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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Children rehearse the Merry-Go-Round Junior Stars performance of "The Lights of Jingle Bell Hill," starring children in grades one through six.

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Cayuga County Legislature passes 2018 budget

AUBURN — In an unexpected move Tuesday night, the Cayuga County Legislature passed the 2018 budget, although not unanimously.

The budget, which is typically passed in December, includes a 2 percent increase in the tax levy, though that's under the state tax cap. The county will use approximately $580,000 of its fund balance to balance the $146,430,725 budget.  The tally was 10-4 in favor with one legislator absent.

Legislators Mike Didio, Joe Bennett, Andy Dennison and Tucker Whitman voted against passing the budget, and Legislator Ryan Foley was absent. 

Bennett said he could not support a tax increase when the county's "coffers" seemed to be full. He wanted to see taxes kept at a flat line.

"I'd like to go on the record that I will be voting, 'no,' on the budget because I don't believe that the taxpayers of Cayuga County deserve any kind of a tax increase," he said. 

No members of the public spoke at the budget hearing Tuesday night, despite Chairman Keith Batman's multiple breaks in the Legislature meeting to see if anyone wanted to address the body. Prior to the final vote, Whitman asked Batman about the special Legislature meeting to be held on Dec. 5. He wondered if the public would want an opportunity to speak on the budget then.

"To be clear the Dec. 5 meeting was not a public hearing," Batman said. "Anyone who wanted to speak on the budget would have come tonight, or should have come tonight. The Dec. 5 would have had a public to be heard, but there would not be a public hearing."

Batman said that meeting could be canceled and would be advertised as such.

Some notable aspects of this upcoming year's financial plan include a 1.9 percent salary increase for all non-bargaining and elected positions in the county. Raises for elected and appointed officials will be voted on as a separate resolution likely in December or January, said Budget Director Lynn Marinelli. 

The budget also includes two special reserve accounts of $2 million each. One will be specifically for county highways and the other will be for county buildings. 

There will be an $18,000 line item, too, devoted to water quality testing for Cayuga Lake. Didio tried Tuesday night to create a $1 million reserve using fund balance monies for water quality issues, but Batman suggested that idea go through the Legislature's committee process first instead of the budget. 

In other news:

GwenCraig2 / Gwendolyn Craig, The Citizen 

Legislator Terry Baxter presents Sempronius Fire Chief Tyler Bloodgood with a proclamation at a Cayuga County Legislature meeting Tuesday night. 

• Two Cayuga County groups were honored with proclamations Tuesday night for their work in the community. The Sempronius Volunteer Fire Department received accolades for their training and work amidst some of the worst flooding the southern portion of the county has ever seen. 

Chapel House, a nonprofit organization helping homeless people, was also recognized in honor of its 10th anniversary. 

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Thruway exit traffic soars since opening of del Lago Resort & Casino

The Waterloo Thruway exit has been busy since del Lago Resort & Casino opened in February. 

Before the casino opened, average monthly traffic at exit 41 was 266,306 vehicles, according to the New York State Thruway Authority. Since Feb. 1, average monthly traffic is 381,477 vehicles — a 43 percent increase. 

Bob Shipley, chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, said the figures exceeded expectations. 

"It's very clear that del Lago is bringing new tourists to our region while helping benefit both Seneca County and our local businesses," Shipley said. 

Del Lago is located two-tenths of a mile away from the Thruway exit. Before the casino's debut, the Thruway Authority expanded the toll road by installing an additional E-Z Pass lane. The lane was added to address an expected uptick in traffic at the exit. 

Wilmorite, the Rochester-area development firm behind the casino project, estimated that it would spur economic development in Seneca County. A Byrne Dairy convenience store opened at the intersection of routes 414 and 318 in the town of Tyre. Local officials have previously said there are plans to build a new car dealership near the casino. 

Another beneficiary of the increased traffic is Magee Diner, a restaurant near the Thruway exit. Gary Schlegel, who owns the diner, said sales are up 15 percent since del Lago opened in February. 

With more customers coming to the diner, Schlegel said the restaurant will expand. The expansion project will include obtaining a liquor license and transforming the restaurant's patio into a room that can be used year-round. 

The work is expected to be completed by spring 2018. 

"We see more and more new faces in our restaurant every day, and 80 percent of the time my customers tell me they are on their way to or from del Lago," Schlegel said. "Del Lago helps bring cars off the New York State Thruway and into Magee Diner, and we are grateful for the mutually beneficial relationship we have built with del Lago and look forward to seeing more customers through our doors." 

The Thruway data was released after multiple stories about how New York's new casinos, including del Lago, are on pace to fall short of revenue projections. 

Since it opened in February, del Lago's pre-tax revenue is more than $112 million, according to commercial gaming reports filed to the state Gaming Commission. The application for del Lago's casino license estimated that the casino would generate $263 million in revenue in its first year. 

But casino operators have touted the broader impact of the facilities, such as increased Thruway exit traffic and new businesses. The host communities and counties in designated gaming regions receive a share of the casino's tax payments. 

For del Lago, the host communities are Seneca County and the town of Tyre. Each have received nearly $1.4 million in tax payments, according to the state Gaming Commission. 

"These early indicators of del Lago's positive impact on the region are gratifying and only inspire us to continue helping local businesses expand and create even more new jobs and opportunities for our neighbors in Seneca County and the Finger Lakes region," said Jeff Babinski, executive vice president and general manager of del Lago Resort & Casino. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

People wait in line for the doors to open on opening day at del Lago Resort & Casino Feb. 1, 2017. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Opening day at del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre last February.

Auburn man sent to prison for stealing more than $83K in workers' compensation

AUBURN — A former logging company owner in Auburn was sentenced to prison Tuesday for stealing thousands of dollars in workers' compensation benefits and failing to provide his employees with the proper insurance coverage. 

Last year, 56-year-old David Sigl was arrested following an investigation by state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott and Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann.

According to the IG's office, Sigl collected more than $83,000 in benefits after sustaining an injury at a Syracuse construction firm in 2013. However, it turned out Sigl was not entitled to those benefits, as he had been working as a logger for his own company, Lake Country Logging, and earned over $150,000 while receiving workers' comp.  

In addition, the inspector general said Sigl did not provide workers' comp insurance for two individuals he employed at Lake Country Logging. In doing so, he violated state law. 

Sigl, of 129 Wall St., was eventually indicted and charged with three felonies: second-degree grand larceny, second-degree insurance fraud and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. He was also charged with the workers' compensation crime of failure to secure compensation, a misdemeanor. 

In August, Sigl pleaded guilty to the charges, admitting to stealing over $83,000 in benefits, and on Tuesday, he appeared in Cayuga County Court for sentencing. 

During sentencing, Budelmann cited Sigl's criminal history, a long list of drunk driving and theft-related convictions dating back to 1980. He also said Sigl had committed several crimes out of state and violated his probation in the past. Both Budelmann and the Cayuga County Probation Office asked the court to sentence Sigl to prison. 

Meanwhile, Sigl's defense attorney, Jonis Strods, requested probation. While he acknowledged Sigl's "extensive criminal history," Strods said his client has been in treatment for cancer since 2015 and claimed Sigl ultimately pleaded guilty because he "didn't have the strength" to go to trial. 

"It's basically a death sentence," Sigl said of his illness Tuesday. "If you throw me in jail, I don't know what will happen to me." 

But the district attorney said he had his doubts. 

"This whole case is based on the defendant lying about his medical condition," Budelmann said.  

Judge Mark Fandrich said he had reviewed Sigl's medical records, which confirmed that Sigl was a "very sick man." However, Fandrich said there was also the matter of Sigl's criminal record, which led him to sentence Sigl to one to three years in prison. 

"With callous calculation, this defendant stole benefits meant for honest, hard-working New Yorkers while simultaneously failing to protect his own employees with the critical workers' compensation coverage he brazenly abused," Inspector General Leahy Scott said Tuesday in a press release. 

"This defendant lied to his doctors, and the Workers' Compensation Board, claiming he was totally disabled," Budelmann added in the release. "Ultimately Sigl was caught, admitted, and plead guilty to climbing up and down trees, and wielding professional chainsaws, and climbing in and out of a large log-skidder tractor." 

Sigl was remanded to Cayuga County Jail Tuesday to be processed for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. He was also ordered to pay roughly $83,500 in restitution. 

Public hearing to be held Thursday for Auburn Schine Theater grant application

The city of Auburn will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at Memorial City Hall during the Auburn City Council meeting regarding the city's intent to apply for $1 million in state funding to assist with the redevelopment of the Schine Theater. 

The city will be applying for the Empire State Development Corporation's Restore NY Communities Initiatives grant on behalf of the theater project. The city is required to hold a public hearing before submitting the final application. 

Restoring the former theater will come at an estimated cost of $6 million. The project already received an $800,000 grant through the city's Community Block Development Grant entitlements to assist with asbestos abatement, which is currently taking place. The next steps include rehabilitating the interior lobby, the rest of the interior and the exterior facade.