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CONGRESS
Why Katko pushed to lift Secret Service pay cap

At a meeting earlier this year, U.S. Rep. John Katko asked Secret Service special agents in charge what issues he needed to work on now that his House subcommittee had jurisdiction over the law enforcement agency.

The consensus among the agents: Morale was terrible and employees work for free because of salary and overtime caps limiting their pay to a certain level each year. The current limit for base and overtime pay is $161,900.

When Katko, R-Camillus, told the agents he would address the problem, they didn't seem to believe him.

"They looked at me and basically said, 'Yeah, right. Sure,'" he recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. "They never thought I could."

Katko heard about the morale and pay issues against at a subcommittee hearing in June. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles lauded employees who continue to perform their duties despite reaching the pay cap. Many agents, including those assigned to President Donald Trump and his family, exceed the cap.

In September, Katko introduced a bill to provide a short-term fix. His legislation would raise the pay cap from $161,900 to $187,000 in 2017. According to a committee report, the bill will benefit approximately 1,300 Secret Service employees.

The House passed the bill Tuesday by a 407-4 vote. Katko, who spoke on the House floor in support of the measure, explained that some agents work for free because they reached the pay cap as early as June. Because of the cap, agents could lose $10 million in overtime pay.

"This, in turn, leads to challenges in retention and recruitment, further exacerbating staffing shortages," he said.

As demonstrated by the vote, the bill received bipartisan support. The legislation has 15 cosponsors, including five Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, is one of the cosponsors and spoke in support of the bill Tuesday.

"Any way that we can help protect the protectees and keep these well-experienced, committed, dedicated agents willing to sacrifice their life from leaving so that we can also recruit is a vital step forward," she said.

But Katko acknowledged that it's only a short-term fix. The bill would only apply to pay in 2017. While roughly 1,300 agents will benefit from the increase, there are approximately 144 employees who will be owed overtime pay.

Other issues remain, including the high turnover rates and limited staffing at some offices.

"We're taking a look at their hiring practices, what's going on with their attrition rates, all that stuff to figure out what the real long-term solutions are," Katko said.

There are other hurdles before the cap is officially lifted for Service Service pay. The Senate must pass legislation before it can go to President Donald Trump's desk for his review. A similar measure was passed in 2016 to lift the pay cap for agents.


Local
CHRISTMAS
Siena Survey: Holiday spending may increase this year

According to a new Siena College survey, Christmas cheer may be in the air, as excitement for the holiday season has increased among New Yorkers this year.

Eighty-five percent of people polled plan to celebrate Christmas and 'Merry Christmas' is still the top holiday greeting. One-third of New York residents still even say they believe in Santa Claus.

The ninth annual Statewide Poll of Holiday Spending, released by Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) on Monday, indicated that holiday celebrations will remain largely unchanged but estimate there will be an increase in holiday spending.

“With more than two-thirds at least somewhat excited about the holiday season, overall consumer sentiment up slightly from a year ago, and appreciably from 2014, spending may well exceed best-laid plans,” according to SCRI Director Don Levy, Ph. D.

Most people plan to keep their holiday budgets unchanged, however, the way they spend their money may be different. Online shopping is on the rise, as 60 percent of New Yorkers plan to do at least some online shopping this year and younger residents plan to do 75 percent or more of their shopping online. Half of New Yorkers plan to limit their gift budgets to under $500.

“By two-to-one New Yorkers say that, as much as they can, they will buy practical gifts more than splurging on special items. While we won’t be wrapping up coal, it is more likely we’ll see needs, rather than wants, under the tree,” Levy said.

Still, Levy estimates increases in holiday spending, “especially among affluent New Yorkers,” as 26 percent of those surveyed plan to spend over $1,000 on gifts.

This survey was conducted by SCRI Nov. 6-15 by random telephone calls made to 804 New York adults.


Briefs
Christmas Elf
Christmas Elf: Hurt mother struggling financially

Mom recently suffered an injury and is out of work. She has no income at this time and is worried she will not be able to give her children gifts for Christmas. She would appreciate any help the Elf can give her this year. Her 2-year-old daughter would enjoy any learning toy and her 3-month-old daughter needs teething toys.

Monetary donations may be made online at cscaa.com/christmaself.html or by sending a check made payable to CSCAA/Christmas Elf to 89 York St., Ste. 1, Auburn, NY 13021. A list of in-demand toys is also online. Toys can be dropped off at AmeriGas on Route 34, BJ's Wholesale, Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency at York Street, Wegmans, Kinney Drugs on State Street in Auburn and at 48 Wright Ave. by appointment. Distribution day is Dec. 14.


Local
BRUTUS
Kenyon Landing mobile home destroyed in Brutus fire

BRUTUS — Firefighters from both Cayuga and Onondaga counties battled a fire at the Kenyon Landing mobile home community in Brutus Wednesday afternoon. 

A neighbor reported the fire at 8 Fietta Lane at around 2:30 p.m. Weedsport Fire Department Chief David James said neither of the two occupants were home at the time of the fire and no one was injured.

James said he does not know where in the home the fire started or what caused it, but the home is a total loss. No other homes in the area were damaged, however. It took firefighters about 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze, James said, and the cause is still under investigation.

James said the Red Cross has been notified to provide assistance to the two brothers who lived in the home, Wilfred and Larry Hunn. Wilfred was at the scene as firefighters were working. He did not wish to comment. 

In addition to Weedsport, Jordan, Port Byron, Sennett and Elbridge fire departments responded to the call.