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Julie Jacobson 

Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford (13) strips the ball from Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

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Auburn school district eyes possible fund savings in light of $4 million deficit, Cayuga Centers

AUBURN — The Auburn Enlarged City School District discussed a possible way to save the jobs of school district employees who work at Cayuga Centers.

Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo discussed a possible plan at a budget workshop Tuesday night. Any decisions would have to be made at an official board meeting.

Cayuga Centers announced on Feb. 22 that it will be ending its residential treatment program. Pirozzolo said his current plan is to make the 19 district employees who work at Cayuga Centers into long-term substitutes until the end of the school year, which would mean that current long-term substitute employees would lose their jobs instead. He said there would be no salary differences for the Cayuga Center employees. Having the Cayuga Centers staff come into the substitute positions would mean that those with seniority wouldn't be taking the positions of other staff during this school year, which was a possibility discussed at a board meeting on Feb. 27.

"All of our kids would continue to have the same teachers they've had since September," Pirozzolo said.

Pirozzolo said the district is looking into ways it can keep the employees that work at Cayuga Centers on the district's payroll for next year. Krista Martin, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that under the district's current plans, that the district would be able to retain all but two of the 19 positions.

Lisa Green, the district's business manager, said that the district would lose a minimum of $450,000 to $600,000 if Cayuga Centers staff weren't laid off immediately, as the district bills the counties where the students in the program come from for tuition. Green said that the number will increase the longer staff are kept on. The board opted at that meeting to table voting on the staff cuts.

The workshop also included discussions about the deficit the district is set to face, which would be around $4 million. Green said if the district were to use the $1.3 million from its reserves to reduce the deficit, it would still be left with a shortfall of around $2.6 to $2.7 million. 

The Auburn school district has long argued that it has not received the funding it should get from the state while wealthier districts have received larger boosts in foundation aid. Foundation aid is the base aid districts receive.

Pirozzolo said in January that some districts wealthier than Auburn were set to receive more in foundation aid under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed school aid projections for the 2018-2019 executive budget.

Also, the board of education approved the memorandum of agreement between the district and the Auburn Teachers Association on the incentive at a meeting Feb. 28. Pirozzolo said 16 eligible employees applied for the retirement incentive, but not all of the positions can be cut. Pirozzolo said in an interview with The Citizen Feb. 28 that if 15 or more eligible employees sent in letters of retirement by March 1, the incentive would be $7,500.

Harmful algal bloom experts give recommendations for Skaneateles, Owasco and Cayuga lakes

SYRACUSE — Harmful algal bloom experts gave state officials and members of the public much to chew on Tuesday night during the second of four harmful algal bloom (HAB) summits — this one covering Cayuga, Owasco and Skaneateles lakes. 

The public meeting held at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry followed two full days of technical sessions, all of which focused on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $65 million proposal in the state budget to combat HABs. Twelve lakes have been designated priorities for the state, but state officials emphasized that any water body in New York experiencing HABs is eligible for funding. 

"Protecting New York's water quality is a top priority of this administration, and in order to ensure future generations have access to clean drinking water, we will continue to work with communities throughout Central New York to address the growing threat of harmful algal blooms," Cuomo said in a press release. "By bringing together experts from across the country at this regional summit, the state and the regional community will work together to develop new and innovative strategies to safeguard our water for years to come."

HAB experts Greg Boyer, of SUNY ESF, and Tim Davis, of Bowling Green University in Ohio, gave the state advice Tuesday night as it begins to draft action plans for reducing blooms. Both said monitoring water quality should continue to be an important piece in the initiative. 

Davis highlighted Lake Erie, which used nutrient reduction methods to improve its water quality. When things got better, however, people grew complacent. 

"We took our foot off the gas," Davis said. "We took our eye off the ball, and what happened is HABs, the HABs came back. Nature has a way of changing on us when we're not looking, and when it did, our land use changed, and the blooms came back, and we were not prepared."

That's one thing that worries Lloyd Wilson of the state Department of Health. His fear, he said, is that next year blooms may not appear on some of these lakes, and people will think the state's investment is not worthwhile. 

"That doesn't mean we don't need to go forward with the lake protection actives we're talking about," he said. "This is a long haul."

Davis also recommended lakes purchase equipment that can track water quality data when scientists aren't in the field. 

Boyer, who leads a lab that tests many of the state's HAB samples for toxins, said he hopes the state and others have the courage to do something and get started. 

"It is really hard to predict exactly what is going to happen when you do a certain BMP (best management practice) so you also have to have the courage to be able to say, 'Oops, maybe this wasn't the way we should have done it,'" Boyer added. 

Mark Burger, executive director of the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District, also gave officials ideas for the lakes' plans including investing in bigger, better buffer strips of vegetation for farms and homeowners, creating more wetland areas and storm water retention ponds and working more with residences and highway departments on programs.

The plans are supposed to be completed in May and then opened for public comment. In a break prior to the public meeting, state Department of Environmental Conservation research scientist Jacqueline Lendrum said funding for implementations will flow mostly through the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Grant Program and the Water Quality Improvement Project Program. Municipalities, soil and water conservation districts, land trusts and others will still have to apply for the funding, with priority given to the 12 lakes. 

What's perhaps both good and bad for Owasco and Cayuga lakes is that both are already in the process of different water quality plans that look to map sources of pollution and then reduce them. Lendrum said that information will help drive their HAB action plans, though she said the HAB plans will be finished before the ones already in the works. 

The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council is also working on updating the watershed rules and regulations. During the technical sessions, however, DEC officials emphasized partnering, education and voluntary projects in the watershed and less on enforcement. When asked about Owasco Lake's rules and regulations update after the sessions, Lendrum said constituents in the Hudson Valley summit brought the consideration up as well.

"It's something that we, as state agencies, we need to go back and think about it," she said. "We have some of the legal team looking at what they are, what role they play, how they intersect with the other regulations at play here and if we need to take an action there. It's definitely something to look at and think about." 

Two summits remain with one focusing on lakes in the north country on March 20 and one focusing on western New York on March 26.  

Cayuga County authority report calls for $30 million water, sewer upgrades in Aurora

Significant water and sewer improvements amounting to just over $30 million were identified for the village of Aurora in a report prepared for the Cayuga County Water and Sewer Authority.

The report, part of CCWSA's ongoing countywide water and sewer master plan review, recommends Aurora replace its over 60-year-old water treatment system, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Wells College, the longtime owner and operator of the plant serving the village, is looking to get out of the water business, so Aurora is exploring its options. In the meantime, the village, Inns of Aurora and the college are working together to retrofit the Wells water plant to handle the possibility of algal toxins this summer

It will cost an estimated $500,000 to $750,000 to equip the Wells water plant with the necessary filtration to ensure safe water for the village until a new water source is found. All three stakeholders have individually and jointly been seeking funding to help cover those costs, Aurora Mayor Bonnie Bennett said in a letter sent to village water customers March 1.

The report prepared for CCWSA focused on creating a new, deeper, drinking water intake in Cayuga Lake along with a new treatment plant in Aurora with advanced treatment for algal toxins, the release said. Doug Selby, CCWSA project advisor, first mentioned this idea to the public during Aurora's public meeting to discuss water issues in February.  

A deeper water intake would provide better water quality and increase the village's water supply, equipping it with the ability to expand to meet needs beyond Aurora in the future, Selby said. He added that piping water to other municipalities could also be an option for the future.

The new water intake and treatment plant would cost an estimated $11.5 million, Selby said.

The estimate also includes additional investment to connect the proposed Aurora system to the Auburn and Owasco systems to provide improved resiliency and redundancy to the county's water supply.

Connecting to another existing water supply, such as the system serving Union Springs, is another possible solution for Aurora but that has not been fully evaluated yet, Selby said.

Selby said the village will be looking further into the pipeline option with its own preliminary engineering report, building on the work already completed by CCWSA, which will help determine the village's best option for a new water provider.

Aurora's board of trustees voted to pursue its $40,000 engineering report during a regular village board meeting on Feb. 21. Wells College and the Inns of Aurora have agreed to equally share that cost with the village, Bennett said in the letter to water customers.

Initially, the village was quoted $75,000 minimum for the completion of the engineering report, but the cost was lowered as they are continuing to work with the engineering firm that prepared the reports for the county authority.

"The report is a necessary requirement for seeking any kind of federal, state or county funding," Bennett said in the letter. "It will assess all possible water sources – upgrading the current plant, other municipal sources, accessing groundwater, building our own plant – and the results will determine our course of action."

In addition to water improvements, the CCWSA's report also recommended "extensive refurbishment and improvements to the 1960s-era Aurora wastewater treatment plant as well as actions to control infiltration into the sewer collection system."

Selby said the estimate for the sewer improvements is about $18.5 million and includes adding lakeside properties south of Aurora into the sewer system, which could be implemented further down the road.

"These are very rough estimates," Selby said, adding that it is still very early on in the process and things will become more concrete when the village completes its own report.

“Although critical for the village, the cost of the proposed water and sewer improvements is far beyond the ability of the village’s 200 residents to bear without outside financial assistance," Bennett said in the water and sewer authority press release. "My foremost goal is to replace the old Wells College water supply with a safe and reliable system.”

"Not surprisingly, our master planning effort is revealing similar needs throughout Cayuga County municipalities. We have already begun examining what role CCWSA can play in cooperation with the State, County and municipalities in helping solve these pressing and expensive water and sewer infrastructure challenges," said Jeanine Wilson, CCWSA director, in the press release.

Cuomo: NY will spend $11M to provide broadband access in Cayuga County

The third and final round of state broadband investments will bring high-speed internet access to many underserved or unserved areas of Cayuga County. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the state will provide more than $22 million in grants to support broadband projects in five central New York counties. Projects in Cayuga County will receive nearly half of the funding. 

Verizon will receive a bulk of the state funding — more than $15.2 million — to support two broadband deployment projects in central New York. Clarity Fiber Solutions, which has led other internet projects in southern Cayuga County before, will receive more than $6.7 million for its broadband project. 

In the third phase of the New NY Broadband Program, state grants totaling $11,203,287 will support deployment of high-speed internet in 23 Cayuga County towns. When private investment is factored in, the projects will cost $18,651,827 and bring broadband access to 2,133 businesses and homes in the county. 

The top beneficiaries of the state's support are in the southern end of the county. The investments include a $3,465,785 state grant to support broadband deployment for 483 businesses and homes in the town of Genoa. An additional $2,956,321 will help provide broadband to 425 locations in the town of Venice. 

"Access to high-speed internet has never been more important for New York residents and businesses," Cuomo said in a statement. "By leveraging state investments with private and federal funding, we are building a stronger, smarter and more competitive New York poised to lead the nation as the first state to achieve total connectivity." 

Cuomo launched the New NY Broadband Program in 2015 with the goal of providing high-speed internet access to the entire state. The state allocated $500 million to leverage private investment and other funding sources, including grants available through the federal Connect America Fund. 

The program's goal was to provide access to internet with download speeds of 100 megabits per second. In the most remote areas of the state, the minimum speed standard is 25 megabits per second. 

Before the New NY Broadband Program began, nearly one-third of the state's residents did not have access to high-speed internet. After the first round of broadband investments, most of those unserved residents received internet access. 

By the end of the first round, 97 percent of New Yorkers had broadband access. The second round brought broadband to more than 80,000 businesses and homes and 98 percent of New York residents had access to high-speed internet. 

In the third round, the goal is to achieve statewide broadband availability. The state will provided $225.5 million in grants to support broadband deployment for nearly 129,000 homes, businesses and other locations across New York.