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The Town of Homer in the Second Half of the 20th Century

Durkee Park

With the movie theater gone, the 1960s began with a discussion of possible uses of the Homer Town Hall. Alterations were suggested, and alterations were made. Office space for the Town Supervisor, Town Clerk, Tax Collector, and Assessors was provided. The possibility of selling the Town Hall to the Cortland County Extension Service for its County headquarters was considered. Local dentist, Dr. Lloyd Haverly, representing the Homer Recreation Commission, pursued the possible use of the basement for a Youth Recreational Center. Then, the Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) expressed interest in renting office space in the Hall, and ground floor office space was provided. A small, renovated room at the back of the Hall was provided the Village for a police office for $300 annual rent, and Virgil Moffitt was allowed to use the auditorium for “Sunday Night Musical Entertainments on a trial basis, for $20.00 per night.” Apparently, the trial run was not satisfactory; a later request by Mr. Moffitt for the Sertoma Club to rent the auditorium on a Sunday night for a Western Jamboree fundraiser was denied.

In 1967, a New Building Construction Code for the Town went into effect, and Charles W. Jermy, Sr. was the first to be appointed Building Inspector to enforce the ordinance. New housing developments were springing up in the town, which created additional roads for the Town Highway Department to maintain under Highway Superintendent John Vaber, who served with dedication from 1950 to 1973.

The matter of renting the auditorium became a moot point in 1969. The auditorium space was renovated for BOCES to use. Carpeted office space with two toilets was installed and used until the McEvoy Center in Cortlandville was completed in 1971. The transformation work was done by students enrolled in BOCES’ building trades program to give them a real life, on-the-job construction experience. Today, standing on the stage or in the balcony, one can see the handiwork, including heating and ventilation ducts, nestled into a space once filled with rows of chairs — a veritable symbol of adaptability. When BOCES vacated the Hall, the Village offices moved from James Street to the office spaces in the Hall. In 1971, facing a space crunch, the Homer Central School rented administrative office space in the basement of the Hall until a new Junior High School was annexed to the Intermediate School in 1974, thus allowing the administration to return to the south wing of the High School, where it is today.

In the early 1970s, town assessors were reduced in number from three to one. This appointed post was filled by Lawrence E. Fitts, who held that position continuously until September 30, 2007, possibly making him the longest serving assessor in the state. Also, a Code of Ethics Ordinance and a Code of Ethics Board was established. A Snowmobile Ordinance determined where snowmobiles could and could not be operated. The two town dumps were closed, and a county-wide sanitary landfill was created that still exists today.

The feasibility of consolidating town and village governments was discussed in the 1970s, as it would be again in 2007 when the state offered grant money as incentive. A proposed consolidation of the towns of Homer and Scott simply generated heated debate when the topic of merger was brought to the public again in 2009 and 2010.

By the summer of 1975, the United States had experienced two “wounds”: a protracted war in Vietnam that had just ended and the resignation of a President after a scandal called “Watergate.” “Healing” for the nation came in the form of preparations for its bicentennial and a chance to celebrate what was good about our past. The appearance of the Town Hall needed sprucing up in time for the occasion. Paint applied to the blocks had peeled off after only two years. A bicentennial parade made its way down Main Street on July 3, 1976, and members of the Board participated.

It was about this time, too, that the Cortland County Nutrition Program took up residence in the basement of the Town Hall to provide nutritious meals for senior citizens. To many residents of Homer, the basement of the Town Hall is known today as the David Harum Senior Citizens Center. An active group gathers there, and they sure know interesting stories about Homer’s past.

A town ordinance was passed in 1976 prohibiting dogs from being allowed to run at large. Compare that with the year 1796 when horses were the only creatures to be so prohibited. The fine for the twentieth century dog owner was $10.

In 1978, the Board voted unanimously to oppose the establishment by the state of nuclear waste depository sites in the County “because no one has had a satisfactory knowledge of what can happen over the years to the storage of such waste materials.” The proposed sites generated much controversy, and protests from citizen activists succeeded in keeping the radioactive waste out.

In 1983, there was another protest. Some twenty residents attended a Town Board meeting. They were there to protest the colors being used in the painting of the Town Hall. The dome was to be a copper color, but when the paint was applied, a pink tone appeared, which, Josephine Brown recalled, prompted some rather colorful descriptions of what the dome looked like that “could not be printed in a family newspaper.”

On October 19, 1991, the bicentennial of the first settlement of the Town was celebrated. A program of speakers and a skit on David Harum was held at the high school auditorium. The event was captured for posterity on something called “video” and placed in the Town’s archives. At this time of celebration, the much respected William Wright was into his sixth term as Town Supervisor, and Town Attorney, Robert Jones, had been offering legal counsel for three decades.

1994 saw the issue of consolidation of town and village services again raised as a cost-saving measure, but neither the town nor the village indicated too much excitement about the prospects. The real issue of controversy in 1996 was the proposed construction of a Pennfield Corporation feed mill in Little York, where residents felt it threatened the quality of their life.

In 1998, the Village Recreation office in the Hall became the Assessor’s office, and the Recreation department moved to the present site south of the fire station on Main Street and was joined by the other Village officials on October 26, 2010. The decade of the ‘90s concluded by seeing the town budget surpass the million dollar mark for the first time. Remember, that in 1831 the amount was all of $539.33, but, of course, back then the roads were not maintained by sanders, plows, pay-loaders, and asphalt compactors, nor did workers receive health care insurance or state retirement funds, and million dollar property and liability insurance policies were unheard of.