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Auburn unveils first draft of 2018-2019 city budget

AUBURN — The city of Auburn released its 2018-2019 preliminary city budget with a proposed 5-percent tax levy increase. 

City Manager Jeff Dygert and Treasurer Robert Gauthier discussed the 2018-2019 budget draft during Thursday's Auburn City Council meeting. Multiple department heads presented their individual budgets during the meeting as well. 

A 1-percent spending increase is planned from the previous fiscal year, which puts the city's general fund budget at $34,287,715. The preliminary tax levy increase is set at 5 percent, which would be over the state tax cap. With this tax levy increase, the city would not have to dip into its fund balance to balance the budget. Garbage collection, sewer and water fees are not expected to increase.

While the city has not yet learned what this year's tax cap will be from the state, Dygert said it is usually around 2 percent. Dygert also noted that the city's property value assessment has not been completed yet. He estimates those assessments will be final in mid-May.    

Dygert stressed that the budget is still in the preliminary stages and is by no means final. 

"There's still a lot of things that can potentially change with this budget so this is our jumping off point," he said. 

A new line item was created for the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center. The city received a $10 million grant from the state to construct the building, but is now on the hook to operate it. During the center's first year of operation, the city has budgeted $147,365 for costs such as staffing, utilities and supplies.

In his budget presentation, Superintendent of Public Works Mike Talbot requested hiring one additional full-time laborer to maintain the Lincoln Street parking garage as well as help with the new visitor center. However, the city is forecasting that parking revenues will decrease by $70,000.

Talbot also proposed transferring an employee from Casey Park to the parks department. Overall, the department of public work's budget is set to increase by 1 percent. 

The engineering department would like to add two new full-time engineers, while increasing its budget by less than $3,500. Superintendent Bill Lupien said this will be accomplished by promoting a current part-time engineering technician to full-time and adding an additional full-time engineer by decreasing the budget for seasonal and summer internship positions. 

"This will really help us out," Lupien said, adding that the city spends resources training seasonal and intern employees, who then end up leaving the city.

Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler proposed a budget of just over $9 million, a 1.2-percent increase from 2017-2018. One major expense the department incurs every year is overtime. Butler said it can be difficult to predict how much overtime to budget mainly due to injuries. Butler noted the department has been operating with 63 officers due to vacancies and injuries, which is four fewer than usual. Other officers are also out from time to time with injuries as well, which lowers the number even further.  

"When these officers are out, it causes shift shortages and obviously we have to fill them," Butler said. 

Rounding off the night's budget presentations was Dygert, who detailed the city manager's office's budget. One significant change in the city manager's budget includes moving the director of capital projects position from the planning department to the city manager's office.  

"The intent there is not a budgetary issue, it's an operational issue," Dygert explained. "(The goal is) to give a little more authority to the director of capital projects and to create a little bit better communication." 

The city's finance and civil service departments also gave presentations on their budgets during the meeting. 

The remaining city department heads will present their budgets to the council during the next meeting, at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 12. A public hearing on the budget will take place during the May 24 city council meeting and final council approval is scheduled for June 7. 

In other news 

• The city council unanimously voted to authorize a $1.2 million bond to finance part of the 2018 road program, purchase five new trucks for the department of public works and upgrade the elevator at Memorial City Hall.

• Councilors approved two change orders during the meeting: one for the North Division Street Hydroelectric project and the other for the visitor center. 

Due to "substantial delays" associated with rock excavation and concrete work during the hydro project, construction crews had to work overtime to finish on time. That amounted to an additional $415,000. Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen pointed out that even with the additional expenses, the project will still make money in its first year. 

The city also awarded nearly $35,000 more to nArchitects, the New York City firm that designed the visitor center. This is the third change order the city has awarded the architects, this time for fees associated with additional landscaping and design of a new pedestrian entrance on the corner of Lincoln and Williams streets for the parking garage. 

Lieutenant announces candidacy for sheriff, coroner seeks re-election in Cayuga County

FLEMING — It's official: Brian Schenck is running for Cayuga County sheriff. 

Schenck made the announcement Thursday evening at the Springside Inn, where dozens of community members gathered to offer their support. The current sheriff's office detective lieutenant was also joined by Cayuga County Coroner Dr. Adam Duckett, who said he would seek re-election in the fall. 

Last month, Schenck discussed his intent to fill the position  should Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould retire, and on Monday, Gould confirmed he would not pursue another term. Gould was first elected sheriff in 2006, when he ousted former Sheriff Rob Outhouse. He won a second and third term in 2010 and 2014 without any opposition. 

As of Thursday, Schenck was the only person to declare his candidacy for sheriff. He said he intends to seek the Republican endorsement and he has filed paperwork to launch a campaign, the Committee to Elect Brian Schenck Sheriff. 

A lifelong resident of Cayuga County, Schenck began his career at the sheriff's office in 1997 and was promoted to detective lieutenant in 2015. He is 46 years old. 

If elected, Schenck said he would focus on securing the safety, respect and trust of the community. He listed his primary goals: combating the drug epidemic, exploring new technology, supporting staff at the local jail, enhancing efforts to stop drunk and impaired driving and partnering with other agencies to prevent and prosecute domestic violence. 

"Working together as a community, we can secure a safe environment for us all to live in," he said. "Together, we can continue building a sheriff's office that everyone can be proud of." 

Following Schenck's announcement, Duckett echoed the importance of fighting the opiate crisis in the county. As coroner, he said he has seen the epidemic firsthand, and the number of drug-related deaths continues to rise. 

"The thing that has been most challenging for me and something that truly changed my life is seeing what the heroin epidemic and opiate epidemic has actually done to our community," he said. "It made me realize that as a coroner and as a physician, I couldn't just sit there and do my job as a coroner — I had to get involved in the community and make people aware of what was going on and what was plaguing our community." 

Duckett first ran for county coroner in 2014 and recently joined the medical staff at the sheriff's office. He is 37 years old. 

Convicted rapist sentenced for lighting woman on fire in Cayuga County

Milton K. Richardson Jr.

AUBURN — A convicted rapist will spend the next seven years in prison for imprisoning a woman and lighting her on fire. 

In August, Milton K. Richardson Jr. was arrested and charged with several felonies and misdemeanors, including first-degree unlawful imprisonment, second-degree arson, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree menacing, second-degree reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and assault. At the time, New York State Police said Richardson had held a woman against her will in the town of Brutus and tried to set her on fire

The 52-year-old ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted arson in February, and on Thursday, he appeared in Cayuga County Court for sentencing. 

Prior to sentencing, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann discussed Richardson's extensive criminal history. Most recently, he served almost two years in prison for assaulting another inmate. Prior to that, he spent 12 years in prison for raping and impregnating a 14-year-old girl in Florida. 

In July, Budelmann said, Richardson moved to Brutus, where he lived in a garage with his former girlfriend. The garage had no electricity, heat or running water. 

Then, just one month after his release from prison, Richardson was rearrested — this time, for a domestic dispute.

On Aug. 22, Budelmann said, Richardson lashed out at his ex-girlfriend, pouring stove oil on the woman's head and body and lighting her clothing on fire. He also hid the woman's cell phone and menaced her with an ax, crossbow and hot lantern.

While the victim suffered only minor burns, Budelmann said she did not escape until a week later when Richardson drove her to a friend's house in Auburn. It was then that she was able to notify police.

Since then, Budelmann said Richardson has tried to "tamper with the victim." In recorded phone calls at Cayuga County Jail, Richardson allegedly tried to get someone to frame the woman for possessing drugs, and he later sent a threatening letter.

"I don't know that I've seen another defendant as devious as this one," Budelmann said. "If there was one redeeming thing in here I would say it, but I haven't found it." 

Richardson laughed at the accusations, claiming he was no danger to the victim or the community. Rather, he said, he was a danger to himself, noting he had shot himself twice to try to prevent him from doing more harm. 

"People act out of anger," he said. "There's nothing threatening about me. ... I don't hurt other people. I hurt myself." 

Judge Thomas Leone sentenced Richardson to seven years in prison and five years post-release supervision. He was also ordered to pay $500 in restitution for damaging the victim's property. 

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Weedsport officials are 'continuing to work to resolve a personnel matter'

WEEDSPORT — The village of Weedsport held a special meeting on Thursday to discuss a specific employee's employment status with an attorney with a planned executive session.

Trustee Chere Perkins opened the meeting at 4:33 p.m. when attorney Colin Leonard, of the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm, entered the public meeting. All four village Trustees, Perkins, Harry Hinman, Chris Lukins, and Steve Sims were present at the meeting; Mayor Saroodis was not present.

Immediately following the pledge of allegiance, Perkins announced the board was going to enter an executive session. "Do we have a motion?" She asked.

"So moved to enter into executive session to discuss the employment status and future of an individual particular employee with the attorney," Sims said.

The unnamed employee  in question is James Saroodis, the son of Weedsport's Mayor, Jean Saroodis. James is employed as the village's Department of Public Works superintendent and has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 9. He will remain on leave "until a decision (can) be made regarding (his) employment," Feb. 8 executive meeting minutes indicate.

Village officials have not indicated why James Saroodis is on paid leave, but other special meetings have also been called "to discuss possible discipline of a particular employee." 

Hinman seconded the motion, and the village trustees entered the executive session with Leonard at 4:35 p.m.

"Mr. Leonard, what is the difference between board of trustees and board of directors?" an attendee of the meeting, Wayne Newton, asked before exiting the room.

"I don't know," Leonard said, shrugging. "Who are you?"

"I figured you'd know," Newton said as he exited.

Newton was referring to the previously stated conflict of interest, since declared unfounded, having to do with Caroline Westover — also an attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King — who worked on an internal investigation having to do with this issue in the village of Weedsport. The initial claim, made by Mayor Saroodis, was that there was a conflict of interest because Westover sits on the board of trustees at Cayuga Community College, where Lukins works part time.

In a special meeting on March 19, it was publicly stated that Westover sits on the foundations board, and the conflict of interest was false. Following that statement, a resolution – drafted for the village by Leonard – was passed which precluded Mayor Saroodis from discussions involving her son.

After about 30 minutes, Leonard announced to the town office's lobby that the executive session was over.

"There was no formal action taken at this time," Perkins said. She continued, reading a written statement: "We are continuing to work to resolve a personnel matter here at the village, we hope that a resolution can be reached soon." The board is still working on a timeline for this resolution.

Perkins then opened up the meeting for questions.

Cheryl Saroodis, James Saroodis' wife, said that she had a question. "Apparently the treasurer misspoke to somebody about the whole case," she said. Cheryl said that Village Treasurer Diane Scheufele approached Mayor Saroodis to inform her that she'd made a mistake and then sent a text message to the person she misspoke to. Cheryl said she was not sure if the board of trustees was aware of that situation.

"I have not heard anything on that," Perkins said.

"Of course not. So you might want to check with the mayor. And if you need a picture of the text message that she sent to the person let me know and I can get it to you – where she misspoke," Cheryl said.

Perkins said she would look into it.

When Sims asked what Scheufele misspoke about, Cheryl said she "(wouldn't) say because there is somebody in the room. If you want to make (The Citizen reporter) leave I'll be more than willing to let you know exactly what Diane said. And I'm pretty sure (Village Clerk Jeannine Powers) heard it too, so."

There were no other questions asked or any additional comments made by the board before the meeting adjourned.


Milton K. Richardson Jr.