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Auburn Community Hospital, nurses settle labor contract

After multiple protests about nurse staffing ratios, Auburn Community Hospital and 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East union have reached a three-year labor contract.

The agreement, ratified by a vote on Oct. 31, addresses wage increases and benefits as well as staffing ratios at the 99-bed hospital, according to a release from ACH. The current contract with nurses expired in July. 

"After weeks of negotiations and a productive labor management relationship, 1199SEIU nurses at Auburn Community Hospital are pleased to have settled our contract," said Nancy Benton, a registered nurse and the union's chair, in a release. "Important improvements to our staffing ratios will allow all of us to reach our common goal of providing quality care and ensuring a great patient experience at our hospital." 

The hospital nor the union provided specific details on how the staffing ratios have changed or of the contract, which covers 180 employees out of the hospital's approximately 1,080.

In an interview with The Citizen in September, the union's vice chair Ken Spurgeon said the staffing ratios at the hospital were below the national levels of care. Spurgeon and many of his fellow employees also appeared at a Cayuga County Legislature meeting in September, telling the government body that more than 50 percent of the time, ACH is short on nursing staff.

In a statement to The Citizen on Wednesday, Spurgeon said the hospital's management has recognized the need to recruit and retain quality nurses.

"In light of that, a joint committee of managers and staff will gather routinely in an effort to ensure we are meeting the needs of OUR community," Spurgeon wrote. "We look forward to continuing this collaborative relationship to provide a quality hospital for our community."

ACH President and CEO Scott Berlucchi echoed Spurgeon's sentiments in a release. 

"Auburn Community Hospital prides itself on its history of union collaboration," he said. "We also recognize that the process of reaching an agreement during a contract negotiation is not always an easy one. The one thing that has remained consistent throughout this process is our profound respect for the nurses because of their unwavering dedication and commitment to our patients and our community."

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Supporters gather outside of CCC for a candlelight vigil in September to support registered nurses.

SHouse1 / The Citizen file 

Nurses at Auburn Community Hospital have reached an agreement on a new labor contract.

Jenkin wants to improve water quality as Cayuga County Legislature District 5 rep

Water quality is a high priority for Melissa Jenkin if she's elected to the Cayuga County Legislature. It's such an important issue for her that she created a ballot line to advocate for safe drinking water. 

Jenkin, 39, will appear on the Democratic and Lake party lines in the District 5 race. The incumbent is Legislator Paul Pinckney, a Republican, who is seeking a third four-year term. 

The district is comprised of Aurelius and Fleming. The towns are located on or near two Finger Lakes: Owasco, which provides drinking water to 50,000 residents in the Auburn area, and Cayuga. Both lakes have been affected by water quality issues, such as blue-green algae and the invasive weed hydrilla. 

Jenkin believes there needs to be more education and outreach about how the county, especially local residents, can help improve water quality. 

"Most people do not even know that there is already rules and regulations for the watershed, but then what are they?" she said. "Most people don't dive into these big documents that have all these rules and regulations." 

There are other items on Jenkin's agenda if she's elected. Infrastructure and roads are a priority. She wants to implement a strategic plan to improve the county's highways and fund water and sewer infrastructure improvements. 

She also wants to keep taxes down and support economic development efforts. The county, using revenue from the Oneida Indian Nation's exclusive gaming zone, provides funding to the Cayuga Economic Development Agency. She wants that aid to continue. 

Jenkin is a political newcomer. She has been employed as a program coordinator for the Central Southern Tier Regional Adult Education Network at Cayuga Community College. The agency oversees 23 adult education programs in central New York. 

She detailed her work in a candidate questionnaire submitted to The Citizen. The programs help adults obtain the necessary education and training for careers and provide employers with skilled workers. 

"It is through this experience that I have an intimate knowledge of the importance of maintaining a skilled workforce for our local businesses, providing education and training to high-risk, at-need populations in our communities, as well as the detailed workings of grant writing and meeting funding requirements," she wrote. 

If elected to the county Legislature, she said her biggest motivation would be her son, Rielly. She wants to ensure that he can live and work in Cayuga County when he is an adult. Having a young child, she said, changed her perspective. 

She's also motivated to give back by serving in county government. 

"We're all in this together. We're a community," she said. "My neighbors and friends, you look at these people every day and you don't want them to move away because they have nowhere to work or they can't drink the water." 

Melissa Jenkin

Lakes top priority for Pinckney in Cayuga County Legislature District 5 race

With his district bordering two Finger Lakes, Paul Pinckney didn't hesitate when asked what his top priority would be if re-elected to the Cayuga County Legislature. 

Pinckney is seeking a third four-year term representing District 5, which includes the towns of Aurelius and Fleming. Aurelius borders Cayuga Lake. Fleming is on the west side of Owasco Lake. 

Both lakes have been affected by water quality concerns. Blue-green algae and hydrilla, an invasive weed, have been found in Cayuga Lake. Blue-green algae is also present in Owasco Lake — the main source of drinking water for 50,000 Auburn-area residents. 

Pinckney suggested that one way the county can help is by providing funding to support water quality improvements. 

"I'm hoping that the county, in the budget process this fall, will earmark some money to be set aside so that the county can have some skin in the game," he said. "It always helps with your federal and state officials." 

He also wants to ensure there is a united front to address blue-green algae and other problems. One concern he has is that there are various agencies and groups that are involved. 

He supports having these organizations join forces to prevent divisions from forming. 

"I think we're more powerful as one unit than we are dividing into different units because there's some different opinions on what we should do," he said. 

Pinckey has additional items on his agenda if he's re-elected to the county Legislature. 

Government efficiency is on the list. The county hired a consulting firm, CGR, to examine its organizational structure. Pinckney supported the decision. 

He also wants to work with the new county administrator to achieve government efficiency. The county hasn't had an administrator for most of the year following the departure of Suzanne Sinclair. 

Pinckney admitted that the county has had "pretty bad luck" with administrators. Legislators worked to alter the job description after Sinclair's departure and before launching a search for a new manager. 

"I hope we have refined that in a way and I hope we're all getting on board that we know we have to support this job that enforces and administers our policies that we set," he said. 

As the county narrows its list of candidates for the job, Pinckney hopes there is strong support for the new administrator. 

The county Legislature must vote on hiring a finalist for the job. 

"It has to be a large majority from both sides to support this position," Pinckney said. "Otherwise, if we come off with an 8-7 split, it shows that we're divided going in, and I think it sets a bad precedent for the administrator to be successful."

Pinckney believes his experience is an asset in the District 5 race. His opponent, Melissa Jenkin, is a political newcomer. 

Before serving eight years on the county Legislature, Pinckney was an Aurelius Town Board member for 12 years. 

With his experience, he also touted his commonsense approach to government as an asset. 

"I think I bring that forth to the table as a very strong point and I will continue to do so if re-elected," he said. 

Montezuma, Moravia looking to make highway superintendent an appointed position

For years, residents of Montezuma and Moravia have elected a highway superintendent, but now both towns are looking to change that. 

On Election Day, voters in the towns will have the opportunity to approve a new local law to replace the elected position with an appointed one. That would allow the town board to hire a highway superintendent at its own discretion. 

Montezuma Town Supervisor John Malenick said the board decided to petition for an appointed position after an incident with the former highway superintendent, Dennis Lapp Jr. Lapp resigned in June after he was accused of double dipping in Brutus. 

"What sparked (this) was the situation with Dennis Lapp where the town was not getting what they were paying for," Malenick said. "In other words, he wasn't putting in the time that we expected, the job was not getting done and the town board could basically do nothing about it because he was an elected official." 

As it stands, Malenick said there are very few requirements for a person to be elected highway superintendent in Montezuma: a candidate must be at least 18 years old and reside in the town. However, if appointed, the position would require prior experience; it would also allow more people to apply, as candidates could live outside the community. 

In addition, Malenick said an appointed highway superintendent could be held accountable if they did not perform their duties. 

"The town board has no say in what an elected official does with his or her time, but if it was switched to an appointed position, the board would have full control over the highway superintendent," he said, noting that it would be a full-time position with set hours. "We could set the salary, we could tell the individual what we expected as far as the job description goes ... and if he did not perform, we could dismiss him." 

Malenick also said it would allow the town board to hire other highway employees and control the budget; currently, the elected highway superintendent is in charge of hiring and commands roughly 50 percent of the town's budget. 

Following Lapp's resignation, the town board hired Dustin Roach as the interim highway superintendent. Roach is now running for the position under the Democratic line as well as the independent line. His opponent, William Futrell, is running as a Republican and Conservative. 

Meanwhile, in Moravia, Matt Harrison is currently the acting highway superintendent. There is no one listed on the ballot for 2017, meaning a write-in candidate will ultimately fill the position. 

Moravia Town Supervisor Gary Hatfield could not be reached for comment. 

If approved, both towns would establish the appointed highway superintendent position effective Jan. 1, 2020. 

In other election news:

• Voters in the town of Owasco will decide whether the town supervisor, town clerk and town highway superintendent positions should be changed from two-year to four-year terms. If approved, the change would take effect with the 2019 election, with the term of office beginning Jan. 1, 2020. 

• Residents of Onondaga County can vote to place the Onondaga County Department of Correction under the control of the county sheriff. Currently, the Jamesville facility is controlled by the county's executive branch.