News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
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EDITORIAL: The Right Leader, At The Right Time?

Editorial, May 11, 2018



The Right Leader,
At The Right Time?

From the fields at the end of Graves Road, Cherry Valley, recently acquired by Caleb Wertenbaker’s Glensfoot farm, no human habitation is visible.

People generally recognize Otsego County’s geographic schizophrenia. (Schizophrenic, in the best possible way, of course.)
To the south, there are 10 Interstate exits – 11 if you count Sidney’s – largely undeveloped (except Exits 14-15, at Southside Oneonta), ideal for commerce, manufacturing, distribution and other job-creating uses.
To the north is the pristine Glimmerglass watershed, a national environmental icon, surrounded by pretty hamlets and villages, most of them in sad states of deterioration. (Wouldn’t Westford and Westville, to pick two, be delightful with an influx of young families and new incomes?)
Jobs on the highway. Homes amid lovely hills and valleys. An ideal future to contemplate.

The Otsego Land Trust, which achieved its goal of bringing 10,000 acres under conservation easements by 2010 (a little late, but no matter), is an important piece in achieving the happy equation: When the jobs inevitably arrive (fingers crossed), entities like the Land Trust, it is to be hoped, will have ensured sufficient protections are in place to avoid ruination.
So how nice, on the one hand, is it to reflect on Princeton, N.J., developer Harry Levine’s successful conclusion of 12 years as Land Trust president, and his succession by Caleb Wertenbaker, a ninth-generation member of a family that has tended Glensfoot farm in Cherry Valley since the 1790s. (Currently, Todd Gohde is managing production of certified organic hay there.)
Glensfoot now encompasses some 1,200 acres, and Wertenbaker underscored the importance of the Land Trust’s mission the other day during a walk on rolling hills at the top of Graves Road, the latest 500 acres added to the family’s holdings, now being placed under conservation easement.
At the top of a meadow, less than two miles from busy Route 20, and half that from the Village of Cherry Valley, there was no sign of human habitation in any direction, only fields, forest and blue sky.
“It’s always been here and will always be here,” said Wertenbaker, who since graduating from Oberlin in 1996 has made a living in set design in New York City and Boston, escaping up to these parts whenever he can.


Harry Levine, by all accounts, has been an activist Land Trust president. Foremost, he raised staffing from a sometimes half-time executive director to five professionals, including the latest executive director, Pat Szarpa, about to mark her first anniversary. She served for six years as executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, based in East Aurora, the Buffalo suburb, before moving to Cooperstown in 2012.
To the heartfelt thanks of many, Levine and the Land Trust board stepped up and saved Brookwood Gardens, 23 acres on Otsego Lake a mile north of Cooperstown, from falling into private hands and, thus, lost to the public forever. A businessman, though, he was particularly concerned about the P&L.
Making Brookwood financially sustainable requires $25,000-40,000 a year, depending what Land Trust overhead is assigned to it, Wertenbaker said. Shortterm, Levine had lined up a handful of donors to keep Brookwood going.
But it’s no surprise that Szarpa, when asked for her three top priorities, listed Brookwood as one of them. Some of that will be generated by giving a franchise to Brent Baysinger’s Canoe & Kayak Rentals of Portlandville to enable canoe rentals at Brookwood.
Additionally, the northern half of the property, the deteriorating home there razed, the two bridges over Leatherstocking Creek repaired, will soon be reopened, enhancing weddings and other uses on the southside – and, meanwhile, available for birding and other passive uses.
For the Land Trust to flourish, the general public has to care, and Szarpa is working with the national Land Trust Alliance “to create strong images so we can tell our story,” an outreach effort in its early stages. Plus, she is preparing for reaccreditation and taking other steps to make sure the organization is as strong as it might be.
(Plus, expect additions to the “Blueway,” a trail of publicly accessible sites from Deawongo Island in Canadarago Lake to where Oak Creek meets the Susquehanna, (near the site of David “Natty Bumppo” Shipman’s cabin.)

Whereas Levine, out of necessity, took the lead, Wertenbaker inherits a more mature organization, and sees his role as helping the Land Trust work. “I’m not going to be the driver. I’ll play a leadership role, but ‘leading from behind’,” he said. “The day-to-day business is 100 percent in the hands of the staff.”
As a set designer – and, mostly recently, as creative services director for productionglue, a New York City events company – Wertenbaker as manager helps “creative projects and creative people” accomplish their goals, rather than his agenda. “What I want (in the Land Trust) is a group of people to work together on a common goal.”
The right leader at this particular time, wouldn’t you say?

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EDITORIAL: How Can Anyone Process Eric Schneiderman’s Sudden Fall?

Editorial, May 11, 2018

How Can Anyone Process

Eric Schneiderman’s Sudden Fall?

The Cooperstown Rotary Club starts its meeting with song, and the first this past Tuesday went, in part:


I’d like to build the world a home,
and furnish it with love…

I’d like to teach the world to sing,
in perfect harmony…
I’d like to see the world for once,
all standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout
the land.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman favorably impressed a full house on appearing at the Glimmerglass Festival June 16, 2016, to discuss “The Crucible.” Moderating is Faye Gay, the New York City attorney.

With Spitzer, then Weiner, now Schneiderman, it’s hard to be anything but rueful at those words.
The latter’s fall – he was accused in this week’s New Yorker of abusing four girlfriends – is perhaps the most surprising among leading state Democratic politicians felled so far by allegations of sexual misconduct.
When he made a star turn at the Glimmerglass Festival in July 2016, Eric Schneiderman, despite his hard-driving campaigns and prosecutions, gave the impression of a mild, modest man, and a cultured one: His father, Irwin, it was noted, was a philanthropist whose support was central to keeping the New York City Opera going for decades.
Monday the 7th, the magazine hit the stands. Four women had accused him of slapping and otherwise physically abusing them. He first said the allegations – “which I strongly contest” – were irrelevant to his professional duties. By evening, however, he resigned, stating, “these allegations … will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”
While it may be the right decision, it’s a shame.

Since Harvey Weinstein faced rape allegations last October and was fired as president of Miramax Studios – as many as 80 women have since come forth – the nation has seen dozens of top executives, leading artists and professionals who have been subjected to a range of allegations.
Ironically, given Glimmerglass’ production that July 2016 evening of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a modern spinoff from the Salem witch trials, Schneiderman appeared locally to comment on the mass hysteria Americans witness from time to time – McCarthyism, certainly, but as recent as the Manhattan Beach arrests in the’ 80s.
Certainly, there is an aspect of that in the #MeToo movement, that will only be clear a year or two or a half-dozen hence. Some of today’s celebrated cases may turn out to be the equivalent of infractions or misdemeanors, but others will indeed be Class A felonies.

Be that as it may, the revelations of the past seven months don’t stand alone.
As a nation, we’ve seen a coming apart of stabilizing institutions and relationships over the past half century.
As individuals in Otsego County, we can’t even control troubling trends and unfortunate happenings at close range. At base, we can only control ourselves – in all things – and even then, imperfectly.
What we can do is recommit ourselves to basic principles: to love, to mutual respect and consideration, to fidelity to the people who depend on us – in the end, even to forgiveness. We often need that ourselves.

This Sunday the 13th brings the celebration of perhaps the most affirming ideal, and the Rotarians’ second song praised its embodiment. Corny, of course, but here goes:
M is for the million things she gave me
O means only that she’s growing old;
T is for the tears she shed to save me
H is for her heart of purest gold
E is for her eyes with lovelight shining
R means right, and right she’ll always be
Put them all together they spell Mother
A name that means the world to me
If only, at all times, we would remember mom.

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EDITORIAL: It’s Decision Time. But Is There The Will?

Editorial, May 5, 2018

It’s Decision Time.

But Is There The Will?

Gary Herzig

Question: Can Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig’s administration make tough decisions?
For one thing, whether or not to condemn the Twelve Tribes’ blighted Oneonta Ford property has been hanging fire since before Herzig took office. He’s now in his second term.
There is state money in hand to demolish what is a public hazard and state money to prepare the site for new construction. All that’s hanging fire is a tough decision.

Now, the April 30 deadline to clear out the venerable but – city inspectors have found – dangerous Oneonta Hotel is passed. Where’s the decision that’s been promised for months?
City Hall’s Board of Public Service declared the property unsafe in January 2017, 16 months ago. And still the building is occupied, and businesses are functioning on the ground floor.
You have to ask, what’s City Hall’s liability –and that of local taxpayers — if a fire or some other misfortune were to happen?
It’s past time to make a tough decision. Question: Can the Herzig Administration make it?
Question 2: Common Council has barely debated any issue publicly in months. Where are the Council members?

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EDITORIAL: If We Want Solar Energy, Let’s Get Serious About It

Editorial, May 5, 2018

If We Want Solar Energy,
Let’s Get Serious About It

If we care about solar energy, it’s time to get serious about it, don’cha think?

Happily, Otsego 2000 may be doing just that, having taken a leadership role among local environmental groups on this matter. On Feb. 24, its board adopted a resolution that reads, in part:
“Climate change, driven in large party by fossil-fuel use, is a significant threat to our region and way of life.

“We call for and support energy conservation and efficiency to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the necessity or expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure and delivery systems.
“In addition, we call for and support smart development for renewable energy sources to meet the goals adopted by New York State for greenhouse-gas reductions.”
Caveat (conservation first), then support.
The resolution continues in the same vein. It supports rooftop solar panels. And solar farms, but again with caveats: Put them on “previously disturbed areas,” protect farmland, “protect historic, cultural and scenic resources,” maintain conserved lands. This is fine, and clearly in synch with Otsego 2000’s overarching mission – to protect, not develop.

But if, in fact, we want solar energy around here, a more affirmative strategy is necessary.
The most significant solar project proposed so far in Otsego County – thousands of panels on 50 acres north of Morris – is on hold, according to Chet Feldman, spokesman for Distributed Solar, Washington D.C. As he explained it, a PSC ruling last year on economical proximity to power lines, and federal tariffs made the project “not conducive,” at least for the time being.
Promisingly, Feldman said “We’re always looking forward to doing business in New York.” So it, or another project, may still happen.
So far though, solar power locally is limited to boutique uses: People who can afford it equipping their homes with panels. Otherwise, the Solar City installation near Laurens, by county government for county government, is the only functioning solar farm in the county. (Thank you, county Rep. Jim Powers, R-Butternuts, now retired, for pioneering it.)
If Otsego 2000, Sustainable Otsego, OCCA and other environmentally focused entities – goodness, even the Clark Foundation – really wants solar power widely used here, they need to say so and go after it, without the caveats.

Ed Lentz, Butternuts Valley Alliance chair (now New Lisbon town supervisor), surveys the 50 acres where Distributed Solar planned a solar farm. It is off the table for now.

If it chose to be, muscular Otsego 2000 certainly has the clout to get it done.
Meanwhile, Otsego 2000’s executive director, the able Ellen Pope, has taken the new policy seriously, attending a forum March 27 organized by Scenic Hudson, and – she reports – well attended by municipal officials from around the state.
It’s complicated. Large installations – 25 megawatts and up – fall under state Article 10 regulations for siting electric-generating facilities, signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2011. Below that, a good town plan can guide where things happen, or don’t.
Attendees were advised, “plan for the town you want.” Of course, we all know that means: Keep everything the way it is. If we really care about global warming, about renewables, about humankind’s survival, that probably won’t fill the bill.
The Otsego 2000 policy dwells on what needs to be protected. But let’s turn it around. Let’s identify appropriate sites – sure, brownfields (Shur-Katch in Richfield Springs, maybe), former landfills, acreage shielded from public view – those black panels are ugly – and so on.
It might make sense to rule solar farms out, period, in the extra-protected Otsego Lake watershed. It makes sense to extra-protect a national environmental icon. But that leaves plenty of space elsewhere in Otsego County.
The Morris installation, tucked in the beauteous Butternut Creek Valley, would have been an eyesore, and perhaps polluted the creek, too. The county’s Solar City site is in a former gravel pit – ideal.
If Otsego 2000 could identify ideal spots for solar farms – a half dozen, a dozen, even more – and put the regulations in place to enable them, it would be doing our 60,094 neighbors (as of last July 1, and dropping) a favor. When a solar developer shows up, no problemo, with enhanced tax base and jobs to follow.
Plus, an itty bit, we might even help save Planet Earth.

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EDITORIAL: Retiring Bright Light Is Inspiration To Rest Of Us

EDITORIAL: April 27, 2018

Retiring Bright Light Is

Inspiration To Rest Of Us

Investment counselor Erna Morgan McReynolds accepts accolades from the 150 people who attended a retirement reception in her honor Saturday, April 21, at the Major’s Inn in her native Gilbertsville. Seated at left is her husband and already retired business partner, Tom Morgan.

A touching and inspiring event happened at Gilbertsville’s Major Inn last weekend: 150 wellwishers, from almost every town in Otsego County and as far away as London, England, packed the landmark mansion to express appreciation to a special lady, Erna Morgan McReynolds.
For the past 30 years, Erna has been an investment counselor in Oneonta for Morgan Stanley (and its half-dozen predecessors), and thousands of clients have been drawn to her by her savvy, certainly, but also her humanity. Everyone who knows her can attest, she cares. The result: Their security.
But that hardly scratches the surface of her accomplishment. Raised a poor girl in Gilbertsville, she graduated first in her class, broke into journalism locally with anyone who would accept her offerings, and by her late 20s was a popular writer at The Dominion, New Zealand’s largest newspaper.
In her 30s, she moved to London and TV broadcasting, then to New York, where she was a producer of some of NBC’s top news shows. Recognizing TV is a young person’s business, she followed her husband, Tom – an accomplished personality in his own right – into investment counseling in Oneonta, where she flourished as she helped her Otsego County neighbors flourish.
She embraced the Girls Scouts as a cause, and – with Tom – Hartwick College and the Catskill Symphony Orchestra (the couple is credited with saving it and guiding it to its current success), and much more.
Over the years, her abilities were recognized well beyond her natal place. Year after year, Barron’s listed her among the Top 100 Women Financial Advisers in the nation, and in December 2016 she was at the United Nations, presenting “The Business Case for Women’s Leadership in Public Institutions.”
If you know Erna, you can be sure the transition of Oneonta’s Morgan Stanley office to the Table Rock Group, headed by veteran Morgan Stanley executives Daniel and Kathleen Grasmeder, from Glens Falls, will be as seamless as possible, with her client/friends front of mind.
Erna says she hasn’t decided quite what her retirement will be bring – happily, she plans to be even more active on the Glimmerglass Festival board.
Regardless, in a time of out migration when Otsego County faces particular challenges, we can look at Erna Morgan McReynolds and say, with assurance, Horatio Alger lives – and lives here.

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EDITORIAL: Sheriff’s Shown He’s Tough, Smart

EDITORIAL: April 20, 2018

Sheriff’s Shown

He’s Tough, Smart

Sheriff Devlin

First, voters should want a county sheriff who’s steady under fire.
Over the past 15 months, county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. has proved he is.
With his son Ros, a guard at the county jail, accused in a workplace disturbance and ordered off county property by the county Board of Representatives, Devlin hung tough, arguing he was the target of a
“political witch hunt.”
That didn’t seem completely out of the question when it surfaced that allies of county Board chair Kathy Clark’s husband were sounding out Democrats to see if they would endorse a sheriff’s run by her husband, retiring state trooper Bob Fernandez – first reported in these newspapers in March 2017.
Second, voters should want the county’s top law-enforcement
officer to have a strategic mind.
Now, Sheriff Devlin is showing he does.
With Fernandez challenging him in the Nov. 6 election, Devlin approached the more even-handed county board chairman, David Bliss, who succeeded Kathy Clark, and agreed to resign his son’s fate to an even-handed application of Civil Service law. Going into the fall election with the issue unresolved would have been folly.
This is no endorsement of the incumbent. Bob Fernandez has some baggage, but he does bring an impressive resume and an engaging personality to the race.
Still, Sheriff Devlin has shown resilience under fire and a strategic mind in opening the way to a fair resolution to what must be a personally anguishing situation, qualities anyone would certainly want in the county’s leading law-enforcement officer.

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EDITORIAL: NYSEG Must Provide Full Range Of Energy

EDITORIAL April 20, 2018

NYSEG Must Provide
Full Range Of Energy


From NYSEG Facebook page An Otsego Now contingent returned from a March 14 meeting reassured NYSEG’s new president Carl Taylor would help ease local energy shortages.

Let’s not be prophets of doom, but we’re all thinking people who can more or less put the pieces of the puzzle together.

In her March 29-30 column, our colleague,
columnist Cathe Ellsworth, alerted us to an
Albany Business Review report that Upstate
New York lost 2 percent of its population
between 2011 and 2015. Seven counties gained population; 20 lost it.
In our general area, Tompkins County – home of Cornell and Ithaca College – surprisingly lost the second most, 5.1 percent or 5,294 people. Our Otsego County was 11th on the list, losing 2.26 percent or 1,408 people.

The next week on our front page came the story, “Utility Retreats From Gas Pipeline Upgrade,” reporting how the utility serving our county, NYSEG, has backed away from upgrading the DeRuyter natural-gas line that runs to Sidney and then Oneonta, even though it received a rate increase to do so a couple of years ago.
In the article, Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky reaffirmed NYSEG can’t provide enough natural gas – or electricity, either – that any new manufacturer of any size would require to move here.
A Chinese company looking to establish a manufacturing plant somewhere in the U.S. came calling a few months ago, Zakrevsky continued. “We had proximity to an Interstate, water, sewer – but we could not meet their energy demands, either electrical or gas,” he said. “…Without that power, we’re limiting our ability to compete.”
The news hook for the story was a meeting state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, hosted at his Albany office in mid-March for local business and community leaders to make a plea to NYSEG’s new president, Carl Taylor.

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Facing Trade War, Let’s Buy U.S. Pork, Apples, Wine

Editorial April 13, 2018

Facing Trade War, Let’s

Buy U.S. Pork, Apples, Wine

Strike a blow in the trade war: with a nice loin of pork.

When did tariffs become a dirty word?
In the early days of the Republic, tariffs were used liberally to allow the development of such mainstay domestic industries as coal, iron and textiles in the face of Great Britain’s overwhelming advantage.
When Henry “The Great Compromiser” Clay died in 1852, obelisks were raised in his honor: Not for saving the Union, but for championing the tariff.
Beginning with Mexico’s addition to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, in 1994, manufacturing jobs began to stream out of the U.S. Predictably, since wages were so much lower south of the border. (In 1992, president candidate Ross Perot had famously predicted that “great sucking sound.”)

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Why Parkland? Maybe We Don’t Care For Kids Enough

Editorial April 6, 2018

Why Parkland? Maybe We

Don’t Care For Kids Enough

Then-Cooperstown High School Principal Gary Kuch traverses the halls during his final days at CCS. He became Worcester Central School superintendent on Jan. 1, 2009, and is now Clark Scholarship Foundation director and Otsego town justice.

Here’s an idea. To ensure no student feels neglected, assign every teacher and staff member to meet weekly with 10 high schoolers. Nothing complicated. Maybe a quick cup of coffee or short chat, so the young man or woman knows somebody cares.
Gary Kuch, now director of the Clark Scholarship Program, Otsego town justice and Cooperstown’s “first man” to newly sworn-in Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, has been involved for almost four decades in identifying troubled young people and getting them back on track – since 1981, when he was hired as school psychologist in the Fort Plain school.At the time, a drug bust, big enough to make The New York Times, had taken place in that Mohawk Valley community, and people were worried about drugs in the school.
Kuch soon found himself in a room with 100 other young educators from urban and rural schools at Super Teams Operating Co. in Southampton, L.I., struggling with questions that still bedevil us today after the 17 shooting deaths Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Super Teams was operated by the late Dr. Gerald Edwards, and over the decades would train consultants like Kuch to then train tens of thousands of people to create happier, more connected students and, in the process, avoid situations like Parkland’s.
As it happened, it was teachers and staff themselves who proposed mentoring 10 students each at one school where Kuch, who would become Cooperstown High School principal and retire as Worcester Central School superintendent, consulted after the Super Teams training.
“It’s difficult to plan something when you’re connected with an adult,” Kuch explained.
When a tragedy like Parkland’s happens, there’s a flurry of protests, although few as large as the nationwide “March for Our Lives” Saturday, March 24, from Oneonta to Oregon, and multiple measures proposed – and usually defeated – in state legislatures and Congress. (Who knows, this time may be different.)
But Kuch’s perspective – he frequently speaks at RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award) conferences – was detailed at the Cooperstown Rotary Club’s weekly meeting March 20. In effect, all schools should be tending all of their students all the time, particularly in our local schools, which are small enough that “everybody should be known by an adult.” If so, “I think you can do a lot of prevention.”
Not just teachers and staff, but “school bus drivers were some of my best resources. They see the kids first thing in the morning. They spend more time with them than most teachers.” You want students to be comfortable enough to tell an adult, “I don’t know if this is important, but you need to know that I saw this or heard something.”
A lot of Kuch’s consulting involved setting up peer-mentoring programs, a memorable one at Wappingers Falls, near Poughkeepsie, notorious for the Tawana Brawley case. At the time, there was a lot of violence in the school, and a number of suicides.
“It became crystal clear students would talk to students before they would talk to adults,” he said. “But they had nowhere to go if they heard someone thinking serious about doing something.”
As principal and super, Kuch always listed his number in the telephone book. The public rarely abused that access. And at 11:30 one night, he did receive a call that allowed him to defuse what could have been a dangerous situation at school the next morning.
When CCS principal, he made it a point of standing by the door each morning, welcoming every student by name. “That ‘good morning’ may be the only positive thing they hear all day,” he said.
Has the world changed since Kuch first trained at Super Leaders? Except for greater availability of semi-automatic guns, no, he says.
What’s the point of all this? After the shooting, it’s too late. Caring, whether in teachers and staff or a fellow student, enhances education and creates safer schools. Certainly, every school board member, superintendent and principal in Otsego County should be doing an audit of their operations: Does communication exist? And, if not, how do we start the conversation. Does enough caring exist? If not, how do we create it?
“We tend to be reactive,” said Kuch. “What I’m suggesting is: If we know these things are true, why aren’t we doing this proactively?
“There are communities who have bought into it big time and have made a real impact on drug addiction and violence. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. It takes a committed group of people who want to do something.”

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‘Hark The Herald Angels’ Echoes From Main Street

‘Hark The Herald Angels’

Echoes From Main Street

Editor’s Note:  The muse, evident in the poem that was last week’s “Where Nature Smiles” column, caused the poet (and our columnist) Catherine Lake Ellsworth, to reprise one of her favorites, from 1988.  Next week, “Where Nature Smiles” – in verse or prose? – will return to the editorial pages of Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal.


With apologies to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” we offer the


         Three hundred thousand tourists came

  Just to see the Hall of Fame.

But they found no place to park

  And nothing to do after dark.

As they walked upon the street

  Litter fell beneath their feet.

Hordes of tourists this way come

  To visit our town.  It’s fun for some.

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21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103