downtown. If crowds were there, that would explain the combination of:

I hope I haven't missed anything there, though maybe one got by in the rush. At least now I can reference this article when they publish on it in the future.

Posted by simon at 2:46 PM Comment

January 24, 2004

Visiting the Varna Volunteer Fire Company, Part II

On January 20, I sat down with Duane Testut, the Varna Volunteer Fire Company's treasurer, to talk about how our fire protection taxes are being spent. He'd seen my earlier post about the fire tax levy climbing 31.8% this year, after years of changes from 2-5%, and wanted to explain where the money was going, emphasisizing that this was a "catch-up year" after years of gradual squeezing.

VVFC at a call
VVFC at a call, January 22, 2004.

The VVFC's total 2004 contract request was $185,025, a 58% increase over 2003's $117,079. Of that figure, $6000 represents money that the department had received in previous years, and was denied in 2003. That $6000 was restored, and an extra $6000 added to cover last year's denial, as it came directly from the capital budget for buying new equipment. If that $6000 is shifted back to 2003, then VVFC can be seen to be receiving $179,025, or a 45% increase in this year's budget from last year's $123,079.

(This $6000 was apparently originally an allocation for an extra engine to cover a proposed satellite station in Ellis Hollow, but became a regular feature of the VVFC budget for reasons no one I've spoken with so far can satisfactorily explain. The $6000 also disappeared from last year's budget for reasons that again seem unexplainable. The most extended explanation I can find is in the Town Board minutes for December 4, 2002, which corresponds well to what Duane said Wednesday, but doesn't explain how the money disappeared from the budget.)

Meeting Room, VVFC
Meeting room at the VVFC station.

The VVFC also has $42,905 in one-time expenditures this year, which I'll explore in more detail in a bit. These expenses, while they certainly affected this year's tax levy, will not continue to next year. These expenditures aside, that means that the VVFC contract amount increased to $136,120. Accepting the corrected $6000, that means a real increase of about 10%. There's also one line in the VVFC budget for Professional Fees - accounting, primarily - that seems sensible when audits were a primary focus of discussion. Subtracting that as a new cost of governance leaves $128,620 - for a 4.5% overall increase in costs comparable to those in prior years.

Truck 1941, due for replacement
Truck 1941, due for replacement in the next few years.

The VVFC has been increasing the amount that it puts into its capital equipment fund by 3% a year, while the town has increased their budget roughly 2% a year since 1997, with the exception of last year when (because of the $6000) it fell 3%. This has meant a growing squeeze on operating money. While the VVFC does receive income from bequests, donations, and grants, those haven't been steady or increasing income. In this light, the 4.5% increase doesn't seem that unusual.

Jaws of life prybar/cutter
"Jaws of life" spreaders, cutters, and rams, paid for with a bequest.

The one-time expenditures, as they account for 36% of this year's increase by themselves, are worth closer examination. There's $10,000 for a generator at the station, which makes it much more capable in case of an extended outage. There are two communications systems - a $9,595 repeater system that lets them communicate throughout the district without issues created by the hills, and a $8,500 dual channel system that lets them dispatch (and dispatch themselves) more effectively. There is $9,500 for scene lights for truck 1943, their heavy rescue truck. According to Testut, this retrofit comes from their not being able to afford it in 1998 when the truck was purchased. There's also a $1500 manifold and gate to update 1941, the mini-pumper. A "Baby Annie" CPR training mannequin is $350. Blacktop sealing for the driveway is $3500.

The repeater system is especially interesting, as it spends less than $10,000 to solve a problem the county has planned investing millions to solve with a larger but controversial system. By putting a repeater on Game Farm Road, the VVFC can avoid the large gap in their system created by Mt. Pleasant. Natan Huffman reports:

"The Town of Dryden has chosen to supplement fire and EMS communication by funding local UHF repeater systems rather than count on the county to find resolution to a 20 year old problem. The Varna repeater is the latest local system to go on line and has already proven its mettle during January as it provides a tactical frequency and gives coverage in the dead spots of the county system. Neptune Hose has had its system operating for years and the W. B. Strong Fire Department of Freeville is going through licensing application. The result of the addition of the Varna and Freeville repeaters along with the Neptune Hose system is coverage throughout our town, something the county system cannot do."

It's also worth noting that the VVFC is expanding Project SAFE (Secure Access For Elderly), which uses Knox Boxes to give the company secured access to people's houses without having to knock down the door. They have used a similar system for places like NYSEG that can build these into their budget, but these boxes are intended for use by elderly residents who are especially likely to need emergency assistance. Money for this is coming from grants and bequests, not town taxes.

While it is a lot of money, I can't see anything here that's unusual or surprising for a fire department. This is only information from one department, and this district includes four, but it seems like that fire taxes will decline next year and return to a more typical pattern afterward. This increase seems mostly to correct for a bumpy few years, and this year's one-time expenditures should help prevent expenses in future years.

Posted by simon at 7:47 AM Comment

January 25, 2004

Special meeting with Fire Departments, other meetings

The Town of Dryden Public Notices page (local copy) announces a meeting for Tuesday, January 27, at the Dryden Fire Hall (map), noting:

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss ways to improve communications between the Town of Dryden and the Fire Departments that serve its residents, together with such other business as the board may deem necessary.

There are also announcements for a now-passed Planning Board meeting - someone wants to put a 48-lot subdivision in the swampy territory off Wood Road? - a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting February 3rd, the February 10th meeting of the Conservation Advisory Council, a Dryden Youth Commission meeting last week, and a Recreation Commission meeting tomorrow.

Posted by simon at 9:41 AM Comment

Snow hazards and removal

Yesterday's Ithaca Journal is filled with articles on the hazards of winter driving and the difficulties of snow removal. The longest, Deadly Highways: Blowing Snow, Unsafe Speeds Create Recipe for Tragedies, starts from a fatal accident last year on Route 13 in Dryden, and looks at what's been done and what could be done to help avoid such disasters, which have kept coming this year, with fatal accidents on 13 in Dryden on January 20th and 17th, one on 34B in Dryden on December 17th, and another on Route 34 in Lansing on January 19.

The article notes lots of suggestions, from snow fences to more patrolling and more plowing. The last two are already stretched, and it gets especially difficult to clear roads when temperatures get so low that salt is ineffective. Even with the resources, changing road conditions create challenges:

"The bottom line is everyday is a different situation," said Jack Bush, the Dryden highway superintendent. "It depends on if it's windy, if the sun comes out, what time it snows ..."

Sergeant John Beno, traffic supervisor of the New York State Police barracks in Sidney, suggested what seems the best approach given the circumstances:

"Because much of driving in the winter involves knowing the roads and the conditions likely to exist, driving slowly and cautiously on unfamiliar roads can help cut down on the number of accidents."

I think I'd extend that to familiar roads as well, especially in the case of Route 13 through Dryden where traffic is often fast and even in snowstorms some people seem to want to go as quickly as they think they can. That's part of why this comment from Bob Feak, a civil engineer at the state Department of Transportation, worries me:

"Route 13 used to be much worse before two improvement projects that widened the lanes and the shoulder."

Making 13 wider seems to make people think that they have more room in which to screw up, more time to recover - and they would have that, if they were actually driving at the same speeds. Unfortunately, people aren't that cautious. Having the State Police barracks visibly on 13 in that area probably does help, though I've still marveled at people passing in these conditions. Left turns remain a big problem in that area, as people have to stop or risk the less-plowed shoulder to get around turning vehicles, and the curves and hills don't always provide a lot of time for that, even when people are providing extra distance. The driveways make this an extra challenge, but I tend to find the intersections tougher. I'd like more statistics to back up his claim that these improvements make the road safer. No doubt they help traffic flow, but I have real doubts about whether they improve safety.

Feak's signage work, however, does at least give drivers better information about what they're about to encounter:

"We put them up for a reason, maybe it was an accident or just a bad intersection area," Feak said. "Something as simple as a curve or intersection ahead sign may be helpful in any weather."

I'd love to see variable speed limits, like they have on Interstate 90 in Washington states' Cascade Mountains, but somehow I doubt the county or the state have the cash at the moment for remotely adjustable speed limit signs.

A siren just went by on 366. I hope that it's for nothing particularly troubling.

In addition to the main article, yesterday's Journal offers stories on snow removal in Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, list of recent fatalities, comments from local citizens, news of an accident on Route 13 in Cortland County that sent two Tompkins County residents to the hospital, a guest column on snow fences, two letters from Dryden residents (1 2) on winter hazards, and a new road condition alert system on the Ithaca Journal main site.

They also have a story of comments from local officials, including this one from Peter Messmer, the manager of the county Highway Division:

"If people would cut their speed in half, they can cut the distance they need to stop," Messmer said. "People should think nothing of going 30 to 35 miles per hour. You just can't screw around in snow and ice conditions."

Update: The Journal has corrected the original story. They also appear to have updated it in the online version of the story.

Posted by simon at 10:20 AM Comment

Dryden Democrats thank candidates, contributors, volunteers

The Dryden Democrats gathered yesterday at the Varna Community Center to thank former Town Supervisor Mark Varvayanis, former Town Board member Deb Grantham, and Town Board candidate Jim Skaley for their service and for running in last fall's election, as well as to thank contributors and volunteers.

Mark Varvayanis and Jim Skaley listen to Kathy Zahler read a letter from County Legislator Martha Robertson.
Mark Varvayanis and Jim Skaley listen to Kathy Zahler read a letter from County Legislator Martha Robertson.

Along with discussion of last fall's defeats and how to do a better job getting out local Democrats' message of open government, there was some conversation about the upcoming presidential election. The New York primary is March 2nd, and there was some conversation about the presidential candidates. The Tompkins County Democratic Party will be having a forum for discussion of the primary and candidates next Thursday, January 30.

The voter registration deadline for primaries is February 6; more details about the primary are available from the Tompkins County Board of Elections.

Posted by simon at 2:34 PM Comment

Energy efficiency saves lots of cash

I reported a few weeks ago on the energy efficiency improvements we made to the house last summer, and that our gas meter at that point looked very promising. A new bill has arrived, and the results are in: we appear to be saving more than half on our gas bill.

Our December bill, a calculated bill based on last year's usage, suggested that we had used 290 therms for the 32 days from November 17 to December 19. Based on the meter reading, however, it turns out that we only used 224.6 therms for the 65 days from November 17 to January 21. To grossly oversimplify, NYSEG expected us to be using a little over nine therms per day; instead, we're using 3.45. At the (again oversimplified) average rate of 84¢/therm, that means we're saving about $4.71 a day now.

It was enough of a change that they refunded the December payment and charged for the right amount fresh. They also want me to call to "discuss a change in the usage pattern on your account." I'll be happy to call them.

There's no good reason even an old rental house shouldn't be energy efficient.

Posted by simon at 7:01 PM Comment

January 26, 2004

Salaries over time

The recently posted minutes of the Town of Dryden 2004 organizational meeting were much like those of prior years, but there's a lot in those minutes that can be compared across years. The positions the town appoints and their salaries fluctuate from year to year, as the table below shows:

200220032004% increase
% increase
Council (4)$5,000.00$5,000.00$5,100.000.0%2.0%
Highway superintendent$46,000.00$49,993.00$50,993.008.680%2.0%
Deputy highway superintendent$36,000.00$37,800.00$40,000.005.0%5.820%
Highway clerk$10.30$22,325.00$23,664.00converted from hourly5.998%
Public works superintendent$2,070.00--Combined with highway super?-
Town clerk$18,019.00$18,920.00$19,750.005.0%4.387%
Town justice (2)$14,838.00$14,838.00$15,135.000.0%2.002%
Court clerk 1$27,841.00$31,216.00$31,840.0012.122%1.999%
Court clerk 2$25,272.00$22,880.00$25,459.00-9.465%11.272%
Receiver of taxes$11,023.00$11,574.00$12,250.004.999%5.841%
Site plan review secretary$10.30$10.60$10.602.913%0.0%
Deputy town clerk 1$12,938.00$13,534.00$13,810.004.607%2.039%
Deputy town clerk 2--$11,024.00-NEW
Assistant secretary-$28,500.00-NEWGONE
Bingo inspector$150.00$150.00$150.000.0%0.0%
Administrator for recreation$10.30$10.60-2.913%GONE
Secretary to youth services--$10.60-NEW
Secretary to zoning 1$12,938.00$13,534.00$13,804.004.607%1.995%
Secretary to zoning 2 --$11,024.00-NEW
Deputy receiver of tax$8.50$8.75-2.941%GONE
Assistant budget officer$6,745.00$7,015.00-4.003%GONE
Building code inspector$47,268.00$49,160.00$49,650.004.003%0.997%
Assistant building code inspector$34,454.00$36,176.00$36,902.004.998%2.007%
Secretary to plan/zoning board.$10.30$10.30$10.300.0%0.0%
Court security officer$18.00$18.00$18.000.0%0.0%
Town hall cleaner$10.30$10.60$10.602.913%0.0%
Planning board chair$400.00$400.00$400.000.0%0.0%
Zoning board chair$400.00$400.00$400.000.0%0.0%
Full-time public works employees (max)$13.50$14.75union agreement9.259%-
Full-time highway employees (max)$13.40$14.63union agreement9.179%-
Recreation coordinator--$30,600.00-NEW
Environmental planner--$38,500.00-NEW

Salaries given are the first salary for the year, and don't reflect raises given within the year. This information came from organizational meeting minutes for 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Posted by simon at 8:31 AM Comment

Another accident in Dryden

Apparently the siren I heard yesterday while writing about the Ithaca Journal's coverage of roads in winter was in fact on its way to an accident, just a short way up the road from my house near the intersection of Routes 13 and 366, in the Tree Forms parking lot. Five people received minor injuries. The Journal has details and a picture.

The Journal also has an editorial on winter driving.

Posted by simon at 8:48 AM Comment

Assessment information

Valeria Coggin, director of the Tompkins County Department of Assessment, has a guest editorial in today's Ithaca Journal on how property assessment works, including a listing of informational meetings. (None are in Dryden, unfortunately.)

As reported in an earlier article, assessments are increasing.

Posted by simon at 8:56 AM Comment

More buildings on Route 366

It's been a while since I last posted house photos. Here are two more.

1168 Dryden Road
1168 Dryden Road (map)

1166 Dryden Road
1166 Dryden Road (map)

Posted by simon at 6:30 PM Comment

January 27, 2004

Ithaca City School District examines enrollment

The ICSD will hear a report tonight on enrollment projections for the next three to five years, as well as examine how efficiently buildings are being used. The Ithaca Journal reports that:

Because only some students from outlying towns -- including Enfield, Caroline, Danby and Dryden -- attend Ithaca city schools, Haber must also project what portion of those towns' birth rates and property ownerships indicate possible Ithaca district students, Evans said.
Posted by simon at 8:12 AM Comment

Sometimes you don't need an executive

In striking contrast with its recent fondness for centralized executive power, today's Ithaca Journal editorial notes that:

The marathon, multi-year effort to coordinate wastewater treatment from six area municipalities is nearly complete. This plan has progressed, despite the fact that it has no president, chair or chief executive in charge.

The Town of Dryden is one of the municipalities involved. The Journal credits the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce as "as an enabler, planner, coalescing force and ombudsman in the Herculean effort to coordinate the needs of the participating municipalities".

Update: A dart in Saturday's paper notes that the Journal omitted the role of Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) in the wastewater project.

Posted by simon at 8:17 AM Comment

Suggested changes to Draft Comprehensive Plan

David Weinstein, a member of the Town Planning Board who commented here a while ago, sent me some letters he's sent the Planning Board suggesting changes to to the Draft Comprehensive Plan.

There are two sets of suggestions. The first is a general look at the plan, while the second is detailed changes to the section on hamlets.

Two paragraphs in his general comments suggest the overall theme he's found:

A predominant theme I heard was that we had deviated somewhat from our mandate, which was to keep Dryden pretty much the way it is, a rural residential community with significant farming activities. In our concern to be ready for development, we created too many opportunities for large scale rapid change to current uses and character. There is no reason to do that, and it certainly goes against the overwhelming attitude voiced in the town survey. We need to protect existing farms and better buffer existing natural areas and sensitive environments (Unique Natural Areas and Wetlands).
It is of particular concern that so many people felt the character of their community could change rapidly under this plan. That is not what we had in mind, but looking back on the plan there are numerous pathways by which these types of changes could start happening. I don't think any of us would be happy if we looked back 10 years from now and saw a town that had changed in character more rapidly than was necessary simply because the plan did not protect that character adequately.

Fortunately the draft is still just a draft, and hopefully there's still time to ensure that Dryden doesn't lose its character.

Posted by simon at 12:12 PM Comment

January 28, 2004

Town Board meets with fire companies

Last night's special Town Board meeting on fire department issues was more like an informal get-together than a formal meeting. Instead of the usual board at a front table facing an audience, there was a circle of tables, with the board mostly in one corner and everyone else spread around.

Apart from the Board and the Town Clerk, there were about twenty people from fire departments, an Ithaca Journal reporter, a WHCU reporter, and myself. The Varna, Etna, Dryden, Freeville, McLean, and Brooktondale departments were all represented, and there was also talk of Slaterville Springs and their ambulance service.

Town Supervisor Steve Trumbull opened the meeting with a brief statement about "putting negativity behind us", and then Town Councilman Marty Christofferson talked about the need for more open communications. Dana Abbey, President of the Board of Directors of Neptune Hose Company, suggested that this meeting itself meant open communications were already getting started.

Marty Christofferson addresses firefighters
Marty Christofferson addresses firefighters

There was a lot of discussion about how the Board should deal with the fire companies - as a board, as a subcommittee, with individual companies, with the chiefs' group. There were a few suggestions about creating a new committee to coordinate between the Town Board and the fire companies, but it seemed that consensus was that the current structures were starting to work. As Natan Huffman of the Varna Volunteer Fire Company put it, "all of us are in this not to go to meetings - we want to fight fires."

Process issues aside, there seem to be a number of substantive issues that need to be dealt with. Contracts for the fire companies aren't settled yet, and the fire departments were concerned that the quarterly payments model from the previous years' contracts was still going to be in the contract. Councilman Chris Michaels defended the quarterly payments - actually 50% in the first payment and three equal payments after that - as a means of ensuring compliance with the contract. There was concern that compliance was just paperwork thrown into a cardboard box, but Councilman Michaels and Councilman Steve Stelick assured those present that they did in fact read it, found it useful, and hoped to be able to use some of it in efforts to honor volunteers. It sounds like the board will approve the contracts at the next meeting as a first step, and will still listen for feedback from the fire companies on how they like the contract terms.

The largest issues seemed to revolve around planning for capital costs, notably trucks. Coordinating purchases between departments - whether Varna might need an $800,000 ladder truck was the common question - seemed to be a tough issue. Board members, notably Christofferson, suggested that it would be helpful to bring together the departments to discuss these kinds of long-term planning issues, but there was a general reluctance among the fire companies to find themselves in a position where they were questioning each other's judgment. How to invest funds for capital equipment, either by establishing how companies should manage their investments or possibly by centralizing such funds in the town or the Dryden Fire Protection District was another question, though the preference seemed to be to leave the funds with the companies as is currently done. While both the board and the fire companies sounded excited about doing long-term planning, it was also pretty clear that long-term planning had the largest potential for conflict, as the board and the companies would have to sort out competing needs.

The companies also had questions about whether the town planned to sign a mutual aid agreement with the county (which the board apparently hadn't seen) and what the board planned to do with the audits. No one appeared to have seen a final version of the audits except the Varna company, perhaps because they'd started earlier. Most of the departments have completed their audits, except for Etna, which is still inventorying and will begin the audit process in a few weeks. There was also a question about whether audits should be performed annually or every five to seven years. Councilman Michaels noted that the accountants had been impressed that fire companies treated their capital funds as restricted funds, despite having no legal requirement to do so.

Chris Michaels discusses budgeting issues while Steve Stelick and <span class=Bambi Hollenbeck listen" />
Councilman Chris Michaels discusses budgeting issues while Councilman Steve Stelick and Town Clerk Bambi Hollenbeck listen

Volunteerism is also an issue, as various people discussed how it's harder to recruit and current volunteers are getting older. The specter of a much more expensive professional fire department was raised a few times, and there was discussion of ways the town could help recruitment and honor outstanding volunteers. Councilman Michaels pointed out that while the equipment and operations costs were real, personnel costs could be a much larger issue in the future.

There were a few different perspectives even among the fire company representatives in the room. McLean has its own fire district with taxing authority, so it has no contract with the Town. Brooktondale has its own fire district, though only in the Town of Caroline, and covers the portion of Dryden along Route 79 through a separate contract with Dryden. There was also mention of Slaterville Springs, which apparently provides rescue services to portions of Dryden along Route 79 without a present contract.

There were no votes or formal decisions made, so it'll take time to see how these issues resolve.

The Ithaca Journal also has an article on the meeting.

Posted by simon at 8:20 AM Comment

Road condition information on the Web

Both the Ithaca Journal and the New York State Department of Transportation now offer road condition warnings on their web sites.

When there are warnings (as there were yesterday), the Journal's reports are on their main site and at least their local news page. (It may be on more pages - those were the two I saw.) You can call the Journal at 273-9233 with road reports or email them at rottenroads@ithaca.gannett.com.

The DOT has a statewide Winter Traveler Advisory System, which provides reports directly from snowplow drivers.

Posted by simon at 8:29 AM Comment

Auditing the results of my energy audit

I wrote earlier about how we'd had an energy audit followed by major energy improvements to our house last year. Monday night, I got a call from the Energy Star folks saying that they wanted to take a look at the work that'd been done. As they'd paid us a rebate, that seemed reasonable.

John Puc of Conservation Services Group came by with a collection of instruments much like the ones that Performance Systems Contracting had used both for the energy audit and to test the work when they'd concluded. He tested for carbon monoxide on both our (old) water heater and our (new) furnace, for pressure differentials between rooms, and did another blower door test, coming up with 1900 CFM instead of the 1855 CFM - still a big improvement on the 3500 CFM we'd had before. (Unlike the first time we did it, also in the middle of winter, it didn't leave the house freezing, either.)

blower-door test
Setting up for the blower-door test

I was happy to see that the state is checking up on projects they pay for, though apparently they audit a random sample of houses. I'm thrilled with the work we had done, the financial results, and that New York State considers energy efficiency a priority.

Posted by simon at 3:21 PM Comment

January 29, 2004

Winter driving, roads, economy

There's a lot of Tompkins County news in the Ithaca Journal today, though not much specific to Dryden.

The editorial page is largely focused on winter driving issues, including an editorial, a guest column on safe driving, and two letters.

There's also concern about possible cuts to state highway funding. Pataki's proposed budget would cut $276,000 from the $1.3 million the county receives from the state. This money wasn't in the governor's budget last year either, and was restored by the legislature, but the state of New York's finances are still not very promising.

The Tompkins Country economy seems to be improving, though Elia Kacapyr notes that even with a jump in December (largely thanks to home sales), he find "the growth rate of the Tompkins County economy at 0.3 percent for all of 2003." He had predicted a 1% rate for 2003, and predicts a 2.5% increase for 2004.

Posted by simon at 8:24 AM Comment

Forum on Democratic presidential candidates

The Tompkins County Democratic Committee is sponsoring a forum on presidential candidates tonight at 7:30 at the Women's Community Building auditorium, 100 West Seneca Street in Ithaca. No candidates will be there, but it's an opportunity for Democrats to talk about why they're supporting particular candidates and to ask questions.

The New York primary is March 2nd.

(This is as close as I plan to get to discussing national politics on this weblog, unless perhaps candidates make stops in Dryden. Update: While that's as close as I'll get, a blog based in Freeville called One Thousand Reasons is clearly interested in defeating George Bush.)

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

Dryden Central School Board Briefs

The Board Briefs in this week's edition of the Suburban Cortland-Ithaca Shopper (and online) are hardly brief, but they're an excellent way to share information. Twenty-one items under reports and comments, sixteen items the board approved, five other actions of the board, and four upcoming events plus a superintendent's coffee hour.

The online archive looks a bit thin, and it would be great to have formal minutes posted, but this is a great way to get information out to a lot of people. It can go into more detail than a newspaper article would, but comes to the point far more quickly than traditional minutes.

Posted by simon at 8:52 AM Comment

January 30, 2004

Candidates forum last night

A few hundred Democrats filled the Women's Community Building in Ithaca last night to hear local speakers present cases for presidential candidates. The Clark, Dean, Edwards, Kerry, Kucinich, and LaRouche campaigns all had speakers, and there were tables for most of the candidates as well.

Crowd gathering for the candidates forum.
Crowd gathering for the Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum.

A county legislator from Dryden, Martha Robertson was the primary speaker for Howard Dean; the other speakers were from elsewhere in Tompkins or neighboring counties.

Martha Roberston for Dean.
Dryden County Legislator Martha Robertson encourages the crowd to vote for Howard Dean.

I recognized a few other Dryden democrats there, including Jim Skaley and Martha Ferger (wearing a Kucinich button). County Legislator Mike Lane was not there, though he's frequently seen wearing a Clark button.

It was a fairly exciting hour and a half, though I can't say it particularly changed my mind. I ended up disliking the three candidates I already disliked more, and stayed in the same unsettled position among the two candidates I do like. The recurring debates were over the nature of candidates' experience and whether to vote based on what other people in the country might want ("vote with your head") or to vote for for what you might want ("vote with your heart"). Kathie Kelley, speaking for the Edwards campaign, broke out of that at the end by suggesting that voting for Edwards was "voting for hope", combining both options. I'd like to think that we're all "voting for hope", but it was good to hear that expressed.

The Ithaca Journal has broader coverage of the event.

Again, the primary is March 2nd, and the last day to register to vote in the primary in February 6th.

Posted by simon at 8:40 AM Comment

Yet another winter accident

The Ithaca Journal reports another accident caused by snow on Route 13, this time near the Gulf Hill Road intersection. This accident was a rear-ending rather than a head-on collision, and there were no fatalities.

The Journal also has part 2 of a series on safe winter driving.

At least we're not a few hours north in Fulton: "A fierce lake-effect snow band clobbered Oswego County, dropping more than 4 feet of snow on Parish, causing hundreds of accidents and forcing police to shut highways."

Posted by simon at 9:39 AM Comment

"Positive Sign of Progress" on Dryden firefighting

Today's Ithaca Journal editorial lauds the incoming town board for meeting with volunteer fire companies this week. They note that:

Often, friction between some board members, the town supervisor, several firefighters and chiefs often hampered progress on the more substantive issues of audits, budgets, equipment and services provided.

While there clearly was friction in the past, it wan't clear at Tuesday's meeting that the friction will magically disappear thanks to "an encouraging precedent that should be maintained." Some of that friction - particularly surrounding the differing responsibilities of the Town Board and the individual companies - seems driven by substantive issues themselves.

At Tuesday's meeting, there were two key examples worth watching closely before declaring peace. The first was firefighters' concerns over Councilman Marty Christofferson's suggestions of bringing together multiple companies to discuss coordination and purchasing. It's the Town Board's job to evaluate how to disburse fire protection funds to the various companies, but it's clear that the companies don't want to be put in competition with each other or have to comment on each other's practices. There's lot of interest in long-term planning, but implementing it will take more than this meeting.

The second major issue, a more immediately concrete one, was Duane Testut's question about quarterly payments to companies. He seemed to regard them as a bad idea from the prior administration, but Councilman Chris Michaels defended them as a necessary means to ensure compliance with contracts - though the value of that compliance, especially around paperwork, was also questioned by firefighters. The companies seemed annoyed that the quarterly payments remained in the contract, and asked that they have a chance to negotiate the (yet-unsigned) contracts before having them forced on them, as happened last year.

At the meeting, it sounded like the Board would vote at their February meeting to approve the contracts in their current form (with quarterly payments) and send them to departments, and then possibly amend the contract. That process will definitely be worth watching.

On the bright side, the meeting itself may provide the Town Board with a new model for talking with communities in depth. Instead of the formal board-at-the-front with limited public input, this was a give-and-take session that largely ran itself. Even when the conversation showed signs of generating heat, people let each other talk. The informality was impressive, and I think that the combination of informality and focus on a single subject made it far easier for the conversation to flow.

Posted by simon at 10:09 AM Comment

January 31, 2004

Rural speed control meeting

The West Danby Community Association is hosting a "discussion focused on speed, safety, emergency access, road design, community character and rural traffic calming following a dish-to-pass supper" at the West Danby Fire Hall (map) tonight at 6pm. Yes, it's in Danby, but the impact of roads on rural communities is an important issue for Dryden as well, as the Draft Comprehensive Plan makes clear.

Posted by simon at 8:10 AM Comment

New Town of Dryden web site

The Town of Dryden site has a new look, going from blue text on white to white text on black. The pictures in the top left corner - pictures which vary on different pages - are a very nice touch. They also deserve credit for preserving the structure of the site, which means that the links which pointed into the old version of the site continue to work.

There's one aspect of the site that doesn't make any sense to me, though it's a carry-over from the old site:

Alteration or duplication without express permission is forbidden

That used to appear in small type on the entry page, but now it's in bold on every page using the new template.

I'm not sure that's enforceable for a government site, as the entire site is a matter of public record. I suppose I could put in FOIL requests when I need to archive a page, but somehow that seems contrary to the spirit of the Web. It also seems contrary to local practice, as none of the other government sites on my regional links page say anything beyond a copyright notice, if that. (The copyright section of the Tompkins County website policies seems like an excellent set of guidelines.)

Posted by simon at 9:16 AM Comment