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Owasco Lake inspection program in limbo

AUBURN — The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program is still in limbo while parties involved transferring its oversight work out contract negotiations. 

Inspection program staff are currently under the employ of the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, but the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council voted in August to assume authority of the program after becoming a nonprofit organization. The council was created several years ago by the Auburn City Council, Owasco Town Board and Cayuga County Legislature to take on the program.

The transfer, however, is looking more complicated than originally thought.

Steve Lynch, the county's director of planning and economic development, said a Jan. 1 deadline was looking less likely. That news had the conservation district's executive director, Doug Kierst, concerned at the council's meeting Tuesday morning.

"I mean, we've got two employees in the corner over there, that don't even know if they're going to be working in a month," Kierst said, gesturing to Watershed Specialist Drew Snell and Watershed Inspector Tim Schneider. "You know what I mean? They haven't even been approached yet. But they're our employees right now, is what I'm concerned about. Here we were all along going for this Jan. 1 deadline. I only have one more board meeting before the end of the year."

The district's fiscal year ends Dec. 31, too, so Kierst said if the agency is keeping the inspectors on as employees, it needs to know that for budgeting purposes. 

The watershed council is waiting on the Auburn City Council to vote on the transfer, but City Manager Jeff Dygert had said earlier this month that there were some administrative and contract language concerns still to be addressed. The Owasco Town Board and the watershed management council have voted for the measure, and a resolution is making its way through the county Legislature this month. 

The conservation district's chairman, Ray Lockwood, wrote a letter to the watershed council on Oct. 17, fully supporting "a smooth transition of the OLWIP to the OLWMC" adding that the district was ready to move forward with the process. Lockwood outlined wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, like transferring vehicles insured to the district, but Kierst said neither he, nor Lockwood, had received a response to that letter.

The management council went into executive session Tuesday to discuss personnel issues and contract negotiations. Kierst said some of the information should be discussed in open meetings.

After an approximately 45-minute executive session, the council adjourned with no more discussion.

Owasco Town Supervisor and watershed council member Ed Wagner told The Citizen after the meeting that a Jan. 1 transfer was indeed unlikely, and the council would be sending a letter to the conservation district next week requesting they keep the inspectors on staff for the time being. 


Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Hunter Trufant, 8, holds an electric candle in his mouth while pulling on his jacket during the Light the Night for Peace candlelight vigil at the Episcopal Church of SS. Peter & John in Auburn on Tuesday night.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Shirley Quigly, left, and Jan Rose hand out candles during the Light the Night for Peace candlelight vigil at the Episcopal Church of SS. Peter & John in Auburn.

Cayuga County unemployment rate, job count both decrease

Cayuga County's unemployment rate dropped last month compared with the prior year, but the decrease came as employers within the county filled fewer positions.

The state Department of Labor released data Tuesday putting the county jobless rate at 4.3 percent for October, down from 4.6 percent in the same month of 2016. The local rate was above the national rate (3.9 percent) but below the state rate (4.6 percent). The figures were not seasonally adjusted.

Cayuga County's unemployment percentage came from a decrease in the labor force. The number of employed residents dropped by 200 to 34,300, while the number of unemployed went down by 100 to 1,600.

Out of 62 counties in New York, Cayuga's October jobless rate was the 15th lowest. Columbia County had the smallest rate at 3.4 percent.

In a separate report issued last week, the labor department reported that employers within Cayuga County's borders filled 25,500 non-farm jobs in October, down by 500 from a year ago. Private sector jobs declined by 600 to 19,300, while government sector positions grew by 100.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

People enter the Episcopal Church of SS. Peter & John in Auburn for the candlelight vigil.

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NY prison escapee David Sweat transferred from Seneca County facility

David Sweat, one of the inmates who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in June 2015, is no longer being housed at Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca County. 

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said Sweat has been transferred from Five Points to Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Wyoming County. He was moved on Nov. 17, according to the agency. 

"Based on biannual reviews, which include looking at concerns like an inmate's behavior, allegiances with other inmates that could become disruptive or over-familiarity with a facility, there are approximately 5,000 inmate transfers from one prison to another every month," said DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey, who confirmed Sweat's transfer. 

Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for murdering a Broome County deputy sheriff, and Richard Matt, another convicted murderer, escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6, 2015. An investigation revealed that the pair used hand tools to escape and were aided by a prison employee, Joyce Mitchell. 

Matt and Sweat eluded authorities for three weeks. On June 26, 2015, Matt was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent. Two days after Matt's death, Sweat was wounded and arrested by a state trooper. 

Sweat spent nearly a week in an Albany hospital before he was moved to Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus. He pleaded guilty in November 2015 to two counts of first-degree escape and one count of promoting prison contraband. 

While at Five Points, Sweat was held in the prison's Special Housing Unit, which is commonly referred to as solitary confinement. His living arrangements haven't changed at Attica. He is being held in the Special Housing Unit. 

Auburn will bond for $1.8 million to purchase new fire truck, engine

AUBURN — The city of Auburn plans to issue a $1.8 million bond to finance the purchase of two new vehicles for the Auburn Fire Department. 

During Tuesday night's Auburn City Council meeting, fire department Lt. Jeff Clark said the new vehicles would replace two fire apparatus from the 1990s: a 1999 pumper engine and a 1990 ladder truck. Both are currently used as reserve vehicles. 

The 1999 engine will cost $800,000 to replace. Clark said corrosion on the frame and in the water tank, as well of years of wear and tear, make it impractical to attempt to refurbish. The fire department spent $28,000 in repair costs for the engine in the last five years. 

It will cost $1 million for the department to replace the 110-foot ladder truck. The truck, which is 27 years old, has some safety issues. Clark said it is unlikely that the truck will pass next year's annual ladder safety inspection. The department has already spent $108,000 repairing the truck since 2013. 

"Obviously, if you have something new, it's likely you're going to spend less on overall maintenance costs," he said. 

The department currently has an arsenal of five fire engines, two trucks, one rescue vehicle and five staff vehicles. Clark said it is the industry standard to utilize an apparatus for at least 20 years — 10 years as an active service vehicle followed by 10 years as a reserve. 

Clark said the department will save $80,000 by ordering both apparatus at the same time. He said they will each take around a year to build and predicts they will be delivered in 2019. 

The department also decided to push off replacing its rescue truck, which was purchased in 1989, until 2022. The truck was originally scheduled for replacement in 2014.  

"We have to recognize there's always a need to replace equipment," Clark said. "It's just the nature of the beast."

In other news

• A representative from GHD Consulting Services recommended the city look into potentially purchasing the powder-activated carbon system that was used this year to treat harmful algal blooms in the city's drinking water. 

Engineer Stephen Waldvogel said there were "consistent detections" of microsystin toxins in the raw, unfinished water. However, all samples of finished drinking water were non-detect for microsystin and other toxins. 

"The project was well worth it," Waldvogel said. 

He said the state will potentially provide funding to help the city purchase the PAC system. Waldvogel recommended the city permanently install the system by no later than 2019. 

Waldvogel also recommended that the city clean out the lagoon — where sludge and excess carbon gather — "more frequently than it has been done." He said the city last cleaned the lagoon in 1995. 

• The date for the next zoning code public hearing has been changed to the Dec. 14 city council meeting. City Manager Jeff Dygert said the first reading of the final zoning code draft will be released during the Dec. 7 council meeting and the code will be voted on during the Dec. 21 meeting.