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Auburn board of education publicly asks governor to fix school funding

AUBURN — The Auburn Enlarged Central School District is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to eliminate the income wealth index floor from the 2018-2019 executive budget proposal.

The district's board of education approved a public declaration Tuesday asking that Cuomo remove the index floor from the budget proposal and to work with the state Legislature to ensure it is not included in the adopted budget.

The index floor of .65 is an element of the district's foundation aid formula for districts that calculates its income wealth relative to the statewide average. Districts with a wealth index higher than .65 get fully funded.

Board president Mike McCole said he and Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo have talked to administrators in other districts about the index. They asked if Auburn has anything like the resolution, which "formally captures the district's sentiment" on the issue. He said the resolution will be sent to other districts.

The district said it has dealt with aid deficits totaling $7.36 million between 2010 and 2013 due to it being designated as a district of moderate wealth rather than being low wealth. The district also said its 2016-2017 wealth index was determined to be 0.539.

Further, the district contends it did not receive further state aid allocations in the 2017-2018 executive budget because of a provision in the foundation aid formula that established a limit of 0.65 in the wealth index. The district said it did not receive $2.2 million in foundation aid it would have received otherwise.

"This is us saying to the governor's office, 'This has to be done,'" Pirozzolo said after the meeting.

In other news: 

• Dennis Taylor, the district's director of instruction, was approved as the acting principal of Herman Avenue Elementary School. Taylor, who has been in the position since Oct. 2, will receive an additional stipend of $5,000. Pirozzolo said the school's principal, Cynthia Lattimore, has been out due to a family illness. The superintendent said the district hopes Lattimore will return before winter break.

Pirozzolo said only certain district personnel can make decisions on disciplinary issues like suspension, so if Taylor has to deal with discipline, he has to call Ronald Gorney, principal for Cayuga Centers, to fill out the proper paperwork. Taylor will now be able to deal with those issues, Pirozzolo said.

• The board approved the district's 2018-2019 budget timeline and the legal calendar for the budget vote and election. The date is set for May 15, 2018.

The 2017-2018 budget, which included a 3.98-percent tax levy increase, was approved last May.

Trump OKs disaster declaration for Lake Ontario flooding, but not Cayuga County

President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration Tuesday for six counties affected by flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. 

The declaration will ensure state and local governments can receive federal funding to cover the costs of emergency response and infrastructure repairs. The aid will also assist with the implementation of hazard mitigation measures, according to the White House. 

There will not be any direct assistance provided to homeowners. A $45 million state flood recovery program includes grants for homeowners and small businesses. 

The White House also announced that Seamus Leary has been designated as the federal coordinator officer for federal recovery operations in the counties covered by the declaration. 

The major disaster area is comprised of Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne counties. 

Cayuga and Monroe counties weren't included in the initial disaster declaration approved by Trump. U.S. Rep. John Katko's office said the claims for Cayuga and Monroe counties remain under review. 

Once the review is finished, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will either amend the existing declaration to add Cayuga and Monroe counties or, if the counties' claims are denied, the state will have 30 days to appeal the decision. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the disaster declaration will be a "well-deserved shot in the arm" for the affected communities.

"It will provide federal funds for many counties hit hard by the relentless lake flooding, but we will keep up the pressure until we secure the same support for both Monroe and Cayuga counties," Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. 

Record rainfall has been blamed for high water levels along the lake and river. In May, the lake level rose to 248.9 feet, which broke a record that stood for 65 years. 

To counter the excessive rain, the International Joint Commission increased lake outflows. The outflows increased to 360,200 cubic feet per second — the highest amount in two decades. 

Upstate New York members of Congress and the state's U.S. senators, Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, urged FEMA to approve the disaster assistance. 

U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, whose district includes the eastern portion of Oswego County, called the flooding along the lake "unprecedented."

"We are grateful to President Trump and FEMA for issuing a major disaster declaration and providing this support from the federal government to ensure our communities can address these costs and mitigate against future flooding," she said. 

Felon sentenced for attacking inmate, officer at Auburn prison

AUBURN — A 29-year-old man was given more prison time Tuesday for assaulting an inmate and a corrections officer at Auburn Correctional Facility in 2015. 

Ashton Jacobs pleaded guilty in August to two reduced counts of second-degree attempted assault, a class E felony. At the time, Jacobs said he was incarcerated at Auburn prison in December 2015 when he used the lid of a soup can to cut another inmate. He then said he injured an officer who was trying to break up the fight. 

According to Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann, the inmate sustained a deep cut to his forehead while the officer suffered bruises to his ribs, shoulder and knees in the scuffle. 

On Tuesday, Budelmann cited several phone calls that were recorded by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. In those calls, Jacobs allegedly asked a friend to order ceramic blades from Amazon and ship them to him in prison. The district attorney also said Jacobs claimed he was going to sue the state for an injury he received to his face during the assault. 

"This defendant not only has a history of violence ... he also has a lack of ethics and morals," Budelmann said in court. 

A second felony offender, Jacobs was previously convicted of first-degree attempted assault in 2005 and first-degree manslaughter in 2010. He is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence at Attica Correctional Facility. 

Now, Jacobs will serve an additional three to six years in prison. He was sentenced Tuesday to 1 1/2 to three years in prison on each count; both sentences will run consecutively to one another. 

Also in court: 

• An Auburn woman admitted stealing a television and some clothes from an apartment in Cayuga County. 

Haylee Tanner, 24, of 8 James St., pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of third-degree burglary, a class D felony. During her plea, she told Judge Mark Fandrich how she broke into a residence on Wall Street in September and took items that didn't belong to her. 

Tanner's defense attorney, Joseph Sapio, told the court that Tanner's crime was fueled by drug addiction. As such, the judge and district attorney said Tanner would have to successfully complete felony drug court. In addition, despite facing up to seven years in prison, Fandrich said he would likely sentence her to five years probation. 

Tanner was released from Cayuga County Jail on $500 cash bail. She was scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 16. 

• A Utica man has been charged with two felonies for allegedly committing tax fraud in Cayuga County. 

Timothy Heburn, 39, of 1204 Elm St. 1st, was indicted and charged with evading the cigarette and tobacco tax by possessing, transporting or selling more than 30,000 cigarettes in unstamped packages, a class D felony. He was also charged with repeated failure to file taxes, a class E felony, and failure to obey traffic and stay in his lane, both infractions. 

Heburn pleaded not guilty to all counts Tuesday and was released from jail on $10,000 bond. He was scheduled to return to court Jan. 23. 

Inspector general: Contractor arrested for not providing workers' comp in Cayuga County

A central New York contractor was arrested Tuesday and charged with a felony for failing to provide proper coverage to his employees during a project in Cayuga County, the New York state inspector general said. 

According to a press release, 37-year-old Steven Pollot was charged with the workers' compensation crime of failure to secure compensation. 

Following an investigation, Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott found that Pollot — the owner of D&S Home Improvements-Property Maintenance — has never obtained workers' compensation coverage for his employees. Specifically, Scott said Pollot did not cover himself and seven employees during a siding and roof repair project in Cayuga County in 2015. 

"This contractor's alleged fraud left his workers vulnerable, enabling him to pocket extra profits while also giving him an unfair advantage over honest New York businesses," Scott said. 

Pollot allegedly confirmed he had employees on the 2015 project, including several he hired through Craigslist. Under state law, employers must obtain workers' compensation coverage for anyone they employ. 

New York State Police and Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann assisted in the investigation. 

Pollot, of Waterloo, was arraigned in the Aurelius Town Court and released on $1,000 cash bail. He is due back in court Dec. 6. 

Katko 'leaning towards' voting for House tax reform bill

U.S. Rep. John Katko told constituents during a telephone town hall meeting Tuesday that he is "leaning towards" supporting the House tax reform bill.

The announcement was the first indication that Katko, R-Camillus, will vote for the tax bill. The House is expected to consider the measure Thursday.

"I'm cautiously excited about it. I'm leaning towards supporting," he said. "I'm not 100 percent there yet, but I do want to hear from my constituents."

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to four and double the standard deduction from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals and $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples. It would repeal the alternative minimum tax and phase out the estate tax over a six-year period.

The child tax credit would increase from $1,000 to $1,600 and a new family credit of $300 would be available for parents and non-child dependents.

Katko said the median salary in his district is $55,000. Under the GOP tax plan, he said the average family would save at least $1,000.

"That's a lot of money for a family living paycheck to paycheck," he said.

One concern for Katko was the elimination of the state and local tax deduction. Initial versions of the bill called for the complete elimination of the deduction, which was opposed by some Republicans from New York and other high-tax states.

Last month, Katko opposed the GOP budget proposal because it would serve as a vehicle for the plan that included the provision eliminating state and local tax deductibility.

Katko and other New York Republicans urged House leadership to maintain deductions for state and local income, property and sales taxes. The compromise: Homeowners will be able to deduct state and local property taxes up to $10,000.

The House bill also would lower taxes for businesses. It would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.

Katko believes reducing the corporate tax rate will boost employment in his district. He met with IBM executives who told him that the company will bring 25,000 more jobs to the U.S. if the tax reform legislation is adopted.

"It gives central New York the best chance in a long time to get jobs back, especially jobs that lift people out of poverty," he said.

There were skeptics of the plan on the call with Katko and rallies have been held outside of his district offices opposing the tax bill.

On Monday, a group of Cayuga County residents gathered outside his Auburn office to protest the tax legislation. Dana Balter, one of two Democrats seeking the party's nomination to challenge Katko in 2018, spoke at the event.

Balter, D-Syracuse, criticized several provisions in the bill, including the lower tax rate for corporations.

"Republicans will tell us that if we cut corporate taxes, that money ends up in the pocket of the workers, that they get better salaries and more jobs. But we know that's not true," she said. "We've seen it happen before. It doesn't work."

Katko noted that the House vote is part of a legislative process that could take weeks. The Senate is drafting its own version of the bill, which must pass to allow for the formation of a conference committee.

The joint panel, which would consist of members from the House and Senate, will negotiate a final bill.

Although it's unlikely, Katko hopes to secure a seat on the conference committee. In that role, he said he would support provisions to ensure companies reinvest money brought back from overseas.

"Since I started running for office in 2014, I've advocated strongly for bringing that money home," he said. "I'm hoping that is going to happen because central New York needs a shot in the arm, and we're not getting it from Albany."