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Local
CORRECTIONS
DOCCS: Cayuga Correctional Facility reforms solitary confinement, tests tablet initiative

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has announced its new and ongoing initiatives for 2018, and many of them actually take root in Cayuga County. 

In a budget hearing Tuesday, DOCCS' Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci discussed the department's plans for the 2018-19 fiscal year, and on Friday, DOCCS released more information about some of the initiatives. 

First, the department said it would continue to reform solitary confinement by closing Special Housing Units at three correctional facilities: Cayuga, Upstate and Southport. DOCCS has been consolidating or converting SHU units since August 2016. 

"Upon completion of these consolidations, and throughout the implementation of this historic agreement, New York will have removed more than 1,200 SHU beds," Annucci said in a press release; 3,751 beds will remain. 

In Moravia, DOCCS' spokesperson Thomas Mailey said Cayuga Correctional Facility will close 200 SHU cells. By March, he said, only 32 SHU cells will be left at the medium-security prison. 

Annucci said Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the closures in an effort to improve safety. According to DOCCS, since 2016, there has been a 29 percent decrease in the number of inmates serving solitary confinement and a 25 percent decrease in the average length of stay in SHU. The department also said there were fewer assaults on staff. 

However, according to the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, inmate violence remains an issue throughout the state. 

"When the final numbers are tallied, 2017 will prove to be the most violent year in a decade," NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said. "It is clear that, if the number of SHUs is reduced, alternative means of controlling disciplinary matters need to be evaluated and addressed." 

In addition to SHU reforms, Annucci announced a new "groundbreaking" initiative to provide inmates with free, individual tablets. The goal, he said, is to reduce inmates' "idle time," making the facilities safer and less violent. 

According to DOCCS, three correctional facilities have already begun using tablets in a pilot program — one of them was Cayuga. 

On Friday, Mailey said some SHU inmates were given tablets at the Moravia facility. So far, he said, the program has been well-received by staff and inmates. 

"These new tools will improve connections with families and better prepare those individuals who will be reentering the community," he said. 

The program is expected to begin later this year once the technological infrastructure is in place. DOCCS said the tablets do not have any internet capabilities and come preloaded with educational materials and a secure e-mail system for inmates. 


Local
AUBURN
Lincoln Street parking lot in Auburn will permanently close Sunday night

The Lincoln Street parking lot in Auburn will permanently close at 11 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4 to make way for the construction of the $10 million Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center. 

Work to create a three-way T intersection at the William and Lincoln streets wrapped up Thursday. Now, a new pedestrian crossing will connect the north side of William Street to the Lincoln Street parking garage. A crossing guard will be stationed at this intersection every Monday through Friday during pre-school morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times at Westminster Presbyterian Church's nursery school beginning at 8 a.m. Feb. 5. 

Additionally, five parking spaces on the east side of William Street immediately south of Lincoln Street will be designated for free 15-minute drop-off parking.

The city parking garage will remain open throughout construction, according to the city, and Centro bus service on Lincoln Street will remain in effect until further notice. Sidewalks immediately adjoining the project site will be restricted and pedestrians will be directed to use sidewalks on the other sides of streets. 

More information about the project and downtown parking can be found online at auburnny.gov/welcomecenter and auburnny.gov/parking

Gallery: Latest look at Auburn welcome center

Local
EDUCATION
State comptroller critiques Jordan-Elbridge school district's financial practices

An audit by state comptroller's office found some faults with the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District's finances.

The audit compared the district's general fund total revenues and appropriations to "actual results of operations" from 2013 through 2016, finding that the district's actual revenue variances for those four years were about 2 percent. While the report deemed the district's original budget variances to be "reasonable in total," it noted the district enacted transfers to the district's capital projects not included in original adopted budgets.

The report also said that the district has kept a general fund unrestricted fund balance close to the 4 percent legal limit and has continued a "stable tax levy" of $12.24 million in the budgets of 2015-2016 to 2017-2018. The report noted, however, the general fund's fund balance will grow if this trend continues. 

The report recommended district officials observe the unrestricted fund balance and reserve fund balances to make sure they do not become excessive. It was also suggested that the district incorporate a provision in the district's annual budget to inform residents whenever the district plans to fund reserves.

In a response to the audit, the school district said it will continue to monitor unrestricted balances and reserve balances and that the unrestricted balance has been kept close to the 4 percent statutory limit.

"The (district board of education) feels that this 4 percent is essential to the condition and financial stability of the district," the district said in its response.

It was also found during the audit that the district kept an annual average $983,978 in its debt service fund from 2013 to 2016, while not using those funds for their intended debt payments, the report said. The report also noted the district budgeted for and paid the general fund's debt-related principal and interest every year, and also said annual $2,586,118 debt payments were made by the district. The report noted that district officials said the funds were being saved as a financing resource for the general fund budget.

"Using debt service money for its intended purpose could allow general fund resources to be used for other purposes, which could result in the reduction of real property taxes," the report said.

The district said in its response that it is aware of a balance in the debt service funds and has created a plan allocate that money over nine years to reduce debt. The goal behind the plan is to maintain tax increases on or under the tax cap given to the district by the state, the district said.

The report also said the district should create and implement multiyear financial and capital plans. This would would let the district look at development expenditure and revenue trends, set long-term goals and project the district's future capital and operating needs. While the report notes the district said planning for the future is incorporated through the year and during budget preparations, thorough written plans haven't been created.

The district said it is working on a multiyear financial plan based on analytical projects and historical trends, and the plan is currently on track to be adopted within six months.


Local
PUBLIC SAFETY
State comptroller: Sempronius Fire Department should improve financial record-keeping

A state audit of the Sempronius Fire Department found lack of adequate oversight of financial activities.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office released a report on Friday citing the department's lack of financial oversight during an audit period of January 2016 to August 2017, largely due to the department's board of directors not performing an annual audit of the treasurer’s records, and for not preparing profit and loss statements for two fundraising events held in 2016 with revenues totaling $59,449.

The Sempronius Fire Department is affiliated with the Three Town Fire District, only including the towns of Sempronius and Niles – where a separate fire district was also audited for lack of documentation and clarity of financial activities for the period of January 2016 - July 2017.

Other key findings of the Sempronius report noted the board did not have a code of ethics, although required by law, or any bylaws or policies and procedures for cash receipts or fundraising activities. This culminated in the lack of records from fundraisers and the absence of an audit of their treasurer.

The comptroller verified that all deposits were recorded in the treasurer’s reports and reviewed cash receipts from the department's two fundraising events. According to the fire chief, the department raised $10,000 in net profit from its tracker/truck pull fundraiser and $20,000 in net profit from its raffle.

Although raffle tickets and wristbands were issued at the fundraisers, they were not inventoried to account for distribution and sales and no profit and loss statements existed to indicate costs to implement the fundraisers, receipts for each event activity, amounts disbursed and net profits deposited, the report said. Similarly, when food and merchandise was available at the fundraisers, there were not appropriate records of sales and inventory.

Due to lack of inventories and statements, the comptroller could not substantiate the net profits reported from the fundraisers. It did appear, however, “that the total revenues were reasonable and that all fundraising revenues reported to the membership were deposited,” the report stated.

Lack of guidance and ethics for cash collection, standards of conduct, annual audits and supporting documentation for cash collected during fundraising events creates a greater risk for receipts collected to not be accounted for and deposited into the fire departments bank accounts, the report said.

The comptroller recommended that the board adopt a code of ethics for the department; create bylaws, policies and procedures to create internal control and guidance for cash receipts and fundraising activities; perform an annual audit of the treasurer's records; and endure detailed profit and loss statements are prepared for each fundraising event.

The treasurer was recommended to ensure raffle tickets and wristbands are used and inventoried to account for ticket distribution and sales.

Ricky Jandrew, the fire department's treasurer, responded to the comptroller with a general agreement of the recommendations made and an indication that officials plan to implement corrective actions. For one, they have already purchased accounting software to help create a budget and track deposits, disbursements and transactions.


Local
ACCIDENT
Sheriff: Auburn woman struck by car, killed in Onondaga County

A 26-year-old Auburn woman was struck by a car and killed in the town of Cicero, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office said. 

According to a press release, Heather Lardeo had been driving north on Route 298 Thursday evening when her 1994 Ford Ranger pickup truck crashed into a ditch. After walking to a nearby business to seek help, Lardeo was struck by multiple vehicles as she returned to her truck on Route 298. 

The sheriff's office said members of the Cicero Police Department and sheriff's deputies initially responded to the area of Route 298 near East Taft Road at around 5:23 p.m. for a disabled motor vehicle complaint. However, first responders found that Lardeo had exited the disabled vehicle and had been struck. 

Lardeo was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deputies said it was not clear why Lardeo's truck ended up in the ditch. The cause of the accident remained under investigation Friday, and no tickets had been issued.