AUBURN — Downtown Auburn will be a hub of construction this summer, as the result of a $25 million investment into public works by the city, accompanied by additional money from private investors.
Auburn City Manager Jeff Dygert joked during the State of Cayuga County and City of Auburn Luncheon held Thursday at the Holiday Inn in Auburn that the city "looks like a construction trade show."
"That's the cost of some progress and the cost of a lot of activity happening downtown," Dygert said.
He and Mayor Michael Quill rattled off a list of downtown projects that are in the works this year, including the Holiday Inn's $5 million renovation, along with the expansion of Prison City Pub and Brewery, Good Shepherds Brewing Co. and the Auburn Public Theater. A new brewery, Next Chapter Brewpub, is "on the way," Quill said, and construction of the $10 million Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center kicked off in February. Work is ongoing at the Auburn Schine Theater to restore the movie palace to its former glory and the first phase of the Owasco River Trail is expected to be completed this summer.
"These are exciting times for Auburn as the state of our city continues to improve," Quill said.
Outside of downtown, Dygert said work on the North Division Street Hydroelectric project is wrapping up and the facility is now producing power to offset electricity costs at municipal buildings. The North Division Street bridge will soon be closed as construction begins to repair the crumbling bridge and realign the streets to improve safety and traffic flow.
A brand new playground is coming to Casey Park this spring. The playground will be built by community members from May 1 through May 6. So far, 300 volunteers have signed up for the community build, Dygert said. The city will soon begin to roll out a new program aimed at keeping the city's neighborhoods "clean and attractive." Improving Auburn's curb appeal is "just as important as infrastructure projects," Dygert said.
The city's economy is improving, Dygert said, citing an increase in sales tax collection from last year to this year. Additionally, city staff members are "right in the middle" of preparing the 2018-2019 city budget.
"While our outlook is good, rising costs of providing services continue to rise at a pace slightly faster than our revenue," Dygert said. "But we are committed to continuing to provide a full range of services in the most financially responsible manner."
Last year, the city of Auburn received a grant from the state to test out a powder-activated carbon water treatment system to remove toxins from harmful algal blooms in the city's drinking water. The system "worked very well," according to Dygert, and the city will purchase the system this year.
Instrumental in keeping the city's drinking water safe and clean is Chief Water Plant Operator John West. West was recognized as the city's employee of the year during the luncheon for his commitment to the quality of Auburn's drinking water, which Dygert referred to as West's "top priority."
"John has been called upon to be the face of the city on many occasions at public meetings and to explain the very technical aspects of our water treatment process in a matter the public can easily understand," Dygert said. "John has done an excellent job dealing with an often stressful situation and always responds in a calm and professional manner. John is helpful to all of the other city departments. He's always there whenever we have a question and we can call him regardless of whether its after hours, on the weekends or during the holidays."
AUBURN — Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods has been on the job 101 days, and there were many challenges to discuss at the annual State of Cayuga County and City of Auburn luncheon held Thursday. But in the face of those challenges, Woods had many examples of the county's "institutional resilience" to share.
Highlighting the opioid epidemic, criminal justice reform, climate change, water quality concerns and economic development, Woods showed audience members at the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce's event held at Auburn's Holiday Inn, just how many issues county staff are juggling.
"What's important for you to know," he said, "is that the county staff, partners at the city, state and federal level are working together, often with limited resources, to doggedly attack these challenges with constructive solutions for the community."
The opioid epidemic is one example where local officials and community stakeholders are working to attack from all angles. Woods cited both prevention methods and treatment options brought to the community by local agencies and the Cayuga County Community Services, Social Services and Health departments. He also praised the county Legislature for joining in a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.
Woods moved on to statewide changes in criminal justice reform. Two new pieces of legislation came down the pike in 2017 that the county is working to comply with — Raise the Age and assigned counsel at arraignment. Raise the Age ups the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, and is going to cause shifts in the county's probation department and court system, as well as in the district attorney's office, Woods said. Assigned counsel at arraignment is also causing a heavy administrative lift, though Woods praised both measures for their intent and goals.
Climate change is also taking its toll on Cayuga County. Massive rainstorms that caused millions of dollars in damage to the north end of the county by Lake Ontario to the south end in Moravia are more frequent and more destructive. Woods, who has a law and environmental background, stressed twice to audience members that climate change is very real.
Despite the hardships it has caused, Woods said the county is part of some exciting green energy projects to lessen its environmental footprint. For example, the county is looking into a five megawatt community solar array on County House Road in Sennett. Woods said should that project come to fruition, it would provide all the county's electricity needs and then some.
And while harmful algal blooms have plagued Owasco Lake, the problem has proliferated statewide including in Cayuga and Skaneateles lakes.
"While Cayuga County is not alone in this national water crisis, we have the proud distinction of leading our region in developing solutions," Woods said.
He listed many water quality projects in the works including efforts to upgrade the 1984 Owasco Lake watershed rules and regulations, creating sediment collecting basins in the Owasco Flats, creating a pollution mapping plan for Owasco Lake called a Nine Element Watershed Plan, and working with the village of Aurora and Wells College to get a temporary carbon treatment system installed at its plant. The Cayuga County Water and Sewer Authority, he added, is working on an attack plan for upgrading water and sewer infrastructure, an effort partially funded by the county.
As all of those issues are happening, Woods and Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Patrick Mahunik discussed changes occurring in the local government's structure. He mentioned how the body hired the Center for Governmental Research to provide recommendations for making county government more efficient and effective.
"Change can be difficult, but it is necessary," Mahunik said.
Woods said hiring the consultant was a wise move by legislators, and its recommendations will be discussed at an upcoming special Legislature meeting on April 4. It's all part of the governing body's concern for its constituents and efforts to do better, he said.
"I truly believe that each one of us must find meaning in our work, and the best work happens when you know the work you're doing is not just work, but something that will improve the lives of others," Woods said. "Local and county governments are in a unique position because what we do on a daily basis does affect people's lives, and does affect business opportunities here."
The former chairman of the Cayuga County Legislature has created a campaign committee to challenge Assemblyman Gary Finch in the 126th Assembly District race this fall.
Keith Batman, who was elected to the county Legislature in 2013 and served for two years as chair, confirmed Thursday that he is considering a run for state Assembly.
The formation of a campaign committee is one of the early steps taken by candidates for elected office. But Batman, a Democrat, said he will make a final decision on the race over the next two weeks.
"I think we need someone in the seat who can represent the district," he said in a phone interview. "Someone with some vision, with some energy, with some record of accomplishment and I think I might be that person."
Finch, R-Springport, could not be reached for comment.
Batman is a past member of the Southern Cayuga school board and served as Scipio town supervisor for six years.
In 2013, he was elected as the county legislator representing District 7, which includes the towns of Ledyard, Scipio and Springport. He was re-elected in 2017.
His successful legislative campaigns were significant because he won despite Republicans holding an enrollment advantage. There are nearly 400 more active GOP voters than Democrats in District 7, according to the state Board of Elections.
As of Nov. 1, there are 32,007 active Republicans and 26,000 Democratic voters in the 126th Assembly District. The district comprises parts of Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland and Onondaga counties.
Batman believes his local government experience will help him in a campaign and if he is elected to the state Assembly.
"I think I have a good understanding of what makes the local government tick, what we need locally and so on," he said. "That is a huge asset when it comes to being effective in Albany."
An Auburn man has admitted to having sexual contact with a girl under the age of 11.
Richard C. Gould, 55, of 63 Owasco St., pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of first-degree sexual abuse, a class D felony. During his plea, Gould said he sexually abused a young girl in his home last March. Police said the victim knew Gould, but was not related.
Gould was arrested in April 2017 and charged with first-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. A grand jury later indicted Gould on both charges as well as one count of second-degree aggravated sexual abuse, a class C felony.
While Gould could face up to seven years in prison, Judge Thomas Leone agreed to sentence him to six months in Cayuga County Jail and 10 years of probation. After court, Leone said he accepted that offer in an effort to spare the victim from having to testify at trial.
Gould remained out on $10,000 cash bail. His sentencing was scheduled for July 10.